Imagine yourself to be an asthmatic kid. How many of us would dare or even imagine to trek to the mountains in this condition? Not many. But, Satyarup Siddhanta not only dared to do so but scaled to The Everest overcoming all odds.
An impossible dream to achieve, firstly just because of the sheer magnitude of the Everest and secondly because of the shortcomings of being an asthmatic kid, Satyarup conquered both the obstacles with vigor.It certainly wasn’t easy. But as they say, “Everything worth having doesn’t come easy”.
Here’s Satyarup Siddhanta in conversation with Team Livingit, about his journey from being a dreamer to conqueror, his passion for mountaineering, and much more.
Livingit: How would you describe yourself as a person? Introduce yourself.
Satyarup Siddhanta: I am just a common man with little uncommon dreams. I enjoy every moment of my life and love the ups and downs equally that makes life more interesting and musical. I love challenges and shape wishes to dreams and dreams to reality. I love mountains and I am very passionate about my work. It’s a balanced game after all.
Livingit: An asthmatic kid to an avid mountaineer. How did you overcome asthma?
Satyarup Siddhanta: I was always an asthma patient. In school sports, I couldn’t run those 100 meters without keeping an inhaler in my pocket ready. That didn’t stop me from enjoying my childhood though. That didn’t stop me from dreaming big either! I was determined to overcome my shortcomings. Once I was in college, I realized I needed to reduce my dependency on inhalers.
I was also allergic to many foods which triggered asthma. I struggled for years, continuously challenging myself by not using the inhalers and by consuming more and more of those foods I was allergic to, without taking anti-allergic medicines.
Finally, with exercises, discipline, diet and some considerable will power, even if I say so myself, I overcame those psychosomatic blocks which manifested asthma. I can now run for 12-14 kms nonstop without any breathing discomfort, scale mountains and can cycle 40km at a stretch.
Livingit: You stayed in Sikkim for 4 years. Did it influence you for climbing? What else influenced you?
Satyarup Siddhanta: We used to go to Darjeeling to meet our family friends every December when I was a kid. The bonding with mountains sprouted at a very early age.
Later, in 2001 I pursued my Engineering (Computer Science) from Sikkim Manipal Institute of Technology in Sikkim, in the lap of the Himalayas, which is a trekker’s paradise. But the irony was even the very thought of climbing a mountain was a forbidden dream for me as I was asthmatic. But I am sure being on the mountains for 4 years definitely made an impact subconsciously and the bonding with mountains strengthened.
However, it was on few occasions I did dream the forbidden ones …I fantasized going for adventures after seeing an advertisement of Cavenders, an adventure gear company. Subconsciously that attracted me. Another influence was a famous Bengali Novel called Chander Pahar (The mountain of the Moon) where I used to think myself as the main character ‘Shankar’. Childhood fantasies are so important to shape dreams.
But honestly never in my dream, I thought I will ever climb mountains nor did I think I will climb Mount Everest one day. Only when I saw Mt Everest in front of me in 2010 Dec while I went for an Everest Base Camp trek, I got this desire to climb Mt Everest.
Livingit: Your first trek was to Parvathumalai, in Tamil Nadu. How did that experience lead to your passion for scaling heights?
Satyarup Siddhanta: I came to Bangalore in 2005. I preferred not to share my asthmatic background not even to my closest friends, as I didn’t want anyone to remind me of my asthma; it used to cripple me. Weekends used to pass in pubs, restaurants, theaters and hanging out with friends.
Three years passed by when one fine day in 2008, Prem, my team lead in Iflex solutions, showed me some pictures of a trek he went. It was Parvathumalai, a small hill in Tamil Nadu. The route was through a jungle and then some challenging route on the rocks. I was fascinated. I copied those pictures. I watched them again and again. It gripped me totally. I couldn’t sleep in excitement. I pestered him again and again and I used to ask him if I could hike that hill too. Every time he used to say if he could do it, why can’t I. I couldn’t tell him about my asthmatic history. What if asthma strikes again?
It was many years since I used my inhaler and I started believing it was a matter of the past. I didn’t put myself to a litmus test to confirm that. I didn’t dare to. I decided to go for the trek. I bought a brand new inhaler. Prem and I made a team of close friends and went for that epic trek ignoring the scorching heat of April, and that too in Tamil Nadu. It was tough.
But finally when I reached the top of the hill without having the need to use my inhaler. Not only it was the ecstatic joy of reaching my first summit engulfed me, but also the freedom embraced me, the freedom of a bird who was caged and chained by asthma for years. I cannot really explain the feeling I had, it is still vivid and I get goose bumps.
And then there was no looking back. I came across the site of Bangalore Mountaineering Club while I was searching for a horse riding course. I started going with them to treks almost every weekend.
