We lived and grew up in Hauz Khas, one of the poshest localities in Delhi, in one of those old houses with big terraces and verandah both at the entrance and the backyard where my grandfather would sit reading his newspaper soaking in the winter sun and my father telling me tales of phantom from the cartoon section. But we were far from being rich. It was all thanks to my grandfather’s farsightedness that he bought a house there when it was, as we hear a jungle and nothing else.
A Bajaj scooter is what we had to take all four of us (papa, ma, my brother and I) and a sleeper class bogie for travelling in summer holidays to nana’s house. The fun here was fighting with my brother to grab that coveted spot of standing behind the scooter handle while papa rode and memorising each station as the train went past each one of them.
We were a happy, crazy and chirpy bunch of a dozen cousins under the same roof with super creative minds put perfectly to use whether to play pranks, that I now think were award winning or to put together shows of all nature for everyone in the colony, a marathon, a fancy dress, a flop badminton cup, magic show, quiz show, a dance show, a summer club and what not. Our meagre pocket monies would hardly suffice for our genius ideas so we unapologetically resorted to ‘chandas’ (donation) from sleepy neighbours during hot afternoons after school. Many of them happily obliged with Rs 10 from their pockets.
Chocolates, chips, pastries and cold drinks were things of rarity for which we desperately waited for birthdays in the house or neighbourhood. We got all that and chowmein too on a paper plate. But because we never got these too often, we relished and savoured them to the last bite or sip. Can’t explain the joy we derived.
Festivals were the best days! Even the smaller ones were keenly looked forward to like Bhai Duj where all we kids lined up with our brand new pens drawing Om on pieces of paper and Janmashthmi when mouth watering home made sweets awaited us at midnight and we all excitedly made our way to the brightly lit temple we went to every year and oh yes those replicas we made of Lord Krishna’s home! Diwali was all about pretty new clothes, lighting diyas and crackers and Holi, about getting drenched in colours and dancing like hooligans.
I must mention the dresses I wore since I was born were almost all of them custom made, yes, my mother designed and stitched them all. Frills and laces, they had it all.
I couldn’t have had a better childhood. It was great despite the modest means. The secret to my almost perpetual happiness now is the fact that every time I get hold of what may seem small for everyone else is big for me and that gives me colossal joy.
Flying in the aeroplane seemed just a fantasy, forget ever travelling abroad, a dress from that glittering mall was just wishful thinking and that fancy mobile phone which your friend brought in college when mobiles first launched were but out of reach but now its all real. It’s all happening. With my own money!
My achievements are my own.
If I were born with a silver spoon, that sweet feeling of a take off every time and flying over a bed of clouds wouldn’t be the most exciting thing ever,
And those butterflies wouldn’t be dancing in frenzy in my stomach every time I land in an unexplored part of the world.
That first sight of New York wouldn’t have been so emotional, it was after all but just an unachievable dream city.
Those bags of luxury brands wouldn’t have been filled with pride to the brim. Did I just afford that, is the question I asked myself smiling.
That swanky watch I finally bought wouldn’t have told me that this time, was now mine.
And that pretty mobile phone wouldn’t have shown me I can now dial into my life the way I want to.
That meal in a 5 star wouldn’t have been so delicious.
If I were born with a silver spoon life wouldn’t have given me so many reasons to cheer about!
“If someone hates you for being you, it’s not your fault, it’s their ignorance. Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are!” ❤
Could you take a pause right here and introspect all the challenges and obstacles you are dealing with in life? Plenty right? We all do. Everyone’s not in the same boat but no one’s not without problems. But for a majority of us, the cisgender, an antonym for the transgender may have never realised what one goes through when trying to discover one’s own identity and fighting everyday to protect it, to get its fair share of dignity that everyone deserves as a human being.
Meet Anuradha Krishnan, 25, from Rackad, Kerala, a queer rights activist, founder of Queerythm, a final year dentistry student, an aspiring civil servant and a trans-woman who fought her battles, both within her and outside with the world. She came out proud to own her identity, for who she always was and will be!
Excerpts from my interview with Anuradha:
A CHILDHOOD OF ABUSE AND TRAUMA
My earliest memories as a child was just wanting to express as a girl and couldn’t really relate to the masculinity of my body. I was quite fascinated with my mom’s sarees and my sister’s frocks while growing up. I used to feel more comfortable around my female cousins and teachers.
“There was an inbuilt insecurity and inhibition around my male cousins and classmates. They didn’t make it easy for me either as I faced a lot of harassment and bullying for being the way I was.”
As I grew older, the torment aggravated. I was started to being called out for being effeminate and was even advised to speak and behave in a certain way associated with masculinity of a male identified person.
