Saturday, May 25, 2024

Conquering Everest: An Interview with Tarun Saikia – Assamese Mountaineer and Adventurer

Tarun Saikia is a name that will always be written in golden ink in the history of Assam. Being the first person from Assam to conquer Mount Everest, he is an inspiration to all the people who love expeditions and adventure. At just the age of 37, Tarun Saikia had reached the top of Mount Everest on the 18th of May, 2013, at 5.30 in the morning, along with his team. He and Manish Kumar Deka were the only people from Assam on the team.

Enigmatic Horizon recently had a conversation with this man. Let us take a look at it.

EH: What attracted you towards the path of adventure and expeditions, especially mountaineering?

TS: I came to the field of adventure and mountaineering at a later stage in life. Before that, from my school days on, I was attracted to sports. I played volleyball, kabaddi, football, etc. When I entered college life at Guwahati College, I joined the NCC (National Cadet Corps). Every NCC cadet usually has a dream of getting selected for RDC (Republic Day Camp). We also went through the selection process for this camp. But I was disqualified due to my height. After that instance, I left NCC and started rock climbing.

EH: Please tell us about your journey to the start of the Mount Everest expedition. 

TS: After leaving NCC, I initially took training under the Assam Mountaineering Association, where I completed the basic mountaineering course as well as the advanced course. After achieving an “A” in the advanced course, I started mountaineering by myself. I, with the help of my peers, formed the Guwahati College Mountaineering Club, originally formed in 1985. I gradually formed a network with other mountaineering clubs. After coming to the field of mountaineering, people usually dream of Everest. Till then, I had already scaled around 18 peaks, including Nepal Peak, Mount Sudarshan, Bhagirathi 2, etc. The dream of climbing Mount Everest started bothering me. One day, suddenly in 2010, I received a message from the Manipur Mountaineering and Trekking Association informing me about an upcoming expedition program to Mount Everest. The difficult journey of arranging the huge amount of money for the compulsory fee and other monetary contributions is yet another story. After I deposited the fee, I was all set to start my dream journey to Everest.

EH: Please tell us about the journey to the peak.

TS: The expedition to Mount Everest does not start directly. Before the main journey, we have to go through some conditioning training. We spent three months in conditioning camps in Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Manipur, and Mizoram. After that, our teams started the main journey to Mount Everest. I was in Team 1. There were members from other states on the teams. Our team reached the peak on May 18, 2013 at 5.30 in the morning. Manish Kumar Deka, who became the second Assamese to conquer Mount Everest, reached the peak on May 24, 2013.

EH: Please let us know how you felt when you finally reached Mount Everest.

TS: While climbing a mountain, every mountaineer’s aim and thought need to be focused only on reaching the peak, and all other thoughts need to go out of his/her mind. The thought that one is going to make a big achievement, too, should not cross one’s mind. One needs to stay in the present moment at each step while climbing. We started our final journey from the last camp before reaching Everest on May 17, at 8.30 p.m., and reached the peak at 5.30 a.m. on May 18. In the midst, the strong wind pushed me towards a cave. I somehow managed to come out with the encouragement of my Sherpa – Sherpa Mingma. The temperature was below minus 40 degrees centigrade. I brought a Gamocha with me that was painted with the map of Assam with ‘Joi Aai Asom’ (Hail Mother Assam) written on it. Though extremely tired, I became emotional and cried as I was able to fly our Gamocha to the peak point of Mount Everest.

EH: Has the government established an institute or started programs in the state for mountaineering?

TS: To promote adventure sports, the Directorate of Sports and Youth Welfare of Assam organizes 5-day, 7-day and 15-day camps every year. I have been designated as a Senior Mountaineering Instructor. Our programs are conducted district-wise. We have some specific locations for the training camps in several places, such as Morigaon, Karbi Anglong, Dima Hasao, Bongaigaon, Kokrajhar, Boko, etc. All these camps are funded by the state government. 

EH: In 2019, you suffered from kidney failure and also underwent treatment. We hope that you are completely fine now. Do tell us more about your condition.

TS: There were a series of expeditions towards the end of 2018, which included a 5-day camp in Morigaon and a 7-day camp in Karbi Anglong. After the completion of the camps, I felt just a little unwell. Then, after checks and tests, I was diagnosed with kidney failure in both my kidneys. It happened without any prior symptoms, which in medical terms is called chronic kidney disease. I needed a transplant. My youngest sister donated a kidney to me. At that time, the news channel “Pratidin Time” also helped me to a great extent by conducting a program on the matter and collecting a huge amount of money to aid me in my treatment. The government of Assam also took the necessary steps. Finally, the transplant was done in 2019. Now I don’t have any health issues and also feel completely fine. After three years of complete rest, I was back in the field.

EH: After conquering Everest, have you made other expeditions? If so, how many have you completed?

TS: I scaled several peaks after Mount Everest. They include Mount Manirang, Papsura peak, Thin Ching Khang, Mount Nun, etc. 

EH: What can people learn from mountaineering? What is the life lesson from mountaineering in general?

TS: I consider that every person in his/her life should go to at least one mountaineering camp. This is because there are just so many things one can learn from it. Strict discipline is a must and is of the utmost importance. We have a strict rule that states that no trainee or member can litter anywhere while mountaineering. And as you know, our people have this habit of littering, especially in public places. This is one of the reasons every person needs to attend a 5-day or 7-day camp to learn discipline and punctuality, as well as to imbue themselves with the sportsman spirit.

EH: For a person to become a mountaineer, what qualities should he/she have?

TS: First of all, he/she needs to be physically and mentally strong. Mental strength is the primary element needed in mountaineering. Discipline and punctuality are two more essential qualities. Empathy and sacrifice in a team are also a must. It is also important to ensure that the entire team does not fall into trouble due to one person; therefore, each member should inform the leader or any fellow member if he/she feels any physical discomfort. Regarding physical fitness, people with high blood pressure, asthma, etc. are not recommended to go to hilly areas since the oxygen level goes down as the height goes up. Mental strength is however above all.

EH: It was a pleasure talking to you, Mr. Saikia. We wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.

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