Sanjay Pandit: Nepal’s first Backwardwalking World Mountaineer Extraordinaire

Avantika Shrestha

Kathmandu.“Exercising is a must; we have to run. If we run, we either become an athlete or at least, a strong healthy human being.”

These are the words—passed down by his father—that defines Sanjay Pandit’s career as Nepal’s very own ultra-runner and ultra-mountaineer. Sanjay Pandit has made a name for himself, holding impressive track records and climbing mountains across the globe. Till date, he has climbed 11 mountains and plans to climb more in the future.

Sanjay Pandit’s story begins in Pyuthan district, as the son of a school principle and an avid volleyball player. As his father traveled a lot, Sanjay and his brother would follow after him. In addition to that, their school happened to be km away from their home. Thus, everySaturday, they would carry their bags and head for school. As his father as an avid volleyball player, he pushed his sons to maintain a healthy lifestyle and would wake them up in six in the morning to run a trail that he would choose for them. “It was like a homework of sorts. My father would wake us up and decide a trail for us to run through every morning, whether it rained or if it was too cold or too hot, he would make us complete the route otherwise he’d scold and punish us.”, he reminisces.

After his SLC examinations, he moved to Kathmandu to complete his +2 studies. He didn’t run as much as he did in his home district but would take part in various running events held by the campus and would easily beat most of his seniors. Initially, he wanted to play volleyball like his father as he enjoyed very much but wasn’t able to due to his height as he could easily be overpowered by his seniors. Since he couldn’t compete with them in volleyball, he decided to take part in running events—placing first every time. Thus, he continued his running even after shifting to Kathmandu.

As a student, he didn’t have a lot of funds lying around and one day, during his +2 examinations, he ran short of cash and couldn’t take the bus home. This wouldn’t have such an inconvenience if his exam center was close by to Kathmandu Bernhardt College, from where he studied. But unfortunately, his center happened to be Swayambhu. With no other option, he decided to walk home by taking shortcuts that he knew of. As he was journeying back, he saw South Asian gold medalists being honored and celebrated. They were people that he saw in many newspaper articles, on the TV and almost everywhere. And he thought to himself, “Rajendra Bhandari and Baikuntha Manandhar are renowned for their running. They all became renowned from running. Maybe I too can become renowned for my running? Kathmandu is full of rich and well-off people and they’re barely recognized. Yet, runners like Deepak Bista, Rajendra Bhandari and Baikuntha Manandhar are renowned all over Nepal. Yes, I too should start running.”

And his career as a long distance runner began. He would run at all times of the day, deeply focused on his goal of being renowned for his running. He’d run anywhere and everywhere in Kathmandu, sometimes getting lost and having to call his brother to pick him up.

In the year of 2008, he participated in the first Kathmandu International Marathon. He would also take in small marathons here and there of 5 km to 10 km.This time the distance was of was 42 km. As for his decision to take part in this marathon, he explains “I had a drive to run the 42 km in my late teens rather than during the end of my career as most runners do. I wanted to start my running career by running the 42 km immediately rather than later on. And I finished it in around 3 hours, which made me more determined to continue running. “After that, he started participating in more marathon events.

On a trip to Rangashala, he stumbled upon Baikuntha Manandhar. “I look up to him as a God. In the context of Nepal, he is the king of marathons. So, meeting him was like meeting god.”, he comments. “Back then, a runner had run all the day from Kathmandu to Lumbini, so I started asking Baikuntha guru for advice on how I could achieve such a feat. To which he replied that he had run from Kathmandu to Khasa and no one has yet to break that. Which got me thinking, people in Kathmandu spend an entire year planning to go Khasa and this man has run the entire route in 14 hours. Someone from Kathmandu has already run all the to Lumbini, so why can I not run from here to Khasa?”

“I’m, what you call, a bhaedo kind of person. Headstrong on their goals. I’ve been like this since a kid” he adds. So, set off to train himself to run the Kathmandu to Khasa route and managed to finish his run in 11 hours 20 mins. After that, he began getting a lot of attention from media outlets and he became more focused in running—taking part in more challenging marathons such as Kathmandu to Jiri and Kathmandu to Gorkha—until he reached a turning point in his life.

In a small tea shop in Patan, returning from his run from Rangasala, he was drinking his tea when he saw a televised interview of Aapa Sherpa. “When I saw him in that interview, I thought to myself, this person has to be bravest person alive. He had climbed Mt. Everest 19 times and the idea of Mt. Everest itself was terrifying; the snow, the cold, avalanches and the difficult path. In that interview, he said that he too is a Nepali citizen and if people have the will, they can succeed in anything they aim for.”, he quotes. “And that inspired me to climb Mt. Everest.”

