I stood on top of Mount Everest with my fellow campers, Sherpa Namgyole from Nepal, William Anderson from USA and James Rhinestone from Germany. We looked at each other and hooted “Woooowooooo,” the typical call of our club. We hoisted the flag of UNO along with the flags of our countries. We all belonged to The Global Club of Mountaineers sponsored by the United Nations Organization. All the fear, dread, frustration and nervousness were worth the great feeling of exuberance. Once we overcame the initial rush of adrenaline, we took photographs. We all rested briefly before going back to the last camp. At the camp we all talked, laughed and shared our feelings over the last 15 days of the tortuous trek.
I looked at the pictures I had snapped on the summit. Great moments, great memories! A memory of another camp flashed in my mind. Memories of my first camp I had attended. How I had resisted going to the National Middle School camp organized for middle school students. In fact, I resisted even joining this option. I wanted to join the NSS Club (National Social Service Club). The maximum physical activity was to teach village school children basic 3Rs (reading, writing and ‘rithmetic). The physical labor and interacting with other students, with a very high likelihood of getting bullied, was not my cup of tea! But my parents just ignored me. I tried to work on my mother, but this was one of the rarest occasions that she agreed with my dad. As usual, I resented it but gave in. This was the bane of my life! I feared conflict and avoided it at any cost. I rarely played any team sports. I enjoyed swimming and trekking, where I did what I wanted without the stress of competing with others. But this camp required a different mindset.
Apart from very basic military training the curriculum also included a bit of civil defense and firefighting. The objectives of the camp were to instill traits like leadership qualities, personality development, team spirit, a spirit of adventure, social and community service, inculcate a sense of discipline to make better citizens, and motivate youth to join defense services. Eminent personalities from various walks of life were invited to share their experiences and interact with cadets. Cadets interacted with local NGOs and carried out social service in and around the campsite.
Before leaving, I told my parents that I would never forgive them for heaping the torture on me. I stood bewildered, like a lost sheep, among the others in “stand at ease” position waiting for my group to be announced. I took solace in the fact that at least I would be among known faces from my school as my tent mates. To my horror, I realized that we were being grouped randomly. I felt nauseated and fear of unknown gripped me. My name was announced, and we all dispersed to collect our gear.
So, there I was, a lone trekker in the unknown wild! Four of us were supposed to share a tent. We collected our gear, eyeing each other suspiciously. We moved to the site allotted to us. We introduced ourselves and waited for the instructions. Captain Samuel Gomes and Major N were issuing instructions on how a tent should be erected. Ten minutes were given to us to break the task into manageable units and decide how to perform it to our maximum efficiency.
As usual, the bickering started about who was getting the easier tasks. Five minutes had passed, and no consensus could be reached. Time was ticking away like a time bomb and I, in sheer desperation, decided to take the toughest task as I hated to be singled out because of my group. Since I was the tallest, I could be the anchor! What a group I had inherited – Cody was fat, Sameer was short but stout for his age and Tluanga was too thin with a narrow frame. While erecting the tent we cribbed and blamed each other for any lapse. To my misfortune the officers must have been watching us with a hawk’s eye! I was appointed as the leader of my group. I would be responsible for the performance of my group.
The rest of the day passed while performing mind-numbing tasks. Before we dispersed for the night, an announcement was made that a cyclone was going to hit the coastal area. Fortunately, our camp was not in its course, so most of the transport was being deputed to the other camp to rescue the others.
We dispersed and how this information brought about the bonhomie inside the tent! We cribbed in unison. We were jealous of the kids in the other camp. They were being evacuated and would be going home to good food, a warm bed and a life of leisure! We really wanted the cyclone to change its path and move towards our camp.
Well, we had a restless night and woke up to another day of drudgery. Our senior instructor delivered a lecture on leadership. The cadets moved to the ground for marching drills and in hindsight, I think that was the time when I realized the power of prayers being answered! Major N came and announced that the cyclone had changed its course and it might be possible that the camp would be in its path. Since I was standing near him, I could see the worried look in his eyes. He gave instructions to disperse and collect the gear as they would be shifting to the nearby school which was two and half miles away. Since most of the transport was already deputed to the other camp, there was a shortage and cadets would be rescued according to the gear packed first and so on.
With a great alacrity, we the lazy loggers were the first ones to run. We were still in the process of packing our tent when the strong winds hit us. We held on with our dear life. Then, suddenly it started raining heavily. One could see the tents, bags and other things flying all over. Captain Gomes shouted orders to abandon everything and run to the trucks parked nearby. We were huddled like sheep and rushed to the nearest school. There was water swirling everywhere. One could not see the road, but the sturdy and experienced military drivers maneuvered skillfully in the surging waters. With our hearts in our mouths, we reached the school.
The water in the school rooms was knee deep. The windows were broken, and we were sitting on the benches cross legged. Wet, hungry and scared – well I didn’t exactly remember in which order. My mind was foggy and fuddled. The authorities were running around rescuing us from the predicament. Food was the first priority. It was five in the evening and we had not eaten since eight in the morning. Some good Samaritan from the nearby village brought a few savories and cookies for us. They were rationed and I was ordered to manage my group in the room, a duty I performed with utmost distaste!
We slept on the benches fitfully. I did hear some moaning and howling. I woke up to check on those morons and tried calming them. We woke up to a cloudy sky and strong winds. We were really hungry, miserable and fearful. Major N informed us that we might have to spend another night inside the school as the roads and train tracks were submerged. The news intensified the gloom. Around five in the evening we heard the shouts of “Hurray!” from the next room. The military trucks had come to take us to the nearest train station and soon we would be safe!
At midnight, I stood outside my house and rang the bell. My mother opened the door and the first thing I uttered was, “I will never forgive you! I hate you!” She was so glad to see me she ignored my barb and hugged me. I was so miserable that I pushed her away. She promised that after a real hot bath and my favorite English muffin with lots of butter and a sumptuous veggie omelet, I would definitely be laughing and see the funnier side of my experience. I blurted out that I could never laugh again in my whole life after such a terrible experience!
Well, mothers are always right! A hot bath, a warm blanket and hot dinner in bed did the trick. Halfway through my meal, I burst out laughing. My mother raised her eyebrows and smiled! I narrated how I saved my friend Tluanga from near death. The strong wind had uprooted the tent. Tenacious Tluanga held on to his rope and flew away with the tent. I quickly pushed Cody on to the tent and wrapped the rope around my waist and held onto the nearby tree. I asked Sameer to go around the tree and hold on to my legs. Oh! The expression on the face of Cody holding onto Tluanga was really hilarious, short and stout Sameer holding onto my legs and reciting prayers to invoke the mercy of God along with Tluanga’s muffled utterings which seemed to be cursing in his language was too funny. Fortunately, help arrived in time and we were rescued!
In the school at night, Anish, another boy from the camp woke up screaming that there was a snake wrapped around his ankles that was tightening every moment. I rushed to him as I had more experience with snakes because of trekking. But to everyone’s relief it was just a very wet rope. How he was teased by the boys for this experience!
The next day, although we were hungry, I devised games, dumb charade to keep the gloom away. Later on, I was voted “The Best Camper.” The experience brought out the best in me.
I remembered with real pleasure that defining moment that helped me to find my true potential. I learned the importance of planning, organizing and executing to handle any disaster. I looked forward to those moments where I could challenge myself. White water rafting, skiing camps at Auli, rock climbing, caving, shark cage diving, para gliding mountaineering, trekking in the Amazon forests, etc., etc. and now Mount Everest!
Before I fell asleep, I had already started planning, organizing and how to execute my next adventure to K2 mountain!