As a child, Dr Murad Lala was constantly urged by his father, who was with the Indian Air Force, to climb to the highest point in the world or fly to outer space. Today the senior citizen is proud as his son became the first Indian doctor to scale Mount Everest on May 19. As I enter Dr Lala’s cabin at Hinduja Hospital, where he has been practising since the last 12 years, he greets me warmly, clad in his blue scrubs.
The 50-year-old onco surgeon reveals that since his childhood, he participated in various extra-curricular activities at Lawrence Lovedale School, Ooty, where he had his early education. He won the bronze, silver and gold medals in the Duke of Edinburgh awards in 1977, 1979 and 1981 respectively and won the Prime Minister’s Gold Medal in NCC (national cadet Corps). After attaining an MS (Master of Surgery) and M Ch (Super speciality degree) in surgical oncology, he started practising. But he ensured that despite his hectic professional schedule, he pursued adventure sports.
Over the last couple of years, Dr Lala has successfully learnt ski diving, bungee jumping, parasailing, white water rafting and also participated in the Raid de Himalaya (Himalayan Car Rally) in 2007, 2008 and 2009 along with his wife Dr Mamatha Lala, a pediatrician. Enthused by these endeavours, the surgeon took his first step towards achieving his childhood dream (scaling Mount Everest) by completing the Triple Crown expedition in October, 2012. He says, “I summitted (scaled) three 20,000 feet peaks in Nepal around Mount Everest with a Canadian group. Earlier this year, I underwent training at an high altitude centre in Juhu for a month wherein the oxygen level is reduced and one has to cycle in low temperature.”
He set out to scale the Mount Everest along with the same group on March 28. He recounts, “We went to Kathmandu from where we flew to Lukma and trekked to the Everest base camp.” He explains that the process of scaling the world’s highest peak is quite tedious, as one has to follow the dictum, ‘climb high, sleep low,’ during the entire expedition. He says, “When we would climb to camp 2 during the day, at night we would come down to camp 1 and sleep there. We did this the entire month while moving up the camps gradually as the idea was to tread slowly and acclimatise oneself with low oxygen levels.”
After following constant weather updates from Canada, the group managed to reach camp 4, popularly known as the “death zone” as it is 26,000 feet high, in the second week of May. He says, “On May 18, we left camp 4 at 7 pm and summitted Mount Everest the next day at 9.10 am.” Dr Lala admits that the two-month expedition was replete with challenges. “It was relentlessly cold. Also between base camp and camp 1, glaciers were falling constantly. At camp 1, we were struck for three days due to a snowstorm. But all of us stuck together and were able to achieve the feat.”
The onco surgeon confesses that he has been inspired by his patients. “It’s a dichotomy that I’m scaling heights while my patients are fighting against all odds. But I gain immense strength from them to succeed despite all adversities. I’m looking at facing more challenges bravely,” he signs off.