In just two years of completing a course in mountaineering, trekker Kamakshi Pal managed to climb both Everest Base Camp, as well as Mera Peak. Here’s her story. By Tanvi Jain
“My first solo trip to Spiti Valley back in 2015, made me quit my job the very next year, and pursue travelling full time. Now, here I am, sitting in the mountains, after four years of no stable job, no fixed salary, yet happier than ever,” says trekker Kamakshi Pal. Let’s find out what she is up to during the lockdown, and what are her future travel plans.
Where are you spending your lockdown days?
Up until early September, I was in Delhi with my folks, but now I have moved to Manali to live alone in the mountains for the next few months. A usual day in my life starts by waking up at 06:00 am, followed by making my bed, cleaning my room, some workout and meditation, then daily chores and a bit of reading. After that I do my freelance work, create content for myself, do hula hoop in the evening, have dinner, read and go off to bed.
Tell us about your last mountaineering expedition.
My last expedition was in October 2019 at Mera Peak in Nepal, located at an altitude of 6,476 metres above sea level. It was a 23-day expedition, covered by five climbers including one Indian trekker, four Swedish trekkers and a Nepalese leader. However, just before the lockdown, I was in Uttarakhand on an exploration trip.
Some of the most thrilling experiences you’ve had since you started your journey as a trekker?
I started in 2017 when I first enrolled for a course at the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering. A year later, I covered the Everest Base Camp in 2018, and then Mera Peak in 2019, which was the most thrilling climb, especially, the last stretch from the high camp (5,800 metres to 6,476 metres). I was menstruating when we reached 5,800 metres, hence, the cramps coupled with altitude sickness and nausea, made it very difficult for me to climb further. But it was my last day so I prepared myself mentally and was able to complete the summit.
Tell us about your first climb.
Kheerganga was my first hiking experience even before I had applied for a mountaineering course. Everest Base Camp has been one of the finest experiences of my life. It started from Lukla, which is one of the most dangerous runways and thrilling flights one could imagine. Although, EBC is a gradual climb, the altitude, is something one needs to be prepared for, as the sickness if taken lightly could prove to be dangerous. So, the key is to drink enough water — at least four litres every day. However, I had a beautiful experience. It was my first time in Nepal, and I was shocked to see the crowd at the EBC, who despite belonging to different walks of life had come with the same mindset and were giving a very family-kind-of vibe.
One of the most important lessons that trekking has taught you?
No matter how powerful, famous, or rich you are, mountains treat everyone equally. It can break your ego in no time. So, no matter how high you climb, it’s always better to stay grounded. It makes you kinder towards your tribe, humbler towards nature, and more loving towards life.
Where did you go for your first solo trip?
My first solo trip was in October 2015, and it changed my life forever. It was my birthday, so I had planned a two-week trip to Spiti Valley. I used to work in a startup back then, and this place made me quit my job. Sounds crazy, but I remember, sitting in Dhankar fort and noticing this amazing confluence of Spiti and Pin River, that’s where I realised that I belong here, not in my cubicle. And, later in 2016, I decided to quit my job. Now, here I am, sitting in the mountains, after four years of no stable job, no fixed salary, yet happier than ever.
Your favourite travel destination so far?
Kashmir has all my heart. Just the thought of it drives me crazy. From Dal Lake to Doodh Patri, from Ganderbal to Gulmarg, it is incredibly beautiful. I love its culture, language, food, architecture, music, etc. Leave me there all alone and I won’t ask for anything more. My search for a perfect home ends in Kashmir.
Any travel bucket list for 2021?
It’s more of a 2020 bucket list which I would love to fulfil in 2021, and it includes exploring two European countries, pursuing a course in water sports, and climbing 7,000 metres.
How do you see the future of mountaineering in the post-pandemic world?
Although the Coronavirus pandemic has changed a lot of things, people will not stop travelling, as they have anyway been stuck indoors for months now. However, it will happen at a very slow pace, and as far as mountaineering is concerned, I guess, people will be way more patient, and will eventually turn up with all the enthusiasm and spirit to climb again.
The first place you would like to visit as soon as all the travel curbs are lifted?
I have moved to the mountains, and have already started going on day hikes. Once things are better, I would love to visit Kashmir. However, I might go to the beaches by the end of this year. In fact, I am ready to go anywhere peaceful that feels like home.
What’s your take on conscious travel?
I believe in sustainable tourism, that’s why I prefer local things so that I can support local businesses and people. I don’t even make advance bookings, rather, I travel to places, and find good homestays instead of hotels. I prefer to stay with the locals, enjoy their cuisine, listen to their stories, and explore the place as they do. It helps to know the area and its culture in a much better way.
How do you wish to protect the environment while on the move?
I don’t buy plastic bottles or any packaged snacks. I try to reuse my stuff as much as possible, even clothes. I prefer to commute via public transport instead of a private vehicle and make sure to not leave anything on treks.
One tip for aspiring mountaineers?
Don’t travel without your COVID-19 negative test report now. Hospital facilities are limited in the mountains, and villagers are anyway trying hard to survive in their safe zone in the current scenario. So, it’s important for you to be a responsible traveller.