Slowly I became a freelancer with them, took people for the trek, scuba diving, snorkeling and other water sports, got certified in paragliding and horse riding. In 2010, I went to Everest Base camp trek and got fascinated by the Everest. I vowed to come back to climb it without knowing what mountaineering was.
After I came back I got an idea of mountaineering by reading some books on Everest. I took up a basic mountaineering course in Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling and then the dreams got even bigger.
Today, I have climbed the highest mountain of 6 continents including Everest in 2016 and all set for climbing the last of the seven summits – Mt Vinson Massif – the highest mountain in Antarctica.
Livingit: How do you suggest one goes about getting into mountaineering?
Satyarup Siddhanta: Going for treks with Bangalore Mountaineering Club helped me a lot. Not always you can plan a cost effective trek because of dependencies. BMC was a platform which helped me to trek without breaking my head on other logistics. I developed my love for outdoors going with them.
As I became a freelancer for them, I got an opportunity to plan and execute the whole trip and also it was very satisfying to get paid for going to a trek, getting paid for something you would love to do.
I made so many friends through BMC.
If anyone wants to pursue mountaineering, joining a local club would definitely help. And after one develops the passion, it is best to enroll for a course in mountaineering from HMI or NIM.
Livingit: What attracts to you the mountains? Why do you enjoy climbing the heights?
Satyarup Siddhanta: In mountains, I have all the time for myself – Time to think, time to reflect. And then the ecstatic beauty really rejuvenates me, helps me to stay creative, helps me to have a clarity of thoughts. I meet so many people from different parts of the world.
Living on the edge is a great adrenalin rush. A sense of satisfaction and a sense of achievement, pushing the limits, breaking the self-limiting beliefs, breaking the barriers – I mean there’s a lot you get. That is very intoxicating. The view from the top is heavenly.
Just like in a music, the silence/pause between the two notes is very important for a beautiful harmony, mountain to me is that silence between my daily chores of city life.
Livingit: What is the motivation behind your mission to stand on the seven highest summits of the World?
Satyarup Siddhanta: When I came back from Everest base camp trek in 2010 Dec, I was fascinated by Everest. Little did I knew what it takes to climb the mountain. I thought it was yet another trek and that it was the highest mountain in the world so it will be a tough trek.
I brought with me two books while returning from the trek. One was Into Thin Air by John Krauker and the other was Paths of Glory by Jeffrey Archer. I was shocked reading those books. I got to know what mountaineering was. I got to know how dangerous it is to go unprepared to mountains like Everest.
And I got a setback seeing the cost of climbing Mt Everest. I literally started counting that how many years it will take to arrange that much fund if I don’t spend a penny from my salary. I was heartbroken and wanted to give up on that impossible dream. But then after few days, a thought came to my mind. I asked myself would I want to keep those dreams as wishes and take those with me in my deathbed years later. Or do I want to make that dream a reality and live the dreams? I chose the latter. I enrolled for the basic mountaineering course and got myself the right mindset and skills.
But I knew that was not enough. I needed experience and wanted to understand how my body reacts to higher altitudes.
And while I was researching on Kilimanjaro I came across the concept of climbing the 7 summits. I knew Everest was like an impossible dream. I thought why not make the dreams even larger. And I dared to dream the impossible dream and decided to take baby steps to achieve the same.
Livingit: On May 21st 2016, you stood on the top of the Everest summit, the worlds’ highest mountain. How did you feel, literally on top of the world?
Satyarup Siddhanta: It was a mixed feeling. 50 mins before I reached the summit, I couldn’t see any more from my left eye. 40 mins before reaching the summit my oxygen mask malfunctioned and I couldn’t breathe the supplemental oxygen.
I had to rely on the atmospheric oxygen which was 1/3rd of what we get here at sea level. After half an hour without oxygen when I was just 10 mins before the summit, my body started signs of cramping. With a cool-headed negotiation with my Sherpa, I finally borrowed the mask of my Sherpa for 10 mins to reach the summit. And after two cameras and a spare battery failed, with many requests I could get my summit picture clicked and video recorded on the summit by another Sherpa.
Fortunately, when the sun rise happened the oxygen mask which was frozen got unblocked and I am hence still alive to tell the story. When I stood there at the top of the world, I remembered my family, my well wishers without whose support this expedition was not at all possible.
At the top, it was very windy and the view was something I longed to see for many years. It was an unbelievable sight, an indescribable feeling. I absorbed every bit of my 50+ mins of stay at the top.
Livingit: Of course, we can’t ignore that the challenge of getting to the top was a strenuous one. Not only did you slip into a crevasse between Camp I and II, hanging by a safety rope for 15 minutes before you were helped out. What were these accidents, and how did you feel after witnessing them?
