“I am surprised to see that when the defeated cricket team returns home, they are greeted by ministers and other senior government officials. However, when I returned after conquering the world’s highest peak and planting our national flag on top of Mount Everest, I hardly felt welcomed,” says Hassan Sadpara, the second Pakistani to scale Mount Everest.
Despite his astonishing feats in mountain-climbing, Hassan Sadpara has had to ask the government for financial assistance several times to make his expeditions possible. The 48-year-old mountaineer is the only person in Pakistan to have climbed some of the world’s highest peaks without supplemental oxygen. To put things into perspective, this means having to climb to altitudes where oxygen levels are less than half of those at sea level.
Sadpara is the first Pakistani to have climbed K2, Gasherbrum I, Gasherbrum II, Nanga Parbat, Broad Peak and Mount Everest. He is now determined to include his name in the Guinness Book of World Records by scaling all of the world’s 14 highest peaks. “I have enough talent and skill to accomplish this within a short span of time,” he says, adding that he hopes that he can bag the award before any other mountaineer does. However, he is sceptical about getting the money he needs. On the bright side though, Sadpara did get the monetary assistance he required in his pursuit to scale the ‘Goddess of the Sky’. “The day I planted my country’s flag on the world’s highest peak was the most significant day of my life,” he says.
Sadpara began as a mere porter who tagged along with foreign expeditions and trekking teams. Inspired by his father, he gradually started summiting the peaks of Gilgit-Baltistan one after another. Before he knew it, Hassan had reached newer heights. In the summer of 2009, Sadpara decided to pay a visit to the Himalayas. After a meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari, in which Sadpara expressed the hope of getting financial assistance from the government, the president directed his request to the Alpine Club. Following a wait of nine months, Sadpara was sent off to Nepal, home of Mount Everest. He left along with his four-member team, which comprised his younger brother Muhammad Sadiq, but since the expedition cost $10,500 each, the rest of the team members had to be sent off for trekking at the base camp instead.
Hassan continued his ascent along with a group of Nepalese mountaineers on the world’s highest peak. Finally, on May 12, 2011, the Pakistani flag was hoisted on Mount Everest for the second time. After Nazir Sabir, president of the Alpine Club Pakistan, Hassan Sadpara became the second Pakistani ever to conquer Everest.
But the extreme terrain of the Himalayas has not been the most challenging obstacle in the mountaineer’s life, who struggles to make ends meet. “I don’t have enough money to even serve a cup of tea to the guests who come to congratulate me,” he says. His children have often asked him to give up his expeditions since the abject poverty in which he lives leaves little room for family expenditures and he is unable to feed or educate them. Inspired by his father, Sadpara took a risk in pursuing mountaineering but does not feel duly repaid. “I represented Pakistan in Nepal and hoisted the nation’s flag on top of the world’s highest peak. There should at least have been a federal representative at the airport to receive me,” he says.
Since his return, there has been one instance of acknowledgement from the government: Hassan Sadpara has been appointed an instructor in the police force by the Gilgit-Baltistan government. A senior police official says that it would be an honour to be trained by a man of such resilience. Sadpara, who had hoped for funding to scale the world’s highest peaks, is disappointed but promises to try his best to live up to the expectations that people have of him. “I am as empty-handed as I was before, but something’s better than nothing,” he says.
Mountaineering is one of the most challenging sports in the world, requiring the adventurer to risk his/her life but it does not get the same respect — and funding — as other sports in the country, despite the fact that Pakistan has immense potential for mountain-climbing. “Pakistan has 50 peaks above the height of 7,000m — that makes it a great tourist attraction. The government should develop infrastructure to attract foreign tourists,” says Sadpara who feels that economic and security conditions deprive this industry of the attention it deserves. As a mountaineer Sadpara wishes to revive the tourism and adventure industry. “I am ready to establish a Mountaineering Training Institute in Skardu to train the youth if the government is ready to support it. This would be helpful in training local talent, and foreigners would also be interested in attending such training institutes. It could ultimately be a good source of foreign exchange,” he says.
Currently, there are hardly 20 countries that have their flags planted on the roof of the world and it is because of mountaineers like Nazir Sabir and Hassan Sadpara that Pakistan is one of them.
Eight-Thousanders: The world’s highest peaks (mountain, ranges, country, height)
1. Mount Everest, Himalayas Nepal/Tibet (8,850m)
2. K2, Karakoram, Pakistan/China (8,611m)
3. Kangchenjunga, Himalayas, Nepal/India (8,586m)
4. Lhotse, Himalayas, Nepal/Tibet (8,516m)
5. Makalu, Himalayas, Nepal/Tibet (8,462m)
6. Cho Oyu, Himalayas, Nepal/Tibet (8,201m)
7. Dhaulagiri, Himalayas. Nepal (8,167m)
8. Manaslu, Himalayas, Nepal (8,163m)
9. Nanga Parbat, Himalayas, Pakistan (8,125m)
10. Annapurna, Himalayas, Nepal (8,091m)
11. Gasherbrum I, Karakoram, Pakistan/China (8,068m)
12. Broad Peak, Karakoram, Pakistan/China (8,047m)
13. Gasherbrum II, Karakoram, Pakistan/China (8,035m)
14. Shisha Pangma, Himalayas, Tibet, (8,013 m)
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, June 26th, 2011.