China lowers Everest guard for Mumbai teen (With Images)June 2nd, 2011 - 3:41 pm ICT by IANS
Kathmandu, June 2 (IANS) Last year, when two veteran climbers from West Bengal, Basanta Sinha Roy and Debashish Biswas, wanted to climb Mt Everest from Tibet, they were forced to change their plans and go through Nepal instead due to trouble over getting visas and climbing permits from the Chinese authorities.
“Indians do not get visa and permits from the Chinese authorities,” says the veteran owner of a climbing agency in Kathmandu who declines to be named.
“While Indian government institutions like the Indian Air Force (IAF) was allowed to launch an Everest expedition in 2005, individual climbers are turned away. And even the 2005 IAF team faced problems. After one of its members, Squadron Leader S S Chaitanya, went missing in a snow storm, China denied permission for an air search. Eventually, a chopper search had to be made from the south after the Nepal government agreed to it.”
But now, Beijing has lowered its Everest guard for a feisty Mumbai teen, giving her the rare visa and permit to climb Mt Everest from Tibet.
Though Bhagyashree Sawant could not go right up to the 8,848m summit and was forced to turn back when only 48m away, she nevertheless makes it to the annals of Everest records as the climber who pulled off a diplomatic coup.
“I owe it probably to the Kotnis name,” says the 19-year-old. “While seeking approval from the officials at the Chinese Consulate in Mumbai, I realised how deeply appreciative they were of Dr. Kotnis and the work he did for the Chinese.”
Sholapur doctor Dwarkanath Shantaram Kotnis became a legend in China after he was sent there during the Second Sino-Japanese War of 1938 to provide medical assistance. Though part of a five-member medical team, he alone stayed back to treat wounded soldiers, eventually dying of stress-induced epilepsy in 1942.
The 32-year-old’s death was mourned by Mao Zedong himself and his life inspired films in both India and China.
Bhagyashree developed her “Kotnis connexion” by sheer coincidence.
In 2010, she came to Nepal to have a stab at summiting Mt Everest but had to abandon her climb due to high-altitude sickness.
After returning home to Mumbai, the Sion girl made friends with a local journalist who, as luck would have it, was going to visit Dr. Kotnis’ two sisters, Manorama and Vatsala, living on Grant Road.
She tagged along and became a hit with the two retired doctor sisters, especially when they heard she had tried to climb Mt Everest.
Bhagyashree became a regular visitor of the Kotnis sisters, who in 2006 were invited to meet Chinese President Hu Jintao during his state visit to India.
On learning that 2010 was Dr. Kotnis’ birth centenary, Bhagyashree decided to dedicate her climb this year to him. Besides the flags of India and China, she also carried a banner in his name that she had planned to plant atop Mt Everest.
In addition to the Kotnis link, the fact that she was an active member of the Indo-China Friendship Association also helped as well as the fact that she is totally apolitical, her passions being climbing Mt Everest and helping in a street dog welfare project.
Contrary to the experience of Indian groups in Tibet who had felt they were under survey, the 19-year-old says she was free to wander wherever she wanted and was always treated with warmth by people.
Her sorrow at not being able to reach the summit this year too was somewhat balanced by the astonishment climbers and tour operators showed on learning she had gone through Tibet.
“I was in good form this time,” she says wistfully. “I had no breathing trouble and felt I could reach the top. However, my Sherpa guide said he had miscalculated and I would run out of oxygen if I didn’t return immediately.”
The only child of middle class parents, Bhagyashree managed to get Central Bank of India sponsor Rs.2 lakhs for her Everest expedition. The rest of the money was raised by her mother Manali, a clerk at the Maharshi Dayanand College in Mumbai, by selling her jewellery, while her father Manohar, a Bharti Airtel employee, took a month off from work to approach individuals and seek loans.
(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at email@example.com)
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Tags: air search, biswas, chaitanya, chinese authorities, chinese consulate, debashish, diplomatic coup, dr kotnis, everest expedition, government institutions, indian air force, mao zedong, mt everest, nepal government, second sino japanese war, sino japanese war, snow storm, squadron leader, veteran climbers, west bengal