They worshipped mountains. And, every time they set out on a mountaineering expedition, they were mentally prepared to have a brush with death. Before stepping out of their home, they would inform their children about the flat’s registration papers, fixed deposits, insurance certificates and all other important documents. Who knew if there wasn’t any tomorrow again? This is the story of Chetna and Pradeep Sahoo—the couple who climbed the Everest together. They say it’s Cupid’s conspiracy behind every love affair. But, for them it were mountains which played the Cupid. Their passion for climbing mountains brought them close to each other and they tied the wedlock in 1995. Since then, they were scaling greater heights together until Pradeep died in 2016.
On last Wednesday, Chetna accepted a special award on behalf of Pradeep from Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik during the Biju Patnaik Sports Awards ceremony at Kalinga Stadium. They had failed in their Everest attempt twice due to natural disasters. Failures didn’t deter their determination. They finally journeyed to the top of the world in 2016, when both were middle-aged.
“In 2014 and 2015, we were in the pink of our health and had tremendous fitness. But, nature had other plans. We weren’t allowed to climb further after reaching halfway due to avalanche and earthquake. We accepted the challenge again in 2016. This time we weren’t as fit as earlier,” recollected Chetna.
Pradeep hailed from the remote village of Karabara in Nayagarh district of Odisha. “He died at the age of 50. But, I think he has lived for 100 years. He achieved so much in such a short span. Despite being educated at a small government school in his village, he made it to IIT Roorkee. Thereafter, he worked for Tata Steel for 17 years until he left his job for some ailment and started his business in Kolkata,” said Chetna, who is a native of Gujarat.
So, how did the couple meet? In 1993, the partners in crime met in the mountains during a four-week training in Alpine-style climbing organised by the Indian Mountaineering Foundation. Whenever they went on an expedition, there wasn’t any certainty on safe return. Thus, they had maintained a strategy for years. “We wouldn’t go on expedition together for the sake of our kids until they grew-up. One would always had to stay back to ensure that if anything would go wrong, he or she was there to take care of the kids. As mountaineers, you need to be pragmatic and accept death,” Chetna said. However, when Chetna climbed the Everest with Pradeep, he kept encouraging her. “There was a point when I gave up. My vision was blurred due to lack of oxygen. I told the Sherpa that I couldn’t walk further. But, Pradeep didn’t let me quit halfway,” she added.
Chetna had completed the Trans Himalayan journey in seven months, covering more than 4000 kilometres from Arunachal to Siachen glacier as a part of the All Indian Women’s Trans Himalayan journey under the leadership of Bachendri Pal, the first Indian woman Everester. She continued her passion even after marriage and went on several expeditions in Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal, India Himalayas and also climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa.
The expeditions weren’t smooth always. “While descending from Everest, I suffered from hypoxia. I was unconscious for a couple of hours above 8000m (death zone) in severe cold conditions. When I came back home, I lost sensations in my fingers. It took two years to get back to normal. I refused to take up any plastic surgery and amputation,” she added.
On the top!
Pradeep has climbed at least 18 peaks in India and Nepal. The notable ones are:
- Mt Kamet
- Mt Mamostong Kangri
- Mt Saser Kangri
- Mt Jongsong
- Mt Plateau Peak
- Mt Everest