London Marathon 2015 – Aasha and Sunil’s challenge

On Sunday 26 April 2015 we ran the Virgin London Marathon, something that both of us had always wanted to do albeit knowing that the 26.2 miles would be an enormous challenge, both physically and mentally.We began training towards the end of 2014 and the training was by far the hardest part of the Marathon experience, not least because it meant dragging ourselves out of bed for 7am runs on cold Sunday mornings! Nevertheless, by February we had gone from running what seemed like a never ending 1 or 2 miles to managing a very respectable 15 miles.

Unfortunately, however, all fledgling sportspeople must experience their share of injuries and it wasn’t long before both of us were diagnosed with having injured our Iliotibial Band (commonly know as Runner’s knee). The advice of “no running” from our respective physiotherapists set us back numerous weeks during which we questioned whether we were absolutely bonkers to sign up for a Marathon with no running experience…

After a frustrating few weeks of injury and subsequent rest and recovery, the big day couldn’t have hit us sooner. We taped up our injured legs and applied enough tiger balm to smell like a medicine cabinet. As we waited in our respective start groups amongst thousands of other runners in various shapes, sizes and outfits, the nerves, excitement and adrenalin all began to kick in. During the race, the support and lift that the crowd gave us was an experience that we will cherish forever and something you can only ever appreciate if you take part…any thoughts of the pains or struggles we had during training had suddenly vanished. With our friends, family and complete strangers cheering us on, coupled with the thought of what a great cause we were running for, we found in us incredible strength and motivation. We both ran the entire distance at a consistent pace with Sunil making it to the finish line in 4 hours 5 minutes and Aasha not too far behind in 4 hours 39 minutes.

So were we bonkers? If you call going for runs in the freezing cold, missing out on Saturday evening social events because you need to eat a kilo of pasta and get an early night, and spending Mondays and Tuesdays hobbling around work bonkers, then yes we were…Would we have foregone the feeling of having completed a marathon to avoid the above? Absolutely not! It lived up to everything we thought it would be and more; physically and mentally brutal, but without doubt the best experience of our lives; one we cannot recommend highly enough.

If you would like to run the marathon and would like to hear more about our journey, please do get in touch with us..

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BEHT Kilimanjaro Challenge 2014

As we flew into Kilimanjaro International Airport we caught out first glimpse of Uhuru Peak, the highest point in Africa and the peak of the highest freestanding mountain in the world – Mount Kilimanjaro. The peak that sat proudly above the clouds looked very calm and majestic, sitting quietly for everyone to see…

Early in 2014, after speaking to Ajay and hearing the stories of friends and family who had climbed Kilimanjaro, our small but determined group decided to attempt the challenge for BEHT. The three of us soon booked flights and begun training and fundraising for the impending climb. The group was comprised of my two good friends Alistair and Ewan and myself. Three is quite a small group but we are all so close and knew that no matter how much we irritated each other we would remain good friends throughout!

We arrived in Kilimanjaro and transferred to the lodge for our overnight stay and briefing before setting off on the Machame route the next morning. On the short bus journey from the airport to the lodge we started to get a scale of the mountain and its size. None of us had set out with any expectations, but the manner with which the mountain dominated the landscape amazed and scared us. Its presence was felt everywhere; from the Kilimanjaro larger advertising campaigns, to the eerie shadow it cast over the land. Sadly, cloud cover prevented us from seeing the peak of the mountain from ground level.

The first day of walking was absolutely stunning. We started at the entrance gate with all the other climbers and after registering and unpacking the coach we set off. Climbing through the rainforest on the good, well maintained path was very comfortable walking and we all made good progress climbing through an entire climate zone in one day. We arrived at the campsite in the early evening and were shown to our tents by our guides Thomas and Bartos. We were extremely happy and surprised to find fresh popcorn, tea, biscuits and a fully laid table waiting for us in the mess tent. This level of service continued through the rest of the trip with well seasoned, hot, tasty, food everyday for dinner and waiter service throughout.

We woke up to a misty camp the second day, which was situated just above the rainforest. There was almost a line drawn at the camp, at around 3000m above which was moorland or heathland, below it rainforest. We set off with a lot of other climbers and porters, and it was the busiest day of the week. Visibility was very low due to the mist, but about two hours after starting, we broke through the cloud layer and had our first stunning view of the summit. It was surprisingly motivating but also quite daunting to see the task laid out before us so clearly, although it did look like it was just over the next hill! We then continued on a more exposed path all the way to the Shira camp which was at 3900m. The site had the most stunning views of the summit as well as some other peaks in the other direction. One of the best memories came from this evening, whereby we watched the sun set above these peaks, and then saw the Milky Way and an incredible, irrevocably beautiful night sky.

