Heeding the call of adventure, Piruzan Rustomfram set off to scale the formidable Mount Kilimanjaro. Read on as recalls the highlights of his memorable trip.
Let me start at the end, before I go back to the beginning. It was a long, gruelling and exhilarating trip, and when I think of the moment when I made it to the peak of Kilimanjaro, I know it’s worth every aching muscle. Now
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let’s go back to the beginning – my departure to Africa via Mumbai.
My first stop - Arusha airport in Tanzania - was just two hours from the tallest free-standing mountain in the world. The warm breeze that greeted me as I stepped off the plane gave me my first feel of Africa. While I was waiting at the baggage belt, I tried to figure out if they were any hikers besides our group. Going by the number of people talking excitedly about the mountain, I quickly ran out of fingers, counting. We collected our bags and headed to Arusha Town. It didn’t take me too long to get used to the dry, sunny weather; by the time I reached the hotel, I felt perfectly comfortable. Well, close enough!
Summits Africa, which managed the logistics, had a well-planned itinerary that meant that we got to see all of Kilimanjaro’s main areas while on our way to the ‘roof of Africa’. They also paid close attention to all the necessary safety measures. The next day we drove to our first base – the Machame Gate. After completing the necessary formalities and triple-checking our gear, we started our first hike for the peak. We set off with our head guide – Charles Obed – who took us through a forest filled with all kinds of colourful plants and interesting animals. We were quite glad to set up camp by the time the sun set. It had been tiring! But then the stars came out and we forgot all about the fatigue. We seemed to be surrounded by clouds and winking stars. It’s not a sight we get back home.
We had a steep climb the next day. Our hike to Shira, at 3,900 metres above sea level, was not easy. As it got steeper and steeper, some of us needed a few stops to catch our breath. But with constant chatter (when not gasping for breath) and
shutter-happy breaks, it didn’t seem to take too long to reach our stop for the day. I was glad to sit around the warm campfire and mingle with the crew while they cooked dinner. It did seem like a chilly night, with many more to follow.
From Shira, it was off to Barranco the next day. We went up to an alpine desert and then down to our camp. The altitude does take some getting used to. Though we hadn’t done much hiking, we were glad to stop for the day.
The next morning, we scaled the Barranco Wall before proceeding to Karanga, 4,800 metres above sea level, where panoramic views of the deep glacial valleys awaited us. This was to serve as the base camp. The hike, once again, was not a very long one. Slowly we were inching towards our destination - the roof of the world. If the view from here was so gorgeous, I could hardly wait to reach the summit!
Barafu - 4,800 metres above sea level - was where we’d make our final stand before the summit. As soon as the sun rose, we were ready to go. We strapped the backpacks on and started uphill. By this time, all of us were used to the changes in altitude and felt like seasoned trekkers. The view of the alpine desert and the Mawenzi peak lulled us to sleep after an early dinner. Just before midnight, we started our hike to the final summit.
As we were not used to the darkness, the hike was much slower but no less thrilling than the earlier climbs. The moon reflected its glow off the snow at the very top. Our head lamps focused on the ground ahead of us as we took slow, short steps up in the dead of night behind our guide who promised us a big surprise by daybreak. We reached the summit just as dawn was breaking and glimpsed the first ray of the sun catch the peak. What I felt at the moment – mere words will never be able to describe that, but it will forever remain etched in my mind. Here I was at the summit of Kilimanjaro, the sun slowly doing its magic, casting its rays bit by bit. The guide had understated it by calling it a ‘big surprise’!
We spent a long time here, wishing the camera could capture what our eyes saw at Uhuru Peak 5,895 metres above sea level. We couldn’t possibly be ready to leave, but we had to. After staying overnight at the Mweka Camp for a well-deserved rest, we reached the Machame Gate, where we were finally certified (and celebrated by opening a bottle of champagne) – proof that we’d conquered the peak! As we headed back to our hotel in Arusha, we were painfully reminded of all the bruises and aching bones. Was hiking up Kilimanjaro worth it? You bet, it was!
After spending a couple of days in Arusha Town, it was time to go home. We had plenty of snapshots to take home, but the best of them are in our hearts and minds. Those will never fade.