KATHMANDU: Unconsciously impressed by the glamour of mountains, Purnima Shrestha, now a successful photojournalist, took to her current profession by chance.
Her journey atop Everest on May 19, 2018, brought substantive changes in her life and career alike. May 19 gave her the title of first Nepali photojournalist to reach the top of Everest.
Arughat, Gorkha, Shrestha’s birthplace is the point origin for the Manaslu Circuit Trek. Despite getting a chance to born on the edge of the Himalayas where Mt Manaslu (8,163m) stands, as a child she neither dreamt of being a mountaineer nor was fascinated by mountains. What’s more, she never dreamt to be photojournalist as well.
Strangely enough, now her mind is somehow obsessed with getting the best images in her frames. Every moment is challenging for her. It has been already six years that her eyes become the lens of the camera. Now, she is associated with Karobar National Daily and is also contributing to the New York Times.
For her present role and status, she gives all credit to the success she got on May 29, 2017. It was then that she first got a chance to go to Everest Base Camp to capture the moment of Everest Marathon.
The trek was a life-changing experience for Purnima. For her, the mountains were no longer the stuff of legends, the mountains stood in front forming the feelings of the unique bond between her and them. “I felt like the mountain was pulling me towards it. I regretted not coming earlier,” a young and excited journalist Shrestha said, “When I reached the base camp, I met people from expeditions, the porters and guides; learned a lot from them and concluded I was late to respond to the call buried in me for good.”
While talking with us at Khabarhub’s office, she still feels nostalgic talking about the mountains. She regrets not attempting earlier despite being born in the lap of mountains. She missed ‘Wow!’ moments in her life.
“Being born in Nepal and working as a photojournalist”, she said, “It pinches and makes a mockery of me for the first time.”
Then to keep up with her lust for photography, she planned to climb the Mt Everest.
Purnima talked to many people seeking advice on what she should do before aiming to surmount Everest, and they said she had to climb a mountain of 6000 meters, the measuring rod of preparedness.
At first, her plan was to climb a peak in September, so she had three months to get ready. “You can call it luck, you can call it chance, or you can call it destiny, but I met a group of climbers who were preparing to do an expedition to Manaslu, which was a mountain in my own district,” She explained elated at the memory of the day she met those people. So, she decided to climb Mt. Manaslu, also known as the “mountain of the spirit.”
True to her spirit and determination she made it, she succeeded her first feet on September26, 2017.
After climbing Mt Manaslu successfully, she is poured with more confidence, more excitement and more happiness and then her feet aimed Mt Everest.
Before setting her feet to the highest peak in the world, Shrestha organized a solo photo exhibition, the first of its kind, under the theme “Smiling Nepali Women”, featuring portraits of 25 Nepali women from all walks of life in the Everest region.
Smiley in gesture and determined in her work Shrestha believes “Smile is a universal language which everybody understands.”
She organized the exhibition in Camp I, Camp II, and Camp III and above, but due to different constraints, the number of photos decreased, maybe due to their inability to keep up with the altitude.
Finally, in the summit, she just had the only one photo of her mother. Yes, the mother whom one remembers in every happiness and sorrows and whom everyone has spelled thousands of times in their life was in the photo she held.
Successfully, she was atop the world in May 2018.
However, she still has some reservations about her feat. She is not satisfied with her expedition. Her dissatisfaction lies in the fact that she could not capture the scene she wanted because of the expedition the rules. Climbing is a strictly disciplined task and you must follow it. She could not open the camera stuck there; capturing in the lens is impossible during such expeditions.
Climbing Everest is an expensive adventure. Due to the constraints of money, everyone cannot afford it. It is a ‘crazy wish’. She said, “I have climbed Mt Everest once before I reached the Summit,” she told Khabarhub recalling the endeavors she had to make as preparation, “to arrange the money to climb the Mt Everest.”
She is delighted to be the photographer, “If I were not a photographer, I would not have been a mountaineer.” The temptation to capture the beauty and boldness of mountains in her lens led to make her a mountaineer.
She understands the fact that there is always a 50% chance to reach the top and come back safely. As you lose almost your energy, your enthusiasm, your wish, your willpower and your feeding gear like oxygen, it is harder getting down than going up.
While getting down, Purnima was running out of food, water, and oxygen. “I could hardly see anything due to blurred vision,” she recalled. Initially, she thought her glasses were covered with snow, but later, she realized that she had snow blindness, a painful and temporary loss of vision due to overexposure to the sun’s UV rays. What to say, she was frostbitten and beaten by the winds as well.
Now, she is thankful for the mountain that gave her a new life and a new identity. “Mt Everest gives me more inspiration, energy, and confidence.”
A girl from a small middle-class family, it was Hercules feat to climb Mt Everest, yet she did it.
“Everest gives me more power,” she said to Khabarhub, “Whenever I am upset or depressed, I remind myself that I have already climbed Mt Everest. So, why should I stuck on this matter?” This very remainder of the deed gives the energy to focus on her task and prepare for something big.
“If we work on something more focused and more dedicated, we can claim it,” Shrestha draws the lesson learned from the feat, “there is nothing impossible”.
Purnima was not satisfied with the scaling of Everest alone. As a journalist, she wanted to tackle more challenges in her life and went for Amadablam, a well-known beautiful and technical mountain. She also accomplished her Amadablam mission on November 10, 2019.
She is professionally happy after climbing Amadablam. With this ascent, she has a better collection of mountains in her library, her sole aim of climbing Amadablam.
“Mountain is our identity,” Shrestha spoke proudly, “Nepal is known in the outer world because of Mountain and Mountain represents Nepal.”
She dreads if we do not care about the mountains properly, after some years the mountains our pride may vanish which will make us sans identity.
She wants to have more such feats as she enjoys such challenges. She knows that there are more mountains waiting for her. So, this coming season she is planning to climb Mt Annapurna I and next year she is planning to complete the longest trekking trail “Great Himalayas Trail”.
“Mountains are our “Rhodium,” she said, “We should preserve as well as promote it to the world.”