To The Extreme - Report 2 - 29/3/2002

Well, what can I say! Yesterday must have been one of the most pivotal, vital, and difficult days my life has ever had. To release the cargo from customs in less than 15 days can never be achieved. We did it in 1! Because the cargo was delayed arriving from the UK in time for the last weekend, it ended up sitting in the warehouse until the Tuesday just gone because of holy festivals.

The clearance only started on Tuesday when we arrived, only to find yesterday (Thursday Morning) that we had to start again with a different process. To top it all, we learn only on yesterday morning that there is a problem with customs on three counts. 1, we have food, which must go by a different channel and takes fifteen days to clear. 2, we find that out of what should be 23 items is in fact 24 because two items became split, so we had to persuade them that the 24 were ours, and to package them together again. 3, three items had all the labels, and identification ripped off them, so we had to persuade yet again that these items were ours.

Hugh Banner, one of the expedition sponsors gets to meet the boys at the recent OS Outdoors Show. HB Climbing have been a great help in their support for the TTX team.

Apart from those, there was no problems with our cargo, but being concerned that over £6000 of valued equipment, including all my mountain and cold weather down clothing was in them meant the whole trip was dependant on releasing them. I started with Mukul (who was amazing) at the airport cargo terminal at 10 am, we released the cargo at 10pm, and spent twelve hours in between in 31degrees c, with no food and only one small drink in the entire day.

We visited somewhere in the region of 60 offices, with over 30 levels of management being involved, each having to sign dozens of papers to allow us to proceed to the next level. At points I could of really hurt someone, at others I could of cried from the frustration, and at 9:00 pm, customs was officially shut, and we didn’t have our cargo, and faced the prospect of being delayed more than just the two nights, but up to four, costing us 100’s extra. Each time we were told it was impossible, but with incredible effort on Mukul’s part, and his friends at the airport we did the impossible, and loaded the coach at 10pm with half a tonne of climbing equipment and food. The true bonus, and what made the delay, and the effort worthwhile, somehow through a loophole I don’t understand we didn’t have to pay $1200 duty on the food imported, I the end the whole process cost us Rs 8000, which is about £130, some £70 cheaper then I expected. Needless to say, Rs 500 went in ‘persuasion money’ at different levels, which is considered a good bonus by most here, and is about £8 in our money.

So now we are delayed by two days in total. We fly to Leh early tomorrow now, and stay there for just one night, making us just one day behind the optimal schedule, with almost all the possible problems out of the way. So long as the baggage on the next flight isn’t a problem the rest will be fine. Shikar travels have been utterly amazing in contrast to 98% of the system here. We’re staying B&B in a four star hotel, which has the ultimate service and food, for £30 per room! Two share a room, and Carol has her own, which makes for amazing value, because the breakfast alone would cost £8-10 in the UK The extra two nights has cost us £180 more here in Delhi, split between five of us, but we only have one night in Leh, so it’s cost us only an extra £90 to stay here. NB (it costs over £90 per room per night normally).

In between the time I’ve spent at the airport in the past two days (20 hours in the customs building) We’ve had a real mixture of experiences. I’ve learnt from Mukul in the times when we have been waiting at offices that he is quite an accomplished mountaineer. He’s climbed 10 peaks, three over 7000m, and Stok Kangri 5 times, he used to be a guide, before office work took over, and combined with a nasty fall from a broken rope from 20m onto ice smashing his face (which you don’t notice at all) He’s also climbed and worked with Roger Payne, BMC president and his wife, and has organised over 50 expeditions.

Shikhar Travels has arranged expeditions for the likes of Sir Edmund Hillary, Reinhold Messner, and other big names which I forget, and this is a blatant plug for their company, I would recommend no other company to handle your ground works then this one! We have already come to the decision to tip Mukul £20 each at the end of the trip, which will be £100 for his efforts, which is 2 weeks wages for him, and that he and his wife both deserve. I suspect he has eaten only three times, and slept for 6 hours since our arrival three days ago, and today he is in the office working, when it is Holiday, the (not 100% sure on this) the hindu new year. Everyone is on holiday today, apart from Mukul. Last night at 11:00pm when he dropped us at the hotel from the coach, he then went straight to a shop somewhere in Delhi that had specifically opened for him to buy the only 13 ice screws that are safe in Delhi.

So that is the story so far. We’re all set for the mountain. Mykl has come down with a stomach bug, not too severe, but we’re both resting in the room today. I’m writing this, and he’s sleeping next to me. We’ve received a weather report from the region, saying there is approximately 5 metres of snow at base camp, and it is in very good condition with no snowfall for 15 days. It is cold by night, -20 on average, and cold but very intense sun by day 0 – 15 degrees, with the same intense sun that gives 35degerees in Delhi.

So, I write again as soon as I can.

This is a true trip of a lifetime, and thoroughly worthwhile.