“I was frequently sexually and verbally abused and addressed with derogatory Malayalam words like ‘chhakka’, ‘kundan’ and ‘chanthupottu’. In class 8th, I even attempted suicide. I still deal with that trauma of my growing up years.”
I started limiting my freedom and confined myself to my home not wanting to go out. I even tried my best to suppress my feminine expression and act masculine to appear ‘normal’ to others.
I shared my feelings with my sister who is 7 years older to me and like a second mother. While she was protective of me and even gave it back to those who abused me, but she herself was confused and ignorant about my desire to express as a woman and advised me to behave like a boy.
While my parents chose not to have any discussion on the topic, my grand parents tried to calm me down by calling it just a phase that shall pass soon. My family has accepted the situation now with reluctance.
FROM VILLAGE TO THE BIG CITY
I buried myself completely in studies and moved to Thiruvananthapuram to pursue a degree in medicine and become a dentist. However I wasn’t really interested in medicine, I have been keen on joining politics.
But if I had the opportunity to choose a profession, I would be a chef but my parents were not happy about it. When one belongs to a marginalised community specially transgender, until we build a stable career for ourselves, we receive no respect and dignity in society, hence I chose to become a dentist.
“The cisgender accepts a non-binary only if they have an extraordinary quality or have achieved something in their career, not someone who may be a sex worker. That recognition is fake and unfair.”
Transgender do not need to prove anything by their profession. Each individual should be accepted regardless of their caste, colour, profession or identity.
My college life in a big city was no better than my school back in my village. I didn’t feel comfortable. I could sense my batchmates discussing about me behind my back. They were prejudiced and had inhibitions to talk to me. I felt very lonely. I left my college hostel within a month and started living on rent.
A TURBULENTCOMING OUT
“Before I came out, I used to write on social media as a supporter of the LGBTQIA community. It gave me a lot of confidence, though I was still confused on whether what I was experiencing was real, an illusion or a mental disorder.”
Eventually my transition as a trans-woman and coming out was very organic. Reading more about our community and meeting people similar to me helped a lot. My initial thoughts were that I was gay but soon realised I was a trans-woman.
“I realised I am not an aberration or a fault. I started accepting myself for who I really am.Gradually I gained the strength to declare my identity at 19.”
Everyone behaved as if they were shocked, however that reaction was fake. They already knew it, they just didn’t want to accept me the way I was. They still kept on asking me to behave like a man, in accordance to my body not what I felt within.
Though my family supported me financially to complete my studies, they felt helpless.
“I severely struggled mentally. I was fighting depression and anxiety. I dropped out of college in my 3rd year and attempted suicide again.”
Thankfully I had friends from the queer community who supported me during that time and I took psychiatric help which gave me relief.
After about 7 months, I resumed my studies but I am still on medicines which have now become a part of my life.
CARVING HER OWN PATH AND OWNING HER IDENTITY
“In 2016 I founded Queerythm unofficially and registered it in 2017 as a platform for a monthly gathering of the LGBTQIA community. It serves as a space where one can talk, share and listen without prejudice and inhibition.”
Queerythm has almost 400 members in Kerala from different queer communities. We are involved in a lot of welfare activities which includes 24/7 crisis helpline, shelter for trans-men, college campus queer festivals and sensitising programs. We were also part of the continuing education program for transgender under the State Literacy Mission by the government of Kerala.
We’ve had the annual Queerythm pride parade in Thiruvananthapuram 3 years in a row since 2018 and also helped organise the Kerala pride 2018.
Pride parade 2019 in Thiruvananthapuram
LOOKING AHEAD:FIGHTING FOR HER COMMUNITY
“I am preparing for the UPSC exams. Though politics is what I am interested in but for a trans-woman to become a politician isn’t simple. For that we will need people’s support in majority which is missing due to stigma attached to our community. But to become a bureaucrat, one can achieve it on merit.”
As a civil servant, I would like to be able to make our policies more inclusive for the LGBTQIA community.
Every policy is drafted or executed from a binary lens, it is completely cisgender focussed. For example education is for boys and girls. There is no mention of gender non-conforming children.
“In a 2018 survey under the Kerala State Literacy Mission, 60% transgender people dropped out after 9th standard due to harassment and 50% of them survive on a monthly salary of less than Rs 1000.”
Sensitising towards the LGBTQIA community needs to take place at the grassroot level starting from school at a very young age. Both students and teachers need to be made aware of the community, be more inclusive and shun the stigma attached to them.
“Why did NCERT pull down the transgender inclusion training manual for teachers from its website? It’s because politicians are only looking for a vote bank! They do not consider the marginalised community, only concerned about the majority population for their vested interest.”
