Sajan KC, Pokhara. We Nepalese People often look for larger than life characters or personalities to become their hero or role model in life. We like to give examples of some international personalities for heroic deeds. A young girl at High School may not have heard of Banira Giri but tells fluently about Jane Austen. We have some hidden gems and behind the scene Heroes within our community.
Read more about Jagan Nath Timilsina of Sarankot, Pokhara, what his foreign friend and well wishers wrote to praise him (exclusively on Mardinews.com)
I first met him at a bakery-cum-café in Lakeside in late January. The year was 2021 and the world was still on the blink from COVID-19 pandemic. Well, the meeting was a rendezvous but, so to speak, we had never communicated personally before. A friend of my brother had arranged this meeting for us, and when I reached there at the café, he was already ensconced in the outer part that overlooked the refreshing Fewa lake ahead, its gentle breeze blowing toward us every once in a while, like a magical mantra. He was actually looking for an aide to accompany him on a tour he was making across Nepal one of those days with a view to creating a trekking route—an addition to about eighty trails he had already sketched before. After a short exchange of social niceties, we began to talk about this tour he was planning to make.
A thirtyish looking man with long dry hair packed beneath his baseball cap, well-tanned face and long sparse facial hair, his smile uncannily reminded me of a friend I used to have in my bachelor’s days. His backpack flashed on the slate floor below by his side, one or two charger cables jutting out of it, and his modish Macbook lay closed in front of him on the table, imparting him a posh appearance.
“I have already explored the entire 75, now 77, districts of Nepal,” he dazzled me at one point, and I couldn’t help but immediately envy him. Seventy-seven districts? How many have I been to? Hardly 10? “And I have already scaled the highest peak in the world,” he continued. “The Everest, right?” I would be a fool to ask.
“So, Jagan dai, could you tell me more about this project you’re doing?” I asked. Seated across me, his back faced the lake and the mountains beyond, but their reflection could yet be seen mysteriously in his eyes, as if imprinted.
“Like I said before, I have already established about 80 trekking routes from the east to the west of Nepal. However, this time, I want to develop a new one.”
His eyes radiated a mysterious charm and later as he told me more about himself, I could get an inkling of the tremendous amount of hardship, trials and tribulations that lay within.
A young waiter quickly cut in to take our orders. I ordered an americano while he, latte. Over the beverages that followed in next few minutes, we began to then talk about ourselves. In the meantime, I quickly told him about my research goals on insect fauna of Nepal and how this trip to the many districts of Nepal could help me achieve a part of it. While before me, awaited an inspiring story of hope, courage and perseverance.
Jagan Nath Timilsina, the man before me, who had climbed the many peaks of Nepal any number of times including Mt. Everest, was born on 7th of April, 1984. Born in a farming family in Sarangkot, Pokhara, he was raised with seven other siblings -six sisters and one brother. He received his primary education from his village while he had to walk down two hours to Lakeside every morning for secondary school. He recalls those days when he had to take those long and tiring walks down and uphill, to and from school every day. But like a monk, he sees a silver lining among those hardships. “Had it not been for the stamina, the courage, and the can-do attitude I developed during those days, I wouldn’t have been able to make it and live my dream today.”
He recalls failing in his class the first year he began his secondary education, in grade six that was. “It took me a while to get used to the new ways of the city, you know” he says, a slight smile on his face. “Things were very different from the village school where I used to come second in my class. Then it was easy, of course, for there were hardly ten students in each class, but guess how many where here now? 130!” he says. I, of course, couldn’t have guessed that.
He passed his SLC at the age of 16 but had joined tourism much before, at 14, as a porter. Reflecting his days as a porter, he mentions the year 1998. The flow of tourists in Nepal was rapid. It was basically the heyday of tourism in Nepal. Porters on the other hand, in those days, were looked down upon and treated as a lowly class, not to mention that it was them who had to bear most of the loads. They were not given proper food, shelter or even wages for that matter. He remembers spending most of the cold nights inside caves like outlaws. Moreover, Timilsina was a Brahmin, still an adolescent on top, and not a Sherpa like most other porters. This often left him alone and ousted from the regular circle. They had their own language, own ways and own culture to which Timilsina was all but an alien. During one of his first ventures, he recalls getting an altitude sickness and surreptitiously walking downhill alone at night and sleeping on a bare rock there for hours, lest the guides and others should know about this and expel him from further trips.
Later for two more years, he worked as a freelance assistant guide and it was in 2002 when he was walking on the roads of Dihikopatan, Pokhara, something astounding happened. He happened to come across a board that announced, “Sherpa wanted”. He wasn’t a Sherpa, of course, but he was quite aware of its general meaning. A company “Himalayan Encounters” was hiring trekking guides and porters. His eyes beamed up as it was exactly what he’d been looking for. Immediately, he walked inside the company and urged for an appointment. He, for all I know, could as well have been in painting clothes. The owner there instantly agreed to take his interview and the very other day, young Timilsina was offered a becoming job, first as an assistant guide and later from his diligence and hard work, promoted to a full-time guide. Timilsina began his career as a lead guide at a tender age of 19. He started exploring the Himalayas with a bunch of tourists, while still learning about the mountains no less. By then, he had already started summiting smaller peaks.
“Well, which was the first one you climbed?” I cut him at one point.
“Umm… It was Mera Peak,” he said, a name I had never heard before. He quickly pulled his laptop and typed the name. The peak was 6,476m high and lied in Solukhumbhu district, according to Wikipedia. “No,” he interrupted. “It’s not Solukhumbu. It has to be Sankhuwasabha,” he said firmly. He then quickly edited it on Wikipedia and continued with his story.
“So, where were we?”
“You’d climbed your first mountain and just edited its information on Wikipedia,” I reminded him.
