Everest, the tallest.

The mountain is in the news again, for three different reasons, all in the same week. One of human conquest, one of human stupidity, and the third of nature’s unpredictability.

First, the one about human achievement. Indian mountaineer, Anshu Jamsenpa summitted twice, within a week. She has summited twice in 10 days in 2011, and last week was witness to her fourth and fifth successful summits.

Anshu Jamsenpa with HH Dalai Lama

Anshu, with HH Dalai Lama

The 37-year-old mother of two from Bomdila in Arunachal Pradesh (state in the far east of India), summitted on the 16th May, and then again on the 21st May. Before her second ascent, Anshu said: “My only aim now is to unfurl the national flag once again atop Mt Everest and pay homage to Lord Buddha. I seek blessings and support from my fellow countrymen.” She was blessed by HH Dalai Lama before leaving for the expedition. What a Rockstar!

The second story is about Ravi Kumar, from Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh who is untraceable on the mountain after having summitted on the 20th. Kumar and his guide, Lakpa Wongya Sherpa, got separated during the descent near the Balcony and the latter was later found unconscious and suffering from frostbite at Camp IV.

a8e9f2b6fac66d36d1761c9c30b10f5dIn another incident six climbers suffering from altitude sickness had to be rescued and then sent to different hospitals. The human body isn’t made for 25K feet, and the body cells literally start dying at that altitude. If one isn’t a trained and seasoned super hi-alt mountaineer, please stick to doing mid-altitude treks. Everest or other 8-thousanders aren’t really for you stupids.

The other in-fashion thing for some years now is to go up the mountain with a guide. Everest isn’t a tourist spot, you know. In 1996, most of those killed on the mountain weren’t seasoned mountaineers either. And there is no business that a ward should get separated from a guide. The life of the ward is the guide’s responsibility. Lakpa, this might have been your eighth summit, but your license needs to be taken away.

And finally, “…a piece of mountaineering history has disappeared “, said British mountaineer Tim Mosedale after he descended from his sixth successful summit attempt. Considered to be the last obstacle, some 58 metres below the summit, the rocky outcrop known as the Hillary Step has collapsed. Likely because of the 2015 earthquake. Last year, the American Himalayan Foundation did publish images, but it was not clear whether the rock formation had actually collapsed because of the snow cover. Tim Mosedale who summitted last year as well this year, has confirmed, with pictures that he has posted.

The crumbling away of the Hillary Step makes summitting easier and quicker for the inexperienced climbers, but also will expose them to the elements for a longer time because of the potential traffic jam which will ensue with larger number of climbers passing through that spot.

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Deaths on Mt Everest (data, graph courtesy – BBC)

More than 240 people have died on the mountain (above base camp) so far, and three more already added this year, more so since climbing up has become almost a joke. Teams have to be sent up every year to clear rubbish and debris from previous years’ climbs. There are bodies on the mountain, and plenty debris. Most seasoned pioneers regret what happens to the mountain every climbing season.

But, we need to stop for a moment and perhaps listen to Sagarmatha. The mountain, I believe, is telling us that she feels tired and abused and that we should stop climbing her now.

 

Gorkhaland, on the rebound. A simmering pot.

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main bazar Kalimpong

The agitation might have started around the 1980s, and brought in some prominence to the Nepali, or the Lepcha population in the region … but the pot had been on the boil for a while now.

What region is that now? That would be part of Sikkim, and most of what is now Darjeeling district. The region which is administered by the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council since 1988. I was in the area in late 2015 and saw festoons, banners, flags, posters and road side meetings in Kalimpong. And, yes, Bimal Gurung (more about him later) does draw a crowd.


लेपचा भोटीया नेपाली
हामी सबै गोर्खाली

 – writing on walls in Kalimpong


Bazaar Area, Kalimpong

Armed paramilitary personnel, Kalimpong

There are armed security personnel on the streets with a sense of uneasy political calm as people go about their lives. The undercurrent is certainly there and is palpable. Talking to local people brought to light:

  • The Lepchas (along with some other tribes) are perhaps the original residents of the region.
  • Nepali folk arrived mainly with the invasion of Gorkhas in the 1780. The cessation from Nepal happened much later (for a pittance) after the British-Nepal battle. The ceded territory included Darjeeling, Siliguri, the entire terai, Simla, Nainital, Garwhal hills, Kumaon upto the Sutlej. The British came all the way in, and starting planting tea all over around 1860s.
  • As the world moved on, the Gorkhas lost some of their identity as they were neither in Nepal, nor were they in a ‘province of their own’. This loss of identity is what bothers the Gorkhas today, and their wanting to unite with Lepchas and Bhotias (tribes originating from Bhutan) to press for Gokhaland
  • There was some socio-economic pressure from the refugee Tibetans, but that has started easing out now as the Tibetans have started migrating to other parts of the country and also out of the country.

There are some other facts which play into the situation.

Shree Tibet Stores

Notice the Gorkhaland marking?

  • Subhash Ghising who was the face of the Gorkhaland agitation passed on early 2015 and left the movement somewhat rudderless. But, even in the years before Ghising had somewhat mellowed down.
  • As Ghising’s power based weakened, a new leader, Bimal Gurung, emerged. Gurung started as a GNLF member and later become a councillor in the Hill Council. Gurung capitalized on the mass support for Prashant Tamang (an Indian Idol contestant) in 2007, and garnered enough support to throw Ghising out of the power seat. In 2008, Gurung moved away from the Hill Council and also formed his new party Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.
  • Immediately afterwards Gurung resurrected the demand for Gorkhaland and had conversations with the Prime Minister in 2015 as well and got some assurances.

Surely, Gorkha identity is an issue as is the feeling of neglect as felt by the Gorkhas. Along with, there definitely is a problem of unemployment in many of the areas which are dependent on tourism (to a large extent) or the tea business.

Successive governments have tried to placate them with promises of development. It is just that those promises might not hold long-term unless there was some fruition.

Momo seller in the Haat Bazaar Area, Kalimpong

Momo seller in the Haat Bazaar Area, Kalimpong

Banners, flags, logo hangings in the bazaar area, Kalimpong

Banners, flags, logo hangings in the bazaar area, Kalimpong

Bazaar Area, Kalimpong

Bazaar Area, Kalimpong with Gorkha Janmukti Morcha colours all over