Courtesy: The Hindu

Author: Shreya Ramachandran

VikasDimri_EBC_openskiez
Vikas Dimri at Everest Base Camp in 2014

One ordinary man’s journey to the top of the world

Mumbai: Climbing Mount Everest is not easy. This is a simplification, but it is also as much as most of us know about the world’s tallest mountain. So when Vikas Dimri, an executive at an international bank, Mumbai resident, and fitness enthusiast, announces that he is intending to climb Everest, it is cause for all of us to sit up and take notice. He is an ordinary man, he says, who is doing an extraordinary thing: “That is what I hope inspires people. That whatever your goal is, you can achieve it.”

Why does he call himself ordinary? Mr. Dimri cites his background: a middle-class upbringing in Baroda, Gujarat, where his father worked for ONGC and his mother was a homemaker; in an era where two careers options were preeminent, he choose engineering over medicine, then took the next recommended step, an MBA, then a job in the corporate world. “I have not done anything extraordinary in my life,” he says, “except this.”

The fitness push came for him when, eight years ago, his older brother had a heart attack; the hereditary nature of his illness made Mr. Dimri, then thirty-four years old, take a closer look at his life.

“I was the typical working person,” he says, “Someone who works eight to ten hours a day, and does not have time for anything else, except maybe spending some time with family.” He could not even run two kilometres without stopping. He began running and training, doing half-marathons, going on treks, enlisting in first beginner’s mountaineering training then an advanced course, and then, over the last year, even more rigorous fitness training leading to this Everest journey. “I think It is just about setting the goal, and then breaking it down into actionable steps,” he says. “From running to mountain climbing to exhaustive training for the most arduous climb. Each steps leads to the next.” Fitness is a good goal, but why climb a hostile mountain? Perhaps because it represents the limits of our knowable world; perhaps it’s what British climber George Mallory once said it represents “man’s desire to conquer the Universe.” Yes, he knows Everest is difficult even for trained mountaineers; yes, he knows even fit, trained professionals have died trying to climb it; and yes, it is not lost on him that Mallory was one of them.

Mr. Dimri begins his longer answer with a list of the dangers of climbing Everest. The environment above 8000 metres is inhospitable to, and actively works against, the human body. The air is thin, winds are forceful, the oxygen levels are low. Organs start to fail; the body is not equipped for this climate. “That is why,” he says calmly, “it is often known as the Death Zone.”

He is not exaggerating: that is the scientific term for the environment at that dizzying altitude. He is also aware that despite all the modern safety equipment available, despite the careful planning and experienced guides that have made it easier to attempt Everest, there are unpredictable circumstances that could, and routinely do, arise on the climb: avalanches, frostbitten digits, whirls of snow, slips while crossing a crevasse. Sometimes, he says, he stays up late at night, with anxieties and fears playing in his mind. How can he plan for this journey; what if something goes wrong, what will his reaction be?

Testing limits

Despite these anxieties, something deeper keeps him focussed, something that has taken root deep inside. It wasn’t the first sighting of the base of Everest — that was on one of his early treks — that planted the seed in his mind. It is not just about the desire to test his limits or conquer the universe or even what he started out saying, about inspiring people. It was the pre-dawn glow in the sky.

He explains. In 2016, in his advanced mountaineering course, he and his classmates were summoned out of their tents and told they would have to survive outside, alone, on the bare mountain, until dawn broke; they would get no supplies, not even a tarpaulin. Mr. Dimri spent most of that seven hours curled up under a large boulder. Hour stretched upon lonely hour. And he was forced to examine himself, his motivations, his core. “At that point,” he says, “I did question what madness made me decide to come here. I could have been at home, eating a good dinner, drinking a good drink, lying in bed cozy.” Finally, at 4 a.m., light filled the sky. “The sight of that light in the sky: I have never experienced anything like it.” He calls it his single biggest achievement to date, and the moment that gave him the confidence that he had the will power to make it, if nothing else. “Physically, I cannot make any promises. If you ask me to walk across fire and not get burnt, I cannot promise that. But I know I have the will power to do it.”

Vikas Dimri left for Kathmandu on Monday, to start his Everest expedition. Readers can follow his journey on www.openskiez.com.

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