In the wee hours of May 18, as most of his friends and relatives slept back home, a 37-year-old from businessman from Guwahati reached the summit of Mount Everest.
Tarun Saikia, a fruit juice parlour owner, battled chilly winds and temperatures dipping close to minus 30 degrees Celsius for several hours to become the first person from Assam to reach the top of the world.
He was followed a week later by Manish Kumar Deka, another Guwahati businessman. “I have no regrets at missing the record. In fact I consider myself lucky to have climbed the Everest,” he said.
Saikia and Deka are among dozens of Indians who reached the peak of Everest, located at a height of 8,848 metres above sea level, during this year’s spring climbing season which ended on May 25.
Though official figures are still being compiled and verified, expedition operators and Indian embassy officials in Kathmandu estimate nearly 80 Indians successfully scaled the peak this season.
Apart from Nepalis, Indian climbers comprised the largest group from among the 522 who reached the peak this season from the Nepal side. In the process they created many records as well.
The rush of Indians, who had till very recently only visited Nepal on pilgrimages, is a new phenomenon and was a notable feature of this climbing season.
“These days more and more Indians are coming to Nepal to climb Everest and other Himalayan peaks. It could be due to economic boom and availability of sponsors,” said Thupden Sherpa of Arun Treks and Expeditions.
It has been 48 years since the first Indian set foot on the Everest’s summit, a time when the expedition was quite unlike what it is now.
The first Indian atop Everest was Captain Avtar Singh Cheema who achieved the feat on May 20, 1965 -12 years after Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the summit.
He was part of India’s third Everest expedition led by MS Kohli which managed to put nine climbers on the peak. After that, there was a lull of activity till Phu Dorje climbed Everest in 1984.
According to ‘Himalaya by Numbers’, a compilation of data by Richard Salisbury and Elizabeth Hawley, only 95 Indians scaled Everest from 1965 till 2007 --- when the rush for Everest glory picked pace.
In the next four years, 56 Indians reached the peak with Anshu Jansempa from Arunachal Pradesh scaling the summit twice in 10 days in 2011. She reached the peak again this season becoming the only Indian women to have scaled Everest thrice.
The earlier expeditions and even those till mid-2000s comprised of climbers from the defence and security forces.
But the trend changed towards the end of the last decade with professionals, businessmen, and school and college students joining the rush to the peak.
Take the case of Arunima Sinha, a spunky former national level volleyball player who became the first female amputee in the world to climb Everest this season on May 21.
“Thoughts of reaching the peak used to give me sleepless nights and when I achieved my dream I felt like screaming out loud and telling the world that I am on top of the world,” said Arunima.
The 25-year-old from Uttar Pradesh had lost her left leg when she was thrown out of a running train by a gang of robbers in April 2011 for resisting their attempts to snatch her gold chain.
Another record was created by two 21-year-old mass communication graduates from Dehradun; Tashi and Nungshi Malik, who became the first set of twin sisters to scale Everest on May 19.
The sisters and Samina Baig and her brother Mirza Ali from Pakistan, who were part of the same expedition, sent a message of peace of friendship from the top by hoisting flags of both nations side by side.
But India’s youngest Everest hero, Namairakpam Chingkheinganba, celebrated his ascent in tears of triumph after reaching there on May 18. “I felt very happy at making my father’s dream of climbing Everest come true. I cried for nearly 15 minutes at the top,” said the Class XI student of Kanan Devi School in Imphal.
Chingkheinganba scaled the peak at 16 years, seven months and 11 days---beating the previous record set by Arjun Vajpai in 2010 when he was 16 years, 11 months and 18 days old.
The Manipuri teenager was part of an expedition sponsored by the North Eastern Council, which comprised of 13 climbers from six of the eight states from the region.
Eleven members of that team, which included both Saikia and Deka, were able to set foot on the peak. Many of them broke records.
Kaji Sherpa, 47, from Sikkim, became the oldest Indian on Everest while N Bidyapati Devi and Wansuk Myrthong became the first women from Manipur and Meghalaya to scale the peak.
“I hope I will get a promotion now,” Myrthong who is employed with Meghalaya Police said after the climb.
Forty-two year old Loveraj Singh Dharmshaktu from Uttarakhand bettered his previous Indian record by scaling the peak for the fifth time this season. He hopes to continue his Everest affair.
In another remarkable feat, a joint army team from India and Nepal collected 4010 kg of waste from Everest and brought it down. All members of the expedition including 11 Indians scaled the peak.
Eight cadets from a National Cadet Corps (NCC) team and seven students from The Lawrence School, Sanawar, were among the other Indians on Everest peak last month.
And the lure of Everest for Indians doesn’t seem like it will diminish soon as many of those who reached the peak this season expressed willingness to be back to experience the high again.