RIDERS TO THE PEAK 

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By BY NUPUR ROY in Calcutta
  • Published 5.11.00
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Calcutta, Nov. 5 :    Calcutta, Nov. 5:  A seven-member team from a para adventure club, North Calcutta Disha, has set an Indian record (to be incorporated in the 2001 edition of the Limca Book of Records) by completing a motorcycle expedition from the city to the North Face base camp of Mt Everest in China at 17,600 ft, covering a distance of 2,926 km. Pouring in their savings and with some help from the West Bengal Sports Council, Rajesh Sarkar, Santanu Roychowdhury, Subhro Sengupta, Subrata Boral, Indradeb Chatterjee, Mohammed Sanaullah (Tunu) and team leader Gautam Dutta zip, zap, zoomed off from Dum Dum at 8 am on September 12. Leafing through the diary capturing 17 days of the road-to-Everest drama: September 12, Day 1: Smooth ride to Massanjore, our first stop. September 13, Day 2: A clear day dawns. We set off early to reach Barauni by evening. Night halt. September 14, Day 3: Target: Birgunj on Indo-Nepal border. No sweat! Even the formalities at the border check-post get over in a jiffy. September 15, Day 4: We are in Nepal, whizzing down fantastic metalled roads through the towering Terai when the rains lash us. We've had rains on and off in the afternoons, but this will take some beating. Dripping wet, we enter a sleeping Kathmandu at 10.30 pm (local time). Check into hotel at Thamel. September 16, Day 5 to September 19, Day 8: Cool our heels in the Nepalese capital. Schedule goes haywire as we have to stay on for two extra days trying to wade through red tape - Customs clearance, a thumbs up from the Indian Embassy and a green signal after huge landslides on the Sino-Nepal border. The wait for the paperwork turns boring as Gautamda warns us not to move around town on our bikes after we almost get booked for violating a no-entry zone. September 20, Day 9: We hit the road again - the Friendship Highway - while it's still dark. We aim to cover 113 km to Kodari on the border and then travel another nine km to Jhangmu, the first Chinese town. Dhulikhel in the early morning light is a feast for the eyes with the mist lifting slowly from the valley. We stop at Jalbire police check-post for breakfast at a dhaba. It's surprisingly deserted. "Saab, aapko army socha hai," the dhaba-owner explains. The uniform mackintoshes (canary yellow and red) have scared them off. The Bhotkoshi river joins the road and snakes along it till the border. We stop to refuel at a petrol dump in Barabishe, 20 km from the border. The Friendship Highway turns unfriendly - stones packed in mud is all that's left of the road. We're approaching The Landslides. Our first glimpse of a mist-covered Jhangmu. About two km from the border, a long queue of vehicles signals that the biggest landslide lies ahead. Traffic has been at a standstill for a week. More than 200 vehicles stranded, among them a British team on a world tour. We push our bikes through a risky, muddy stretch to reach the check-post. Right ahead is Friendship Bridge spanning the Bhotkoshi. Two Chinese security officers remind us to shift from the left to the right of the road as soon as we enter the Chinese half of the bridge. Clearing Customs is smooth, but the next nine km to Jhangmu is most definitely not. It takes us five hours to cover perhaps the trickiest stretch we've ever encountered. There's no road to speak of. Recurrent landslides have taken their toll, and the mountain streams are flowing along what once, surely, was the road. At certain points, our bikes are ferried across by Tibetan porters. Bad news awaits us in town. The Chinese liaison officer and the truck carrying our supplies, including 300 litres of petrol, from Lhasa have not arrived. Two days of unscheduled stop. September 23, Day 12: Our Chinaman, Top Den, reaches at 12.30 pm, forcing us to set our day's destination at Nyalom, only 35 km away. The air's getting thinner as we leave the treeline behind. The wind-swept barren expanse is at once breathtaking and imposing. The mood turns grim as Tunu shows the first symptoms of altitude sickness. He's gasping, making it difficult for him to even ride pillion. We check into a hotel at 7.30 pm. Drying our shoes and socks in the sub-zero temperatures has been more than a bit of a bother, but the boys are by now experts in using hotel lamps to good use! September 24, Day 13 : Our first view of a snow-covered peak - Mt Xisha Pangma (26, 940 ft) - lifts our spirits. Team decides on a big push to make up for lost time. Today's target: Xigar (14,200 ft), 222 km away. We race through cold desert with striking white peaks for company. Where's our Holy Grail? The answer's blowing in the spine-chilling, minus 16 degree Celsius wind. Tingri, on a sun-soaked afternoon... suddenly, Gautamda screeches to a halt on a curve. We all follow his gaze, and there looms what we've driven miles and miles to see - sparkling and pristine white, with wisps of mist rising from its slopes in the afternoon heat. Time stands still at 2 pm as Gautamda gives an impassioned speech on the "monarch among mountains". After a brief halt, of moments made eternal, we press on. But shortly before Tingri, where we stop for lunch, Tunu collapses. The high-altitude pulmonary oedema, or HAPO, is taking its toll, and we decide on an acclimatisation halt at Xigar. After the indifferent roads from Nyalom, we hit a beautiful metalled stretch before Xigar check-post. I let my Samurai rip, and the machine touches 100 kmph! It's heady stuff, though the ice-cold wind pierces through the felt-lined jackets and chills me to the bone. My Samurai is purring smoothly, but we aren't too happy with the Yamahas. They're showing signs of electrical faults, and with Tunu in bad shape, we're perilously close to the panic button. At Xigar, we pay through our noses - 500 yuan per person per day - to find accommodation. As Tunu's condition worsens, he starts hallucinating. Gautamda plays Florence Nightingale. September 26, Day 15: After a day at Xigar, Tunu's back on his feet. We're off. Destination: Base camp, 112 km away. We retrace our treads for a few km and then turn off Friendship Highway into the Chomolungma National Nature Preserve. The Tashi Dong village deep into the core area, with its primitive people, makes us feel as if we've travelled back in time to Genghiz Khan's Mongolia! We wade through the Rangbook river several times as it crisscrosses the core area. We're soon at Tungla Pass (16,500 ft), which affords a glorious view of the Everest and its companion peaks - Makalu, Lhotse and Choyou. Luckily, the dreaded Rangbook river near the monastery is not in spate. We halt at the gumpha to gape at the Everest - a splendid view framed by two slopes - while the monks gawk at the bikes. They've never seen such a contraption before! Day-stop at the base camp, where we are greeted by a Lithuanian and a Korean team. September 27, Day 16: We leave our bikes with our new-found friends and hike to the advanced base camp at 17,800 ft. Night in tents. September 28, Day 17: A climb up to the Rangbook Glacier. It's here that it hits us - the realisation that it's all over. End of the road. Time to head back home...