Millennium Post

A tale of courage

Darjeeling: Gopal Shreshta is a man with a mission. Out to spread awareness against stigma surrounding HIV, Shreshta became the first HIV positive person to summit Mount Everest. Though a success story, his life has been full of challenges, akin to his summit quest.

Shreshta, who hails from Ratnachowk, Pokhara, Nepal is at present visiting Darjeeling, to recoup and celebrate his successful Everest assent.

Talking to Millennium Post, Shreshta, who was formerly a national football player of Nepal, said: "I wanted to send the message to society that HIV positives are in no way weak, mentally or physically. We too can do it. It was also to send a message to the government of Nepal to give opportunities to the HIV infected."

Shreshta was turned down by Nepal Parvat Arohan Sangh (mountaineering institute), when he had applied for the mountaineering course in 2013 and 2014. "They said the course is for the Sherpas. I feel it could be because of the HIV as it could have created complications for them as I had come out in the open that I was HIV infected," stated Shreshta.

However, this did not deter him. He self-trained and in 2013 October, did a solo trek of the Thorungla Pass (5416 m). In October 2014, he successfully scaled Island peak (6189 m) in Nepal.

In 2015, he made an Everest attempt but was trapped in the mega avalanche. He was rescued and survived, when 5 of his friends lost their lives. It took him time to recover from this tragedy.

However, he was back climbing next year and in February, he successfully summited the Khang Karpo (6704 m) peak in Nepal. He was then ready for his second attempt at scaling Mount Everest.

"As the government did not support me much, I had to start a fundraiser. My friends, family and NGOs helped. This year I was back at Everest once again," said Shreshta, who finally scaled the world's highest peak on May 22 at 8:00 am.

"While acclimatising on my way back from camp 3 to camp 2, I fell and had a knee injury. I was advised to return. Sheer determination kept me going. I returned to base camp and rested for 9 days and started again," he added.

The summit was also difficult with the traffic jam. "My oxygen regulator was malfunctioning as the elastic of my goggles had gone loose. There was constant vapour on the goggles because of this and I had difficulty seeing. I had to open my goggles a number of times to see and then I started getting snow blind. On my way back I was losing my eyesight very fast. Had it not been for my guide Dakipa Sherpa, I would not have made it back," Shreshta said. After reaching base camp he was admitted at a hospital at Lukla and then at Kathmandu. Post treatment, his vision slowly returned after nearly 72 hours.

"One has to remove self stigma first and come out," is his advice to the HIV affected. "Chase your dream without substance abuse. Substance abuse kills dreams," is Shreshta's message to the youth, who was a drug abuser in his teenage years and contracted the deadly disease through needle sharing.

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