By Day three, we began to get into the routine of waking up, packing up, eating and then moving off. This was one of our longest days of walking; 7 hours. Along the trip we played little jokes and pranks on each other. On this day Ali and Ewan cunningly placed rocks inside my bag, which I later found with some bitterness! We climbed up to Lava Rock, which was at 4600m, and this was the first day that two of us begun to face real problems with altitude. Headaches were common despite drinking about 6 litres of water over the course of the day. Lava Rock felt like a massive achievement when we got there, since we knew that there would be no more climbing that day. We met three people from Plymouth University, and enjoyed talking with them over lunch. They were also walking the same route as us with an extra day to acclimatize and we continued to bump into them over the coming days. After Lava Rock we then descended into the cloud to go to our next camp site, walking with about 10m of visibility. The never ending paths eventually led to the ‘sign in’ hut, and the relief was more evident in some than others! On seeing the hut, Alistair was given a very large hug as I practically collapsed on him. After about 10 minutes the cloying cloud that had blighted us cleared, to show that we had been walking in the shadow, underneath the summit, with a stunning view, which we just hadn’t been able to see. It was a really awe inspiring view that truly made the day feel like a great accomplishment, despite the difficulties.

Day four was brilliant fun, as we scrambled up the Barranco Wall. The wall consisted of a very steep path with tight hairpin bends, which although was more tiring, ended up being far more interesting, making a break from just the walking. When we reached the top of this wall, an amazing photo spot was found, with an unbroken view of the summit and clear views of the glaciers. At this point Alistair was starting to struggle a lot more; being unable to hold food down was starting to become a real issue and he felt tired for the whole time. But we kept going and reached Barranco, our next camp site.

A short walk from Barranco at 3900m to Barafu hut at 4600m was all that was planned, but was one of the hardest days to walk, due to the altitude. We ended up stopping asking for rests more and more regularly, with Ali struggling to keep going on an empty stomach; he hadn’t really eaten anything since day three and was kept going on a glucose tablet an hour. The summit appeared more and more looming. Bertos, our guide, took Ali’s pack for the first time – although it was not heavy – taking the weight off really made a difference. We kept walking and found ourselves paying less and less attention to the surroundings, and just kept focusing on trying to keep going and get to camp. After about 5 hours, we reached the next camp site and we all then tried to sleep to prepare ourselves for the ascent to the summit that evening.

We descended quickly from this point returning swiftly to the base of the mountain in the two days following this. Descending was extremely hard work as we had begun to lose motivation and the steepness of the terrain meant that toes begun to feel cramped and painful in the boots. At the base we said a sad farewell to out guides and porters and wished them the best for the future. They were an absolutely brilliant team and their help, expertise and motivation was unbeatable. We could not have done it without them.

Climbing Kilimanjaro is a truly humbling, amazing, scenic experience and one that we would all recommend everyone does. Whether it is for the physical challenge, beautiful views or charitable fundraising the whole experience changes your perceptions of how far and how hard one can be pushed. All three of us learnt valuable lessons whilst on the mountain and are extremely grateful that we had the opportunity to do so.

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BEHT Kilimanjaro Challenge 2012

Mount Kilimanjaro, in Chaga, the ‘Mountain of Greatness’… but in Swahili, the ‘Mountain of Cold Devils’. When the ‘Climb Kilimanjaro for BEHT’ advert caught my eye in the Oshwal Magazine, I immediately decided that one day I wanted to be the one standing on the summit of that mountain, watching the sunrise across the whole of Africa. But I had no idea what was waiting in store for me.

We all sat down for dinner at our lodge on the evening before we embarked on our trek, having met our guide for the first time. Full of anticipation, excitement and slight anxiety, we were ready to go, with four months of taxing training behind us. The group of eleven, ages ranging from 14 to 62, included Hitesh (our leader), Dilip, Ashok, Praful, Nilesh, Suresh, Dipak and Vipul, with Diva, Shiv and I representing the younger generation. Our training had been kick-started with a bank holiday weekend trip to the 3 Peaks in Yorkshire, followed by an hour of power-walking a day.The weekends would bring longer treks, and the group often amassed to train together at the Dunstable Down and Ivinghoe Beacon.

