Thursday, May 27, 2010

Mount Everest Climbing: Ultimately the 'Bheto Bangali' Has Done It!


Musa Ibrahim, the Daily Star journalist,
recently climbed the Mount Everest

Photo courtesy:

Mount Everest seen from Pang-La Pass (Tibetan side)
Photo courtesy:

When Bangalis (Bengalees) are metaphorically known as bheto Bangali ("rice-consuming Bangalis" who are easy-going, non-agressive and non-adventurous people), one Bangali, for the first time, succeeded recently in ascending the Mount Everest -- the highest peak in the world.

Musa Ibrahim, a sub-editor (copy-reader) of the Daily Star of Dhaka, joined a group of foreign mountaineers and some Nepali sherpas (porters and guides) and approached the Mount Everest from the Tibetan side. Ultimately, on May 23, 2010 morning, they reached the summit, reports the Daily Star.

The 26-member mountaineering team had one Bangladeshi (Musa Ibrahim), one American, six Britons, three Montenegrins, one Serb and 14 Nepalese sherpas. The team was coordinated by the Himalayan Guide, a company that operates mountaineering expeditions.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina congratulated Musa Ibrahim for his feat. In a message, she said that Musa glorified the image of Bangladesh in the world by hoisting the flag of Bangladesh on the highest peak in the world. "By conquering Mount Everest, Musa has proven that Bangalee is a brave nation, no obstruction is unconquerable to us," she said.

The China-Tibet Mountaineering Association on May 26 officially confirmed the feat of Musa Ibrahim's team by distributing certificates of achievement among the 12 foreign mountaineers.

In reaction, Musa Ibrahim said: "It is the fulfillment of a dream. It is not possible to express in words the emotions. I was overwhelmed when I reached the top of the peak."

From the sea level, Mt. Everest is 8,848 metres (29,035 feet) high. Musa Ibrahim along with some others founded the North Alpine Club Bangladesh in October, 2007. Its members practise mountain climbing with the goal of reaching the highest peak in the world. In June, 2009, Musa Ibrahim and Tawhid Hossain, a fellow member of the club, ascended Mount Annapurna IV (7,525 metres or 24,688 feet high).

New Zealand's Edmund Hillary and Nepal's Sherpa Tenzing Norgay were the first persons to conquer Mount Everest on May 29, 1953. After them, so far, about 1,200 persons from different countries ascended the summit. This year, this is the first time that a Bangladeshi joined the Everest ascenders' list.

To a Bangali, mountaineering is as foreign as an Eskimo

Bangladesh is a large plain delta with numerous rivers, rivulets and canals crisscrossing it like a fishing net. Only in the north-eastern and south-eastern parts of the country there are some hills. The highest peak in Bangladesh is Mount Keokradong (some say 'Keokradang') which is 1,230 metres or 4,034 feet high. From time immemorial, non-Bangali ethnic peoples were inhabiting near these hills. Bangalis were not interested in nor did they have the stamina for climbing these hills. With the independence of Bangladesh, Bangalis began to settle in hilly areas in increasing numbers. In many cases, they were encroaching on the land and properties of the ethnic peoples. Till now, mountaineering in local hills did not develop yet. Local mountaineering is still as foreign as an Eskimo.

Musa Ibrahim's feat will act as an inspiration for next generations of Bangalis

The efforts of Musa Ibrahim and his Alpine Club Bangladesh members are praiseworthy. His recent achievement is a watershed moment in Bangladesh. The next generations of Bangalis will definitely go for more adventurous pursuits drawing inspiration from his recent success.

My brush with 'hilleering' (hill climbing) in Bangladesh

Bawm ethnic girls walking up to their Ruma school hostel, a project
funded by World Vision of Bangladesh. (At the rear, L-R: Albert Mankin,
the then Chittagong Area Manager of World Vision and
Father Philip D'Rozario, a Catholic priest from Chittagong are
visiting the project. This photo gives an idea of the hilly situation
of the region. The Sangu River flows below by the hills.
(Since I do
not possess a photo of hills from my 1985 trip, I am using this
photo from my second trip to Ruma in 1987)

Photo (Ruma, Dt. Bandarban: Feb. 26, 1987) © Jerome D'Costa

In course of my work at World Vision of Bangladesh, an international voluntary agency, I had the opportunity for visiting some of its education and development projects in the hills of Bandarban Hill Tracts.

In February, 1985, World Vision Dhaka Central Office staff Simon Munshi, Ferdaus Daud Haider and myself with Zirkung Shahu, a programme officer from Chittagong Area Office, set out to visit World Vision projects at Munnuam, Artha and Basatlang villages inhabited by Bawm ethnic people. These villages, nestled in hills, were about 12 miles away from Ruma. There is no plain land beyond Ruma. Rolling hills continue up to the hilly border regions of Myanmar (Burma).

From Ruma, we started walking on a narrow path, two to three feet wide, carved out of the sides of hills, several hundred feet high. Every one of us had a stick in hand to help us keep our balance on the bumpy path. We had to walk cautiously because a slip would land us 100 to 200 feet below. We moved from one hill to the other going up and down. The last hill near the villages was the highest. Before approaching it, I felt extremely tired as I was never an athletic type of person. My leg muscles became harder and began to pull. The cramps were so bad that I could not move my feet. I was compelled to sit on the path and I was literally weeping! I was worried that if cramps didn't subside I wouldn't be able to reach the villages before darkness. My stronger colleagues had already outpaced me and moved forward. I was alone with a local guide whom we had brought from Ruma. The guide told me to sit and wait as long as necessary. After an hour or so and after massaging of my leg muscles, I could walk with some difficulty. This way I crossed the last hill and reached the destination in six hours' time. Although I faced difficulties on the way, I did not lose hope. My sheer determination to go forward and my curiosity for observing new places and peoples made it possible for me. That day I broke one small record. I became the first ever World Vision managerial staff (I was the Communications Manager at the time) to visit those projects! The return trip wasn't that much muscle-pulling and crampy because the hills were getting smaller and smaller and we were climbing downward towards Ruma.

That was a bitter-sweet experience of my hilleering in Bangladesh! After that I never dared venture beyond Ruma.

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