I went on my first major trek last year in May to the Everest Base Camp. It was an exhilarating experience and took me out of my comfort zone in more ways than one. That experience made me decide to do another trek and I ended up choosing Mount Kilimanjaro as the next one.
So a bunch of us friends started planning for this in November of 2016 and soon we had 8 people on board and all details were finalised for the trek from 7-13 March. We did our research from the internet and from people who have been there before as we assiduously prepared for the journey.
We all made our way from different cities to congregate at Arusha in Tanzania. I flew from Dhaka to Nairobi and then went by road to Arusha. We then set out on our trek which involved 5 days of climbing up to the summit and 2 days of coming down.
We went with Team Kilimanjaro led by Faraja, the chief guide, and a group of about 30 porters and guides. We stayed in tents along the way, a new experience for most of us. We took the scenic Rongai route, which started off in the rain forests before opening up into higher and more rocky terrain. The first 2 days were very good – nice easy walks with lovely views in absolutely pristine environment with hardly any people around. It was very liberating. As we climbed higher, the terrain started becoming more barren and the air started becoming thinner with the oxygen levels going down.
We quickly settled into a routine – early wake up and breakfast, packing up our stuff, wearing the right gear and setting out for the day. We then covered the distance for the day in gorgeous sunny weather, broke for lunch and then got back on our feet again. We usually ended the day by early evening and enjoyed a cup of tea followed by an early dinner. We would then retire for the night by around 9 pm.
Then came D-day, or rather D-night, the night we set out for the summit. We started out at 11:30 pm, swathed in several layers of clothing and a sense of nervous excitement of what lay ahead. It was a clear night with a full moon and countless shining stars. We trudged along in a single file taking one step after another. After a while, the body settled into a slow and steady rhythm, the mind went blank, devoid of any thoughts. Around sunrise, we reached Gilman’s Point at 5685 meters. By then, we were all in a zombie-like state functioning without being fully aware of what we were doing. Our guides told us that we were “just” an hour and a half from the summit. And so we gathered our last reserves and set out again, as the sun came up and warmed us a bit. Finally around 8:30 am, we reached Uhuru peak, the highest point at 5895 meters. It was a proud and emotional moment for all of us. The sense of accomplishment was incredible. After the customary selfies, we started our descent. The entire journey down to the next camp took 8 hours with just a one hour lunch break. We reached camp by 6 pm, utterly exhausted. We had trekked 17 hours in fairly alien and tough conditions!!
The next couple of days were a blur as we all recovered from our exhaustion and as the achievement began to sink in and as we boarded our flights back home.
It was amongst the toughest things that I have done in my life. It was challenging physically as well as mentally. There were many thoughts buzzing around in my head as we went through this generic yasmin experience, and there were many learnings. I have attempted to summarize them below.
- Hakuna matata– this is a Swahili phrase which translates to “no worries” – it is a common phrase in that part of the world, which was further popularized by The Lion King. To me it reflects a larger philosophy of life, in terms of taking things in our stride and working through them, rather than getting bogged down by our circumstances. Our guides used to sing this every morning to inspire and motivate us to get through the tough day ahead, and it’s a worthwhile memory to keep in mind to get through tough days in our life.
- Get out of our comfort zone every once in a while: One of things that worried me about the trek was about how I was going to manage to sleep in the sleeping bag! I feel claustrophobic and am not very comfortable in a tent in the sleeping bag. The first night was tough. But then, from the second night, I got used to it. And I guess the exhaustion, chamomile tea and meditation helped as well. Every once in a while, it’s good to get out of our comfort zone and do things for the first time.
- Pole Pole – a Swahili word that means to take it slowly, take it easy. The first thing that the guides tell you is to go slowly, really slowly so that your body gets used to the altitude and the environment. What I found was this also lets you slow down and appreciate the view and the surroundings. And that’s something that we very often forget to do in life. We are so busy chasing our goals that we forget to live in the moment and be present to the things happening around us.
- Simple joys of life: we take so much for granted in our lives that we very often fail to appreciate them. During the trek, we were served very simple but quite tasty meals – usually soup, bread, pasta, rice, boiled vegetables and fresh fruits. I got used to this pretty quickly, and didn’t really miss my favorite food. And I discovered the simple pleasures of life like drinking a hot cup of tea with the early morning sun in my face and with a nip in the air, or having a bowl of steaming hot soup in the evening after a long day’s trek, or a deep philosophical discussion with a friend as we walked along a scenic path.
- Digging deep into reserves – in order to summit, we walked all night and then after summiting we walked down all day – a total of about 17 hours, without any sleep or rest. It was a grueling journey, where very often, both the mind and body would want to give up. And that’s when I realized that we are capable of digging deep into physical and mental reserves that we don’t even know exist, and are able to manage seemingly insurmountable problems.
Once we made our way back to Arusha, we all met up for a celebratory dinner, where we reminisced about the highs and lows of the trek. And we all concluded that in spite of all the hardships, the journey was truly worth it. We said a prayer of gratitude to the Almighty and to our guides, without whom this would not have been possible. We then proceeded to enjoy the well-earned Kilimanjaro beer and the sumptuous Greek food.
he journey was truly worth it. We said a prayer of gratitude to the Almighty and to our guides, without whom this would not have been possible. We then proceeded to enjoy the well-earned Kilimanjaro beer and the sumptuous Greek food.