Cricket stumps Indians' Everest dreams
May 4, 2007 - 12:02:16 PM

Kathmandu, May 4 - As the first reports of the conquest of the world's tallest and most magnetic mountain start pouring in this summer, there is a sad dearth of Indian heroes at the top, with sponsors favouring cricket over all other sports.

While India, which boasts of a population of over one billion, holds the record for having sent a large number of climbers atop Mt Everest, second only to the US, there are no Indian expeditions to the 8,848-metres peak this time, barring a 20-member Indian Army team.

It's not the lack of stamina or courage that has come in the way of creating more Tenzing Sherpas. It's the lack of funds since Indian sponsors remain preoccupied with cricket to the exclusion of all other sports.

While Indians have been mourning the lacklustre performance of Sachin Tendulkar and Virendra Sehwag at the World Cup, very few even know about Kalpana Das, let alone commiserate with her ill luck that has not let her explore her full potential.

The gritty advocate comes from Dhenkanal in Orissa, one of India's most economically backward states. Since 2004, Das has been trying to climb Mt Everest but has not been able to do so due to lack of funds.

'She tried in 2005 too and even this year,' says Dawa Sherpa, manager of Arun Trekking and Expeditions in Kathmandu that this year sent three expeditions to the magic mountain.

'But she wasn't able to raise the required funds and told us she'd be back next year.'

Sherpa says a climber has to raise at least $19,000 to tackle Mt Everest, that too by the cheapest route, which means via Tibet in the north. For climbers who want to choose the southern route via Nepal, the permit fee alone varies from $10,000-$25,000 per person.

Only the Indian Army can afford to send climbers to the peak and not surprisingly, most Indian Everest heroes are from the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force.

Special kudos therefore must be given to Andhra Pradesh's Bachinepally Shekkar Babu, who is the lone Indian on the Everest trail this year in his private capacity.

The 27-year-old Osmania University graduate left Kathmandu last week as part of an eight-member international expedition to try make a long-cherished dream come true.

'He had attempted to do it last year but the plan fell through because of lack of sponsors and problem with Indian insurers,' says Sherpa.

Sherpa's agency managed to juggle Babu's finances this year and team him up with a group of South Africans, Kazakhs and a Canadian.

'Indian insurance agencies are a prime obstacle for Indian climbers,' he points out. 'They are ready to insure only till the base camp.'

However, the biggest obstacle, says an Everest hero, is disinterested sponsors who can't see beyond cricket.

'Cricket is preying on mountaineering and other sports,' retired Captain M.S. Kohli told IANS in 2003, when he was in Kathmandu to celebrate the golden jubilee of the first ascent by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa.

In May 1965, Kohli led a 21-member Indian expedition to Mt Everest that succeeded in putting nine men on the summit.

'Besides endurance, mountaineering also fosters team spirit and leadership qualities; and yet, Indians can't excel at climbing because it is an expensive sport and sponsors would rather put their money in cricket.'

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