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     Volume 4 Issue 3 | July 9, 2004 |


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Everest Calling

A pictorial odyssey of mountain life and landscape through a would-be mountaineer's lens

Afsar Ahmed

Any man in his right mind would have said no. But M Shamsul Alam Babu could not afford to say number For, in his heart, he felt the pull of the Everest. It is so strong a force that he cannot resist.

"It was back in 1986 when I first caught a glimpse of Sir Edmund Hillary live at Dhaka Press Club, saying that it was really astonishing that people from Bangladesh hadn't yet tried to conquer Mt Everest, though it is quite near to the country. And the words stayed in my mind. I decided that one day I would ascend the highest summit of the world," says an exultant Babu.

Everest seems to attract a lot of people. Ones who go near it to savour the beauty and ones who dream to lodge their feet on its icy cap, they all share the same passion. There is something about the Everest -- a mystifying quality -- that tones the public imagination.

Shamsul Alam Babu is a member of the Bangladesh Everest Team-1. He sums it up well, "The compulsion to climb it is every bit as powerful and deeply felt as the age-old human compulsion to fly."

After 50 years of the conquest by Tenzing Norgay, the sherpa who made the first ascent of the Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary in 1953, it still is an effort to organise a mountaineering team in Bangladesh. Under the leadership of Enam-Ul-Haque, the first ever Bangladesh Everest Team was formed in September last year. After that, with the sponsorship of Mountain Dew, the team that Babu was a part of, went to the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI) in Darjeeling to do the basic mountaineering course. It was one of the series of training that all the would-be mountaineers need to go through. To get the permission for climbing the Everest they need to go through another three courses, namely, Advance Mountaineering Course, Method of Instructions and Search and Rescue course. “But this is not enough, we have to summit three peaks above 20,000 feet to get the permission for triumphing Mt Everest,” said Babu.

As Babu bucks up to climb the highest mountain on earth, he delves into a new genre of photography. His recent week-long photography exhibition is a novel attempt to showcase photographs of mountains. Titled "Mountain Photography-1", the show at the Zainul Gallery, Institute of Fine Arts, Dhaka, amassed a total of 35 photographs, which were taken mostly during Babu's "basic mountaineering course". The grandeur of the Himalayan mountain range and some glimpses of the hill district. The show was one of a kind. Not only were the photographs on display, but some of his climbing gear such as piton hammer, ice piton, crampon, ascender, anchors rope, slings, spikes, threads, nuts and even his tent and rucksack were also on display.

Life is an exciting escapade for Babu. His interest in varied fields such as trekking and photography veered him to life something akin to the Bohemians. "Like mountaineering, photography is also my passion," he claims, and for a self-taught photographer, he has come a long way trying to exact his craft. He has been at it since 1988, and now he works professionally in this field.

"An image doesn't start with a camera -- it ends when it is clicked". This maxim Babu took to heart. However, photographing while climbing is entirely a different kind of experience. "The essential thing is the wielding of the camera while climbing. If it is not easy to grab the camera when you need to, you won't be able to take any picture," says Babu. Successful climbing photography also requires a particular state of mind. For example, when one is struggling to climb, one will surely fail to forage for images. "Most of the time one will be climbing with partners, and their attitude to the photographer's work is very important," he adds.

"I have used a variety of cameras, lenses, and films during my climbing sessions. There were always four cameras with me to shoot. And this added an extra 5 kg to my usual 30 kg weight during the expedition," says Babu.

The exhibition focused on both landscape and scenes of climbing. It was, however, the extraordinary perspective that seems so simple at first sight and resonant after a long, attentive gaze. One realises they required a special eye for this special kind of subject. The rugged, yet lascivious landscape at different times of the day were encapsulated in frames. The Frey Peak, in a golden, cloudy setting against the evening light; Sun in Ice, simple life of the tribal people; as well as the breathtaking landscape of Bandarban, Bagalak, make the exhibition a unique venture. Moreover, Babu's mountain photographs just may change the way you look at mountains, and at yourself.



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