There is no waiting list to line up for the last leg of the Mount Everest. The inclement weather sometimes allows a small window of clear sky for a couple of days. Then it is free for all. The peak, that did not see even a single visitor till 1953, is now a place of stampede.
The queue to the peak resembles that in front of the ticket window of a South American football final. Does not matter how many lives are at risk. The Nepal Government desperately needs that money. After all, tourism is the major source of income for this land locked country.
Having gathered at the base camp, the adventurers, if they can be called so in this age of modern amenities, feel they don’t have any choice. Maybe, next year they would not be able to obtain that authorized leave of absence from their workplace. Maybe, next year the perfect selfie moment would not come. Maybe for the next year, they have another mountain peak already lined up and booked. In a sense they can be called adventurers after all because, they risk their lives in the face of avoidable man-made disasters.
One day, man may have the technology to conquer all hurdles posed by nature. But, the unconquerable enemy for man will continue to be man. Preventing harm from fellow human beings infested with narcissism, greed, jealousy, bigotry, hunger for power, and apathy for ‘others’ will continue to be the most elusive task, maybe as long as human civilization lasts.
The motives of the present day Himalayan adventurers are different from those of the seafarers from eighth to eighteenth century. It started with the Vikings, who with their long boats were able to travel from Scandinavia to England in search of treasures and arable land to support an expanding population. Then other countries of Europe joined in to seek fortune in undiscovered territories till a tiny country like England colonilsed half of the globe.
The vikings were ruthless. First they travelled east on land to Russia. They improved upon shipbuilding and navigation to venture west to England. They plundered and killed wherever they went. The Europeans, after becoming more civilised, enslaved people wherever they went.
The primary purpose of the vikings and the Europeans was to seek fortune. The Europeans formed joint stock companies so as to not to be dependent on royal patronage to fund their voyage. For these companies it was a lucrative investment. The shareholders of companies like the East India Company reaped rich dividends.
Today’s adventurers spend their own fortunes. Occasionally, governments and companies may come forward to fund their adventure knowing full well that these are just goodwill gestures.
But the risk is same. If today, an adventurer can go to any extent for ten seconds of fame on the social media, or to win a virtual game, in the age of seafarers half of the adventurers perished on the way. Many perished shortly after coming back till it was discovered that deficiency of vitamin C caused scurvy. It may be noted that seamen, who did not have access to fresh fruits and vegetables, suffered from scurvy.
Then there are modern day vikings of different kinds. You find them on busy Indian roads. Lacking the time and resources for an Himalayan Adventure, they may be found wheezing past a traffic cop daring him to book for riding helmet-less.
Or, you may find them riding dangerously risking their lives so as to deliver that online order on time. This way they get paid just enough to live another day of perilous driving.
(Image sources: Times of India print edition and internet free image)