To the peak of rising sun

Zuhra C and Sheeba Manoj’s decision on next adventure was spontaneous. Reaching the Everest Base Camp. And on May 19, after 13-days of arduous climb, the duo achieved the feat

author_img Mahima Anna Jacob Published :  23rd June 2022 03:00 PM   |   Published :   |  23rd June 2022 03:00 PM
Zuhra C and Sheeba Manoj

Zuhra C and Sheeba Manoj

For Zuhra C trekking is a way of life. With every hike, the 36-year-old is getting an inch closer to her ultimate dream - mountaineering. Every trail she walks on, opens a new horizon for her. Whereas, for Dr Sheeba Manoj, it’s all about travelling to new places.

After taking that first step, Sheeba felt the experience to be liberating, The 40-year-old now has only a few places left to explore in India and has covered several international destinations as well. Recently the duo scaled 5,364m to reach the Everest Base Camp. Of the several expeditions, these enthusiastic folks are proud to have conquered the greatest altitude of their lives.

Instead of the conventional route from Lukla to Tengboche, the Bengaluru residents took what the trekkers would call the ‘tough’ trail - from Gokyo through Cho La Pass. The route is known to be difficult as the weather is sensitive and the climb is challenging as one may require ice axes or even crampons on the pass. 

For Zuhra and Sheeba, the trek was just one among the many adventures they undertook on the spur of the moment. And what is more surprising is that their friendship is fairly new. Zuhra and Sheeba hit it off only seven months ago thanks to their constant wanderlust. 

“I got introduced to Zuhra through a travel programme in Clubhouse. I was moderating the event, many narrated their expeditions but out of all Zuhara’s trekking experience was so distinct. It immediately caught my attention,” says Sheeba, who is currently working as a quality leader in the pharmaceutical industry. 

After following each other on social media, both uncovered several similar interests. Running was one activity that made their bond grow even stronger. “I asked Sheeba whether she was interested in joining a running club. Without any second thought, she said yes. That was when we met each other for the first time. Since then, we used to go on long runs during weekends, and participate in marathons,” says Zuhra, a graduate from IIM Calcutta, who is currently working as an HR Consultant. 

In one of their runs, amid sharing stories Zuhra brought up the question of trekking to the base camp of Everest. “Sheeba immediately said yes - why not? We’ll go!,” quips Zuhra, mimicking Sheeba over the phone. For Zuhra, who hails from Malappuram, trekking to Everest was a necessity. And Sheeba, who had undertaken many solo travels as far as adventures go, including climbing the Goecha La - a high mountain pass in Sikkim, till then stayed away from Everest due to the myriad of risks. However, when she got company in Zuhra, she jumped at the chance.

“Since we are both fit thanks to the running and the many trekkings we have undertaken, our endurance was never a question. From what our trainers have pointed out, we were physically fit to take up the EBC,” says Sheeba, who hails from Kannur. 

Road less travelled
The usual route to EBC starts from Lukla and passes through Namche Bazaar, Dingboche and Panboche taking 11 days to finish the trek. According to trekkers, this route is highly crowded. That is why, the duo chose the arduous path - the road less travelled.  “It’s not just the destination that matters, the journey that we look forward to the most. Trekking is all about exploring nature and we felt we wouldn’t enjoy it while travelling with a pack of people, That is why we chose the alternative route. The hiking was worth the extra days,” says Zuhra. 

After some research Zuhra came up with the route Gokyo to Cho La Pass. Gokyo Ri Peak has six lakes - the world’s highest freshwater lake system. The sparkling, pristine turquoise-coloured water is a sight for the sore eyes. “If you miss out on these breathtaking views while going to EBC it is a major loss. We wanted to enjoy the lakes and the many peaks surrounding them. We passed four peaks all above 5,000m altitude. There’s less traffic, and according to our guide only a very few people choose this route to finished EBC in this route,” says Sheeba. 

Sights and souls
The Gokyo lakes change colour. From light blue to turquoise and over time to deep blue. The first lake is called the Gokyo  1 and it is located 5,300m above sea level. To the side, 8,000m snow-clad Choyu peak is visible. There is also a village there set up exclusively for trekkers. “Alongside several other peaks, from the frozen lake, we got to see the first glimpse of Mt Everest,” says Zuhra. The resources are limited on the way, with the price increasing along with the altitude. “If a cup of tea cost `100 below, as we went up, it went up to even Rs 400,” adds Zuhra. 

The 3km glacier before entering the Chola Pass was a haunting experience for both. “This has to be the scariest experience we encountered. There is no path as such in those parts, and everywhere it was slippery. Initially, there was nothing to hold on to. But when we moved a bit further, a few iron rods were there. Boulders tumbled down while we were walking through. What lies even a bit ahead too wasn’t clear. It was just the two of us, walking, holding our breath,” says the duo.

From the glacier, they walked to Thagnak village and the icy Chola Pass. on Day 9, they reached Lobuche - the meeting point. “Many won’t opt for the Chola pass route - it is lengthy and a trekker has to climb almost 50-degree inclination with a fixed rope,” says Sheeba.  On day 10 they reached the much-awaited base camp. “It was a moment that we’d never forget. Standing atop the summit, we could feel all the happiness in the world,” says the duo. Marking an end to their beautiful journey, the duo was lucky to watch the sun rising atop Mt Everest from Kala Patthar. “After seeing that, we wanted to climb other peaks. To see the sun rising atop them,” quips Zuhra.

Mountaineering mothers 
Mothers to two children each, both Zuhra and Sheeba had to go through criticisms from society for their choice to travel and pursue their passions. “When I say I’m going for a 14-day trek, 
it’s hard for many to accept. This has made women ignore their interests. When I climb, I’m doing it for all the mothers who are unable to spread their wings. Each step I take involves a lot of hardship,” says Zuhra.