At a film screening of the climb, members of the expedition say the experience opened up their minds
There were 13 people on screen, summiting Mount Kilimanjaro, at an altitude of 5,895 metres. There were nearly a 100 people in the hall, cheering them on, clapping each time they surmounted an obstacle, shedding a tear at their struggles, rejoicing in their bonding.
This was no ordinary expedition. The 13 climbers were a mix of people with visual impairment and their sighted partners, who were on India’s first inclusive climb to Kilimanjaro in Tanzania in September last year. Their experiences have been captured in a film called Unseeing, which was screened at the Mysore Association auditorium in Matunga last week.
In an interaction following the screening, the climbers spoke of how they learnt from each other during the expedition, and how it was a powerful message on inclusion. “The big challenge is not disability,” said Divyanshu Ganatra, inclusion activist and founder of Adventures Beyond Barriers Foundation, a not-for-profit that promotes inclusion through outdoor sports. Mr. Ganatra was on the team that climbed Kilimanjaro. “The challenge comes from attitudinal barriers from lack of awareness, and not knowing,” he said. In 2019, he said, “I don’t have an accessible polling booth to cast my vote.” The barriers can be overcome through dialogue, building empathy, and bringing people with disability to do things most people think are impossible.
Anusha Subramanian, journalist and mountaineer who organised the expedition, spoke of the challenges in putting it together, starting with getting a sponsor, to putting together the itinerary and making sure the local guides were in sync. “The attitude was right, and we were all there for each other,” she said.
“Every mountain has a unique challenge,” said Karn Kowshik, a mountain guide who was on the team. “The biggest is getting funds together.” The team expressed their gratitude to Shiva Gulvady, who sponsored the expedition and “believed in them before they took the first step,” as Mr. Ganatra said.
For Omana Kale, a German teacher, her first ever climb — “I haven’t even climbed Sinhagad in Pune” — taught her that real power came from within. Despite being sick after a gruelling climb, she soldiered on. “It’s a spark, which blocks the voice that says, ‘You can’t do it’.”
‘Just like family’
All the climbers were in awe of their guides, who, as Mr. Kowshik said, have “a nurturing culture”. The guides’ constant chants kept the team going at each stage. “They were family for me,” said Nupur Pittie, a motivational speaker who was on the team. “The amount of warmth and love they gave us was mind-blowing.”
Prasad Gurav, a freelance information technology consultant from Pune, said the expedition had put a model before the world. “It’s not about being a hero; that separates you. We don’t need heroes. We need commoners to do this.”