Mr. Anindya Mukherjee

 

anindya  

 

He has climbed every mountain, searched high and low all over the world from Tanzania, Greenland, Iceland to Caucasus, Sierra Cascades, North Ireland and in the Swiss and French Alps. In 2008, he became the first Asian to be a part of the high altitude speed climbing competition on Mount Elbrus, Russia. Fondly  Known as ‘Raja’ in the mountains by his mountaineering friends and Nanavati Award recipient, adventurer at heart Anindya Mukherjee talks to Indian Mountaineers and gives pearls of wisdom for all aspiring mountaineers.

 

Q: First of all many congratulations for the prestigious first Jagdish Nanavati award for excellence in mountaineering by the Himalayan club. How do you feel?

I do not go to the mountains for awards or accolades and yet if I say I feel honored to receive the First Jagdish Nanavati Award, it will be a terrible understatement! For me it is beyond any honor, prestige and recognition that I could wish for. I am truly humbled, indebted, encouraged, and inspired at the same time.

 

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

My uncle Sujal Mukherjee (1932-1994) was one the first generation mountaineers of India. He took his Basic and Advance Mountaineering Courses in the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling in 1964 and 1965. He later participated in 25 major mountaineering expeditions. He was a keen rock climber and a nature lover as a whole. Being born in a family with mountaineering background, I was fortunate to visit the Himalaya at a very young age of 2. In 1973, my uncle and my father carried me on their shoulders to Gomukh and Kedarnath. Then in 1975, we trekked the Singalila Ridge. These sorts of family treks kept happening over the following years and the bond with Himalaya that formed in the process, never ceased and rather has become a part of my existence today.  He introduced me to rock climbing and other crafts of the outdoors when I was around 11 years. I was fascinated. I feel I was destined to fall in love with nature and mountains.

 

Q: What is it about Mountains and Mountaineering that fascinates you?

Initially I used to look at mountaineering as a challenge. Ego, adrenaline etc! Now apart from it being a source of my livelihood, it has become a purely spiritual quest. Mountains are where I discover myself. Where I face my fears and yet am in absolute bliss. Where I wake up in awe and go to sleep being thankful to be alive and part of this creation! Thus mountains are my temples and mountaineering is a form of yoga for me. It is a very personal feeling though.

 

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

I have no affinity to any particular range or a mountain. All, irrespective of their heights, degree of difficulty, access, prominence; are near and dear to me. I look up to them with awe. They only give peace, wisdom and tranquility in return.

 

Q: Can you try to give us an insight in the feelings, motivation and emotions that goes through you when scaling mountains of this degree?

The only emotion that goes through my mind is humility and how insignificant we human beings are in compared to this existence, the creation. I have to constantly remind myself of the one formula though- without bravado, with safety and knowledge. But on top of all the self motivation, I must confess, there is a constant fear of death. It is by acknowledging the fact that some day or other a cornice will break, a serac will fall, and an avalanche will sweep us off to oblivion; we strive to reach our goal. We do not matter.  Except that I do not want to die out there, at least not in the next 10 years. It is all wishful thinking you see!

 

Q: Would you like to share a moment in mountaineering that has been etched into your mind?

The memory that still has not faded away from my mind is not of an ascent. It is of a descent or rather an escape. At one night in June 2010, while I was deep inside the Gangotri glacier trying to make an attempt of the hitherto unclimbed peak of Janhukot, I woke up with chest pain, breathlessness and cough. What quickly followed were fever, debility and expectoration of strange fluid from my lungs. I thought I had pulmonary edema. I had to get to lower altitude at the earliest. I was leading a Canadian-American party and hated the idea of leaving the expedition like this. But I was left with no other choice but try and survive. It took me 6 days to reach Gangotri, crawling on the glacier sometimes, crying in pain, praying out loud. The mountains looked not interested in a dying human being. They stood still, indifferent in their meditation. They seemed cruel to me then and I shouted back at them. Later it was found that I had two big cysts in my right lung and one of them had burst that night. My doctors were all surprised to see me alive, and so was I! I had to undergo a lung surgery and now I am on a new lease of life with a bit less lung capacity and broken ribs. My doctors told me that I may have got the cysts from eating sheep back in 2005. Talk about freak infection!

 

Q: Can you tell us something about your various exploration climbs in the Indian Himalayas , which route’s have you explored , where have you climbed & what were the challenge’s you faced .

I have done some exploration climbs in Spiti, Garhwal and Sikkim Himalaya so far. In Spiti, we forced our way through a gorge in wintry conditions (November 2010) and almost scaled a peak called Singekang (6000m). In Garhwal, I had three consecutive trips (1997, 1998 and 1999) to reach the upper ice field of the Panpatia glacier from Madhyamaheswar side. All those trips were having not more than 3-4 members and were done without any sherpa support, in a shoestring budget. Finally in 1999, myself and Sundar Singh of Gondar village were able to climb Panpatia Col and reach the upper ice field of Panpatia glacier. This route was completed by a group of trekkers from Kolkata almost a decade later. Coming back to recent years, in 2011, our small group charted a new route on the outer wall of the Nanda Devi Sanctuary. Details of this exploration can be found in the American Alpine Journal ().  The same year, we succeeded in solving the riddle of the Mayel Lyang gorge (‘the trackless vale of tears’ as christened by Bill Tilman) in North Sikkim ( March 2011). This breakthrough paved way to our success in climbing the ‘impregnable’ Zemu Gap from south in the height of winter( December 2011).