The next day, after breakfast we set off to the starting gate of the trek, and once we had been signed in, the climb officially began – 4 months of training had all come down to this. There was no turning back. We trekked for four reasonably optimistic hours through the lush rainforests teeming with greenery, returning the greetings of descending climbers wearing rather deceptive smiles. Despite avidly searching through the trees to catch a glimpse of a Colobus monkey, we did not see one, but my dad refused to let us miss out with his exceptionally embarrassing monkey impressions. At last Mandara Hut emerged in our field of vision and with it the thought of the tea and popcorn awaiting us. One day down, five to go! The following day we slowly tracked a slightly longer hike to Horombo Huts, where we stayed two nights, as the greenery gave out to sparse plants and dry grass. The catch phrase of the trip was ‘pole pole’, slowly slowly in Swahili, which is how the guides constantly urged us to walk in order to acclimatize.

The cloud level had fallen below us over night (being above the clouds was one of my personal highlights of the trip!), and so we had a beautiful clear view of the snow covered summit. After a day of acclimatization to Zebra Rocks and a good night’s rest that would certainly be needed, the hard work really began- the 8 hour walk to Kibo Huts… and then the midnight climb. The landscape had become arid and barren, with huge boulders dappling the rocky dessert. The air had also become thinner and much colder, but my dad still managed to find the effort to sing through all the panting and heavy breathing. As soon as we had arrived, we prepared our clothes, water and food for the midnight climb, and tried to catch a few hours rest, battling against the cold, altitude and loss of appetite.

Midnight finally came, and soon we were ready to go, nerves churning furiously in my stomach. The temperature was below freezing, and even through my five layers of skiing clothes I shivered. It was a clear, inky black night, the stars twinkling above us, and our headlamps throwing shadows on the ground. To be honest, most of that six hour struggle to the peak was a blur. One after another, we moved one foot at a time, climbing unbelievably slowly and still losing my breath because of the altitude and cold. It was so steep that we walked in zigzags, ‘pole pole’, through the dust, the bitterly cold air harshly stinging my face. Every time I sat down for a break, my muscles had contracted, and to walk again felt like dragging two lead poles up the slope. All the water and food had frozen up in the -15⁰C temperatures, and I felt so hungry that my legs were shaking. I had no idea how I managed to make it to Gilman’s Point, and it must be said that I would have easily given up not half way up the climb if it weren’t for my dad, whose amazing support and encouragement propelled me to take one more step at a time.

Ten of the eleven climbers made it to Gilman’s Point, 5695m asl, and seven continued all the way up to Uhuru Peak, 5895m asl. To me, it seemed that this final trek was much more mentally challenging and test of determination than a challenge of physical strength. Undoubtedly, physical strength is an enormous part of conquering Kilimanjaro, but with a few months of focused training it is achievable. Despite this, there is no amount of training that can prepare you for the conditions you climb in. Never before have I experienced and never again can I imagine a situation in which I will feel very last trace of energy being sucked dry, and through that immensely overwhelming surge of exhaustion still find the determination and strength in myself to keep placing one foot in front of another. Reaching Gilman’s Point brought a wash of numb relief and joy through me, only when the sun rose from behind Mawenzi and bathed the distant glaciers and iced filled craters in golden light did I realise what I had done – I had officially climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.

The descent was by no means any easier than the ascent, but the moonwalking – like experience of traipsing through the fine, volcanic dust was very surreal, as I felt only half conscious of where I was. To reach Kibo Hut was paradise, and my eyes had clamped together before my head had touched the pillow. However, our day was not over- it was only 11am and we still had to walk all the way back down to Horombo. I’m tempted to say that those 11km were even worse than the final ascent, because the clouds obviously thought that we had not suffered enough, and threw down every single different form of precipitation from the sky- rain, snow, sleet and hail. The final day took us right back down the mountain to the gate, and Shiv, Diva, Dad and I all skipped through it in celebration, where on the other side cold Fanta’s that we had been craving awaited us.

It cannot go without saying that the true, unwavering heroes of Kilimanjaro are the porters and guides. The porters each carry 20kg of food, clothes and cooking necessities up the mountain, walking tirelessly without complaint, to make sure that the food they cooked for us was the best it could possibly be. The guides, who led us up the mountain, worked just as hard, if not harder, and when the final ascent came they carried not just themselves but several rucksacks and even people to the peak, supporting and encouraging us all the way. The work they do for the money they are paid is phenomenal.

The whole group gelled together so well that I think we will all be in touch for quite a few years to come. Everyone had the chance to talk to each other along the several hour treks, and each personality was quickly established. Whether teasing each other, offering moral support on the walks, or sharing the many bags of food, whole group was always involved. The teenagers were the best behaved- it was quite funny to see grown men playing tricks on each other.