WINDS OF CHANGE?
The landmark Supreme Court judgement in 2014 recognising transgender people as the third gender was the ground for change. Our community has been oppressed, used and tormented since centuries, so change will not happen overnight but we’re fighting.
“When we talk about discrimination against other minorities in the country based on their caste or religion, at least they have their families for support. The transgender community are abandoned even by their own families and are forced to beg or become a sex worker.”
Apart from sensitising teachers and students on children with non-binary identity and making them feel comfortable enough to finish their education, government should draw policies that will help the transgender community like job reservation or age relaxation for certain positions in the government.
“OBC reservation for the entire trans community in India is injustice to us. It only helps the upper cast trans people not the Dalit Adivasi and other minority trans community. Government should consider the intersectionality of transgender people and provide horizontal reservation.”
We need powerful policies that need to be executed to uplift the transgender community. The government is taking no initiative to create awareness. It is thanks to our powerful judiciary that certain positive changes have been put in place.
What most Indian corporates do is also ‘screen washing’. They only write words of support on their social media and put pictures with the pride colours during the pride month. Where are they rest of the year and what support do they offer?
It’s only a handful of international organisations that truly have policies for the LGBTQIA community.
“Even take for example, the film industry where actors have been lauded and even won awards for their portrayal of a transgender character but why are they almost always played by the cisgender? Why not give a chance to a talent from the transgender community itself? This is denial of opportunity. It is as paradoxical as a white man acting with a black paint.”
WORDS OF WISDOM AND STRENGTH
No matter what you identify yourself as, just accept yourself. I know well that it’s not a easy, a lot of negative thoughts creep in, there are people who shatter your confidence but at the end of the day we need to take our own decision. No other person should take a decision on our behalf.
Never compromise on your identity for anyone and for anything. We are all unique and we should believe in ourselves.
“We are the warriors and the leaders of our own life. No one else can lead us. If we have self acceptance, we can build our life so respect your identify.”
“We have the ability to do wonders too and contribute to the development of our nation. For that we need equal opportunities in a just, equitable and inclusive society with a life of dignity without judgements or inhibitions.”
Anuradha’s fight for justice continues while she dabbles multiple roles as queer rights activist through her foundation Queerythm, a final year dentistry student, an aspiring civil servant and a cook who loves to dish out recipes at home!
Anuradha hopes to under go a sex reassignment operation when she’s financially independent. Look out for more updates and thoughts from Anuradha on her LinkedIn profile.
A young girl tucked far away in a remote corner of rugged terrain, expanse of wild greens, icy streams and colossal mountains so close that she could hear them roar, as if calling out to her. She fought and fought hard to slowly but steadily tread her path towards the top of the world to create history. There are some stories which touch the heart so deep that it becomes hard to disconnect. Tine Mena’s is one such story, she inspires and pushes to achieve the best version of ourselves. I recently heard from someone, as long as you live, struggle will accompany you so no matter what the goal in life is, there are lessons to be learnt, motivation borrowed and an unwavering resolve to just go for the peak you wish to conquer in life. If Tine Mena can, so can all of us!
Here’s an excerpt from my interview with Tine Mena, who climbed Mount Everest at 25 in 2011 making her the first woman in North East India to achieve this feat. There was an earnestness and humility of a simple yet passionate woman who lives where she belongs, in the lap of nature, in a remote corner of India hoping to encourage, guide and change young lives with mountaineering and adventure sports like she did hers’.
Tine Mena was born in Echali village in Arunachal Pradesh, cut off from civilisation. She is the eldest of the two surviving children out of 17. The rest passed away during childbirth due to lack of medical care.
Belonging to the Idu Mishmi tribe of the state, hunting animals was a regular ritual both for survival and as part of custom. Tine often accompanied her Naba (father), Buge Mena on his hunting trips witnessing some hair raising scenes of animal-human encounters in the wild.
Tine’s father Buge Mena in traditional Arunachali clothing
“We lived a poor tribal life with no comforts, disconnected from any basic facilities. There was no concept of agriculture in the village so we sustained on exploits from my father’s animal hunting.”
But Tine was made for bigger encounters with near death, fighting nature’s fury on her way to conquering the highest peak known to man, Mount Everest! And conquer she did when all seemed to go against her.
Tine hails from a village where electricity, roads or even food cultivation was a crisis.
“We used towalk3 days onfootto thenearestvillage wherewe could get rice to eat.”
Tine and her family later moved to Roing, the district headquarters of the Lower Dibang Valley for education and a more accessible life. To make a living and contribute to running the household, Tine enrolled herself with the Indian army as a porter, well not as a girl!
