These last few months during the lockdown, we at OHOT have been trying to bring stories of inspiring travellers and adventurers to life through our Instagram Live sessions. From the woman who walks across countries, the youngest Indian girl set to make the record for climbing the 7 summits, the Indian woman leading the sport of base jumping, etc. Watching so many of them has of course been immensely inspiring but it has also somewhere struck me, that our adventurers do not always get the applause that their sweat and feats truly deserve. Strangely when we narrate these stories, of perseverance, of the hardships that one pushed through, of the simple dream of climbing a mountain top no matter what, it leaves us all awestruck. So, here’s remembering, or rather, celebrating 5 inspiring Indian Male Mountaineers!
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Malli Mastan Babu
Years: 1974 – 2015
Some Notable Climbs: World’s Fastest 7 Summiteer, First Indian and SAARC national to complete the 7 Summits, summitted Aconcagua twice – the tallest peak outside the Himalayas at 6,962 metres, 1st Indian to summit Mt. Vinson Massif – the tallest peak of Antarctica and Mt. Carstensz Pyramid – the tallest peak of Oceania, etc.
Once upon a time, a boy from the tribal Gandhi Jana Sangam village in Andhra Pradesh’s Nellore region, became a software engineer from IIT and even an alumnus of IIM Calcutta. While this may be the happy ending for some, this was only the beginning for this man. Because when he started to walk through the hallowed halls of the coveted institute, he realized that his true calling in life was climbing mountains. How did a lucrative career take such a switch? Mastan remembered a statue from the army school he studied in. It was of Lt. M. Uday Bhaskar Rao who had passed out from the school, joined the armed forces and lost his life during his summit of Mount Everest. Mastan always stated his own climb of Everest to be a tribute to Rao. He founded the Adventure Club at IIM Calcutta by reiterating how adventure sports can be crucial to personality development. From a boy who climbed trees, hid in the village well from his parents and snuck off to the nearby hillock by bunking school lectures, to becoming the fastest person in the world to trek the 7 summits, i.e., the 7 highest peaks in each of the continents. He accomplished this in just a span of 7 months. And his school teacher stated years later that it was no surprise because at 15 years of age itself the boy had told him of his dream of climbing Everest. Even as he went onto pick up a corporate job, he found that he could finish his tasks rather early, nothing really obsessed him and his mind was constantly somewhere in the mountains. His fellow trekkers narrated how from the very first climb Mastan would pitch his own tent, carry his load and almost behave like the locals. He expressed no worldly desires but just the burning fixation of touching higher altitudes. Just two years out of IIM, the mountain man fulfilled his dream of being the quickest to complete the 7 summits, funded by friends from school and colleges, all of whom didn’t even quite understand his dream but did see his elation. He died in the Andes while climbing a mountain between Chile and Argentina. Although, he may have died doing what he loved, his dreams were nowhere near over. The mountaineer craved recognition for his in-depth efforts. An instance that indicated this was how he felt angered when he found that the bandana, he had gifted a childhood friend after carrying it to the 7 summits, had been merely left ignored in the corner of a house. Mastan Babu died. He received posthumous awards and statues. His friend has placed the bandana in an iron-chest box on display with pride at his home. The applause may not have come as strongly when he was alive but I sincerely hope that at least in his death it is loud enough to reach his ears in heaven.
Years: 1990 – present
Some Notable Climbs: Mount Lhotse, Mt Aconcagua (22,841 feet) in Argentina, Mt Elbrus (18,150 feet) in Russia, Mt Manaslu (26,759 feet) in Nepal and Mt Kilimanjaro (19,346 feet) in Africa.
City-based mountaineer, Bharath Thammineni, hailing from Hyderabad is a presently active climber. At just 30 years of age he has already accomplished some of the major peaks from across different continents. He has also been part of a 6 members team to head to Everest and gone on to climb Mount Everest twice. Bharath gained applause for being the first ever mountaineer from our country’s down south region to achieve trekking up the world’s fourth tallest mountain in the world. The first ever South Indian to trek up to Mount Lhotse which stands at 27,940 feet spoke of how the day presented many challenges due to the windy weather. In fact, around the time of Bharath’s climbs to both, Mount Everest and Mount Lhotse, there have been other mountaineers who have lost their lives, a fact that has not dissuaded him and many other inspiring travellers from giving up their own dream. Yet Bharath has been candid enough to speak of the need of heading back to camp when one finds themselves exhausted or find’s the weather changing for the worse. In his conversations and interviews, he highlights the need of recognizing these factors as they can be crucial to one’s successful or unsuccessful climb. The young mountaineer runs a trekking and adventure company called Boots and Crampons. What’s inspiring about him is his objective towards mountaineering. In addition to his own passion and quests, he seeks to generate more awareness about other peaks among Indians. He is of the opinion that Mount Everest has become too crowded and is all that is mostly known by folks in our country, although other peaks such as K2, Manaslu and even, Lhotse present pretty staggering challenges as well. Through his trekking company and his own adventures, his aim remains to encourage our country’s climbers to take up other challenging routes. A thought process like this is one that has been appreciated by other seasoned climbers who too are of the opinion that its time we let Everest breathe.
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Years: 1983 – present
Some Notable Climbs: first Indian to climb Mount Sidley, 5th Indian to complete the 7 Summits, youngest mountaineer in the world to climb both the Seven Summits and the Seven Volcanic Summits.
