Nature, and her intricacies have always fascinated Neillima Pudota, an Andhra girl who scaled the Mt. Everest. She was in town to address Sri Prakashites when Yo! Vizag caught up with her.
The seed for her adventurous spirit was sown years ago when she was a little child. ‘My father was in the army, and my mother was a government employee. We’d go on LTC tours and would often visit northern and north-east India. We would trek a lot, talk to the locals and walk to places. It was a kind of culture for us.’ The fascination of scaling altitude slowly started building up for young Neillima, whose ambition started shaping up as she went for those long treks. ‘I wanted to see a glacier and touch it, in fact the thought still fascinates me’ she shares. She achieved that goal in 2010, when she went to Gulmarg, in Kashmir, which is known as India’s farthest glacier. She was at a height of 4,000m and remembers the thrill of actually walking on that glacier. ‘That was when it occurred to me that I could go beyond 4,000m and the dream of going to the Everest Base Camp and Kanchenjunga Base Camp started shaping up in my mind.’
But those dreams were to get on the backburner, as her corporate life took over. As work pressure, deadlines and more work topped her lists, Neillima got absorbed in the monotony of a hectic corporate life for almost five years. In a while she realized that she had been working long hours meeting deadlines, working even on weekends, had become overweight, and her passions in Bharatanatyam and Carnatic classical music had taken a backseat too. So while her corporate life took her from one success to another, she was still lagging behind when it came to her real dreams and ambitions. She reached a break-point and decided that she did not intend to work and live for money alone, and finally one day she listed down her dreams on a piece of paper. The Everest base camp loomed before her as the number one goal, and this time she did not ignore it.
While writing down your goal is one thing, preparing to achieve it is a different ball-game altogether. Neillima had to train hard to lose the excess weight. She also realized that she’d need money, to the tune of an additional Rs. 40 lakhs if she hoped to scaled the Everest. She started raising funds through sponsorships, realising that it wasn’t easy at all. ‘It was a learning curve for me, tougher because I was a woman. I’d have to patiently answer the same questions over and over again. Also, having been brought up in a culture that teaches you to earn a chocolate rather than ask for one, I learnt to go on asking. In fact some sponsors even commented on how I was begging so much!’ But the negativity did not stop Neillima who learnt to move on from one obstacle to another – such was the magnetic pull of the Everest. ‘I think that process taught me a lot. Mountaineering is all about physical and mental strength, often more of the latter – and the process of raising funds taught me that. In fact, a few days before the camp, I was still short of 11 lakhs. It was strenuous to think that I’d have to push my dream to the next year. But then things just fell in place.’
But what were her parents’ reactions about this adventure. Neillima shares that for a long time she didn’t tell them where she was going, and just told her mother that she was going to EBC. Her mother thought that it was just some destination up north while her father thought she was going to Kathmandu. It was two months before the camp that she revealed what EBC stood for. It took a while to convince her mother. She called her father from the Hyderabad airport, before leaving for camp. ‘I was 28 at that time. I didn’t want anyone to stop me from doing this. And so, I told my father at the last minute.’
At the end of the day, the mountains will call you.
Neillima recalls her experiences at the Sagarmatha, the Nepalese name for the Everest. ‘There are people from across different countries and the mountain unites them. The local Sherpas are amazing people, toughened in those conditions. In fact, science has proven that their DNA is different from ours.’ In 2015, when she finally stood at the mountain of her dreams, she recalls the harrowing incident of the earthquake. ‘The earthquake and avalanche had happened right at the time when I was on the Everest, and I remember having called my mother a day before that. I had told her not to worry if she didn’t hear from me as the signal was bad. The whole system had collapsed and I couldn’t call home for the next four to five days. Finally the media and government stepped in and we could call home. It was a crazy situation’.
Today Neillima can proudly say that she reached the EBC. In fact, she scaled the height of her dreams, having reached the height of 8,650m. She still remembers her journey, witnessing the most breathtaking sunrise and basking in the blanket of white moonlight on a full moon day. These are truly the priceless things only nature can give you. Perhaps these were the reasons that made Neillima choose that she did not want to return to a corporate life. She wants to continue mountaineering, scaling new heights. She doesn’t have a dream beyond the Everest, she shares, but she won’t let go of mountaineering this time. ‘At the end of the day, the mountains will call you’, she shares, such is her connect with nature. And when they do, we wish that she reaches every height she aspires for, witnesses many such breathtaking sunrises and sights, with nothing stopping her along that fascinating journey.