For Malaysia’s Everest conquerors, no dream is too high

M Magendran (holding flag) and N Mohanadas make history as the first Malaysians to conquer Mount Everest on May 23, 1997.

PETALING JAYA: If you find that you lack direction no matter what your age, and that you’re just drifting where the tide takes you, feeling somewhat empty despite all that life has to offer, you might want to consider the courage of two men who were among the pioneers of the “Malaysia Boleh” (Malaysia Can Do It) spirit.

Twenty-three years after M Magendran and N Mohanadas became the first Malaysians to reach the summit of Mount Everest, the nation continues to be motivated by their feat.

The “Malaysia Boleh” slogan – that debuted at the 1993 Singapore SEA Games – intensified when the pair proudly held aloft the Jalur Gemilang 8,848 metres above sea level at the peak of the mountain on May 23, 1997.

Their exploits got Malaysians believing in themselves again and in certain ways sparked heroics among other voyagers and sports people.

FMT recently spoke separately to the two men about their dream voyage and life since – and came away touched by their magnetism, humility and warmth of spirit.

These days, both mountaineers share their experience of scaling the highest peak in the world to groups of trailblazers on expeditions to various mountains such as Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Fuji, the Himalayas and Mount Kinabalu.

Then, there are the motivational and team building sessions they deliver for adventurers and companies.

They profess the virtues of commitment, teamwork, goal-setting, the right attitude, fighting the odds and being confident.

Magendran reliving memories of his historic conquest of Mount Everest with Jagdeishwar (on his left), Bindyabashini (far right) and Sidheshwer (far left) at their home in Klang.

“I feel obligated to give something back to society, especially youths.

“People must dream big and confidently scale their own mountains to achieve success,” said Magendran.

The senior assistant at SMK USJ (8) Subang Jaya said he was happy that to date 25 Malaysians, including three women, have succeeded in conquering Mount Everest. Fifty-eight others failed.

Magendran, who turns 57 in December, was 33 years old when he became the first Malaysian to set foot on the summit of Mount Everest at 11.55am (Nepal time) while Mohanadas joined him at 12.10pm.

The sight of Magendran waiting for him at the summit is still bright in Mohanadas’ mind.

Mohanadas, who until today at age 59 runs eight km three times a week, recalled that because of the altitude and exhaustion, he could not even “run 10 feet” to celebrate the moment.

They stayed on the summit for about 45 minutes before heading back down after a punishing final five-day assault.

The pioneering feat put Malaysia among the 48 nations that have successfully scaled Mount Everest since the first ascent in 1953 by New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary, who was accompanied by Tenzing Norgay of Nepal.

Many Malaysians have since the conquest gone to new frontiers worldwide under harsh conditions to spur the nation into a populace of believers and inspire unity and pride.

Good friends Magendran and Mohanadas, who are first on the phone to congratulate each other every May 23, took this writer through the full range of emotions during the interviews.

They said their voyage to the top of the world was besieged with perilous ridges, brutal blizzards and freezing temperatures.

Magendran and wife Senthamarai Vellasamy with his prized Everest keepsakes.

Their stories, which have been featured in school Civics, English and Mathematics textbooks, will remain consistently relevant for generations, reminding chance-takers to dream big and persevere.

There is also the lesson about caring for the wilds as both men attest that anyone who is fortunate to spend time in the mountains should embrace a sense of ownership and investment in nature.

Throwback “Malaysia-Everest Project 97”: Some 100 people signed up for the expedition jointly organised by the Malaysia Mountaineering Association and the Ministry of Youth and Sports.

Ten climbers, including reserves were shortlisted and underwent gruelling training, in harsh environments in the mountains of New Zealand and Nepal.

On May 18, four climbers set out from Camp 4 for the final assault after rigorous acclimatisation to temperature, humidity and altitude since March 26.

Muhammad Fauzan Hassan and Gary Chong fell ill and had to turn back, leaving Magendran and Mohanadas to make the crucial charge.

Magendran was suffering too: his left knee was still hurting after it had slammed into ice during a climb.

He put on a knee guard and bandage and carried on gallantly.

In the end, Magendran likened the joy of being at the peak to “no dream is too high” while Mohanadas said it should be in everyone’s nature to face challenges.

Back home, Malaysians were convinced that there were places to go beyond belief as the daily television coverage of the expedition over 55 days by RTM hit the perfect climax.

Both alpinists miss Mount Everest and there was a time when Mohanadas was planning a second triumph.

Mohanadas wearing the Everest 97 expedition T-Shirt and proudly holding the ice axe that he carried during the assault of the highest peak in the world.

Magendran has an old picture of a panoramic view of Everest taken from Mount Kala Pattar in the living room at his Klang home.

“l imagine myself climbing Everest every time I look at the picture. In my imagination I would have scaled Everest 100 times – even before I set foot in Kathmandu,” said Magendran.

His wife Senthamarai Vellasamy, sons Jagdeishwar, 21, Sidheswer, 15, and daughter Bindyabashini, 20, (all students) though not into climbing, enjoy reading his books on Everest and mountaineering.

Some of the Everest gear both men keep are also a reminder to their children that by doing whatever it takes “you get to where you want to go”.

That advice rings loud for Mohanadas’ three sons Vickneshwaran, 35, Vikrem, 34 and Deneshweren, 31.

The young men, also encouraged by their mother Manimegalai, are like dad, into extreme sports and marathon running.

Mohanadas, a St John’s Institution alumni, said youths should not hold back their desire to go far in undertakings even if the odds are stacked against them.

The owner of MN Outdoor Travel that focuses on hiking, stressed the need to instil the love for outdoor activities and physical fitness among youths.

On Saturday, Magendran and Mohanadas brought out their cherished Everest keepsakes for an FMT photo shoot.

They included the original oxygen tanks, oxygen hose, harness, crampons, alpine ice axe, walking poles and slightly torn down suits that they used 23 years ago.

Another set of similar gear that also included the gloves, boots and goggles they wore to the summit are at Muzium Negara that held an exhibition on the 10th anniversary of the historic event.

The Philatelic Bureau of Malaysia recorded the triumphant climb with a first-day cover and a commemorative postage stamp in 2000.

Magendran and Mohanadas were conferred the ‘Datukship’ by the King of Malaysia in June 2011 and the Penang governor a year earlier.

Since the first ascent of Everest in 1953, over 4,000 people have gone on to conquer it.

Men, women, children, and people with disabilities have summoned up the willpower to defeat one of the world’s greatest challenges.

And FMT salutes them for it.