On Top Of The World – The First Marwari To Climb Mount Everest

“Age is just a number” is personified by Venkatesh Maheshwari in his journey to conquer Mount Everest. Here’s the first Marwari to climb Mount Everest in conversation with Humans Of Sports.

I had first seen Mt Everest in a TV documentary of an expedition in the early eighties. I have always been fascinated by the mountains since childhood and I used to see myself scaling Mt. Everest. Even the smallest of hills would excite me.

I have been trekking for so many years and have been to Everest base camp twice, but I was not sure if I had the courage and whether my family would support my dream. Being in a senior position in the corporate world and also having no mountaineering skills it was a tough path to choose but the mountains called me closer each day. I realized, if I don’t make an attempt now it will be too late. That is when in the November of 2016 I decided to live my dream.

Mount Everest

How has your journey been so far?

With 25 years in the work-life balance, as I call it, first 6-7 years I worked in India. Then I worked for Walmart in Canada and now I’m the senior vice-president (supply chain management) in the fashion division of Aditya Birla Group. My connection with the Mountains has brought me so far as to conquer Mount Everest. For living up to my dreams, I had to align a lot of things: my work, my family, basically my whole life. I had to update my seniors with my plan as it would mean substantial time off, I had to develop my team who could run the show while I would be away for training. I started to prepare myself on both aspects and had told myself that I would go ahead only if I felt I was fully prepared. My family, friends, co-workers gave me the strength and the courage to follow my passion and to come so far in life, whether it be mountaineering or my corporate life they helped me achieve every single bit of it.

It was not very often I used to travel to the mountains, as I grew up in the western suburbs of Mumbai. Just looking at the outskirts of Mumbai, the little mountains/hills use to excite me. My first trek was in 1996, I must be 12 years old, from that day on there was no looking back. Then I went on a solo trek for 15 days, climbing a couple of more summits, did the Annapurna summit twice which is the Everest base camp and then decided to conquer Everest.

Mount Everest

How did you train yourself for such a tough fight?

As mentioned, earlier it was tough to align my work life and family with the dream I was seeing. I researched for 6 months and I understood in detail the training requirements and the physical preparation to transform my body from a 45-year-old to that of a 25-year-old. It takes a lot of time to train yourself for the extreme cold, wind, low oxygen and hence I worked on my endurance. 

It took me 18 months to get ready. I used to climb 10 rounds of 50 floors in five hours with 15kg tied to my ankles. Knowing your variables well is the most important factor while you train, as this is what will help you when you will be at your worst at the top.

“Fitness is not about being better than someone

else, but better than what I was yesterday.” 

This is something I believed in and kept on climbing the ladder of success each day.

Did you think you could make it to the summit? How challenging was it and how did you overcome all the obstacles?

The condition in the tents at the advanced base camp at 21,000 feet is extremely challenging. For many days, we had to sleep in tents laid over snow, with poor hygiene and foremost of the time we had to survive on canned food. Our mental strength broke down faster than physical after the first seven days.

There are four camps, starting from the base camp up to the summit. Once we arrive at the base camp, we need to do rotations to Camp 1, 2 and 3 to acclimatize our body to the weather conditions. After making a few rotations between Base Camp 1 to Base Camp 3, we had to wait for the right weather to summit again. It’s all about patience and humility in order to survive, even if it means ingesting the phlegm which I did because exposing your hand to clean would mean risking frostbites.

Yes, there were times where I thought that this was it, as my feet were full of blisters but the passion, support, my persistence of making my dream come true kept me going. The only thing in mind was to climb.

How supportive was your family when you told them about climbing Everest?

I chose not to tell a lot of people about what I was thinking except wife and daughter. Of course, they were not okay with it. I told my daughter 10 days before I was leaving as she was in the middle of her board exams so that she doesn’t get disturbed, but after revealing this to her it took her 4-5 days to accept it as we all knew that there was a lot at stake, but I am glad that they supported me and made it easier for me to accomplish it.

Mount Everest

How has mountaineering helped you in your work life?

Mountaineering is a passion I have nurtured since the age of 15. My burning desire for mountaineering has therefore helped me maintain an excellent work-life balance. I knew the call of the mountains was beckoning me, so I always strived to give my best in my career and fulfil my corporate responsibilities with equal zeal and simultaneously pursued my passion for mountaineering. I can now say that I am proud of my career graph and the steady progress I have made, all thanks to my passion for the mountains. The mountains inspire you to push the boundaries and bring out the best in you in the most challenging scenarios. The climb is as much about mental preparation as it is about physical strength. A climber has 6 oxygen cylinders and he has to manage his climb and pace it as per his strengths as also the weather conditions, so as to reach the summit and return to the higher camp before he exhausts those 6 cylinders. Can there be any better lesson in time management and risk management? It teaches you to know your strengths, gauge the scenario, evaluate your resources and take a well-calculated decision.

What has been your `Everest’ at the workplace and how did you scale it?

In my role as Head of Supply Chain in the retail industry, I am constantly challenged with tough deadlines, demanding project deliverables and work in a high-pressure environment. Passion, Commitment, Speed, Seamlessness and Integrity are the 5 core values of my organization which I use in my daily work life to overcome many challenging situations; and surprisingly these are the same values that have helped me in my mission to scale Everest. We read this on our office walls every day. But up in the mountains, I truly felt and understood each of these values and how it makes us perform better at the workplace. Take for example the first two. Without a passion and commitment towards a dream, one cannot endure the pain and the extremities, one encounters during the journey. On the descend after the summit, I was fully exhausted and had developed blisters on both my feet. Every step was extremely painful. Yet my sheer passion for the mountains helped me bear the pain and continue on the descend. My commitment toward my training ensured that I could pull myself through on even a low energy level.

Speed is of absolute essence as you have to summit and come down to Camp 1. Speed isn’t about being fast or faster than others, it’s about pacing yourself just right to peak when necessary. Seamlessness, another virtue, clearly felt during the expedition when everyone has to trust each other. And finally, Integrity. It is your sheer personal integrity and faith in your Sherpa, integrity in your dream, purpose and goal which drives you to conquer all.

No matter how successful a person you are, mountaineering teaches you the very simple & basic quality of humility. When you have to survive on canned food and limited water and oxygen supply for days, humility is the only thing that keeps you going with all the gusto. The whole expedition has made me extremely humble as a person and an approachable leader. I have learnt to accept situations that may not be as per my preference; I have learnt to see the bigger goal and don’t sweat over small details anymore. I never shut the door of my cabin and I’m always approachable for any kind of communication.

I believe, while we scale up the corporate ladder, we need to become better human beings and mountaineering has inspired me to be one. My passion for mountaineering keeps me in complete harmony with my inner self, because of which my energy level at work is very high and I also manage to rub it off on colleagues and team members. While grooming budding leaders, I always believe in leading by example.

No matter how much you’ve researched and done your homework, at 29,000 feet up there, you have to trust the almighty and your Sherpa (your guide throughout the expedition) with your life and work as a team. In the corporate space too, I’ve learnt to enable people and trust them with responsibilities, out of their comfort zone.

What are your goals?

I am planning to climb the 7 mountains in the 7 continents and have been training myself for the past one and a half year.

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