From an asthmatic kid to a Guinness World Record holder, ladies and gentlemen, meet Satyarup Siddhanta! For years Satyarup battled with asthma. But when he came to college, he decided to tackle the limitations that were brought along with the health problem. He stopped using inhalers and even started eating food items that he was allergic to, without taking any anti-allergic medicines. While this may of course seem alarming to many, the mountaineer saw this as a necessary evil in order to combat his body’s weakness. His eccentric method actually helped him eliminate asthma from his life! As a challenge to push himself further his mountaineering dream began. And you know how they say that the travel bug latches on? Well, even the mountaineering bug seems to bite just as deep because once his boots started going up mountain tops, there was no stopping him. The Seven Summits in itself are a mighty achievement but this man decided to take it up a notch higher (and I mean wayyy higher) by climbing even the highest volcanoes of each of the 7 continents. His journey towards setting this world record made him the first Indian to ascent Mount Ridley in Antarctica. I’ve always wondered what mountaineers think of doing when they touch accomplish something so immense, do they dance, do they just take picture or do they just sit by themselves? Satyarup incidentally became the first Indian to play our national anthem on the flute at this point in Antarctica. And while altitudes are certainly formidable, I think mountaineers also face unthinkable encounters which naturally heighten their achievement, such as Satyarup trekking in a jungle inhabited by tribes of cannibals while pursuing Carstensz Pyramid in Indonesia! In his goodie bag of adventurous achievements is also skiing last degree to the South Pole while carrying his 50kgs heavy luggage and equipment. The next dream for this record holder is to touch this mark at the North Pole too! While you and I go brrrr thinking of that, Satyarup is out spreading a message for people “to face their fear eye to eye and break free from the self-limiting beliefs that cripples them”. So, tell me friend which fear are you going to break free from?
Mandip Singh Sion
Years: 1957 – present
Some Notable Climbs: first Indian ascent of Mount Meru.
Mandip Singh Sion is a man bound by no definition of adventure. Beyond mountaineering, he has taken up skiing, diving and whatever has struck his interest. His adventures have also not been bound by geographical limits as he has let his thirst of nature and thrilling sports let him be taken across continents. Facts for which he has won a number of accolades including the NESS Award by the Royal Geographical Society, UK and the Tenzing Norgay Adventure Award for Lifetime Achievement by the President of India, amongst many others. Today, the world at large has started speaking about the need for conscious travelling, something that we all ought to imbibe as a practice. Some complain that it is travellers in the first place who have stressed the peaks and the stretches of nature with their visits and activities. This while true to an extent cannot negate that its also those same travellers, who have found themselves smitten by the hidden wonders of Mother Earth, who have then gone onto fight for her protection and preservation. Mandip Singh got drawn towards mountaineering thanks to his heart which bled for the environment. The environmentalist in him chose to travel and travel right whilst also voicing this in order for more to follow in suit. Thus, in the year 1985 Mandip Singh, with his friends and climbing partners from university days along with a Swedish climber, told his then pregnant wife that the climb of Meru North would be a cakewalk. Said cakewalk actually involves climbing expanses of rock that go 80 degrees or higher in their steepness. You see mountaineering’s challenges don’t lie in the altitude alone but in the terrain as well. While Mandip Singh and gang were successful in their climb of Mount Meru, making it the first successful Indian ascent ever at the peak, he knew that he could never again claim a climb to be a “cakewalk” in front of his wife. ?
Love Raj Singh Dharmshaktu
Years: 972 – present
Some Notable Climbs: summited Mt. Everest as a part of the first Indian civilian expedition and hold the record for being the first ever Indian to scale Mount Everest 7 times.
And then there are those who beat their own records. Today, Uttarakhand’s Munsiyari is known as a holiday getaway thanks to its picturesque prettiness. It ought to also be known as the hometown of Love Raj Singh Dharmshaktu who hails from a nearby village called Bona. Presently, he is an assistant commandant with the Border Security Force (BSF) but his itch for adventure had him digging deep since a long time ago. Mountaineering is a marvellous sport and it leaves us in awe of those who take it up. But it is also an exceedingly expensive sport and the trainings and activities don’t come at an easy cost. Not to sound cliché but I think the words “Where there’s a will, there’s a way” are much too appropriate here. How come? The boy from the hilly state worked at the local tourism office just in order to be able to take up a course there. This then led to a number of other courses including a specialization in Search and Rescue. Having been a part of the first ever Indian ascent of Mount Everest by civilians, I wonder if he knew at that time that he would be reunited with the world’s tallest peak on multiple times. Think about it. Climbing Mount Everest is something that we regard so highly (as we should!) that we often think of it as a once in a lifetime experience, its something which we imagine to be a moment that a person would be able to relive in their memories for the rest of their life because it would mean so much. How then does an individual feel when they go back to that very peak on multiple occasions? Nope, there’s no way that it could ever feel lesser. On the contrary, I imagine that it would feel greater with each return as if you need to pinch yourself at being able to do something so incredible ever again. The mountaineer first became the first ever Indian to ascend Mount Everest 6 times and then he beat his own record by returning a 7th time. And you know why I believe it would have felt much more with each return? Because he said “It is a divine and overwhelming experience to touch the peak of Mount Everest again” and that note of reverence in his statement just makes one think of it as a magical occurrence that only gets even more enchanting with each return. Doesn’t it?
These are just a few of the many Indian adventurers and mountaineers that our country is blessed to have. And I know, that a large stake in all these adventures is their personal motivation or challenge that they’re looking to meet, that sense of self-satisfaction that each of these incredible stories would have. But that doesn’t change how each such story also shows us what our countrymen are capable of, it doesn’t change that each such story results in the Indian flag being held up high at such peaks and it doesn’t change that their sweat, their hard work and their sheer mental dedication to go after it has led to something so immense. While the whole country may not remember their names unfortunately, how about you and I do? Maybe if we remember their names and we tell their story to a friend or two, we could be sending out our sense of pride to these men telepathically for them to know that their fellow Indians are proud of them, starting today with me and you.
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