This unbelievably rewarding experience has inspired me in several ways, firstly, never to turn away such an incredible opportunity to test your endurance, physical strength and determination; however young or old you are, to embrace and appreciate any experience, however rewarding it is. Age is only a number, because Suresh Shah, 62, reached the peak (first!), his slow but steady pace leading him straight to the top, despite him not seeing any of Kilimanjaro because he was so focused on the ground the entire trek. After looking at the lives of the guides and porters, and how they still give you their all even though they do not have that much to give, I have discovered that a little personality can go a long way, and it has also inspired me to want to do lots of charity work in East Africa when I grow up. Looking back, my time on the mountain taught me one thing- that satisfaction only comes with 100% – if you don’t give, you won’t get.
The number of communities and children in Gujarat that BEHT has helped with their schools and hospital is astonishing. With your help they could change the lives of so many more, to give them just a fraction of what we take for granted every day, and a little goes a long way. But I leave you with one last thought -if they face a Kilimanjaro every single day of their lives, there is no reason that you can’t face the mountain once.
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This article has been written by Ria Chavda aged 14 1/2 years. We hope that she has inspired some of the young and old people to take up a similar challenge like this. BEHT will be taking another group to Mt. Kilimanjaro and another group to Everest Base Camp in 2013. If you wish to register your interest for either of these challenges, please email or see

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BEHT Kilimanjaro Challenge 28 August to 2 September 2011

At 5,895m, Kili is Africa’s tallest mountain and the world’s highest walkable mountain.In March 2011, a group of 20 of us ranging from 18 to 60+ decided to climb Africa’s tallest mountain and raise funds for BEHT’s Hospital project. Behind the scenes, a lot of hard work had gone to ensure everyone was well prepared, well kitted and raising lots of money for a great cause.

We had decided to take the Marangu route as it meant staying in huts rather than camping and we also had an extra day of acclimatisation to give ourselves the best possible chance of success. We took 4 days to climb up and 2 days to descend. We had a team of 40 porters, 7 guides, and 2 cooks who carried our luggage, cooked vegetarian food and encouraged us along. All we had to carry was our own backpacks with some snacks, 3 litres of water and rain wear.

The first 2 days was easy walking, around 5-6 hours slowly ascending all the time. We started off walking in the rainforests, then moorland, and then alpine desert, the temperature becoming colder each day. By the time we got to Horombo, where we would spend an extra night, a few had started feeling the effects of altitude- headaches, nausea, fatigue etc. The next morning (Day 4) was an early start – a long hot dusty walk to Kibo and took us about 7 hours due to the thinning air. This camp has no running water and water carried by the porters is strictly for drinking and cooking, not to be wasted on luxuries like washing. We left for the final ascent (Day 5) that night at 11.45pm and started off in a single file carefully taking a single step at a time It was really difficult to walk on the scree, you had to really plant your poles and pull yourself up. It was exhausting work. We’d been climbing for over 6 hours and now the sun was about to rise. Amani, our head guide, pointed out Gilman’s – it still looked a fair way up but now the scree had given way to huge boulders. We finally got to Gilman’s point – we had climbed Kilimanjaro!

But the peak is higher! A few minutes of rest and Amani shouted ‘Uhuru’! We obliged by trudging along like zombies, on autopilot- when your body is tired, your legs feel like jelly, and your eyes ready to drop off to sleep , each step is a mammoth undertaking. The views from Gilman’s onwards were becoming more spectacular as you started seeing the icecaps, almost 2 storey high blocks of thick ice. We finally got to Uhuru – most of us totally exhausted and ready to drop. We all hugged each other and took some photos. Finally, we set off back down again to Kibo, a steep gruelling walk down, only to be told when we reached Kibo that we had 10 minutes to eat and pack our bags and then get down to Horombo – another 3 hours walk down! We got to Horombo at about 5.30pm – 18 hours after we’d started our night climb! The next day (Final – Day 6) we walked back to the gate (over 6 days we had walked over 100km!).15 of us had made it to Uhuru, 3 to Gilman’s and 2 had got to around 5,200m. It was an astounding success rate.

he next day we had a celebratory breakfast – jalebis, gathias and parathas, after which we all parted our different ways –It was barely a week since we had all met but in that time we had bonded, encouraged each other, gone through tough times and pulled through.

So if you are thinking about undertaking such a challenge – think no more – just do it!

BEHT would like to thank the following people who undertook the above challenge and in the process raised over £ 90,000 towards the equipment for the hospital project:

Ajay Gudka, Hitesh Shah, Shaila Lambert, Hasmita Shah, David Lambert, Bakul Patani, Kishor Shah, Babu Shah, Satish Shah, Shirley Briars, Jyoti Gudka, Kiran Malde, TM Lee , Roopa Malde, Bene Loy, Jaymal Gudka, Himesh Naik, Bhavik Shah, Sahil Shah, Sam Briars.
Article written by Hasmita Shah

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