(In 2004 I went on a two month Kanchenjunga expedition with the Indian army to document their climb in my journal and my camera. The following is one of the travelogues I wrote for magazines. The galleries have photographs from the expedition.)
However I was so busy capturing them in my camera that I forgot to observe. Today I realise how photography can often be done at the expense of observation. I had even read somewhere that a man can at best work on one of his faculties at one time. Engaging oneself in more than one does justice to neither. I must admit that while I try to keep my angle right my focus and exposure right I often miss out on the human details that can be observed in stillness of mind and contemplation.
take quite a lot of shots of the members climbing up from the `crampon-point. I was also in time there to catch them descending. Today the team members besides Jaidev who is in Ramche, consolidate in Base Camp. According to Kazi who himself arrived here today, after sorting our some issues with his large employees, there are 42 people in Base Camp tonight.
The food had been very bland and tepid until Col Sharma arrived at the Base Camp with Lama-our cook and waiter on 16th. By 17th every member is in the Base Camp except for Jaidev who is looking after the steady supply of provisions from Ramche to Base Camp.
It is daunting to say the least and I seriously doubt if the likes of Amit who stands horrified next to us will be able to make it to Camp 1, let alone the summit. I am using the old Olympus Manual camera and the 600mm lens to take pictures of them crawling tediously over the sheer vertical climb of the mountain.
t began to snow after our dinner around seven. We are put up in what Gary informs me are `Artic tents’. It is pretty bland after our days in the fancy `North Face tents. However it is round and huge with accommodation for about 8 men unlike the North Face. One can stand and move around erect in it , with the pole being over 12 feet in the centre
My hands are numb and when the time comes to leave I cannot zip up my rucksack. Today was perhaps the toughest walk ever. It took me and my two fellow travellers Mahi Ram and Balwant over 5 hours of constant walk through glaciers , soft sand that sucked your foot in, boulders that threatened to roll over you or twist your ankle mortally and slopes that could drop you down into the snot-green glacier waters where one was sure to die of hypothermia even though today the sun shone its best.
We move through glaciers, big boulders but the soft pebbly mud make it an ordeal for me. To make matters worse it begins to rain. By the time we reach the intermediate Base Camp-after over 3km of walk-I am drenched to the skin
Jaidev looks quite something when he takes the ear-phones from Gary and pretends to enjoy the hard-metal music Gary listens to. Saunta, closes his eyes and begins to dance. Jagdev says the music is best for morning PT. I couldn’t agree with him more.
The final members of the expedition arrive and we are all set to move up to Base Camp. 8Sep- Final expedition team arrives The weather has been playing spoil-sport ever since we arrived in Tapleyjung. The helicopter has not been able to make a sortie since the last one on 5th sep in which I [...]
After breakfast we go on a trek towards Base Camp. The idea is to acclimatize oneself and I am more than eager to go even though the army guys neither invite us nor inform us. Gary for his part is reluctant but he comes along seeing my enthusiasm.
There are over 80 yaks I am told with the herder who has the stone-hut nearby. Three of them are bulls and they snort powerfully. They probably want to mate, but none of the female Yaks are in heat, all have calves and Balwant tells me, when they wallow in the lake-they do so to cool off their sexual hea
However I am lucky to be in Ramche as the weather `packs up’ soon after . I am in the third sortie –today’s second and no other sortie comes through bedsides the two today.
Today its confirmed. The famed punctuality of the army and their being different is a big myth. The weather clears up quite unexpectedly and the expedition team is in a huddle. They have been caught napping literally as they didn’t expect the weather to clear.
Due to the protocol unique to the army all of these perishiables items had to be bought from Delhi which means they have been lying around for over a good 15 days.
Whenever the weather is clear we all pick up the racket and play. It is our favourite pastime.
They plan to go tomorrow and if the weather is good all five sorties would go. Major Amit is bewildered by all the english we speak amongst each other and tries to make fun of it all by his crude Haryanvi comments.
Today is Rakhi-so perhaps the residents of Tapleyjung thought of no better way of commemorating the event that by organising a girl’s soccer tournament.
Actually with leeches it’s a bad idea to stop. They take no time to stick on shoes and them trepez onto your leg. The leeches here are slim and about a centimenter long. They stand on one end with the other end probing the air-perhaps for flesh to stick on.
The town is quite except for the occasional barking of dogs, the hoarse quacking of the ducks and the crowing of the cocks. A steady stream of low noises of hammering and sawing also emanate from a workshop nearby that makes furniture. I have seen some more shops in the bazaar that manufactures furniture. I wonder if it is the close proximity to the trees in the forests or whether Tapleyjung is the furniture mart of the near and far towns.
The rains had made the road soggy and the trucks and busses that ply on these roads left deep tunnels on either side of the roads. The bus wobbles from one end to the other and I sit with my heart in my mouth, thinking the bus would surely topple over and fall into the deep gorge below. This prevents any sleeping the entire journey.
The Silk trade route may have closed but commerce like this still flourishes along the border. The light was good and I just pray the pics come out good. On the way back and up to the Nathu La the army jonga had to stop and report at each TCP station along the route. Amit says it’s the standard protocol for every army vehicle all over India.
Today listening to the grim stories of life at Base camp from Col Vijay, the Principal of Darjeeling Mountaineering Institute and Col Upadhaya I am a bit intimidated. They were discussing the ordeal of shitting on those heights. One has to shit in drums dug out into the ground by turns and wait for the sherpas to clear the cesspits. The shit they told me is a valued commodity to them (I don’t know why yet). For the campers shitting is never easy.