Satyarup Siddhanta: I started to appreciate life more after witnessing death from so near. On the way to camp II, the entire stretch of ice bridge broke and went down and I found myself hanging on the safety rope. When I looked down I was scared, as it was so deep I couldn’t see the bottom. I thanked myself for following the basics. Had I not clipped to the safety rope, my dead body would have been lost in the oblivion.
After I put additional safety by clipping in my Jumer to one side of the safety rope based on my judgement, I started absorbing the beauty inside the crevasse. It was deep blue ice and it was silent. I have never seen such pristine beauty apart from National Geography. I knew not every day I will land up inside a crevasse so this was the best chance to absorb all I could.
On the way to camp 3, I saw a Sherpa fall to his death. His body slid past by us like a bullet hardly 15 feet away from us. One has to stay strong in spite of all these. On the summit day, one climber who was coming down fell from the top and fortunately was alive and rescued. His oxygen cylinder was about to hit my head while it was tumbling down. These are those moments when I had to stay strong, really strong.
Livingit: What is an important message you have to share with others looking to climb Everest or any dangerously high mountain?
Satyarup Siddhanta: If you believe you can, you can. Every blood of your should scream of the want to climb, every breath should crave to breathe the air in the top. And if your want is that strong, everything from fitness to funds will fall into place – the universe will ensure that.
Livingit: You mentioned in an interview that Basanta Singha Roy is an inspiration to you, having scaled Everest in 2010. How so?
Satyarup Siddhanta: The miraculous survival of Basanta Singha Roy in Dhaulagiri is something unbelievable. I learned a lot from his experience. His words of advice helped me a lot. I take inspiration from Debasis Biswas as well who was with Basanta Singha Roy being the first person from Bengal to climb Everest.
I get inspired by many mountaineers like Gautam Ghosh, Christopher Manning, Susmita Maskey, Bachendri Pal, Premlata Agrawal, the list is long. I learned a lot from my Everest team too. I get inspired by the life of George Mallory. Paths of Glory is a must read for budding mountaineers.
Livingit: What is a “Death Zone”, in terms of mountaineering?
Satyarup Siddhanta: Altitude above 8000 m is termed as death zone. At this altitude, the pressure is low, the oxygen molecules gets scattered, the body behavior gets unpredictable, less oxygen flows in brain and body, chances of hypothermia, hypoxia (insufficient oxygen in brain) comes in. Chances of Cerebral Edema (accumulation of water in brain) and pulmonary edema (accumulation of water in lungs) increases many folds.
The sense of judgment gets impaired. Heart has to work harder for every step you take. Every hour you spend in death zone, thousands of brain cells die. And helicopters cannot fly that high because the air is thin. So, no helicopter rescue is possible in case a disaster happens. The name Death Zone is very apt as anything can happen anytime.
Livingit: How does one acclimatize to higher altitudes?
Satyarup Siddhanta: Climb high and sleep low is very popular phrase for getting acclimatized. Going slow and steady, understanding signals from body, drinking lot of water and keeping oneself fit before climbs are essential to have a proper acclimatization.
Livingit: What is your training program, how do you stay fit for your hikes?
Satyarup Siddhanta: I start training 2-3 months before any serious climb. It includes strength and endurance training, running, swimming, cycling, stair climbing and some practice treks.
Livingit: You’ve also successfully climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Elbrus, Mount Aconcagua, Mount Denali and Mont Blanc. Which would you recommend as a “starting point” to scaling heights?
Satyarup Siddhanta: Mt Denali, Mount Mont Blanc are serious mountains and should be tackled only after a lot of experience. Kilimanjaro and Elbrus are good for a start.
Livingit: What is one of your favourite memories whilst mountaineering?
Satyarup Siddhanta: Waking up on my birthday at Camp 2, reaching camp 1, crossing Khumbu, got wished by my friends in the midst of Khumbu when they remembered and finally reaching base camp to have a great party at base camp with friends some of who are no longer with us. This is one of the favourite memories.
The next one is on 31st night in Aconcagua base camp where we all celebrated the new year dancing and singing in our downjacket and then the sky was having a crystal clear view with a billion stars with a backdrop of Aconcagua standing silently and colorful lit tents here and there. Moments to cherish forever.
Livingit: Is there anything specific you are trying to achieve through your accomplishments?
Satyarup Siddhanta: I want to instill confidence in millions of young people suffering from asthma about getting rid of the disease and leading a normal life! And inspire them to dream big!
Livingit: What is your word of advice to aspiring mountaineers?
Satyarup Siddhanta: Prepare well. And believe in your true calling.
So, dreams do come true. All you need is a lot of determination and a passion just like Satyarup to overcome your weakness and conquer your goal. Here’s wishing Satyarup Siddhanta, all the best for his future endeavors and his dream of enriching the lives of asthmatic kids.
Satyarup Siddhanta is surely Livingit, and so should you. Stop exiting. Start Livingit.