 

Q:  Which has been your toughest climb till date? And which has been you most memorable climb till date.

The climb that remains near and dear to me is of climbing an unnamed rock tower (5812m) north of Parvati Parvat (6257m) in Garhwal. It was a pure alpine style climb on a Himalayan peak. We were just two people, no porters, no fixed rope. Only carry, camp and climb. To add spice to that we were stranded in a snow storm in our Camp 4 for 3 nights. Our food and fuel exhausted, tent half buried and torn, while fresh powder threatening to sweep us off the mountain every step of the way! Perfect!

Also, the craziest thing I have ever done in my mountain adventures so far is to take part in the 'Elbrus Race'. In September 2008, I became the first Asian to qualify in this extreme race on Mount Elbrus. As part of the final race ( 16th September, 2008) we had to climb from the barrels (3708m) to the summit of elbrus (5642m). I took 6 hours 30 minutes and ranked 13.

 

Q: Tell us something about Adventure Mania, How did it start , what are you guys upto now?

When I bid farewell to my marketing career with a pharmaceutical company in 2001, all I wanted is to spend more time in the mountains. That passion gave birth to Adventure Mania. Initially I took people trekking. I worked as a guide and trek leader for Doug Scott’s company( Community Action Treks) for 4 years in India ( 2006 to 2009).  Later on I realized I had to climb and so Adventure Mania became a company that specializes in providing full service mountaineering expeditions. It is a very small outfit. All our trips are very personalized and we are fully invested in all our expeditions. Right from planning to the actual climb. Right now I am considering a new name though. I am finding the ‘mania’ part too gross these days. So expect a new avatar of us soon! J

 

Q: How is the preparations for the Nanda Devi East climb coming along ? Who are your climbing partners?

In less than 3 weeks we will be on our way to make an attempt on the Nanda Devi East 7434m. We plan to make a light weight, semi alpine style attempt on the mountain. This is a dream project you could say. We are a team of 4 mountaineers ( Ananth HV- Bangalore, Alok Das- Kolkata, Suman Guha Neogy- Kolkata, Anindya Mukherjee- Howrah) along with 2 climbing Sherpa from Darjeeling ( Thendup Sherpa, Temba Sherpa) and 3 high altitude support staff ( Phurtemba, Dawa and Kiran Chettri). The High altitude support staff will come up to the Longstaff’s Col. Needless to mention that we will be taking the Longstaff’s col- south ridge route to the summit. Nanda Devi East has got this distinction to have only one route established on it so far, the 1939 Polish route. All the photos we have seen of the route and all the reports read have been a source of immense inspiration and excitement at the same time. We are still in the process of raising the optimum fund for the expedition and are very optimistic about it. We will be approaching the mountain with humility and will put up our best effort, safety first and summit second, in that order. We also have decided to take a stand against the devastating, destructive dams that are being built all over the Himalaya. Our summit flag will include this slogan- ‘no destructive dams in the Himalaya’. We have a blog dedicated to this expedition. We have started posting in it. You are very welcome to visit, read, comment and share of course.

 

Q: Tell us a little about your Trans Africa bicycle expedition , where are did you travel . How was the experience?

I was inspired by Bill Tilman’s bicycle ride from Uganda to Cameroon in the 30’s. My African journey was therefore a personal tribute to Tilman’s spirit of adventure. I however, did not retrace Tilman’s route. I did my own, from the equator to the tropic of Capricorn and also from the east coast to the west. Starting from Nanyuki, Kenya I completed by pedaling in Walvis Bay, Namibia. In the process, I crossed 5 countries, 4500kms in 49 days.

Like Tilman, Africa has given me memories, mountains and friends. But above all, it is in Africa I learnt and practiced silence and surrender. Together they make a lovely music which is nothing short of divine to me.

 

Q: Where will your next adventure take you?

It is a bit too early for me to say that. To be honest, I cannot see anything beyond Nanda Devi East right now. There are a few more climbs lined up this year after Nanda Devi East (May). They are Trisul I (7120m)- June, CCKN- August, and some exploration climbing in North Sikkim- November. In 2014, I would like to take a break from the Himalaya once again and may be do something totally different like the Africa adventure.

 

Q: Do you have any advice for people who would like to take up mountaineering or those who just have started?

Please go to the mountains without bravado, with knowledge and be safe.

 

Q: In your opinion, what skills and qualities a good mountaineer should possess?

Skills that are necessary for the trade and qualities of a good human being should be enough to make a good mountaineer.

 

Q: How all is a part of your family, what is their reaction on all your Adventure’s ?

I am indebted to my family (especially my wife Sangita and my 13 year old son Ananda) for being supportive to my actions and adventures all along. They are my constant source of inspiration.

 

- An exclusive interview by indianmountaineers.com