“I was 17 when I started working as an army porter in my district. Girls were banned from applying asa porter but I was desperate to earn as my father couldn’t bear all the expenses, so I dressed up as a boy and was inducted by the Army. We used to carry almost 20 to 25Kgs of weight for 5 to 6 hours daily for Rs 1500.”
“Soon my lie was caught but realising that girls could do it too, the Army lifted this ban.”
It was during her porter days where she clearly displayed her strength, stamina and endurance that came naturally to her from living in the mountains, when she was encouraged to take up serious mountaineering.
Tine was shown the Everest dream at a time when she didn’t even know what Everest was!
Eventually Tine managed to enrol herself at the Manipur Mountaineering Institute in 2008 and later trained at the Himalayan Institute of Mountaineering, Darjeeling bagging the gold medal for the best student in her batch in 2009.
Tine climbed Mount Kolahi, Jammu and Kashmir in 2009 organised by NE Adventure Foundation Guwahati, Shivalinga (6543 mt), Garhwal in 2010 and finally Lama Wangden peak (6200mt), Sikkim as part of her pre-Everest expedition organised by Indian Mountaineering Federation.
Images from Tine’s various mountaineering expeditions
It was time to go all guns blazing towards her goal but her preparation was marred by tragedy. Tine lost her mother.
“When I wastrainingfor advanced mountaineeringwith a single minded focus on Everest, my motherpassed away. It was a painful time and I was going to give up because I was not in that mental state of mind but my father supported me and encouraged me to fulfil my Everest dream.”
But the road to Everest was not an easy one. As a private climber Tine had to gather a fund of almost 25 Lakhs to cover her expenses for travel, licenses & permissions in Nepal, her sherpa, tents, oxygen, food and gear.
“I had no money. With my mother’s demise and financial constraints, I didn’t think I would make it. I worked hard and did a lot of labour work like tree cutting, breaking boulders and selling broom sticks, herbs and vegetables to save for Everest.”
There was still a long way to go before Tine had the money she needed so she made an appeal for funds . Fortunately help poured in not just from government employees and local politicians but also from people in her district who contributed with whatever they could.
“The day of my travel for Everest summit was just 10 days away and I was still short of Rs 15 Lakhs. I wanted to let it go but I still took one last chance and approached Jindal Steel & Power in Arunachal. They agreed to sponsor!”
“The price for gear and equipment for climbing Everest were exorbitant which I couldn’t afford so I bought everything second hand from a store in Nepal with whatever money I was left with.”
Tine’s ascent to Everest was an adventure of another level, there came a point when she and her sherpa Tsering Dorje were not sure whether they will make it back alive.
“We faced heavy snow storms and blizzards. It was blinding and the icy winds were so strong that it seared right through our bones. The tents had blown away and we saw all the other climbers had started to make their way down giving up on their dream of the Everest peak but I did not. This was after all a chance that I fought for so hard till the last ray of hope.”
“I insisted to my sherpa that we must continue. Fortunately we found a tent of one of the climbers and waited till the storm subsided. There was hardly any food left so I wrapped a piece of cloth tight around my stomach to resist hunger.”
On 9th May 2011, after more than 15 hours of unforgiving and harsh obstacles, Tine finally accomplished her mission of looking down at the world from the top. At the age of 25, she had successfully summited Mount Everest making her the first woman from the North-East to do so!
“I can’t describe what I felt at the Everest peak. There was a flood of emotions. There was no one else there, just the two of us as everyone had already retreated because of the hostile weather condition. I wanted to scream and tell everyone, I did it!”
Tine had not just traversed a journey of 15 hours, it was her perseverance, grit and determination of all those years that she struggled and fought to elevate herself from a small remote village and emerge from oblivion to limelight.
After all the accolades though, the limelight soon faded and Tine’s struggles continued. Her house was destroyed in a fire and she lost all that was dear to her including her Everest records, pictures and certificates. With the help of villagers and some local assistance, she built a house for herself again but earning an income has been a challenge.
10 years passed but the job promised to Tine by the government after her Everest achievement remained unfulfilled until recently when the Arunachal Pradesh cabinet headed by Chief Minister Pema Khandu announced the appointment of Tine Mena along with another Everester from the state, Tapi Mra as Adventure Promotion Instructors in the Department of Youth Affairs. While the news has already floated in the media, she is awaiting her official letter of confirmation and assurance of a source of income (as of the day of interview on August 10, 2021).
“I want to urge our country’s youth to go outdoors, explore and develop a love for nature, sports and adventure. And I hope our government encourages and facilitates more youngsters who do not have the financial means or the right training to help them achieve their goals and make their country proud.”