“Oh, well yes. But I wasn’t going to stop there, was I?” he smiled. “I had to climb the Everest one day.”
“Sure, sure,” I said.
While he was still working as a trekking guide at Himalayan Encounters, he started rearing this dream of him to summit the highest peak in the world one day. A dream that many would only ridicule. The company paid him well and his family could get by without much problems from the job, but it wasn’t enough. Not enough to climb the giant Everest at least. He knew he had to start saving right away. And so, he gave up smoking, drinking and most other costly indulgences he acquired. It demanded around 20 lakh rupees to fulfill his dream.
“20 f*ing lakhs?” I blared. Well, it must have been the coffee.
“Uh-huh,” he said.
“How many times can we Nepal tour with that money?”
“Any number of times,” he said. “And don’t forget, the year was 2012.”
I took a last sip of my americano as he went on.
He knew he had to buy almost everything from his own wallet. From costly gears to clothes to oxygen cylinders to every basic equipment. He hoarded money for years, saved pennies, evoked his stingiest self he could, and used almost all his savings. Finally, a day would come when he knew he had to climb. The year was 2012 and the month was May—arguably the best month to summit the Everest. Timilsina told his family, “I am going to climb the Everest now.” To this, his wife wouldn’t stop berating him. Only later did she realize that he was obdurate about it that she began pleading him not to. “It’s only natural for any wife to worry, you know, when her husband is so stubborn about doing something so risky.” Not being able to bear the misery in her eyes any longer, he finally gave up and said, “Fine, I won’t climb.” Containing his massive dream inside his heart, he himself couldn’t sleep many nights though, and one morning, he quietly packed his stuff and left on the pretense of going on a regular trip. His family didn’t know, that he had, in fact, left to summit the Everest itself. And he wasn’t sure himself, if he was ever going to see them again.
Things weren’t easy at the Everest however. There was one more guy to accompany him, Gyaltsen Sherpa from Thame village in Solukhumbu. The fact that Sherpa had already summited the giant four times assured Timilsina somehow, but still there was only so much a companion could do. He had to do the climbing on his own, after all.
The two started scaling toward the tip of 8848m from base camp, early morning on the 11th of May, 2012. The weather was sound and there was no such foreseeable catastrophe ahead, at least for the time being. Like two little bugs walking on a huge meadow of cotton, Sherpa and Timilsina ascended the mountain as cautiously as they could—crossing deadly slopes and horrifying crevasses. The wind carried a different song here, the sky was a different blue and they could hear the coursing of their own blood inside their hearts. Halfway through though, something happened that any mountaineer always fears. They heard a distant rumble that slowly augmented into a nightmare before them. Then before long, a mass of snow coursed down its way ready to sweep them away like a raging monster. The two quickly marched toward a lee but the snow was quicker, and they disappeared in the havoc for a time.
Luckily, it wasn’t that big an avalanche, and they managed to survive somehow, but Timilsina had lost his snow goggles in the process. Although the bigger havoc had passed, he knew that with the goggles gone, he was still in a big trouble. Being left naked eyed in that scenario would quickly put him in the verge of snow blindness.
Nonetheless, Timilsina wasn’t among the ones to give up. He walked hard, as surefooted as he could, crunching the snow beneath, but his left eye was quickly giving up. His body too, on the other hand, was getting more and more numb after minor injuries from the avalanche, and at one point, his oxygen valve started malfunctioning as a result of which he began to lose his consciousness. He couldn’t even feel himself and could merely hear a distant tinnitus in his ears. He felt like he could collapse at any moment, the vast entity of snow would contain him within, and all this would end forever for him. He thought about his family, envisaged his wife, the smiles of his innocent children and what would be of them were anything to happen to him. He felt that he should indeed have acceded to his wife and never should have come up here, but it was no time to regret. Mustering himself up, he trudged ahead. His Sherpa friend helped him fix his oxygen valve and gather himself. “Don’t worry, friend, you’re gonna make it,” Sherpa assured him. It was only a matter of time and a few more persistence. “It’s like walking up to my home back from school,” Timilsina recalled those childhood days of him. “Just a 2-hour climb, and I shall be at the top of the world,” he thought. All his stamina and perseverance he had gathered so far came to help him. “If there’s one thing I learned from the foreigners I guided all these years,” he recalls, “it’s hard work, diligence, patience and persistence. And what I learned throughout my life, eventually helped me summit the top of the world that day,” he said. “It was the happiest moment of my life when I saw the world from up there. The entire world spilled beneath me, like a treasure box, and trust me, it was totally worth it.”
He though almost lost an eye and later had to fix it through surgery. But it was probably too small a price to pay for a dream so big. Today, Timilsina looks as healthy as he could be.
His journey doesn’t end here nonetheless. After the Everest, he continued to scale peaks after peaks. He summited Mount Jarvis (Alaska- 4,091 m) in 2016 followed by Ama Dambal (Solukhumbu- 6,812 m) in 2018 with many other peaks in between. After the Everest, he would start working as a climbing guide and in 2018, would eventually lead a team to the Everest again, this time, as a liaison officer.
“Huh, so you achieved your dream, you climbed the Everest,” I said, clearly impressed. “I always wonder what people do after they’ve fulfilled their dreams. What do they do after life gives them what they’ve always wanted so bad? Do they spend their lives happily ever after?”
“Oh, no,” he said. “Life is no movie or a fairytale that you achieve your goals and your problems end. For instance, I spent all my savings for my goal, remember? I was penniless after that. Well, almost.”
“Oh, that,” said I.
… to be continued
Sajan K.C. the author is an independent researcher from Nepal who studies insect fauna. He is also a fiction writer and has penned two novels: After Love (English) and Phitkiri (Nepali).