Cold, cloudy, enveloped in mist, that’s all what my senses registered. White and grey dominated the landscape, endless stretch of snow till thousands and thousands feet below. For a while I tried to match pace with a Sherpa ahead but the mist quickly engulfed him and his nimble steps carried him out of my sight. Alone in the midst of that humongous white mass which appeared gloomy wrapped in its deadly greyish sheet, I felt suspended in eternity. But this certainly was not a place to stop in. It was rather the graveyard of multiple brave men and women who had dared to venture on these dangerous slopes of Mt. Everest. I on my part, had been fortunate to climb to its top yesterday, and still be alive but it had taken a heavy toll. As I continued to advance my steps downwards, I heard voices calling out to me from the upper reaches of the mountain to my left. The words were incomprehensible though. I realized that the speaker was using a foreign language I didn’t understand. However, deep in my heart was the knowledge that there could be no one up there because it was way off the route. And the point where I stood now was the exact place where day before I had come across four Sherpas dragging a body on a makeshift stretcher. I had then scampered a little up on the side to make way for them. The same side from where I now heard the voices. This realization, the whole death infused environment and the acute loneliness did make it a little scary. Still, to confront the fear, I looked up at the mountain slope. Nothing but white swathes of snow glared back. The hallucinations continued for a few days even after reaching the plains. What all tricks the lack of oxygen can play upon us!

After a while my Sherpa caught up with me from behind and both of us continued downwards to the Base Camp. The distance to be covered was 9000 feet. As we trudged patiently, the sun came up in the afternoon. Along with it came the thirst. Thirst that had been accumulating for last four days when the summit attempt had begun. We had been climbing for hours and hours with a minimal intake of water as it took a lot of time and effort to melt the snow. The last two days in particular when we struggled up in the Death Zone towards the summit in the night had been torturous. In addition to extreme tiredness, the thirst was what had seeped deep within us. Half the distance had been covered but whole of the half litre water had been consumed. As the sun scorched our skulls, we swallowed our saliva, but even that was hard to come by. The throat was dry to the root. I tried to run my tongue over my lips in a futile attempt to give them a false impression of wetness. But the corners of the mouth were parched too and the lips chapped, so they resisted opening up. The feet however, had to be kept moving, no matter what. There was no option but to reach the Base Camp. We had no tents anywhere before that to spend the night otherwise. So, pushing our grossly dehydrated and exhausted bodies, we kept navigating the crevasses in the icefall, eating snow, despite being aware of its damaging effect on our throats and lungs.

Nine years later, it was a beautiful morning in the spring. I had just woken up and was stretching to begin my exercises. The air was pleasant and I looked forward to a long and satisfying workout. Suddenly the phone rang up. “Who might it be? It’s just a little past 6!” I thought a bit irritated and perplexed as any disturbance in my morning routine triggered abhorrence. More so, mother wasn’t well and was sleeping, and I didn’t like the idea of her waking up early by this untimely intrusion. So, taking the phone I began moving upstairs. Seeing my aunt’s name on the screen, I thought it might again be some family chore in which she wants my mom’s assistance. But what she spoke straightened my ears. I retreated my steps downstairs, put the phone on dining table in the hall, and walked up to my mother’s bed. The sight of her serene face melted my heart. Sitting down on my calves by the bedside, I gently touched her forehead. “Wake up” my whispering voice was merely enough for her to stir but it was hard to break from the sweet embrace of a morning sleep, especially for someone not feeling well. For a while, I oscillated between my protective instincts to let her sleep and the urgency generated by the situation. In such circumstances I always asked myself, “What would she have preferred?”, and the latter won. Never in her life had she succumbed to comfort or pleasure in front of duty. And now, God had placed this onerous task on me to rouse her to the call of duty once again in the middle of sickness. So, it had to be done.

“Wake up mother”
“Umm”…she stirred again.
“Let’s go home!”
And thus in a flurry we packed our bags, locked the house and got into a taxi. While mother started worrying, I entered into that emergency mode of mine where emotions have no place, and all I think about is the action required. So, I called up my aunt and informed her that we were on our way. “Is he still unconscious?” I enquired. “Yes” her voice quivered, “We are trying to call ambulance but no one is picking up”. “Alright, we will route via the hospital in the street across ours and see if they can send an ambulance with us” I said. But at the hospital counter, the receptionist informed that they had no emergency ward. So, no point bringing him here. We reached home and there they were, both my aunts standing just near the gate. On the floor lay him, my grandfather. A rush to the hospital led to a thorough check up by the doctor dressed in protective kit and a declaration, “No more”. Back in our home, as everybody struggled to come to terms with this sudden shock, my mind was racing to avert any further damage. “When would his report come?” “It would take two-three days”, my uncle replied. “Isn’t there any online portal?” “Yes, there is”, he told the website name “view lab results”, I opened the site on my phone and there beneath his name was written, “Positive”.

My niece, a girl of nine was reported having fever for last two days, so they had isolated her and kept her six year old brother in a separate room, where earlier I and my mom lived. “What has happened, has happened. Let’s save our children!” and saying this I dialed the number of our family doctor. He prescribed medicines for her and I immediately went out to purchase them and put her on medication for Covid. The government medical team was informed and requested to take the sample of our family. “All positive, except the boy and me” I read aloud the results, as my entire family sat in the different corners of the huge hall, maintaining ‘social distance’. Though the result was expected as all of them had been with my grandfather recently, my mother’s shoulders sank. “Oh, if only I could be negative! At least I could have cooked and taken care of everybody.” The situation was not only grave health-wise but also on the front of managing the household. None of them could enter the kitchen now, nor could take care of the kids, nor could touch anything. “Who will cook now?” she was almost in despair.

