Referring back to the Epic Mahabharata, Maharaja Bhagirathi’s heavy penance in order to liberate his ancestors from their sins paid off and Brahma allowed the Holy Ganga to flow down from Vaikuntha and after long penance and meditation to Lord Shiva, Lord Shiva agreed to receive and soften the powerful flow of the Holy Ganga coming down from Vaikuntha and thus the Holy water washed away the sins of his ancestors by flowing down from the abode of Lord Vishnu to the earth. That was the belief of the Hindus and the uniqueness of the water also seem to corroborate the mythological story.
The team consists of 15 members, 10 members for climbing group and 5 as the supporting group, Dr Ningthoujam Shadhana, as medical officer of the expedition, performed her duty of medical checkup of the entire team at Indian Mountaineering Foundation, New Delhi. And the IMF president N .N. Vohra was kind enough to exempt our equipment hiring charges and he was very supportive to us too.
On the 13th September, 2003, we started for Uttarkashi by hiring two Toyota Qualis. On the 14th September, we reached Uttarkashi and stayed at the Bhandari Annex (Five storey building hotel) where we bought all the necessary food stuffs and kitchen items, on the 15th sept our president Yambem Laba, expedition leader, G. Anita and Surjit along with other team have gone to NIM for hiring high altitude equipments, tents and sleeping bags etc for the Mt. Bhagirathi II expedition. On the way 45 kms from Uttarkashi towards Gangotri near the Gangnani a dangerous landslide had occurred. From there we crossed by foot and caught another bus from other side to continue our journey.
On the way to Gangotri, we came across apple orchards, we bought apples and enjoyed eating fresh apples and I remember a Hindi movie by the name “Ek Phool Do Mali”. I was holding the apple in the orchard and I got click as the Shadhana of MMTA climber, but not the film star. We reached Gangotri at 2.30PM and stayed at Manisha hotel Gangotri which is 3140 meters above sea level. We weighed all the equipments, ration, and food stuffs and distributed to all the trekkers to carry on our back, sharing weights among the climbers to lighten the burden. We enjoyed the beautiful scenery of the flow of Ganga River and huge boulders which looked sharpened and concave by the heavy flow of Ganga, producing loud sound echoing off and on. We offered puja and tarpan over the Ganga for our ancestors and our beloved 18 patriots ‘who sacrificed their lives for the state on the 18th June. That month of our expedition fell on tarpan period(i.e the time to offer puja,a way of gratifying the ancestors and freeing them from any unfulfilled desires so that they can complete their journey to the heavenly abode with peace,
satisfaction and happiness, we offer black sesame seeds, rice and water and seeking their blessings; it is the ritual of satisfying our ancestors by offering them prasadam or food also), we never missed anything to offer with our capability for our beloved departed souls of our family and for the state, who have sacrificed their lives. The Pandit who did puja for us gave two red coloured cloths to Bijaya and Shadhana and told us that he felt that the puja was very satisfying and there would be good result. Our leader Yambem Laba also offered tarpan and he also performed the ritual of immersing the ash and flowers in the Holy Gangotri for his cousin who expired before the Bhagairathi II expedition. Gangotri is very well known and the shrine of Gangotri is world famous pilgrimage and attracts large number of tourists every year. On the 15th September, we have started trekking from Gangotri, we offered our prayers at the famous temple then passed the temple and paid the expedition entry fee to the Gangotri National Park check post. On the same day, we reached Bojbasa 3792 meters above the sea level and stayed one night over there. Bojbasa is one of the tourist places for adventure lovers. Many Environment activists had taken saplings of Bojpatra trees, plenty of trees are grown there and the people collected the bark of Bojpatra trees which are used for Horoscope writing purposes. I myself was ignorant about this tree; such experience is life changing and adding knowledge to us.
On the next day, 16th September we have started at 7.30 AM for Nandanvan through Gomukh glaciers, where Holy River Ganga originated, it looked like the mouth of a cow, the water flowing out from it, thus the name was given as Gomukh, the shape and others surrounding are all in ice form. Gomukh, has been the terminus of the Gangotri glacier where the continuous melting of ice of this glacier results in the flowing of the clear and pure water of the Bhagirathi river. Here we are faced with one of the dangerous treks for the support team to climb over the glacier’s path- slow pace, breathless and difficult trek, we crossed with the help of rope and we depended for our life on each others. I came to realize the importance of wearing bright color jackets for identifying us in case anything untoward happens to any of us and dark sunglasses to protect our eyes from snow blindness. The information, I have collected later on was that our leader Laba met one big snake over the glacier trek. First party reached Nandanvan at 1.30 PM and the last party arrived at 7 Pm. I was among the last party group; I frequently rested while climbing up the glacier. It was very cold; we (the rear party) had hot soup when we reached the camping place, quite refreshing after the breathless and tiring tough climb. The advanced party had fixed all the tents, spread the mattresses and sleeping beds of our requirements at the Nandanvan camping place and had made a rudimentary small kitchen in the adjoining area where we cooked and boiled the ice for drinking purposes. We established our base camp at Nandanvan 4440 meters above sea level. It is surrounded by the Holy snow clad Mountains such as Mt. Shiva ling on the West, Mt. Kedar Dome and Mt. Kharchkund on the south and Mt. Bhagirathi Group on the East.
