Ever since the world came to know that I have been surviving despite forgetting my wife’s birthday every year for the past 12 years and that I can catch her flying shoes on my face with the bravery of a warrior and the calmness of a monk, I have been bestowed upon a super-human tag.
Okay, ignore the above paragraph. It’s just to warm you up for the long read. The chapter starts from here.
You know what, I actually have a superhuman image, especially among men of my own age. Like most married men, I’m also forever living under the perennially scowling eyes of my wife. But instead of wilting and withering in the heat of it, I’m able to hold my own fort in some small ways. I have been sneaking out of the house in the dead of the night twice or thrice in a week for many years now to do what I like to do the most – to play football.
Bangalore, my home city, in fact has an astounding collection of insomniacs who pass their night engaging in some sporting activity. We call it night sports culture to make it sound alright.
When I come back home after the game at unearthly hours, no matter how hard I try to not make a sound and jolt the family out of their sound sleep when prowling around for a towel or a nightwear even if with the deftness of a cat, bumping into a chair which is out of position or knocking down a silver tumbler from the dining table is a frequent occurrence.
A startled wife is a deadly dangerous wife. My wife, in uncontrollable fury, would dip her hand in the storage space under the bed which is actually a junkyard, grab whatever comes to hand and hurl it towards me. Once a dangerous-looking object flew past me, crashed on the wall and landed on the floor with a heavy thud. I didn’t wait to check what it was. I fled the spot like lightning. The next day, discreetly inspecting the area, I found out that it was a small iron hammer.
Mostly I have been lucky to miss the flying objects – sometimes by mere inches – except once recently when a high-heeled shoe came swirling across the room like a flying saucer and clipped a small portion of my left ear. In the darkness, I couldn’t judge the speed or the angle, you see.
It’s not so easy to escape every time. It’s a combination of timing, precision and reflex based on the amount of light and space afforded. It’s a whole science topic. Mistakes can happen.
Illustration by Aishwarya Taneja
The case is, if you want to have some ‘life’ of your own after marriage, you need to be ready to catch flying objects in your face with the required calmness. And, to go through all of this, you need to be some sort of a shameless creature, like someone who can wear underwear over the pants and appear before the public, someone like Superman. So no wonder I’m hailed as Superman, a superhuman.
But then, how long can I keep my image up just by catching shoes. I wanted to do something more than this. Some friends say playing football at this age itself is the stuff of superhuman, even though it is at a listlessly low level. True, not many of my age play football mainly because they cannot stand inquisition about the degree of ‘shame’ they have. My father frequently asks, “Don’t you have shame? You are 38 years old but still wearing a half trouser and playing football with kids of your kid’s age”
On the contrary, some actually think I’m a phenomenon. They circulate colorful and grossly overrated stories about my abilities. Some of the wild stories are that I can climb 300 stairs 20 times without losing a breath or breaking a sweat, that I can shoot a football towards goal from the opposite goal and burst the net, that I can swim faster than a fish and that I can charm a snake just by looking at its eyes. Luckily not many of these guys have seen me play football. These days I’m only chasing shadows on the pitch.
I like this lot, and at least for them, I wanted to do something which is actually impressive. It’s at this time when I have been breaking my head around what I should be doing – should I crawl on a wall upside down like Dracula? Or should I simply play football wearing underwear over my half trouser? – this opportunity falls on my lap.
It’s a trek to Annapurna base camp. No, it’s not a visit to Annapurna Atta factory in Gujarat. The Annapurna I’m talking about is the tenth highest mountain in the world at 8,091 meters (26,545 ft) and the deadliest in the Himalayan range.
Trekking in the mighty Himalayas in Nepal will be a dream-come-true event. High mountains and Everest, in particular, caught my imagination after I read Jon Krakauer’s book ‘Into Thin Air’ some years ago. The book was recently (rather poorly) adapted into a movie, Everest.
It’s an autobiographical book about Jon Krakauer’s Everest experience in 1996. His team summits Everest but the euphoria of standing at the top of the world soon vanishes as a deadly blizzard sets in reducing visibility to zero and temperature much below zero. It becomes a fight for survival and eventually, 8 people would freeze to death on that day making it the deadliest day on Mount Everest before the 16 fatalities of the 2014 Mount Everest avalanche and the 18 deaths resulting from avalanches caused by the April 2015 Nepal earthquake.
Into Thin Air doesn’t show high-mountain climbing in a favorable light, but it lit a spark in my head to try Everest. I went on to read many books based on Everest and watched documentaries for months. Sanity, though, would eventually prevail. I began to ask myself, why should I pay an exorbitant amount of money and walk, die several times in the process, to ultimate death in a place where there isn’t enough oxygen to breathe even a sentimental last breath. I decided I would rather die, without having to pay a fee for it, in a place like Goa, facing the beach with a beer bottle in my hand.
A trek to the base camp of Everest, however, continues to be at the top of my bucket list. If for nothing else, in my old age I will be able to look at the far horizon, stroke my beard thoughtfully and say, “Yeah, I have shit in Everest”
Unfortunately, Everest will have to wait for some more time. Annapurna may not be as glamorous as Everest, but it is no easy game either. Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) trek is 8 to 10 days, 4130m in elevation and 120 km in total.
I form a number of rationalizations. ABC trek is one of the best in the world. It would be a good preparation for my dream Everest Base Camp trek. I would be able to test my endurance. There would be rumors that I did the whole trek upside down. Above all, I can prove that I’m indeed one big legend.
The downside of the trek is – without mincing words – death is a possibility. People have died. 2014 October, about 39 people including 21 trekkers died on the Annapurna trail when a blizzard hit them. Death by high altitude sickness is common. Every trekking season there are at least seven deaths in Nepal related to altitude. Hypothermia can kill and it is a real possibility in November – the month we are going – because it is going to be very cold. Kidnapping, avalanche and black bear attacks are some of the other issues to deal with while trekking in Nepal.
Positively, various sources say the chance of rain in November is nil, ruling out a blizzard attack. Hypothermia can be avoided by wearing appropriate clothing and altitude sickness by following basic precautions. Kidnapping is unheard of in the Annapurna trail as it is a crowded route because the majority of the way is actually inter-village highways. And, avalanches only happen in the higher reaches of the mountain.
I want to be calmed by these assurances but it is not easy. Studies indicate that climate warming has increased the odds of unpredictable and never-before events. Nature has not signed a treaty that it will not strike in November with a blizzard. I also read about the human-bear conflict in the Annapurna sanctuary area so why wouldn’t a bear want to pick up some interest in me for a happy-hour snack?
Let’s imagine a black bear decides to have a go. The Asian black bears are usually found in areas 1,500 to 4,000 meters above the sea level and I will be right in their zone by default. So, what am I supposed to do? According to Stephan Colbert (who randomly came up in google search), I should stand my ground and fight back. Yeah right, you first, Mister. I know what I will be doing. I will run as fast as I can. The bear will eventually overtake me but at least I will have the satisfaction that I did try to do something in the last few seconds of my life. Maybe I should find a bear and do some practice fights before I leave for Nepal.
Anyway, after weighing up the pros and cons, I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t go. Risk is always present in Himalayan environment, but every year, more than 100,000 trekkers head for the trails in the Nepal Himalaya and only a tiny number of people have any problems on their trek.
I decide to go.
However, in case I couldn’t make it to the base camp for some reason, I have my ass covered already. Here are the proofs:
The expedition team celebrating reaching the entrance of the base camp
No mistaking here. Annapurna is clearly visible.
Okay, I’m not in these photos but I’m the one who took these photos, so I have been here!
P.S 2: The continuation of this story is soon to be published as a Book.