Settled in Roing with husband Pronov and two young children, Tine runs a home stay called Mishmi Hills Camp and an adventure school offering various activities in Arunachal Pradesh.Tine is also fond of riding bikes and photography.
“I have memories of my home. I still see Kashmir in my dreams!” – Hriday Nath Bhat
In life, what do you hold most dear to your heart? Your family? Your home? Ever imagined a time when you lose one of them, or both? In all likeliness, one wouldn’t even dare to fathom a situation like that even in a nightmare. Starting from 1947, lakhs of innocent Kashmiri Pandits have lost one of the two or both.
That Kashmir has lured kings, leaders, artists and anyone seeking solace in the lap of its exquisite beauty since time immemorial is well known. It’s not called heaven on earth for nothing. But the time when India celebrated independence, this heaven was being scarred by blood and fear. Blood of innocents. Of those who called it home.
Several years later, gruesome incidents of murder, threat and terror led to the mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits that began on the morning of 20th January 1990. All that they carried with them were remnants of memories. But justice still seems far after three decades. Perhaps never.
According to Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti, out of a total of 75,343 Kashmiri Pandit families in January 1990, more than 70,000 left between 1990 and 1992. The community continued to leave till 2000. Any resistance was instantly responded by murder resulting in the killing of 399 Kashmiri Pandits by militants, majority between 1989 and 1990 and continuing till 2011. Only about 800 families are known to have remained in Kashmir now.
Following is a heart wrenching real-life account of loss and agony of the Bhat family – Dura and Hriday Nath Bhat and their daughters Kanchan and Komila who were 10 and 13 years old respectively at the time on the night of 19th January 1990. It’s often said that the deepest and darkest nights may seem like a bottomless pit of despair but it ends to welcome bright sunshine of hope. However, that night gave way to a dawn that changed their course of life forever. To start it all over again, in a new city, with new people.
What was lost was a home, after years of moving from one rented apartment to another. Their forever home was finally built with a lifetime of blood, sweat and tears. But that forever happened to be just 3 months until that fateful night. What was also lost was their city, their dreams, and aspirations of creating a content and happy life. A life in their home. In Kashmir!
Excerpts from my conversation with the Bhat family (referred to as HNB (Hriday Nath Bhat), Dura Bhat (DB) and Kanchan Bhat (KB) respectively:
EARLY YEARS IN KASHMIR
HNB: I was born in 1945 in Baramulla. When I was 2 years old, right after India’s independence, the tribal raiders from Pakistan, looted families and burnt our homes.
HNB:“During that raid of October 1947, 17 members of my mother’s family were killed. She was in shock for many years and lost her health. We ran from our home in Baramulla and came to Srinagar. We escaped by the skin of teeth.”
HNB: We moved from one rented house to another in Srinagar. My father was in a government and didn’t make much money. It was just barely enough to manage our family.However, I worked hard in my studies and graduated as a mechanical engineer, ranking 5th in my university.
HNB: I started with a government job and then worked for HMT for 15 years before starting my own business of precision automotive manufacturing.
DB: I am from Zaindar Mohla, Srinagar where we had a flourishing family business. I couldn’t study further after graduation due to my father’s sudden death.”
DB: “I got married to a very small house but I adjusted. For many years we never had a home to call our own. Sukh kabhi nahi dekha humne.*”
*(We never experienced joy.)
KB: My elder sister Komila and I were born in Srinagar. I was 10 and my sister 13 when we left Kashmir. But I mostly have good childhood memories of going to school, then convent, going to pick up my sister from Gulmarg after her ski course, picnics at Pari Mahal and so on. I have seen the Dal Lake frozen once and I remember my uncle riding his bike on it. So, all fun memories.
KB: Only towards the end, there were some incidents which were scary like the bomb blast which blew off the top of the indoor stadium. It was visible from our house.
THE TURN OF EVENTS
HNB:“It all started in 1982 after the death of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. He was so popular, almost the entire Kashmir population came to his funeral to bid him farewell! People with fundamentalist ideas saw this as an opportunity to carry out their agenda of indoctrinating young people about Islamist fanaticism.”
HNB: Towards the later part of the 80s, Muslims had started violence and picking up fights with the armed forces.
HNB:“Even employees from my own factory used to go to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir for 2-week short courses and come back.”
HNB: “There were also episodes like muslim labourers like carpenters who visited to fix something in our house asked us, what was the need to build such a large house and used to scratch their names on our wooden almiras.”
KB: Not clearly understandable to my 10 years old brain but I knew things were not right because randomly firing would start from nowhere, schools would be shut regularly, there were barbed wires everywhere and curfews would be imposed often.