It was a rare occurrence for someone from Nepal who wasn’t a Sherpa to climb Mt. Everest and that thought drove Sanjay Pandit towards training himself to ascend the mountain. In 2011, he took an eight-day course in Kakani on mountaineering, an introductory class. Even though, it wasn’t much help when he climbed Mt. Everest, it was still fruitful and is glad that he took it nevertheless.

In the spring of 2012, he ascended Mt. Everest for the first time and climbed 8650ft and returned back with a heavy heart. “There was a pain in a not being able to have touched the peak that time, after spending so much money.”, he adds. After that, he decided to ascend the killer mountain, Mt. Manaslu. A lot of deaths have happened on that mountain, including his own friend who accompanied me in climbing—a Spanish named Martin and there was a grief that followed Sanjay after the death. “75% of our team had quit and we began debating whether to complete the trail or not. I hadn’t touched Mt. Everest’s peak the first time and if I didn’t conquer this mountain, I wouldn’t be qualified to climb Mt. Everest again. I didn’t care if I died in the process, I had to climb it.”, he recalls. With that goal set, he ventured on and his team was successful.

According to the Ecs Nepal, In the following year, he ascended Mt. Everest once again. This time, his own guide died. “The person who took the responsibility of getting me to the top died and that cased me a lot sadness in the trip but I succeeded in the end. I lost my friend in Manaslu and then my guide here. It was very difficult thing to process.”, he adds in smaller tone. As he reached 8850 m range, his oxygen finished. Now it became a matter of life and death, in that altitude it is nearly impossible to survive without oxygen. He continued on and on his way, he was struck by a miracle. Another climber was returning back and had an extra oxygen tank to spare and with that tank, he was successful in reaching the peak. “If Karma Sherpa hadn’t given me the oxygen tank, my frozen corpse would still be there as it’s an expensive feat to receive bodies from that altitude.”, he adds. Upon returning home, his legs had swollen up and were frostbitten from the cold but as it wasn’t extremely severe and after seven months of resting, he recovered though he did have to cut off a bit of his finger due to frostbite.

After climbing a few more mountains here and there, he decided to expand his mountaineering career into mountains all over the world and not just Nepal.

In 2014, he went on to climb the African mountain, Mt. Kilimanjaro and was the fastest climber. After he went on to ascend Europe’s highest-peak, Mt. Elbrus—which he did half-naked in 6 minutes and 30 seconds. After setting an impressive and unique record in Mt. Elbrus, he went to climb the Australian mountain, Mt. Kosciuszko backwards. He began his ascend from Threadbo, a small alpine village and reached the very top in 5 hours and 45 minutes—all in the traditional daurasurwal and Dhaka topi.

After that, he went on to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro again, but like in Mt. Kosciuszko, he donned on his daurasurwaland Dhaka topionce again and ascended backwards to the top in a record time of 24 hours and 40 minutes.

On why he decided to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Kosciuszko backwards, he replied, “For people who’ve climbed Mt. Everest, these mountains are very easy to conquer. But I wanted to be more remarkable than the people who’ve climbed before me, thus I decided to climb them both backwards. And as far as I know, I am the only one to do so till today.”

This year, he ventured on to his most expensive expeditions as of yet with his expedition to Antarctica. It took him a year to collect the funds for this expedition, mortgaging his property and collecting funds from various sponsors. Along with the economic burden, another factor making this mountain particularly difficult is the angle of elevation as well as the dependency on weather. “Here, there are three camps; base camp, low camp and high camp. The angle of elevation between the low camp and the high camp is almost 90 degrees, making it incredibly difficult. Another factor that could’ve made this journey more difficult is the weather. The freezing cold and the hard winds could have easily ended our journey in the first day if they hadn’t favored but thankfully they did.”, he explains.

As for advice he’d like to pass down the aspiring mountaineers who’d like to follow in his footsteps, he advises, “For anyone out there, I’d advise them to be focused. If there is anything you want to accomplish and be the best at, you need to be focused. If you dedicate yourself fully towards a goal, you will be successful, and you must continuously aim towards that one goal. In any field, if you continuously put effort in it for, say, ten to twelve years, you will become a big name in that field. May it be journalism, business, or even politics, if you dedicate yourself fully to that one field, you will succeed. If you let yourself wonder around many fields, you won’t be able to find success in any of those fields. So, stay focused.”.

Now back in Kathmandu, he plans to climb Australia’s famous ten-peaks and maybe even climb Mt. Everest once again. He also hopes to open a mountaineering training school where he can teach people interested in mountaineering the basics as well as take them on expeditions.