The next day, 17th September, we offered prayer to the Goddess Nandanvan and screened our equipments and ration. On the same day the Darjeeling (Bengalis) expedition party met casualty at Mt. Kedra Dome peak due to heavy avalanche, we could hear the loud bombarding sound of the avalanche, and two of the expedition members were killed over there. We have done the video recording of the avalanche and that was shared to the bereaved family of Darjeeling team later on. At the Nandanvan camp, Dr Shadhana explained to the team about the high altitude sickness especially about the pulmonary and cerebral oedemas. Those who are not medically fit for high altitude in the mountain are not advised to go up. Normal persons need to acclimatize for every 300 meters and regular climbers need to acclimatize for every 6000 meters above sea level. We cannot challenge the nature
Our President Yambem Laba started having high altitude sickness with disorientation along with mental cloudiness and irrelevant talk. Dr. Shadhana (medical officer-in-charge) gave ½ tab of lasix and also gave dexona injection 2ml IV stat to Tamo Laba in order to manage the problem inside the tent. We had sleepless night to look after our leader Laba, monitoring the vital parameters, recording pulse, blood pressure and so on. The next day, we have to take him down as soon as possible, with the help of one of the American member by the name Jared Cobern, who was tall and healthily built, he carried Laba on his back and descended down the glacier’s tough path; it would have been very difficult or impossible for other Manipuri climbers to carry him down since Laba was very tall. Dr. Shadhana taught Jared Cobern, how to give injection and instructed him to give dexona 8mg every 8 hourly gap and descend down till medical facility center is available. He was taken to Gomukh health facility center. In the evening, we got the message through walky-talky that our leader was safe and sound. We the climbers, mountaineers and trekkers were instructed to care one another throughout the journey and depend on each other’s hands, without any distinction between caste, creed, religion or different regions or different countries. We care and love one another- that are the spirit of good climbers. There was another member, Ricco, a Swiss; he was good in paragliding and very helpful too. When we received the good news, we were very glad to learn about our leader’s condition.
On 21st September we established camp 1 at 4800 meters and our target was to scale the summit on the 25th September 2003. On 22nd Morning Mountain support guide came down from camp 1 due to hallucination, probably due to high altitude sickness, but he believed that he would require to be treated at Tapavan where all the sadhus were doing penance and spiritual sadhana there, in order to remove the evil spirit possessing him. Hallucination is one of the symptoms of high altitude sickness due to lack of oxygen in the brain, it usually developed at the height of 7000-11000 ft above sea level and it also differed from one individual to another, this is my opinion as I am a medical officer. From here onwards we continued our expedition without a guide. On the 23rd September, we opened camp II at 5480 meters above
sea level, on 24th September, another episode came up that the mountain fox had taken the entire ration from camp II so the ration was exhausted there. Bijaya and Shadhana were given two red colored holy cloths by the Pandit during the tarpan puja at the Gangotri and were told that these cloths will protect us throughout the journey and stayed blessed always. We gave those two cloths to Mohan and Shanta. We again managed to get the supply ration from the base camp No. 1. On the 25th September, our 4 climbers went up to summit but could not do so due to bad weather. Our climbers attempted three times, and on the fourth attempt Puyancha Mohan and Maibam Shanta went up on the 28th September, and summited the peak at 12.45 PM from the East rider; and unluckily due to bad weather condition, they slipped on the ice and lost their camera, so they lost the most valuable information/ data that they captured during the expedition including the one at the summit depicting the joyous moment of this expedition. Both of them cried a lot and were not realize that they able to had successfully summitted the Mount Bhagirathi II. But Later on when experts analyzed all the routes they came to the conclusion without a doubt that the Manipuri climbers succeeded in scaling the peak that was a moment of pride for all of our team. We trekked down up to Gangotri; Bijaya was very tired so she hired horse to go down where we halted one night at our previous lodging place Manisha hotel. While coming back on the same route to Uttarkashi, the heavy landslide were continuing and our hotel Bhanderi Annex, 5th storey building was completely submerged by the landslide and authorities of the disaster management had evacuated all the patients in the Wards from the nearby hospital. We stayed in another hotel in a safer area but the sound of the landslide continued throughout the night like a nightmare. It was an eventful and tough journey but with full of fond memories; we reached New Delhi, and stayed at Manipur Bhavan. Our leader, Yambem Laba’s health was checked up at AIIMS and managed his treatment further at NIMHANS, at Bangalore. So we came back home with our spirits soaring high, up on wings of our achievement. Thus we concluded our journey to Mt. Bhagirathi II (6512 meters above sea level).
The writer is a medical doctor with the Manipur Health Services