KB:“There are scary memories during the time when we were supposed to keep the lights off throughout the night after dark. I remember once, one man knocked on our window pane with the butt of a hand gun. We had switched on just a small 3 – 4 watt bulb to have dinner. He asked us, light kyu on rakhi hai, tum log ko marna hai kya?* So, we switched it off completely and had dinner in candle light.”
*(Why have you kept the light on? Do you all want to die?)
DB:“Muslims and Hindus lived in harmony for decades. They used to work for and with us and even visited our home regularly for meals and come during Shivratri. They knew everything about the plan to get rid of Kashmiri Pandits but remained tight lipped to ensure we get to know nothing of it.”
HNB: We knew something seriously dangerous was going on but what exactly was on the minds of the Muslims, we did not know.
HNB: On one occasion, just to gauge their reactions I suggested to my Muslim colleagues that it might be a good idea to operate part of the business from Bangalore. They were quite perplexed, finally one of them blurted out, ‘Bhat Saab, Karachi is better than Bangalore.’
HNB:“One of my good friend Farooq Ahmed Hajini was a kattar jamaati (follower of Jamaat – I – Islam) – he once asked me how many states does India have. I was stunned by the question. He then said – 28 and their aim is not just ‘Kashmir ki azaadi’ – that is a given, hamara maksad ye hai ki Hindustan ko 28 tukdo main baant de.”
*(…our aim is to divide India in 28 pieces.)
HNB: Eminent Kashmiri Hindu personalities like high court judge Neel Kanth Ganjoo and BJP leader Tika Lal Taploo were murdered by militants along with Lassa Kaul, director of Doordarshan. Yasin Malik, (a Kashmiri separatist leader and militant) is known to have killed four Indian Air Force officers.
HNB:“The problem in punishing the militants is, like Farooq told me, ye sab jo aatank aur dhamake ho rahe hain Kashmir mein, ismein dhamaka karne wala hamara aadmi hai, police wala bhi hamara aadmi hai, investigation karne wala bhi hamara bhi aadmi hai, judge bhi hamara hai…to saza dega kaun.*”
*(…whatever murders, blasts and other terror activities that are taking place throughout Kashmir, the one who is doing it is our man, the police is ours, the investigator is ours and even the judge is our man. So, who will punish the culprit?)
HNB:“With respect to Muslims also claiming to be victims during the Gawkadal bridge massacre, what will happen if you start firing at the armed forces? They did it to defend themselves. They were not carrying out peaceful protests. They wanted to drive away the army too. Pakistan also calls itself a victim of terrorism but in reality, they themselves sponsor it so, it is collateral damage.”
A HOME TO CALL OUR OWN
HNB: After many years of living in rented houses, we finally built our own three storey house in 1989.
KB: We were very excited to be in our first house. I understood the concept of being on rent when we came to our own house.
KB:“It was a very pretty house with 11 rooms and an outhouse. I remember we used to play hide-n-seek and we were also planning our garden and do it up room by room. We had an elaborate pooja. Our whole extended family came. But our joy was short-lived. We lived there only for 3 months.”
DB: Ghar ki yaad bahot aati thi, vahi sataati thi…zaada rona usi pe aata tha.*
*(I terribly missed my home. Often shed tears thinking of it.)
HNB:“The cause and aim of the Islamic extremists was completely different from the Kashmiri Pandits. We were always with India. They never saw us as their own. Their main agenda was to scare us away and they succeeded in that. Slowly the exodus began!”
THE FATEFUL NIGHT
HNB: It was the night of 19th January 1990. All the mosques were making announcements simultaneously from loud speakers that Kashmiri Hindus should leave immediately. We could not sleep that night. It was terrifying.
KB:“The announcement that was specifically being made were ‘Raliv, Chaaliv ya Galiv’ which means either convert and join us, run away or die! They said women and children can stay and men should either leave or choose to die. They intended to kill the children and convert, marry or rape the women. ”
DB: We got scared, more for our young daughters than us. And so, the next morning we escaped with whatever we could fit in just one small suitcase for all four of us.
KB: It was dangerous while we were on the way as the Muslims pelted huge stones at us. My father drove the car very fast. We could’ve either died by stone pelting or misbalance of the car leading us to fall into the deep ravine. But thankfully we escaped.
HNB:“It’s a completely false narrative by Muslims that some of them supported us or asked us not to leave. Each one of them were hand in glove with the militants. Most of them were under so much pressure by the terror of the militants, that they had no option but to do as they say.”
A NEW LIFE AFTER EXODUS
KB: We reached Jammu at my maasi’s (mother’s sister) home. They were very kind and vacated their master bedroom for the four of us. I remember at one point we were living with 15 other strangers under the same roof because people kept trickling in from Kashmir.
