Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Army flags down team to Sanglaphu in Sikkim

Gangtok, Nov. 17: A 21-member team on an expedition to Mt Sanglaphu in North Sikkim returned to Gangtok disappointed after being pushed back by the Indian army posted on China border for “absence of permission” from the military.

However, the climbers from the North East Adventure Foundation (NEAF) found a substitute challenge and scaled Lama Wangden peak (5,868m) in North Sikkim on November 7 and 8.

The team had set out on the expedition to acclimatise themselves to high altitude conditions as part of an exercise before their planned trip to Mt Everest.

“On our way up to Mt Sanglaphu (21,000ft), we established the base camp at 17000ft on October 28. We had taken permission from the state government for the expedition and reached the base camp after going through formalities at all check posts along the way,” said Everester Kunzang Bhutia, who led the team.

However, the mountaineers were told to leave the base camp by the army on October 31.

In its letter to the climbers, the army acknowledged that they had permission from the civil authorities concerned for the expedition.

Members of the NEAF with minister Dawchoo Lepcha in Gangtok after the expedition. Picture by Prabin Khaling
“However, no sanction has been sought from the army. Whenever such expeditions had taken place in the past, they had been duly approved by the military authorities, which is not the case this time,” the army said in its order.

However, the climbers quickly regained their enthusiasm and got nod from the government for an expedition to Lama Wangden peak. “We lost a lot of time, money and resources because of the unexpected exit from the base camp of Mt Sanglaphu. We are thankful to the government for giving us permission swiftly to scale Mt Lama Wangden,” said Kunzang, who is from Sikkim.

The team set up base camp at Lachen and raced to the summit camp at 16,200ft on November 5. Two groups consisting of nine members each reached the summit on November 7 and 8. Two persons did not climb the mountain because of fatigue and health problems. .

Despite the Sanglaphu misadventure, the mountaineers said, the scaling of Lama Wangden had prepared them for the Everest expedition.

The climbers believe a communication gap between the government and the army had led to their eviction from the base camp of Sanglaphu.

“We are hugely disappointed that we could not make it to Mt Sanglaphu. We are all Indians. While the government gave us permission to undertake the expedition, another wing of the government pushed us back. We suffered a lot because of communication gap and such things should not happen in future,” said Henry David, another climber.

He was speaking at a flag-in programme at the residence of Sikkim animal husbandry minister Dawchoo Lepcha in Gangtok.

The minister asked Kunzang to submit a report on the incident to the state home and tourism departments. “We will look into the matter and ensure that such problems do not arise in future,” said Lepcha.

Apart from Kunzang, the team consisted of two other Sikkimese mountaineers. They were Sagar Rai and Tshering Eden Bhutia.

The NAEF, based in Guwahati, will organise its first expedition to Mt Everest in March. “Although mountaineers from the Northeast have climbed Everest before, they were part of other expeditions,” said David.

According to Kunzang, selection of team members for the Everest expedition will be done by an NEAF committee in the first week of December. “The team will have 14 or 16 members,” he said.

David said the NAEF would approach the DoNER ministry, all Northeastern states and corporate houses for funds for the Everest climb.

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