Mt. Everest – the very word sounds so daunting, don’t they? Today, the word Everest is synonymous with ambition, heroism, pride, dignity and off late - arrogance, if I am right. My forays into the rarified realms of “Everest” has been fuelled to a large extent by the meteoric presence of my childhood buddy Ang Tshering Lama (aka Dipak) as I call him even today.

Three times Everest summiter and each one more dramatic, daring and one-of-a-kind; Ang Tshering Lama is a rare breed. One has to use a telescope to find another one of his class and I reckon, he is amongst the last breed of Classical Climbers/Mountaineers that Planet Earth has in its embryo.

He epitomises the quintessential Sherpa Pride and from one thousand kilometers away in the Indian city of Kolkata, also referred to as the City of Joy, I, as his childhood buddy have been keenly following not just his stupendous mountaineering exploits but also his gorgeous evolution as the torch bearer of the Sherpa community - much like the red molten ball rising above the majestic Mt. Everest in the morning.

Ang’s passion to safeguard and preserve the fast vanishing Sherpa culture from the Himalayas is legendary – be it his rescue missions during the 2015 Nepal Earthquake, rebuilding remote Nepalese villages or guiding an all-widow team to the top of the world; Ang has contributed immensely through his philanthropic bent of mind.

Out here at the Everest Base Camp perched on the Khumbu Glacier at an altitude of 5600 metres with the temperature hovering around -7, I got the Master Mountaineer to bare his heart out on the state of affairs at Mt. Everest. In an emotional tete-a-tete inside the weather proof tent, Ang revealed, “Climbing Mt. Everest is no longer a noble quest. 90% of Everest climbers go to the top with selfish intentions and wrap themselves up in a blaze of glory. However, the fact of the matter is that almost all the hard work – fixing ropes, laying ladders, guiding, cooking food and even making crucial decisions on rarefied heights are all done by the native Sherpas”.

Ang finds this entire enterprise surrounding Mt. Everest very hilarious. He is of the opinion that without bottled oxygen, which all Everest climbers rely upon these days, not even one would make it to the top. Add to it, the crass commercialization of Mt. Everest which is so very palpable at Everest Base Camp – high-end tents with luxury beds, uninterrupted power supply, strong Wi-Fi etc....have all made entry into this rarefied realm of the Himalayas. Costs could range anywhere between $25,000 to $ 100,000. Unbelievable, isn’t it?

As the conversation drags along, I show Ang an exclusive BBC coverage on Mount Everest where it reports, “It's being described as the 'world's highest rubbish dump'. That's because Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world, has a problem with climbers leaving their waste on the slopes - both rubbish and poo…The mountain is home to three tonnes of climbers' rubbish, left by adventurers visiting the mountain. The waste includes tents and equipment left behind, as well as human waste from mountaineers who need to go to the loo while they're up there.”

Ang’s curt reply to the issue of garbages dumped on Everest would make any damn environmentalist sit up and take notice. And why not? His wisdom comes from two decades of mountaineering around the world and the fact that he is a wizened Sherpa himself! According to Ang, “My take on the matter is very simple – A state of the art Solid Waste Management System should be put in place at the earliest. I myself have been involved bigtime in several Everest Clean-Up campaigns, which gave me mental satisfaction, alright; but being practical, these sporadic attempts do not count for much”.

Ang further opines that environmental degradation isn’t just confined to Mt. Everest; the Sagarmatha National Park area, which used to be one of Nepal’s most pristine natural zones has witnessed a manifold increase in terms of visitor traffic, particularly trekkers and the need of the hour for the mandarins of Nepal Tourism is to re-set and fix a permissible limit in terms of number of tourists allowed to visit, keeping in mind the “Carrying Capacity” of the region.

As we converse inside our Weather-proof tent, one of the staff members from Angs Himalayan Adventure, an adventure tourism company that Ang has set up, offered us piping hot Caccupinho Coffee and oh God! the first couple of sips tasted like the Holy Grail in such freezing temperatures!

