Mountain bug has bitten teen after Himalayan hike

2014-04-28 00:00

ALTHOUGH the name Lavanya means “beauty and grace” in Hindi, it should also mean brave, tough and confident.

Only 13 years old and in Grade 8 at Northlands Girls’ High School (NGHS), Lavanya and her parents — mother Sagree and father Manogran — have just returned from the holiday of a lifetime trekking through the Himalayan mountains.

A proud Sagree said the best part of the experience was “watching how Lavanya grew in confidence during the trip”.

“She motivated me to keep on putting one foot in front of the other. Most of the time she led the way.”

The Annapurna Base Camp trek (the total distance covered roughly estimated as being between 80 and 90 km) took 12 days to complete. The Govenders had to extend the trip by a day when they were forced indoors for 24 hours as treacherous weather conditions consisting of snow, hail and sleet made venturing outside impossible.

“During our stay at the Machupuchhare [Fishtail Mountain] Base Camp — which is just before the Annapurna Base Camp — we could hear avalanches in the area,” Lavanya said.

“The owner of the guesthouse where we stayed also informed us that during previous avalanches lives were lost at all the other guesthouses in the vicinity except his.”

The Machupuchhare peak is revered by the local population as particularly sacred to the Hindu god Vishnu and has never been climbed to its summit.

Only one attempt was made in 1957 by a British team of mountain climbers who climbed to within 50 metres of the summit via the north ridge. They did not complete the ascent as they had promised not to set foot on the actual summit. Since then, the mountain has been declared sacred and it is now off-limits to climbers.

Once the family got the go-ahead in February from NGHS (for Lavanya to miss school), planning and training for the trip began in earnest.

Lavanya used hockey practice and PE class at school plus a few strenuous walks through the hilly parts of her neighbourhood as her training while her mother upped her sessions in the gym.

“In hindsight, I should have done as many walking lunges as possible to prepare for the climbing that was in store for me,” Sagree said.

The trip to the Himalayas was the third one for Manogran, who had been to Annapurna Base Camp before as well as Everest Base Camp.

The family agree that the journey was not only a physical challenge but was a spiritual experience.

Lavanya had been entrusted with a pink banner from NGHS (the colour being synonymous with strength and is being used as the colour theme for the school’s 65th birthday year) to be placed at a special memorial site en route. She also carried with her an inspirational message from a seriously ill school staff member. Sagree used the expedition to honour a family member who had died of cancer.

Each day’s hike was estimated to take on average six to seven hours with the highest altitude reached at Annapurna Base Camp — 4 130 m.

The second day of climbing, though, was a rude awakening when it turned into a 10-hour hike.

Luckily, none of the trio suffered from altitude sickness and attributed Day Three — to Poon Hill — to helping them to acclimatise. “We just suffered from plenty of leg stiffness!” Sagree said.

The many photographs that Lavanya took illustrate the contrast of scenery along the way. From dense glades, waterfalls and mountain pools to canopies of trees and rhododendron forests and then steep rocky paths “where you stayed close to the cliff face, as on the other side of the path were sheer drops to the valley below. When donkeys passed us we made sure they were on the outer side of the path,” Lavanya added.

Food along the way also ranged from “plain — predominantly carbohydrates for stamina — to tasty to downright unusual”. A typical meal served in the lodges would be rice with lentils or a vegetable curry. There were also Nepalese versions of pizza and lasagne.

A sweet treat Lavanya enjoyed at one stopover “could only be described as a melted Bar-One or Mars Bar inside a roll. It was heavenly!” she said. The family also drank copious amounts of tea at the end of each day.

This gutsy teenager —“I want to be an entrepreneur when I grow up” — agrees that the mountain bug has bitten and the family hope to plan other similar adventures in the future.

On Lavanya’s bucket list is a trip to the Inca city of Machu Picchu in the Andes in South America.

At only 2 430 metres above sea level … it should be a stroll in the park!

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