It was the opportunity of a lifetime, but also an incredibly deadly challenge. A 10-teen squad from the rural, tribal Chandrapur district in Western Maharashtra attempted to scale Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain above sea level.
18-year-old Manisha recalled the historic moment at 4:30 AM on May 16th, when she placed the Indian flag on the mountain’s summit and her life flashed before her eyes: “I remembered my parents, my siblings, my village, my home, our forests, my school, my teachers, my friends, our training, everything.”
The majority of the students who were picked for the expedition had never left their small villages before. All of them had never even heard of Mt. Everest before the program.
The entire expedition was the idea of Ashustosh Salil, a government official who believed it would be an empowering experience to train and finance a historic moment for rural teens. Permits to climb Mt. Everest are often reserved for the wealthy or sponsored with a single one costing thousands of dollars. Salil was able to negotiate with the Maharashtra government, who funded about 40 million rupees ($570,560 ) to finance the adventure.
The final 10 were selected from an initial 47 that were whittled down in an extremely intense and difficult year-long training program. The climb up Mt. Everest is so dangerous that the bodies of those who have failed to complete it are often permanent reminders and trail markers for new hikers.
Of the 10 teens who tried to make the 29,029 feet journey, only five reached the top of the mountain: Manisha Dhurve, Umakant Madavi, Parmesh Aale, Vikas Soyam and Kavidas Katmode.
Many of them felt that their rural lifestyles helped prepare them for the ultimate test. Eating dried fruit and nuts was an easy task because many of their families could afford to eat meat or dairy regularly.
Of his training, Kavidas said “I have been climbing up and down hills to graze goats all my life, and that helped me learn rock climbing techniques quickly.”
The group was lucky not to lose any members. Altitude sickness and the bitter, biting cold and gales of wind can spell imminent doom. Stepping over dead bodies and hallucinations can also create a nightmare environment. Over 200 people have perished in their climbing attempts.
Four of the teens were forced to return after falling ill on their way up. A fifth had to go back with her sherpa to save another ailing climber.
Indu Kanake admitted her frustration: “I was that close. I was initially disappointed but I am happier now that I know that it saved a life. I’ll try again, if I get an opportunity.”
The five climbers who succeeded were rewarded 2.5 million rupees ($36,000) for the harrowing trial. Those who didn’t complete their task were still provided one million rupees for their troubles.
The money will go towards their education, home renovations, and their village infrastructures. All of them proclaimed their desire to keep climbing for themselves and the hope of future generations.