Out of Thin Air

West Bengal’s unlikely love for mountaineering

01 February 2017
The genesis of mountaineeringclub culture in West Bengal is often traced to a successful expedition to Nanda Ghunti in 1960.

SUNITA HAZRA carefully settled into a plastic chair in her house in Barasat, a town 26 kilometres north-east of Kolkata. One of her arms was in a plaster cast, and a few fingertips were blackened with frostbite—they were due to be amputated in a week. A stray cat prowled at the door. Hazra asked her husband, Sudeb, where her medicines were. Then, she recounted the tragic and controversial climbing expedition to Everest that she had been part of a couple of months earlier, in May last year.

Hazra had embarked on the expedition along with three teammates—Subhash Pal, Paresh Nath and Goutam Ghosh—all of whom died during the climb. While Pal had run out of oxygen, Nath and Ghosh died from exposure. She herself escaped death by a whisker, after she was rescued by Leslie John Binns, a British climber, who abandoned his summit quest after he found Hazra in distress.

Hazra told me that at one point, while she was struggling to make her way down to safety, she came across Bir Bahadur, a Nepali mountain guide who had been hired to help Pal. She asked him how Pal was doing.

Padmaparna Ghosh is pursuing an MSc in biodiversity and conservation at Trinity College, Dublin. She has worked as a journalist for Mint, The Telegraph, Sunday Times of India, India Today and Down to Earth.