Rizza Alee, who is now a filmmaker, and belongs to Kashmir, attempted to climb Mount Everest in 2019 at the age of 18 but could not reach the summit. While he thought he was a failure for his family, he was proved wrong as it opened new doors of opportunities for him.
Climbing mountains, especially Mount Everest, the highest of the Himalayan mountains, is challenging. It takes the rigorous practice of climbing mountains beforehand, a strong financial background, and a lot of determination and patience. But how hard does it fall on a climber who, even after all these efforts, fails to reach the summit and has to return midway? If asked mountaineer Rizza Alee, who also failed to climb Mount Everest, it is much close to the shattering of dreams into pieces that might lead to illness like depression, like in his case. However, that failure turned out to be a good deal for him too.
Born in Nowlari village, located in North Kashmir, Alee grew up in a low-income family. Being a tall, dark, and skinny teenager in the entire village gave him major self-image issues. He would feel "different" and would often ask himself - "If I am not like everybody else, then who am I?" He moved to Srinagar with his family later, but his life became even more difficult as his schoolmates would target and bully him for his personality.
On the other hand, Alee could never understand the concept of the current education system wherein he had to mandatorily study the subjects that never interested him but could not opt for his preferences. In class 11, he failed mathematics and decided to quit his studies. His family members were troubled by the move as they wondered how Alee would manage in life, but Alee was focused on his decision. "It was a bad phase as depression and anxiety led to self-harming and suicidal thoughts," the 21-year-old says.
Fondness for mountains
Amidst all the chaos, Alee lived in Kashmir with the Himalayas in his backyard, where he always found an escape. "Nature was so profound to me and the only place I did not feel called out or judged. It took me in its arms like a mother and became a relief and a refuge," he says. Gradually, he started trekking and going on trips for which he says, "It became my spiritual journey to connect with my life's deeper purpose."
Alee's ever-growing love for nature inspired him to set a huge physical challenge. He pursued mountaineering courses at Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports in Manali and Swami Vivekanand Institute of Mountaineering in Mount Abu. The institutes prepared Alee to achieve his dream of climbing Mount Everest, but he needed financial support. He approached various organizations for help but was turned down. Lately, an acquaintance got ready to sponsor Alee's climb.
With a lot of hopes and passion for fulfilling his dreams, Alee, at the age of 18, travelled to Nepal in May 2019 to climb Everest. However, he was still far away from his dream. As soon as he reached Kathmandu metro station, he received a call from his father, who told him that the sponsor had withdrawn his help. Even though his father was not very much in favour of Alee's decision to climb, he managed the finance from his known sources.
Alee began his climb, and while his journey was pleasant on the way to the top, he also faced racism from the western climbers, he mentioned. All of it was worth it until he was just 800 meters short of the summit. His oxygen started leaking, and his sherpa took no moment in saying that he would kill himself if they continued. "I had to make a life and death decision at a huge cost - both emotional and financial. All the sacrifices, hard work, and efforts of my family and I had made were at stake. People expected me to return as a hero. It was the hardest decision of my life," Alee recounts.
Failure that initiated success
Alee says that he listened carefully to his inner voice and decided to return. During this time, Alee had no idea that he was part of one of the deadliest climbing seasons in Everest's history. Before descending the slope back to the base camp, he decided to turn on his camera and took footage of the many people holding on to a single rope in an attempt to reach the summit. There were 300 people over there who were climbing up the same day, and later, Alee learned that 11 people died during that expedition.
Nevertheless, Alee was still disheartened and returned to his hotel in Kathmandu, where he met a reporter from an international news agency who had come there to cover the deaths on the expedition. On knowing Alee had returned from Everest, he interviewed him, wherein Alee also showed him the picture of overcrowding in the mountains that he had clicked.
The next dawn brought Alee a new ray of hope as his image went viral through world media which gave international exposure to the dangers of overcrowding in Everest. And, although, he came home feeling like a failure to family, relatives, and friends, and the darkness and depression kicked back in for him, the exposure of his story on the world stage drew attention to a major humanitarian issue. He also made a film on that expedition named, 'Everest - The Mountain that changed my Life' which has now been viewed over 4.3 million times on YouTube to date.
Alee received great recognition through his film, and one of the messages that came flooding into his inbox through social media was of a teacher from Michigan, USA, who shared the film with her students. She even wrote in her online blog - “After contemplating Rizza Alee’s story, my students and I decided that he did not fail, but spent two months learning resilience, perspective, humility, bravery and found a way to share a story that continues to inspire people to not only reach their goals but realize how valuable life is.”
Messages like these motivated Alee, and he saw the hope that started growing inside of him again. "My decision to choose life over the risk of death became a source of inspiration to millions of people. In turn, the world inspired me," he says. Currently, Alee is a brand ambassador of a few brands. Moreover, he is also working on various documentaries in different countries and has co-founded a production house in New York named 'Defiance Films.'
Love for Kashmir
While Alee has to travel internationally for his work, he still considers Kashmir to be his "safe place." " Heart is where the home is, and it's only Kashmir for me," Alee says. However, he also mentioned that cross-border tensions and the fear of militants are major hindrances in living there, as he has also lost his friends in such adversity. But that does not prevent Alee from loving his birthplace, and as he says, "Kashmir and the mountains here have been a great escape from my mental health issues."
When Rizza Alee looks back on his journey, he considers all his decisions essential and worthwhile. "The journey made me realize that one must never underestimate the power of listening to their instincts. That's the voice of God inside whispering gently to get your attention. I have learned to listen carefully to that voice. The greatest physical journeys of our lives will take us to journeys we never imagined - reaching the greater heights within. That's where we summit the highest mountain of God," Rizza Alee says, adding that he is still climbing.