The Journey of a Lifetime!
Our Head of Activation, Mr Suriya Chocklaingam embarked on journey of a lifetime to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro which is situated in Tanzania, Africa. He flew our Tamil 89.4 FM flag on the roof of Africa and we are so proud of this achievement. Read about this amazing journey below in his own words.
‘Is this Heaven on Earth?’ I asked my friend Raj as we reached Uhuru Peak on the tallest free standing mountain on Earth, Mt. Kilimanjaro. Words can never equal the experience one gets in witnessing the beauty of the clouds, mountains and the glorious glaciers. The idea of climbing Kilima Njaro, as the locals fondly call it, was an offshoot from the experience we had in climbing Emirates Towers in Dubai as a part of the SkyRun, where one needs to climb fifty-two floors through the emergency staircase shaft. My friends and I met the following week to discuss our vacation plans during which we zeroed in on Tanzania, Africa for a two weeks’ vacation.
We were four – Raj, Clifton, Blessy and I to embark on this beautiful and challenging journey from our base in Dubai. Having zero experience with treks and mountain climbing, we joined a gym two months prior to the climb to get fit and be more stable physically and mentally to tackle this journey. We were so excited that we just wanted to hop on the next plane, but there were precautions to be taken before we could set off. To enter Africa you need a visa and also take yellow fever vaccinations, without which entry into the country will be prohibited.
There are various routes in which the mountain could be climbed but we chose the most beautiful which was also the second most difficult, the Machame route. As they say, a mountain has its own climate and Kilimanjaro was no different. You pass through five different ecological zones from rainforests to moorlands to alpine desert. So, the temperature reduces drastically as you climb higher. Multiple layers of clothing are mandatory to protect you from the cold winds. A pair of sturdy trekking shoes will be your life saver as you walk through various terrains.
When the day finally came, the four of us packed all our gear, wore our trekking shoes to reduce the weight of the baggage and clamoured over our checklist to do one final check. We reached the largest city of Tanzania after 10 hours of flight travel on August 1st. The flight from Dar Es Salaam to Kilimanjaro was the smallest I have ever seen. Upon reaching Kilimanjaro airport, we met our tour guy who took us to the hotel, where we met our guide, Mr Khalidi aka KP who gave us our first prep/motivation talk, and asked us to sleep for at least 8 hours and also mentioned about altitude sickness pills (Diamox) and water purification tablets.
Early the next morning, on August 2nd, we set off towards our starting point, Machame Gate. Before entering the gate, we had to register ourselves with the Tanzania National Parks authority, after which we bid farewell to the ground staff and marched forward. Machame gate is at an altitude of 1600m, we end day one at Machame camp which is at 2835m, a 6 hour walk through dense rainforests. We got there before sunset and felt exhilarated to see our tents made and dinner hot and ready to eat. We had a wonderful meal and engaged in a small talk with KP, about next day’s course.
Day 2 began early when our camp caretaker, Ali woke us up with hot water to wash. After a power-packed breakfast we head off towards our next camp, Shira Caves. It’s a fairly easy day as we climbed from 2835m to 3850m which took us about 5 hours. We leave the dense rainforest and enter the moorlands, which is much steeper. During the climb you can see Shira Peak to your left and Uhuru peak to the right. End of day 2 is at Shira camp which is situated on Shira plateau.
The third day tested us quite a bit as we had to climb to Lava tower which was at 4650m, to have lunch and then climb down to Barranco camp at 4000m. This exercise was done to make our bodies acclimatize to the decrease in oxygen levels and the cold. Once we reached the camp in Barrance, all four of us just fell into our sleeping bags. We experience the first descent on the trail and let me be honest, climbing up was much easier than going down; your knees start crying at the end of the day.
The next day, is a relatively easier one as it is one long steep stretch to Barafu at 4700m. We reached Barafu camp, the base camp by 4pm which gave us ample time to eat early and rest as we have to start the summit climb at midnight.. The four of us nervously slept for few hours trying to gather all the courage and energy to make it to the top. In the last 4 days, you hear everyone mutter ‘Pole Pole’, which means ‘slowly slowly’ in Swahili a thousand times; this is like the slogan of the mountain. To reach the top you must be patient and traverse slowly, in other words – slow and steady wins the race.
On August 6th, early morning around 1am Ali woke us up with a thumbs-up sign to motivate us. We dressed in 5 layers of clothing to protect us from the harsh winds and cold. Our guides, KP and Francis came in with a loud ‘Jambo’, hello in Swahili. They asked us to be spirited the entire way up and not give up at any cost. We left our tents at base camp at 1:30 am and started our laborious way upwards. The air was so cold and thin, we had to take breaks every 15 minutes for only few seconds, as a longer break will result in us freezing our bodies as well as our energy. The plan was to reach the top at sunrise, but our guides advised us to take it slow. I was only thinking about a quote said I read somewhere – ‘Pain is for a while but victory is forever’. At midpoint, Francis gave each of us a glass of mango juice. We felt a rush of energy to our body as the juice went down our throat. Now our motive was to conserve this new-found energy and utilise it at a constant rate. After 7 gruelling hours, we reached Stella point. We could see Uhuru peak which was just a kilometre away. The view towards the summit is something out of a fairy tale movie; you have ice and glaciers surrounding you and a rocky path ahead. It took us 45 minutes to reach the summit and we just fell to the gound upon reaching there. This mountain demanded respect and it’s no easy task. The four of us were in tears and we hugged and screamed in joy! This was the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life and the feeling was ecstatic. I kissed the board that said ‘Congratulations - You are now at Uhuru Peak – 5895m’. I was literally on top of a mountain and the feeling was heavenly. We spent a good 30 minutes taking pictures in various poses and then started to head down.
Going down from Uhuru to Stella was refreshing as you can take time to see the beautiful views around you. Once reaching Stella point, instead of regular walking we transferred to a sort of sliding which was great fun and it was fast. What took us 8 hours to reach on top took us only 4 hours on our way down. Upon reaching Barafu camp, we were met by our entire support team. They greeted us with a song and dance performance cheering us on our accomplishment. Another 3 hour light-hearted downhill stretch later we arrived at Millennium camp, our final stop of the trek.
The morning of August 7th was by far the best, as I felt totally energised after a full night sleep without any interruptions. This was mainly due to the exertions faced by my body while climbing the summit. We all got up, had breakfast, got all our gear together and started our descent towards Mweka Gate from where we exit the mountain and the Kilimanjaro National Park. It was a long walk down, going through the rainforest again and catching a glimpse of Blue and Colobus Monkeys. After nearly 5 hours we finally reached Mweka gate, signed off in the register and received our certificates. The climb was officially over!
We then headed to the hotel for a long-awaited shower and a soft bed with a fluffy pillow. All of us took long baths and hit the bed almost immediately. The next morning was when it hit us – We climbed the tallest mountain in Africa! Climbing 5895m amassing a total of 118,382 steps, walking a total of 62km and taking around 942 photos, now to edit these pictures, create a memoir and plan the next adventure!
Hope you enjoyed that! If you have any interesting story or adventure such as this, please feel free to share it with us, we will be happy to hear and share to the world!