Legs lost in war on terror, will to climb

Hopeful despite Everest ban

By Vivek Chhetri in Darjeeling
  • Published 2.01.18
Hari Budha Magar

Darjeeling: Hari Budha Magar, 38, had both his legs ripped by a bomb in Afghanistan seven years ago but it did not stop him dreaming to summit Everest.

The British Gurkha veteran who retired in 2014 has trained for the past two years, conquering Ben Nevis in Scotland, Mont Blanc in Europe, and Mera Peak and Gosainkunda in Nepal. He has also kayaked around the Isle of Wight in England.

Magar, a Nepalese citizen settled in England, mortgaged his house to raise the Rs 2.2 crore he needs for the Everest expedition as no potential sponsor would believe he could climb mountains.

Just when he seemed to have overcome all the obstacles came the Nepal government's decision last week to ban double amputees (and also completely blind and solo climbers) from scaling Everest.

Some activists for the disabled have castigated the new law as discriminatory. But Kathmandu says it wants to make climbing safer and lower the number of deaths at a time concerns have been raised about new companies with lower training and safety standards rushing into the Everest market.

More than 290 people have died attempting to scale Everest, including two among the 29 disabled who tried. Six died last year, among them renowned Swiss climber Ueli Steck and 85-year-old Min Bahadur Sherchan, another former British Gurkha soldier, who was trying to reclaim his record as the oldest to conquer the world's highest peak.

Magar, now training at the Thorung La pass in Nepal, told The Telegraph over the phone that he had not lost hope.

"After a fortnight's training, I shall go to Kathmandu, go through the legislation and see what can be done," he said.

"I'm doing this not just for me and (other) disabled (but) for everyone who wants to achieve their dreams. Life is about adaptation: if you can adapt, you can achieve your dream. Nothing is impossible."

The US ambassador to Nepal, Alaina B. Teplitz, has criticised the ban, citing the example of Magar and asserting: "Ability, not perceived 'disability', must guide rules on who can trek Everest."

"Nepal should be proud of me, not banning me," Magar had written on Facebook, and was quoted in The New York Times saying he would go to court if necessary.

Magar told this newspaper he was confident that Kathmandu would understand that he was "trying to give something back" to his country.

"If I can successfully climb Everest, it will be a celebration for Nepal, for its tourism, for its image," he said.

He said he had overcome many hurdles in his life. "I walked barefoot to school, yet became the first person from Jebari village (in Nepal's Rolpa district) to pass the SLC (School Leaving Certificate, equivalent to India's Class X board exam)," he said.

"I got married at the age of 11. I lost both my legs serving in Afghanistan, and now I'm into the real estate business in England. I have always been an optimist and am optimistic that my country will allow me to climb Everest."

Magar, who lives with his wife, 21-year-old daughter and sons aged 9 and 4 years in Canterbury, Kent, has fond memories of Afghanistan, where he was with the 1st Royal Gurkha Rifles.

He recalls meeting Prince Harry "a number of times" when the royal served the same brigade as an officer recently.

His latest campaign has attracted support from many mountaineers.

"I believe I have the freedom to do whatever I want as long as I don't take away others' freedoms," Magar said.