DB:“We lived at my sister’s place for a year before moving out to a rented place in Jammu. We faced acute financial crisis because we had no income. ‘Par karte the guzara.* My husband managed somehow to ensure we sustained on whatever limited means we had for ourselves and children’s education.”
*(We somehow sustained ourselves.)
DB: “The refugees on the other hand had to survive in dreadful conditions. Many died of snake bites, while the old died of heat. Bal Thackerey at that point offered significant support to Kashmiri Pandits.”
KB:“Jammu was a completely new world for us. We were shocked. It was a transition from day to night. We faced quite a lot of abuse from the locals, first for not fighting back to save our land as they failed to understand that a handful of Hindus stood no chance of surviving a fight with armed militants, second was frequent molestation that my sister and I suffered.”
HNB: The migrants were supported by some cash by the government but eventually I had to move my business to Jammu which happened in 1991.
HNB:“When I planned to get my factory machines from Srinagar, I called some of my Muslim friends but no one offered help except for one person who also had an ancillary unit next to mine. When I reached there, even though I had the local police escort with me, I found myself surrounded by a group of militants and their commander asked me for a heavy ransom in return of letting me take the machinery. He was carrying grenades in his pocket. The police escort acted as a mute spectator and seemed to be on their side. I negotiated as much as I could as I literally had no earnings in Jammu. Finally, I was let go once they were paid some amount and I made my way back to Jammu. It was a truly gruesome experience. It was a situation where they could have easily harmed me in any way they deemed fit but thankfully I got lucky this time.”
KB: My mother struggled just as much as my father did. My sister and I were quite young so we weren’t able to fully grasp the gravity of the situation but our mother dared us not to demand anything except for what is necessary for our studies. She explained the condition we are in and that there was nothing much we were left with.
KB: “After school, I decided to pursue architecture. Bal Thackerey mandated all the universities in Maharashtra to reserve one seat for Kashmiri Pandits as migrant quota. It was hurtful to be called migrants in our own country but it worked in our favour when we were in need.”
DB: Our elder daughter studied English (Hons.) at Delhi University and later married and settled in London. The younger one was studying architecture in Puna, so we decided to move there.
JUSTICE DELAYED. JUSTICE DENIED.
DB:“Hamare andar se nahi niklega jo unhone hamare saath kiya, kabhi khatam nahi hoga kyuki humne bahot dard bahot dukh saha hai. Kisi ne help bhi nahi kiya uss waqt.*”
*(The trauma and pain we went through will never leave our conscience. No one even helped us in our hour of need.)
HNB: Every family lost a member or their immediate relative.
HNB:“Recently Chidambaram said, ‘we have lost Kashmir’. I am not sure if he said that because he wants to please the constituency in Kashmir or is it really the true feeling of the congress. Whatever Congress has done so far, their only objective has been to be a part of the ruling creek. They have created this problem but done nothing to solve it.”
HNB:“The abrogation of article 370 is an ideal solution to Kashmir. Most Muslims are not in favour of it but that is the only way we can have some semblance of relief to the trauma we suffered. Whatever some parties are saying – ye kyu kiya, ye galat hai,* is all nonsense, all politics.”
*(Why did this happen? This is wrong.)
HNB: I don’t think Kashmiri Pandits will ever be able to go back. What will we do even if we go back, our home is not there anymore. My business is now set up in Puna. My children are well settled in their own lives.
DB: Modi government abrogated article 370, usse humein shaanti mili. Par humein koi ummeed nahi hai, itne saal ho gaye, kuchh nahi hua, ye abhi aisa hi rahega.*
*(We felt relief with the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammy & Kashmir by the Modi Government. But we don’t have any expectations, it has been a lot of years now. Nothing has happened so far, it will remain as is!)
KB:“This was not the first time, this was the seventh time that Kashmiri Pandits were tried to be kicked out of Kashmir. Justice cannot be delivered after 30 years. If action was taken right after our exodus, may be something could’ve happened but not now. There are no evidences, people who had evidences were silenced or have died over the years.”
KB: It was a very difficult thing to happen to us but what has happened has happened, it is done! There can be no justification and no justice.
DB: “Kashmir ki yaad aati hai par phir sochke achha nahi lagta. Bahot dukh jhele hain humne, bahot takleefe dekhi hain. My daughter (Kanchan) was crying one day, I told her, ‘ab kuchh nahi hai vaha, sirf khaakh hai, kam se kam yaha shaanti se baithe hain. Uss din ke baad wo kabhi nahi royi.”
*(I miss Kashmir but then I don’t feel good thinking about those times. We have suffered a lot. My daughter (Kanchan) was crying one day, so I told her that there’s nothing left for us in Kashmir, it has all burnt to ashes and that at least we have peace here. She never cried after that.)
