KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — The first double above-the-knee amputee to climb Mount Everest returned from the mountain on Tuesday pledging to dedicate the rest of his life to helping people with disabilities.
Hari Budha Magar, a former Gurkha soldier who lives in Britain, reached the peak of the world's highest mountain last week.
“My main aim for the rest of my lifetime is going to be working to bring awareness about disability,” Magar said on his return to Kathmandu, Nepal's capital.
As a soldier in a Gurkha regiment in the British army, Magar lost both his legs in Afghanistan when he accidently stepped on an improvised explosive device in 2010.
Hundreds of supporters and officials, including Nepal's tourism minister, greeted him at Kathmandu's airport and offered him garlands.
He was taken from the airport in an open truck decorated with flowers and waved at people along the way.
“We all have our own weaknesses and disabilities, but instead of the weaknesses we should be focusing on our strength, and only then we can all lead a better and meaningful life,” he said.
He said the climb up the 8,849-meter (29,032-foot) mountain was not easy and he thought several times about quitting because of his family.
“I had made the promise that I will have to return for the sake of my son,” he said.
On the way to the summit he ran out of oxygen in the tank he was carrying.
"This was the first time I experienced what it is to be deprived of oxygen. I had the tingling sensation, my hands and feet were cold and I was gasping for breath," he said.
He was able to get more oxygen from his climbing partners, but then battled with bad weather as he approached the summit, which he reached late in the afternoon because of his slow pace. Most climbers try to reach the top in the morning because conditions become dangerous later in the day.
He said he saw rescuers pulling the bodies of two dead climbers along the way.
After his successful climb, “I hugged all the Sherpas and cried like a baby, I was so happy,” Magar said in a video released by his press office. "My lifetime goal is to change the perceptions people have of disability. My life changed in a blink of an eye. But whatever happens, you can still lead a fulfilling life.”
“If a double above-knee amputee can climb Everest, you can climb whatever mountain you face, as long as you are disciplined, work hard and put everything into it,” he said.
Magar was born in a remote mountain village in Nepal and later was recruited by the British army as a Gurkha. He now lives with his family in Canterbury, England.
Hundreds of Nepalese youths are recruited every year to work as Gurkha soldiers, who are known for their fighting skills and bravery.
In addition to dealing with his own disabilities, Magar also had to battle with legal issues because Nepal's government had banned disabled people from climbing high mountains. A case was filed in the Supreme Court, which overturned the ban, allowing Magar to continue his plan to climb Everest.
During the coronavirus pandemic, the government halted mountaineering, further delaying Magar's plan.
Credit: Ben Hendren for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution