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Climbers’ club with a conscience
- Trekkers who scale new heights every year believe in helping out the needy

She is 55 years old and has arthritis in both legs. Yet, this housewife in Tollygunge goes on at least one trek a year. “It’s like an addiction. Once is never enough. If it gets into your system, it’s very hard to get it out. It is something only we parbat premis can understand,” smiles Gauri Maitra.

Gauri gets her inspiration from those around her, including husband Samarendra Nath, 60. “I always believe if the next person can do it, so can I. The fact that I am not one to collapse in panic in a moment of danger definitely helps. I love the mountains. Their beauty is incomparable. I have a lot of medical problems, including breathing trouble. Despite saying I won’t go back after every trip, I inevitably do. The doctors and my health can’t keep me away,” she laughs. “The foreigners usually give me a lot of encouragement and happily click away at me and my sari. They just can’t get over it.”

After the couple’s only child passed away in 1973, hope came in the form of their new-found passion for travelling. It was in 1979 that they undertook their first trek, to Kedar-Badri. They’ve been hooked ever since. Through the South Calcutta Mountain Lovers Association, which they then founded, the pair has explored the Himalayas, in India and Nepal.

They have been up, down and around — from Everest base camp to Annapurna, Chhota Kailash to Ladakh and Pindari Glacier to Pancha Kedar — in one or two trips a year, with about 10 to 20 of the Association’s 30-odd members. And they have many a tale to tell. “We’ve had some really close shaves, and made it to places by a hair’s breadth,” explains Samarendra, president of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation-affiliated Association. But their members have never been deterred.

“There have been times when we have trekked for about 25 km in one day, and are still walking at 9 pm, to get to a certain point. Camping is hard, but fun. We saw a man die in a shower of stones once, and got stuck in a waterfall while trying to cross it. However, no obstacle is big enough to keep us away,” asserts Gauri.

The guiding light on every trek is the secretary, Debnarayan Chakraborty Thakur, a veteran mountain-climber of nearly 20 years. He has walked most known and many unknown routes, some more than others. “My favourite is Pancha Kedar. I’ve been there 14 times, but I never get tired of it. On every attempt I try a different path,” Debnarayan says. “He’s absolutely wonderful,” gushes Gauri. “He is good with first-aid and is extremely patient, particularly when people’s moods change due to altitude sickness.”

Lalu Bhakta, 40, has been trekking for the past decade, sometimes alone, but usually with family, including his mother and sisters. He has been to Everest base camp with the Association, as well as on their latest trip to Ladakh, and is ready to join them on their next trip to Annapurna base camp in April. “It’s an extremely homely and comfortable group. So, the experience is always memorable,” adds the Indian Oil employee.

The Association also does social work, like blood donation camps. Medicines that are left over from their trips are usually given away to the Missionaries of Charity or Seva Sadan. Climbers with a conscience is how they would like to think of themselves. “Most of us are amateurs, who take off as many times a year as possible and set out on a new adventure, because this is our way of life,” says Samarendra.

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