“Me!” standing in the middle of the hall, I rose to the occasion, knowing fully well that I had never cooked before. Wasn’t this courage to undertake uncertain missions grilled in us during the military training? All my life, I had been treated like a royal, studying to top my classes, and having food delivered at my table. Then in military, while we dined, waiters stood in attendance to pour the veggies onto our plates. It was always the professional work and never the kitchen for me, nor had I ever experienced any inclination towards it. But now its door stood open, and I was to go to the battle directly, all alone, without any training or assistance.

Everybody started medication under the supervision of our family doctor. And they were advised to eat well because alongwith the medicines it was the inner energy of the body that would fight the virus. So, waking up early, I cleaned the house, filled water in everyone’s bottles, made breakfast, served everyone, and around 8 am, climbed onto the treadmill to do my workout. After my breakfast, it was time to wake up the kids, assist the boy in brushing his teeth, give him bath, and serve breakfast in their respective rooms as they weren’t allowed to come out into the hall where four “positive” people sat, resigned and helpless, rooted in their respective places, on sofas and cots. Then the preparation for lunch would begin. I would bring out rice, flour, veggies, chilies and inquire from a distance what to do with them? What quantity to be used, how to go about turning them into meals? Wasn’t it similar to a junior officer having been assigned the duty to supervise the preparedness and decoration of the VIP longue prior to the visit of the senior-most officer of the Command? In the first place, one wondered where the hell this came from? Was I supposed to know about decoration of a longue as a military officer? Yes, an officer is supposed to know everything- at least a bit, to manage the occasion, or “find out” and somehow manage it, but manage he/she will. So, I headlong dived into it. In between the meals, fruits were to be given to each one, juices made, salad prepared, and kids cajoled into eating what they didn’t like. Of course there was no reason for them to like the kind of food they had never eaten before- sometimes overcooked, sometimes under cooked, and the taste- ‘changed’ all the time.

The advantage of having a big house was that I got a lot of exercise just walking back and forth to serve everybody, or sprinting from rooms to kitchen and back multiple times. A minimum of fourteen days had to be passed like this but in the midway itself, one day I noticed that I was feeling tired walking with my usual long strides. I accounted it to my last two days errands in the afternoon to multiple medical stores where to get the medicine people were standing in long queues, out in the sun, on the road, and I was one of them. The skin on my hand was sun burnt and pained the entire day, though the Aloe Vera that I applied on it soothed it a bit. So, perhaps it was just excessive strain of managing the entire household and the errands. So, I shortened my strides, and slowed down my pace but continued to hold the fort. One keeps moving, even if one is tired, that was wired in my head. I had done that on my various mountaineering expeditions and it was nothing new to me.

As if this wasn’t enough, an emergency happened. I had slept at 11.30 pm, way past my usual time and around 1 o’clock, I heard a noise. Waking up I found my mother opening the cupboard. This was against the rules of isolation, so, she standing there didn’t bode well. I stood up immediately and went out into the hall, only to find my aunt lying down and her husband (a doctor) bent upon her with a needle, desperately trying to find a vein. Her blood had thickened. In a reflex action, I sat down near her, and as per his instruction, held her forearm tight to make the vein more visible. After multiple efforts, he was successful in inserting the cannula and put her on a drip, the bottle hanging from the kids’ swing. Her oximeter reading kept going down as I heard him repeating ‘oxygen cylinder’ on multiple calls. No leads. The entire city was under siege by the virus; almost every family suffered, hospitals overflowed with the sick and dying and no oxygen- anywhere! Realizing the situation, he decided to take her to the district hospital two hours away, where he himself served. I sprang into action, putting her belongings in a bag, visualizing what all might be required. She tried to get up but couldn’t. “Shall I?” a question came in my mind. All these days we had been maintaining absolute separation between the ‘positives’ and ‘negatives’. “Heck! Yes! You don’t think of your own death when one of yours is suffering and needs help. Go get out there, even if it’s Covid, and contagious”, came the inner command and I reached out to hold her hand, took her weight on my arm, and helped her stand up. She swung due to giddiness and instinctively I held her waist to steady her. She was taller and wider than I but we made it out to the car and off they went. I took bath and slept.

However my weakness persisted, now accompanied by constant mild headache, a slight raise in temperature, and a huge raise in my heart rate. Nothing new again. That happens frequently in mountains. I took a break from treadmill but continued stretching and slept whenever I could during the day to regain energy. Military personnel know the art of sleeping anywhere anytime very well. The whole family was tensed about my aunt’s recovery as we had already lost one family member and could not afford to lower our guard anytime. So, I didn’t highlight the changes in my vitals, just mentioned them casually, slept more and took a tablet advised by the doctor for all of us. Within three-four days I felt normal, resumed my usual work out and even delivered three of my pre-scheduled online motivational talks. Aunt came back too out of danger but still recovering. And the fourteen days passed. Gradually everyone started recovering. Mom called the medical team to conduct our tests again in the hope that now the tag would be removed and she can help me out with the chores. But the results showed positive still, this time including mine. However our doctor assured us that we were all out of major danger. Barring the kids and me, rest would have to continue some medicines to prevent post- covid complications. But, the peak of danger had been passed. As my mother and aunt took over the kitchen, I took their leave to return to my familiar world of speaking, writing and studying. New peaks awaited me, new battles beckoned me.


Right clothing during a trek
Right clothing during a trek
How to prepare a First aid kit for a trek
Training Intensity Zones
How to select and set up a camp site.

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