Bhagawati reviews the documentary of fearless Nepali mountaineer Nimsdai Purja’s seemingly impossible quest.
“When you are in the mountains you find out who you really are.” Nirmal Purja
This is a documentary film to immerse oneself with abandon – an unusual subject, daring and courageous mountain climbing, fantastic footage of the highest Himalayan peaks and a man who doesn’t take “no” for an answer.
This man is Nirmal Purja (Nims) MBE, who was born in a small hamlet called Dana, around 300 kilometres west of Kathmandu, Nepal in 1983. It was his dream to become a Gurkha in the British military as his father and brother had done: “It was the only thing I wanted to do.” When he was 18 years old, he joined the Royal Ghurka Rifles in the British Army.
In 2009, he became the first ever Gurkha to join the UK Special Boat Service (SBS), the most elite unit in the British military. During that time, he developed a keen interest in mountaineering that quickly turned into a passion.
It all began in December 2012, when, on leave from his Special Forces duties, he set out on a trek to Everest Base Camp. Not content with returning to Kathmandu, he convinced his guide to teach him how to climb ‘for real’ and successfully summited the 6119-metre Lobuche East with his guide shortly after. It was his first peak. He climbed Dhaulagiri in 2014, making it his first ascent of an eight-thousander in 15 days.
He was a Lance Corporal when he decided to quit the military in 2019 to pursue his mountaineering career, foregoing his army pension (which he called “a life-changing” amount of money) in the process. His plan was to climb all of the world’s 14 highest peaks (found in Nepal, Pakistan, and China/Nepal) with an altitude greater than 8,000 metres within seven months (i.e. from late spring to late summer, before the winter season begins). At the time, the record for climbing the world’s 14 highest peaks was just under eight years. Nims’ said, “I was told that my plan was impossible. So I decided to name it Project Possible.”
By successfully completing Project Possible, Nims also wanted to make a statement that Nepalese climbers are the best in the world. He wants to put Nepal and particularly the climbers on the map: “The climbing community of Nepal have always been the pioneers of 8,000ers, but they never got the respect they deserve. I want to represent the Nepalese climbing community.”
The struggle to get this project under way so he could start climbing inside the weather window was intense, yet he kept on pushing and coming up with ideas for how to secure funding, always with the support of his lovely wife, Suchi, who is a dentist by profession. In the end, he had to remortgage their house in Hampshire and still didn’t have enough money.
The actual climbing took six months and six days between April 2019 and October 2019.
While climbing the crew dealt with extreme weather while also filming with a drone and using handheld cameras, which resulted in 100 hours of footage. It seems unworkable to describe and write about all the various ascents and all that happened to him and his trusted three close Sherpa friends, Mingma David Sherpa, Galjen Sherpa and Gesman Tamang. Yet throughout the year of 2020, Nims wrote the book Project Possible, which is available on Amazon.
Watching this documentary was thrilling and full of suspense; I marvelled at these men’s stamina, climbing abilities, and courage. As Nims says, “Any mistake I make, it would be death.”
The film also includes footage of his family in Kathmandu, very endearing scenes with his mother, who he was devoted to, and short interviews with his wife and also Reinhold Messner, who was the first climber to ascend the 14 8,000-metre peaks over 16 years, a goal he completed in 1986. “Nims, you will do it,” he told Nims when he learned about his project.
And he sure did! I highly recommend watching the 14 Peaks. Available on Netflix.
Initial release: November 29, 2021
Director: Torquil Jones
Music composed by: Nainita Desai
Producers: John McKenna, Barry Smith, Drew Masters, Catherine Quantschnigg, Mark Webber
Production companies: Noah Media Group, Little Monster Films
Screenplay: Torquil Jones, Gabriel Clarke