When oncologist Dr Murad Lala told colleagues at P D Hinduja hospital last year that he wanted to scale the Everest,they thought they did not hear him right. They soon realised that the 50-year-old doctor,an adventure sports enthusiast,meant business.
My father had told me to reach for the skies and reach the peak of whatever I do. I guess I took his words literally, said Lala,whose schooling in the hills of Ooty fuelled his desire to climb.
Besides,adventure runs in the family. His wife is the first woman doctor from India to have accompanied an expedition team to icy continent,Antarctica.
Two years ago,it was she who facilitated a meeting of Lala with people who could take him to the Everest peak.
My wife Mamtha spent six months in Antarctica as part of a scientific team. She put me in touch with mountain climbers who referred me to a Canadian group called Peak Freaks, he said.
Having obtained leave and financial assistance from the hospital,Lala and Peak Freaks applied to the Nepal government for permission to climb.
He started practice late last year,conquering Loubuche East (6,119 m),Pokalde (5,806 m) and Island Peak (6,145 m) in Nepal,in what is known as the Triple Crown expedition.
As part of the preparations,I ran the Mumbai Marathon this year and worked out daily at a Juhu gym that had a high-altitude (low pressure) training chamber, he said.
Lala,who had joined Peak Freaks for its 100 per cent safety record,reached Kathmandu on March 28 and spent a few weeks acclimatising himself to the conditions there.
For scores of expeditions granted permit by the Nepal government during summer climbing season,there is a 5-7 day window when they can attempt to scale the peak. They waited for the window. In the meantime,we climbed from base camp to camp 1 four times. When the window opened,we just took off, he said.
Lala took extra care during the climb,ensuring his fingers and toes stayed warm throughout. I am a surgeon, he explained.
The team of eight was reduced to five not long into the ascent.
There were three who could not make it past Khumbu icefall and were told to return to base camp, he said.
On the night of May 18,the team set off from camp 4,with the peak 10 hours away. I found it tough to climb the Hillary Step,a rockface just ahead of the summit but I had help from my team, he said.
The exhausted team finally summitted at 9 am the next day. We could stay on the summit for only 5-10 minutes because it is important to descend as quickly as possible. The area between camp 4 and the summit is known as the death zone. Weather can change drastically in a matter of minutes and most deaths have taken place there, he said.
His achievement didnt sink in until after he reached base camp and called up his family. Up there,I felt relief after having made it, he said.
Lala said his Everest experience will help him motivate his patients. During the toughest moments,I kept thinking I dont have to do this. I have a choice of turning back. But many of my patients dont. Everyone has their own Everest to climb and if I can do it,so can my patients, he said.
He does not rule out further adventure. I do not mind going to Antarctica now, he declares.