Thursday, May 23, 2024

Omaha, My Everest – Safal Niveshak


One of the best books I have read on the pursuit of the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest, is George Mallory’s Climbing Everest.

Mallory was possibly the first man to summit Everest (nobody knows whether he did it), almost 30 years before Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay began their ascent. It was during his third expedition to the Everest that he lost his life, last seen about 800 feet from the summit.

One of my favourite parts from the book is when Mallory shared his reply to a question asked by a journalist about why he would risk his life to attempt to reach the daunting Everest. His profound response outlines an undeniably powerful way to perceive life.

Mallory replied, as he wrote in his book – 

People ask me, ‘What is the use of climbing Mount Everest?’ and my answer must at once be, ‘It is of no use.’ There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. Oh, we may learn a little about the behaviour of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron… If you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to live. That is what life means and what life is for.

Everest is the biggest prize of mountain climbing, for obvious reasons. It is not the most difficult or dangerous mountain, but it invites the adventurous to stand at the ‘top’ of the world, revel above the clouds, look upwards into the void and leave the earth behind. This is what drives people to risk physical exhaustion, even death.

Omaha, My Everest

For Mallory, there was no tangible gain and nothing material to be won from reaching the summit of the world’s highest peak. Yet, for him, the allure of Everest was a quest for joy, for pushing human limits, a pursuit of something intrinsically rewarding.

In the same vein, my journey to Omaha to attend the Berkshire Hathaway AGM, hosted by Warren Buffett, has seemed puzzling to some given the messages I have received over the past few days.

Why travel hundreds of miles, some have asked, when the event is broadcasted live and can be viewed comfortably from home? 

The answer, much like Mallory’s, revolves around the intangible essence of being here in Omaha, the irreplaceable joy of the experience, and what it symbolizes in my pursuit of wisdom.

For me, like thousands of others who would be travelling thousands of miles to get a glimpse of Buffett speak at the ‘Woodstock of Capitalism,’ this is like a pilgrimage. 

This pilgrimage to Omaha is not about securing financial gain or getting ahead with insider tips. It’s about the experience — being part of a community that values deep investing principles, long-term thinking, and the wisdom that comes from decades of experience.

Warren’s, and earlier Charlie’s, discussions have transcended the mere mechanics of investments. They have touched upon life lessons, ethical business practices, and the philosophy of making choices that value future generations. I expect the event on the coming Saturday to be no different, except for the physical absence of Charlie.

The essence of my journey resonates deeply with Mallory’s reflections on climbing Everest. “If you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go,” Mallory mused. Similarly, if one does not appreciate the sheer joy derived from soaking in the ethos of Berkshire Hathaway and the oracle-like insights of Buffett, the purpose of this journey might be elusive.

And so, as I settle into Omaha, it is with a sense of excitement and reverence. Like Mallory approaching Everest, I approach this gathering not for material gain but for the joy and enlightenment it promises. It is about being part of a moment, a unique slice of history in the world of business and investments.

Warren’s home, my first stop in Omaha 🙂

In life, as in investing, it’s not always about the immediate returns. Sometimes, the most valuable journeys are those taken for the joy they offer and the growth they foster.

As Mallory beautifully put it, “We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to live. That is what life means and what life is for.”

Thus, to those wondering why I have travelled to Omaha when seeing Warren was just a click away, the answer is simple. 

For me, it’s about the sheer joy of being here, and the irreplaceable atmosphere of shared wisdom — a pilgrimage in the truest sense, not to a mountain, but to a mecca of wisdom.

I would like to end with this beautiful passage from Jason Zweig’s article You Are Not Alone: The Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting

Few things make humans feel worse than being alone. Buffett knows that no one wants to face the uncertainties of investing all by our lonesome. We want to be comforted and feel we’re part of a community. That’s the greatest gift he gives his investors: not massive wealth or brilliant insights but the deep-rooted solace of knowing that they belong, that they are in this together with others, that they are not alone.

Just as the mountains called Mallory, Omaha has called me, promising not just insights from one of the world’s wisest modern day people, but a deeper connection to the values that guide my life and investing. And to know that, in all this, I am not alone.


P.S. As I was about to board my flight to Omaha earlier today, this is what I saw next to my boarding gate at Houston airport. The Universe conspired to show me the most apt thought to express my feelings that my present – of nearing the peak of my Everest, that is Omaha – was once an unimaginable future. In fact, even when my friend Janardhanan Vembunarayanan shared his experience of attending the Berkshire AGM in 2013, I had never paused for a moment to imagine that I would be here almost a decade later.


I am organising an in-person meetup on Value Investing in New York (US) on Saturday, 11th May.

If you are in or around the city and wish to attend, kindly register here. Thank you!

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