for National Geographic News
More than 20 expeditions are expected to be climbing on Everest in this 50th summer after the world's highest peak was first successfully scaled. Amongst them is a team that was selected from more than 30,000 applications from amateur thrill-seekers across India.
Mission Everest, sponsored by National Geographic Channel India (NGCI), will be accompanied by an elite team of climbers from the Indian and Nepalese armies. The entire adventure, from the selection of participants to the final trek up the mountain, is being filmed as a reality adventure series to be televised in India. Three production members from NGCI will accompany the climb.
As the 50th anniversary of the first successful ascent, and return, of Everest nears, interest in the world's highest land-based mountain is becoming intense. The first ascent of the 29,035-foot (8,850 meters) peak was by Edmund Hillary, a New Zealander, and Tenzing Norgay, a Nepalese Sherpa, on May 29, 1953.
Among the hordes of seasoned climbers milling around at Base Camp this climbing season will be the five plucky amateurs who were selected for NGCI's Mission Everest.
Jamling Norgay, son of Tenzing Norgay, who has himself ascended Everest, said, "Through Mission Everest, National Geographic Channel has managed to bring adventure into the lives of the Indian youth. It not only celebrates the history of an awe-inspiring icon, it also highlights true Indian heroes." The Mission Everest 24-member expedition is being led by Colonel Ashok Abbey of the Indian army and principal of the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM). A veteran of 27 expeditions, this will be his first attempt to climb Everest.
Mission Everest will focus behind the scenes to look not only at the selection process and training for the adventure, but also at the "secret rivalries [and] unexpected partnerships" involved in the process of whittling down a list of 30,000 applicants to five finalists.
"This is the first time that we have tied up with a channel like National Geographic, which we feel befits the true spirit of adventure," said Major-general Vasudeva, director-general military training, Indian Army, New Delhi. "Everest to us is about daring to dream, and on the 50th year of the first Everest climb we bring the dream of Everest to the masses through this alliance."
In the course of the nine-episode weekly series premiering on April 20, 2003, viewers journey through the preliminary selection processes where young Indian men and women competed against one another in four centers across India. They move on to the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, Uttarkashi where they witness the joy and tears of participants as they are trained and selected by instructors of the Indian Army and ultimately the triumph of the final five who will face Everest with the Indian and Nepalese armies.
Earlier this year, National Geographic Channel kicked off Everest Se Takkarâ or "Challenge Everest," a nationwide contest calling all Indians to apply for the opportunity to face the mountain. Tens of thousand entries flooded in.
After a preliminary round of selections, 2,000 participants in the age group 18 to 35 were invited in groups of 500 to one of four citiesDelhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Bangalorefor physical, medical, and psychometric tests. From these regional rounds a total of 200 were selected for the next level of the competition.
Dilshad Master, senior vice president NGCI, said the response was overwhelming and the immense zeal displayed by these budding adventurers was stunning. Talking animatedly about the project, she said it was hard to overlook the 40-something Mr. Baba who wanted to make the climb, in spite of the fact that he was on crutches. "The spirit to climb the mountain was undaunted in him," she said.
From the group of 200 a smaller cadre of 20 candidates was selected and taken to The Nehru Institute of Mountaineering in the Himalayas for high-altitude training. The Indian Army then selected the five finalists to accompany the Joint Indo-Nepal Army Everest Expedition.
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