As our talks centerd around Buddhism and the harmonious manner in which neighbouring Bhutan has been preserving and protecting the only carbon-negative country in the world is a lesson for today’s hi-tech scientific communiuty.

According to Ang, “Basically it is a question of lifestyle. How nature friendly you are? Bhutan’s commitment to a more sustainable world originates from its intrinsic connect with Vajrayana Buddhism, which states that peace is of paramount importance. No activity in Bhutan is ever performed or driven by purely commercial instincts. Even in mega business ventures like hospitality, which off late is becoming rather popular, the underlying essence is on harmonious integration or fusion of contemporary architecture with ancient Bhutanese Wood & Stone architecture”.

Ang, who himself is a die hard Buddhist is all praise for Bhutan which has for a long time been following the policy of “Isolationism” in its attempts to safeguard traditional Bhutanese culture. On a meditative note, the Master mountaineer opines, “As a Sherpa, it feels my heart with joy when I see a small Himalayan kingdom putting Happiness in front rather than Capitalism. This not only requires guts to implement but also speaks volumes about the moral backbone of the Bhutanese society. Tomorrow if Bhutan were to open up its tourism sector to globalization, the country for sure would be earning Megabucks from day one, given the plethora of unexplored mountain peaks and the intrinsic Himalayan landscapes that remains an enigma for today’s discerning international traveller…I for one feel that the mandarins of Nepal Tourism should take lessons from neighbouring Bhutan by putting government’s regulations in place. What further impresses me the most about Bhutan is that the cultures of begging and touting that predominantly germinate and grow around popular tourist hubs has no place in the Himalayan kingdom. How many countries on Planet Earth can you imagine where the government sets up a stringent Minimum Spending Requirements for visitors? Truly extraordinary!”

On an optimistic note, let us all hope that the corpses on top will be safely removed, proper conservation practices will be in place and all the stake holders – climbers, adventure tour operators as well as the local Sherpa community will reorganize, redefine and demystify the Mt. Everest Climb.

As part of the Sustainable Tourism agenda, it is imperative to clean up the mess so that one of the world’s greatest natural wonders can be restored to its pristine glory. For many years, mountaineers worldwide have been clamoring that Government of Nepal pass a law making it mandatory for expeditions to bring down the bodies of dead climbers. The Everest experience also has lessons with regard to mankind’s forays into virgin territories like the Antarctica and the unexplored realms of outer space, which are also getting cluttered with debris of our civilization.

Below, I quote the observation of Sir Edmund Hillary, a few month’s prior to his passing away in January 11, 2008, on the sorry state of affairs on Mount Everest, "Those of us who climbed Everest in the early days were the lucky ones. We had to defeat the problems ourselves. When we stood on the summit we had only our good friends for company. These conditions can only be renewed by limiting the number of expeditions on the mountain at any one time. Governments must put safety ahead of financial profit. Only then will the challenge and joy of climbing Mount Everest return…A golden rule, which is being flouted, is one of gradual acclimatization. But with climbers not having much time at their disposal, they want to reach the summit in the shortest possible time. From a test of endurance, discipline and skill, the climb has been transformed into a battle of modern technology”.

He further goes on to quote, “I can hardly imagine myself climbing Everest in the present scenario. I remember vividly the time spent on South Col and my climb to the summit on May 29, 1965. It was 9 A.M. when I stood on the summit. I took a long wheeling look from the highest point on earth. There was Makalu, Lhotse, Nuptse and Kanchenjunga looming large on the horizon and many other peaks far below us. I gazed north towards the Tibetan plateau and south towards the plains of India. The view was unforgettable. Of all the emotions, which surged through me, the most dominant one was of humility and sadness. Having climbed the highest peak hereafter there would be nothing higher to climb since all roads would necessarily lead downwards”.

I am compelled to quote renowned mountain afficianado Viesturss, who has time and again cited, “In recent years, Everest has been degraded by its sheer popularity. Let’s not degrade it further.”

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