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Follow that dream

Music director Shantanu Moitra recounts his most memorable encounter at the Everest Base Camp.

india Updated: Feb 04, 2008 17:43 IST
Shantanu Moitra
Shantanu Moitra
Hindustan Times

Many of us travel to connect with a strange land, the incomprehensible tongue and the inner vistas of different ways of life. And if we manage to come away physically unscathed, we never come away without the marks of human contact."

I read these lines somewhere and loved them. Three years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Mount Everest, every modern-day adventurer's dream. Little did I know then that besides the awe-inspiring mountains I would also meet a man whom I haven't forgotten to date.

Making it possible
I was 10 days into my strenuous trek to the Everest Base Camp in Nepal.. cold, exhausted and anxious about the bad weather closing in on me.

In addition to worrying about the usual dangers that one faces at such great heights, I was also concerned about whether I'd be able to view the Everest, given the cloud cover.

A lot of time and money had been spent on making this expedition possible and I just had to see the elusive Sagarmatha.

Determined, I set off towards the wellknown landmark of Pheriche, at a height of 17,500 feet. The lack of oxygen was putting pressure on my lungs, causing chest pain as I hiked through the town.

Our first meeting
Completely spent, I managed to find a teashop. Unlike teashops found elsewhere, those of Pheriche are more like mini-motels where one can rest for the night in the warmth of a huge, burning stove fuelled by yak dung.

These novel teahouses of Pheriche are a great place to meet fellow travellers. I met John here. This six-and-a-half foot tall American had just returned from a 6,812 metre climb of Ama Dablam, a mountain in the Himalayan range of eastern Nepal.

He was celebrating his success with his porter over a glass of local wine John had a bright cherubic face with no signs of fatigue on it, despite the laborious task he had just accomplished. His warm smile had an amazingly calming effect on me. John was from New York. He was running a successful printing press in Manhattan.

Happily married, his life was as smooth as the cogs in his press. Then one night in his sleep, he heard a voice telling him to go to Nepal and serve the needy there. This voice had no form, only a mesmerising glow.

John ignored the dream but it wouldn't ignore him. It came back every time he closed his eyes. He didn't have the faintest idea where Nepal was except that it was very far away. He tried to reason with the voice about offering his services closer home. The voice was relentless. John had to go to Nepal.

Burden of dreams
Naturally he was disturbed. His family and friends told him to disregard the dream and move on. He tried to follow their advice. He even turned to a psychiatrist for help. But he became very restless.

After two years, finally he decided to make the trip. He travelled through the interiors of Nepal for two months and interacted with the porters who climbed dangerous mountains for a living. Many of them lose their lives during the process, leaving their widows to take up a job and rear their children on their own.

John realised that there was the need for a day care centre for their children.. so that their mothers could work without any worries. It would also offer boarding facilities to children who'd lost their parents.

John realised why the voice had urged him to come to Nepal.

Was it madness?
John's wife and family were unable to understand this madness.. they left him. But John kept his dream alive. Today his boarding school houses and educates 165 students. The institution was funded by charity, which John raised by climbing mountains and giving lectures in universities around the world.

A few years ago, he met a German woman who helped him to run his school. They're now married and live in Nepal. John told me this extraordinary story over dinner.

The next morning, I bid him goodbye and set off for the Everest Base Camp. It didn't matter now if I saw the mighty Everest or not. I was enjoying my journey.. .bawra mann dekhne chala ek sapna.