“You don’t actually get to see Mount Everest at the Base Camp,” said photographer Danial Shah. Why not? asked an audience member. “Because you’re already there,” responded Danial. He was speaking about his experience trekking to the Base Camp of the highest mountain in the world at T2F on Thursday.
Usually described as one of the treks to do in a lifetime, the trek to the Everest Base Camp in Nepal is usually presented as an alternative to climbing for the regular, but fit, traveller.
He began his presentation by showing a map of the 125km round trip and mobile phone videos of a very precarious flight from Kathmandu airport to Lukla airport, also called the Tenzing-Hillary airport in honour of Sherpa Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary, the first people to reach the summit of Mount Everest.
“There were only two plane crashes while I was there,” related Danial inviting shocked laughter and gasps from the audience. “Don’t worry. It’s pretty safe — there’s probably only one accident every six months. The plane ride is very short — 25min. And for those 25min all you’re thinking is: I hope I make it.”
One of the photos that he showed was of a woman who gave the appearance of a porter. “You see both male and female sherpas,” related Danial.
Some of the other quirks of the trip were discovering a sign that read ‘Rs200’ when he wanted to charge his mobile phone. Or being asked whether he wanted potato pancakes for breakfast, he ordered one and was offered another. He thought that was an incredibly generous and hospitable gesture by his hosts only to discover that he was also charged Rs400 for the second pancake as well.
Close to the Base Camp at Pengboche is a monastery popular with Sherpas and superstitious mountaineers that have a regular presence in the region. For the Sherpas, it is a matter of utmost religious importance to seek the blessings of the monastery’s lama (highest spiritual authority in Buddhism) before every expedition. One of the more surprising things Danial related was that the lama could speak Urdu.
Danial showed us a photograph of his watch showing that the altitude at Base Camp was a whopping 5,271m. “It’s very important to acclimatise,” he said.
Compared to the K2 Base Camp trek in Pakistan, trekking to the Everest Base Camp is a “luxurious” experience. “There is Wi-Fi all over Everest. Besides, you’ll walk for six to eight hours a day and eat a lot later,” laughed Danial. “When I was going to K2, I lost around 10kg. The K2 Base Camp trek is also harder.”
Originally published in Dawn, September 1st, 2017