Freezing cold made worse by biting wind. Continuous rains. 15000+ feet above sea level. Resultant low oxygen levels and difficulty in. Pitch dark at midnight. A full moon night with the moon no where in sight because of the clouds.
After a tiring drive through the mountains and making sleeping and food arrangements for 90 people who were traveling with me, I had just stretched out in a tent I shared with a few others, readying myself for a few hours of sleep.
I was half asleep. Suddenly there were loud noises of someone crying from the tent in the neighbourhood and murmurs in my own tent.
“Mundraji is no more” informed someone as they woke me up. I rushed to his tent to assess what actually had happened. Within the next 10 minutes I was told, “Naru is breathless and appears to be in a serious condition”. Naru is Nirmala Gilda, my niece. Her husband, was obviously in a state of panic. “Someone save her!”.
Leaving Mr. Mundra’s tent, I rushed to Naru’s tent. I was told that someone had rushed to get an oxygen cylinder for her. Within 5 minutes, another news came in, “Shobhaji fell and has fractured her hand.” She had rushed to fetch the oxygen cylinder and got herself tangled with the rope that keeps a tent erect.
All three events happened in a span of 20 minutes. I was shaken up. I was confused at what was happening and scared of what was in store for the rest of that fateful night. I prayed to Lord Shiva for a few moments. We were right next to Him, after all. We were camping at the bank of Mansarovar Lake, at the foot of Mt. Kailash, his mythical abode.
Lake Mansarovar – a place where no facilities were available, no shops, no habitants let alone medical facilities. This was a trip I had initiated. I had taken a group of 90 people to Kailash Mansarovar Yatra along with Guruji, for a charitable cause.
We had nine qualified, helpful doctors in our group including Dr. Meena from Nashik who had spent more or less all of past ten days serving the members of the group.
Naru’s breathlessness was due to high altitude. We were at a height of 15,060 ft, which does not suit everyone. Immediately, a landcruiser was arranged to take her to a lower altitude. Mrs. Shobha also was sent in landcruiser to a lower level for treatment at a place where provisional medical facilities were available. Actions were prompt and brisk.
Right at the beginning, in the briefing sessions, all members were told that they ought to report even if they have minute symptoms of sickness. Those few who reported slightest sickness were promptly treated. One person who had acute altitude sickness had to be sent back to the base. Another person who had mild symptoms of sickness was held back at the same place for another day for further acclimation and was then escorted to join the group the next day. Arrangements for such emergencies were well taken care of.
Mundraji had been unwell for 3-4 days. But neither he nor any body else reported the problem, probably presuming it was of no major consequence. On that fatal day, he suddenly collapsed. It is assumed that it was a massive heart stroke.
Mansarovar is in Tibet. As it is a sacred place, his family, who was accompanying him on the trip, agreed to have the funeral there itself instead of getting him back to India. It took a full day to complete all the formalities. Guruji was present all the time. We could see the smoke from his pyre blowing towards the sacred Mount Kailash.
We found consolation in the fact that Mundraji was lucky to have survived till he reached Mansarovar and his last rites could be performed at such an auspicious place.
Though Mundhraji’s demise was something none of us could have helped, I still feel guilty and often wonder if there was anything I could have done for his survival. The burden of that event I still bear on my heart and soul .
I guess this event is an eye opener to anyone travelling to high altitudes, “do not ignore, even mild symptoms, of any illness and report to the organisers immediately”.