HARISH KAPADIA

 

HBK Zanskar Trekking

 

 

The Patron's Medal of the Royal Geographic Society, UK, Life Time Achievement Award for Adventure by the President of India and the King Albert Mountain Award  and a number of books and articles on the Indian Himalaya. Perhaps even this illustrious list of achievements and remarkable work in the field of mountaineering is not enough to describe a very renowned and distinguished Himalayan mountaineer from India, Harish Kapadia. The veteran who has now been climbing for almost 4 decades shares with Indian Mountaineers his Himalayan adventures, views on international mountaineers and scenario of mountaineering in India. 

 

Q: How did you get into climbing / mountaineering? Is it something you started when you were young? Or something you picked up later in life?

My school was a very outdoor activity oriented.   We were always encouraged to go trekking, hiking and basically explore the areas around. I went for my first proper trek in 1963 with two of my school friends to Pindari Glacier in the Himalaya.  However, proper climbing of peaks and being a part of expeditions came much later.  Jagdish Nanavati encouraged me  a lot.

Q: Which of the Indian peaks do you love the most and why?

It  is difficult to pinpoint specific peak, but if I have to mention one, I would say Nanda Devi is one of my favourite peaks.  It is stunning, absolutely beautiful to explore. I think it is difficult to narrow down on a few peaks because I always love and yearn to see new peaks and mountain passes.  The peaks surrounding the  “The  Plateau”  in Sikkim too are extremely beautiful. I keep going to the North East as it has some of the most beautiful vistas to offer like peaks of Kangto, Nyegyi Kangsang apart from climbing challenges. The  Sahyadris too are equally endearing.

Q. Was it planned, your first expedition or your climbing adventure?

Yes  it was planned, all projects are  dreamed in advance  as  I have always organised my own trip- never joined any other  team.  I have always had this urge to explore mountains, every time there is something new to explore when I go on expeditions. Additionally, I read a lot of books on mountaineering and the Sahyadris especially (I read Marathi well). Plus, when I started climbing, we hardly had an access to proper gear. Although we tried to be as well equipped as we could be.  In fact, I cannot forget this expedition to Devtoli peak  in 1974, where I fell in a crevasse and had to be carried 13 days to our base camp. I was seriously  injured, so I was rescued with the help of a helicopter. Later I was on crutches for two  years , owing to my operation for a dislocated joint hip. But that did not deter me from climbing again.

Q. How did your kin and immediate family react to your injury?  They must surely have been vary of you climbing again?

Many were very worried about me and told me to quit climbing. But I could not keep myself away from the mountains for too long. In spite of the injuries the mountain madness persists.  After a month of getting completely well  I went for a trek to Sikkim, a 35-day 475 km trek. After I came back, my doctor gave up asking how was I doing with my operated hip! He sure got the hint! So yes, there was a lot of apprehension in the minds of my family members and kin, but definitely the  nearest family, wife and parents,  did not dissuade me from doing what I love the most.

Q. You have been instrumental in writing about mountains and mountaineering. Would you like to talk about how did it start and how it grew? Does writing come naturally to you?

The writing does come naturally to me. In 1977, ‘Trek the Sahyadris’ was my first book to be published. That time, it is  incredible to believe it now that the copies of the book were sold at a mere 7 Rupees! First edition was sold out in 9 days !  More than the peaks, I have written books on treks  approaching the well known peaks, like ‘Trekking and Climbing in the Indian Himalaya’, then ‘Meeting the Mountains’    and series of books  ‘Across Peaks and Passes in the  Himalaya’ is a five  part semi autobiographical account of my Himalayan expeditions in different areas.   In addition to the fact that writing comes naturally, on mountains I have always tried to put my trekking/climbing experiences down in a diary in as much as details as possible. It has helped me in my writing and keeping a record of my expeditions.

Q. Speaking of Himalayan expeditions, you have had a vast experience in doing expeditions with foreign climbers. How has been your experience climbing with famous international mountaineers?

First I went to the Siachen Glacier with British mountaineers in 1985. Initially, all of us were sceptical and hesitant about talking and interacting with each other. But after we reached  mountains , we interacted a lot and then carried on, got to know each other better. Today we  are lifelong friends.  It has been a very good experience climbing with internationally acclaimed mountaineers from the west. The climbing/mountaineering skills of these mountaineers in the West are far superior to ours  And in Indian circumstances   we are masters at organising an expedition. So it was great learning and benefits on both sides.

 Q. Who is your favourite amongst internationally acclaimed and famous mountaineers?

Sir Chris Bonington, the  legendary British mountaineer, is one I admire the most. I have been on several joint trips  with him, learnt a lot of diplomacy and we had great enjoyment- sharing adventures, rescue and fighting bureaucracy.   Just  by being with him,  as a family friend has taught all of us a lot.   I have to mention Victor Saunders, Stephen Venables and Hiroshi Sakai amongst many  others. All of them have developed a unique style and are fantastic in their own way. The Japanese too are very good climbers , I would like to emphasize here.

Q. Organizing expeditions, especially in areas like Himalaya is no cake walk, so how do you fund your expeditions?

Ahh, now, that is a very tricky question. See, when we started it was in fact easier to raise funds. We used to carry our own supplies for most part. Our treks used to be self sustaining.  We sometimes required porters to help us, but then they used to be inexpensive. Once I remember in the Karakoram valleys  we faced a problem. The local porters deserted us but Kumauni porters with us immediately came to our help. Now I call them where ever I go trekking and these villagers are our biggest supporters- never bargaining for money. Funding an expedition is tough these days unless it is Everest.  It is a general perspective that apart from Everest, there is nothing else worth giving a thought about. Whereas, there are equally challenging peaks which need to be explored. But people do not understand. A ray of hope, however, is organizations like Mount Everest Foundation in UK, established in 1953 who have gathered funds from the  first ascent of Everest and publicity it generated. They now support  new and difficult  climbs only- never trips to Everest.

Q. How much support do local governments and central government chip in with? How significant is the role of IMF here?

Well, IMF can definitely do more than what it is doing presently. The mountaineers from other countries opine that why should you depend on the government for financial support for an expedition? There are mountaineering associations and groups for that... If not that, then approaching renowned business conglomerates is another option. Generally, speaking in India, the support of the governments is just about okay.

Q. What was  your last trip?  Where will your next adventure take you?

In January 2013 I had  gone  to Chaukan Pass in the Far East, on way to Burma. This was the place from where the  British made their way into  India when they found out that the Japanese were going to attack Fort  Hertz. It rises to over 7,000 feet at its highest point and is swamp-like at the lowest. It is a part of mountains dividing Burma and India in the Changlang district in Arunachal Pradesh.   Now I want to  explore the  Bara Bangahal valley  and then an unknown peak-  Khamen Gyalmo, in Spiti.

Q. What would you say to aspiring climbers & mountaineers?

It is funny and ironical that when you have time   and energy in your younger days, you do not have money , and when you eventually have the  money, you are past the age of doing something serious! With economic growth and higher incomes  there is actually lesser serious  climbing- people have no  time, and much of the time they have  has to be devoted to work and family more  and more.

All the same, all I would say to young mountaineers:    do not indulge in false bravado; make sure you get proper training in trekking and climbing. Make yourself physically and mentally fit before undertaking any expedition. If you have that burning desire and passion to climb, nothing should deter you, not even your pay packets from work!

 

- An exclusive interview by indianmountaineers.com