When our CSR manager at the “Omnicom Media Group” sent out an email announcing that we had partnered with “Gulf for Good” to raise funds for charity and hike to Everest Base Camp, I was sold. It seems perfectly natural, to me, that a group of 27 colleagues would hike off into the Himalayas with the sun setting behind us!
Our mission for the next six months was to raise AED 20,000 each for the “UN Refugee Agency”, particularly to donate to secondary medical costs to help Syrian refugees, and for “Mission Himalaya Eco Farm”, an organization dedicated to helping the orphaned and homeless children of Nepal.And in case you were wondering, yes we were gearing up to hike 100 kilometres in less than 10 days!
Fundraising is not easy. Convincing people to give you a portion, as small as it may be, of their hard-earned money is difficult to work. We had to get creative – everyone banded together to help each other raise funds. We collected old clothes and toys from all our friends and hit up every flea market there was for months. There were bake sales, people started selling plants, arranging charity yoga classes, creating coffee deals and arranging brunches at their own homes.
I’m not going to deny that I struggled to raise the money. I would get donations in bursts but, in the end, my friends and family came through for me. Partly because they believed in the causes the funds were going towards, and partly because they saw how invested I was in this. Collectively, all of us raised over AED 500,000 – all to be split between the UNHCR and Mission Himalaya Eco Farm.
I don’t think I realized how excited I truly was about the trek until we were all sitting in the bus on the way to the airport. I think that’s when it really hit me, that we were going to spend 10 days together, trekking through the Himalayas, and testing our bodies and the altitude. I think that’s also when I realized how lucky all of us were. It is a cliché to say it but we do lead blessed lives.
Kathmandu is chaos. It’s wonderful, and anyone who has travelled extensively in Asia will understand what I mean. On our first day there, we went to go visit Mission Himalaya Eco Farm. Meeting the children we worked so hard to raise funds for made it all worthwhile. They are vibrant and talented children, who deserve an education and loving environment. It was a privilege to be able to make an impact on their lives.
We were also introduced to our guides. These guys were our pillars on this trip. They were constantly there to push us, to educate us about Nepal, tell us stories about the mountains and occasionally remind us that there’s no reason to hurry from village to village. Our head guide kept telling us to “stop and smell the flowers.” We couldn’t have asked for a better team.
On our second day in Nepal, the weather at Lukla prevented us from flying by plane so we managed to get helicopters out to Phakding. Once we were on the ground, I was immediately blown away by how beautiful the trail was. Imagine lush, green trees with snow peaked mountains in the background and waterfalls in every direction that we looked.The air smells like freshly cut grass and earth. It’s a smell that, I think, everyone has wonderful memories tied to. The Himalayas are stunning. It’s the kind of beauty that makes you stop, and appreciate the planet we are on.
Our first stop was Namche Bazaar. I know that I didn’t expect to find a fully operational village in the middle of the mountains, with bakeries and a bar, but there it was and it was a wonderful place to spend our first few days acclimatizing. Hiking up to the Everest View Hotel in the morning and playing Jenga and eating yak burgers in the evening, who would have thought? It was a surreal experience!
The trek to Pheriche, the next stop on the trail, was my favourite day. The trek is almost soothing. It takes you through densely packed trees, over waterfalls and gradual inclines on hills. It was the first time I’d ever experienced a hanging bridge, which was both terrifying and thrilling. My favourite moment had to be when, halfway up one of the trails, a horse stuck its head from out of the trees and came out to have a look at us.
Throughout this trip, half the joy was experiencing the Himalayan nature. It didn’t matter where you were, if you were struggling a little with the climb or just hanging out by one of the tea houses, if you took a moment to stop and look around, it was truly breath-taking.
I was also lucky that I was surrounded by like-minded people who wanted an adventure. It made the lack of showering fun, card games in the evening exciting and most importantly, we kept each other’s spirits up. I was able to lean on them and laugh with them through all the days of grueling (and believe me, it was grueling) trekking. From Pheriche all the way to Gorakshep, which was over 5,000 meters high. The terrain changed from green to white icy rock. The higher we went, the harder it was to catch my breath and make my legs move.
On day seven, stepping into Base Camp was like the climax after a crescendo. The one thing I vividly remember is our CEO standing at the entrance to Base Camp, giving everyone a hug as they walked in. I was physically exhausted, emotionally done, but the fact that all 27 of us made it was worth every minute of the trudging, the cussing and all the dhal I forced myself to eat. I was so proud of each and every one of us!
In retrospect, if I had to sum up my experience, I would say it boiled down to two things. The first is that who you have surrounded with makes all the difference. I had a support system that gave me the drive to complete the fundraising and trek, and having these kinds of people in your life is invaluable. The second is that there is so much of the world to discover, and our planet has so much to offer if we make the time to explore.I would encourage everyone to take the time to experience something like this at least once in their lives. ■
Words by: Farah Mehdi
Photos by: Supplied and Siklodi Photography