Be it squash, jogging, running marathons or trekking, Ravi Sheth, managing director of Greatship India, loves being outdoor. “Going out and getting involved in some kind of physical activity is my idea of escaping from stress,” says Sheth.
At 54, when most people generally choose not to challenge their physical limitations, Sheth chose the road less travelled. He, along with friend Vijay Advani, co-president, Franklin Templeton Investments, decided to trek up mount Kilimanjaro. Before they could rethink their spur-of-the-moment decision, the duo packed up their trekking arsenal. To add to what had already turned out to be an unprecedented adventure, Sheth’s friend decided to take the toughest route — the Umbwe trail. What followed from there was an expedition of a lifetime.
News of the expedition came as a surprise to his family especially since he drafted his will before leaving. “When I signed my will and told my family that I was going to trek up the highest mountain in Africa, my mother got worried and so did everyone else. But I had to do it and there was no stopping me,” narrates Sheth, with that determination still gleaming in his eyes. From reading blogs, networking with friends, trekking and trudging up and down the slopes near his house to becoming familiar with the several medical precautions required, Sheth got totally hooked to this expedition.
Unfamiliar with the wilderness and the enormity of the climb, the two friends were clueless about what to take along for the trek. “For a first-time trekker, packing a rucksack is quite a challenge. One has to visualise living in complete isolation for a week and be prepared for any eventuality,” points out Sheth.
The trip began at a quaint town named Moshi with an orientation conducted by three guides. “Post orientation and interaction with 13 other fellow trekkers, our luggage was shifted into standardised duffel bags thatwere carried by 50 porters. We also had to take our last bath before kickstarting our one-week long trek,” says Sheth.
Standing at the starting point of the path that leads to the highest point of the 19,341-ft tall mammoth rock, Sheth knew that he would have a lot of stories to tell. “What started as an easy trek got tougher and thanks to the slushy and gravelly path. It took us around six hours to reach the first camp and a lot of hardships became obvious. Defecating in moveable toilets, using mouthwash instead of toothpaste, no shaving, sleeping on sloping surfaces and eating wisely demanded quick adaptability, as there was no scope for an upgrade of living conditions.” While being pushed out of his comfort zone and adjusting to this minimalistic lifestyle posed a challenge for the others, Sheth took it as a stress buster. “The whole point was to challenge and push myself. If I had to be in the lap of luxury, I’d have chosen some other activity. I loved every bit of it and not once questioned my decision, even when the going got tough,” says Sheth.
He had to undergo an acclimatisation climb — a five-hour trek up and down in order to get used to the drastic change in air pressure — before the journey to the summit. “From Barafu camp at 15,500 ft, the final trek to the summit begins and everyone prepares for the toughest part of the climb. The final climb was tough due to the thin air and temperatures as low as -15 degree Celsius. At around 3 am, the water tube leading from our backpacks to our mouths got totally iced over and it became difficult to drink,” mentions Sheth while describing the difficulty of the final stretch of the trek.
After climbing non-stop on a steep, rocky slope for more than eight hours, all the trekkers reached the peak and faced the first ray of sunlight. “Looking at the orange hue painted into the sky pushing away the final layers of the previous night, I realised the magnificence of the nature. That splendid scenery with the clouds down below and sun shining bright at us was just phenomenally breathtaking. One guy got so excited that he went bare-chested for a photograph. I can’t blame him, as that was the level of excitement we all had.”
Trekking down was tougher, as the slopes were steep and the route was covered with stones. A jubiliant Sheth just ran down the final few metres to base camp. After reaching there, it was time to celebrate and bid farewell. “That first sip of local Kilimanjaro beer was really amazing. What followed was a good dinner, lots of alcohol and parting speeches by each of the 13 trekkers,” reminisces Sheth. The experience did not stop there. The trek might have been accomplished, but it also opened doors for many more to come. A year later, Sheth went for another trek in Mongolia; a cross-country trek to the Atlai mountain range, in one of the most unspoilt and sparse regions of the world. Both the treks were different and enthralling in their own ways for Sheth. He has now made trekking a yearly endeavour and has no intention of giving it up. “It’s good to be out in the wild and feel the vastness of nature,” says Sheth, resolving to keep adding more trekking adventures to his home magazine Ocean Wave.