DB: Hum yahi khush hain ab. Agar ho sake to jayenge kabhi. The most important thing is that we made our daughters study well. Bheekh kabhi nahi maangi humne. Baaki apni kismat!*
*(We are happy now where we are. If at all, we will go to Kashmir someday. The most important thing is that we made our daughters study well. We never had to beg. Rest, everything is fate.)
KB: When Ghulam Nabi Azad said he is lucky to be born in India and not Pakistan, I agree to his point. Muslims in India do not have the kind of restrictions that other Islamic countries impose on them, specially women.
KB: “I do not support religious fanaticism. If someone compels me to harm or kill someone on the name of Hinduism, I will never do it because I have a brain of my own which tells me what is right and wrong!”
DB:“We once went to Srinagar after many years and saw our home. It was heart breaking to see that they had removed everything from the house even the plumbing fixtures. It was in a terrible condition. The whole foundation of the house had weakened. Uss waqt main bahot royi thi, tab mahsoos hua kya humne ghar banaya tha aur kya inhone kar diya.*”
*(I cried that time. It pinched to see how we had made our home and what it is today.)
KB: “I can’t forget the way we left, I can’t forget what happened to us. It will remain this way, so yes there is bitterness!”
KB: However, what happened does not make me judge anyone based on their religion or ethnicity. I have friends of all kinds. My only rationale is that extremism of any kind is not acceptable, you do you and let others be themselves.
The Bhats (Hriday Nath, Dura and Kanchan) are settled in Puna, while Komila is in London. Hriday Nath set up and resumed his precision automotive manufacturing business in the city. After pursuing architecture from Puna and further studies in Australia and gaining experience working with renowned corporates, Kanchan now works alongside her father to run their business. She also has her own consulting firm for sustainable buildings and is also a fitness enthusiast. Komila and her husband are raising their young daughter in London.
Below are glimpses of the Bhats’ memories from Kashmir that includes Hriday Nath and Dura Bhat’s wedding ceremony, Kanchan & Komila’s childhood and their extended family and friends!
“I had nightmares in the ICU of being tied up in a trash bag with my limbs cut apart and dumped in the garbage area. I could feel the dogs eating me up.”
It was these words that kept repeating in my ears and couldn’t leave me. Never have I taken so long in putting words together for someone I have interviewed. For Anshul Bansal though, I did. A passionate army aspirant from Jaipur, Anshul knew well what it takes to achieve his goal, be it acing at his NCC camps or keeping himself in top shape. But destiny had other plans. Plans that were unimaginably brutal.
At 21, Anshul lost his right leg to a road accident that shook his world. But he fiercely battled long and hard and soon took over the reign of his fate. He moved on with tenacity in his mind and fire in the eyes. Even if that meant living his life with one leg but living it with his head held high and medals of honour for his country!
There is nothing that is impossible for Anshul. He’s a champion in almost all sports and adventure activities, perhaps better than most able-bodied. He truly exemplifies the ‘never give up’ attitude which has made him a medal winner athlete and Rajasthan’s first para-mountaineer. He proved, his comeback is definitely stronger than his setback!
Here’s a remarkable story of grit, courage and determination of 24-year-old Anshul Bansal.
GROWING UP WITH OBSTACLES OF LIFE
My elder sister and I had a typical middle class upbringing in Jaipur. My father was in the government service serving in the railways while my mother was a home maker. Both of them are big travel enthusiasts and thanks to them I have seen almost all of India on our train journeys.
Growing up wasn’t a very smooth ride for me.
“I suffered from TB when I was in class 1st and treated for 11 months. That was followed with asthma and kidney stones in class 5th. Then in class 7th, I was diagnosed with hypo-thyroid. Doctor declared that my height won’t go beyond 5’6″.”
It was papa who pushed me every morning at 4am to sweat it out with various kinds of physical exercises that included running, skipping, cycling and basketball.
I used to cry looking at other kids play. Papa always told me, ‘abhi ro raha hai, baad main hasega’. Thanks to him today I am 6 feet tall.
THE FAUJI DREAM
“I have always wanted to join the army. We used to go to Vaishno Devi and I used to get really fascinated when I saw those army officers’ uniform, the gun and their aura. ‘Kaam to sab karte hain but ye desh ke liye jeete hain’.”
I was an NCC cadet in school and college. During a camp in Jodhpur, I fractured my ankle while playing basketball but I did not tell anyone because I’d be disqualified. I somehow completed all the activities in the camp but when I returned to Jaipur I couldn’t even manage to drive a car. The doctor then plastered my ankle for 3 months!
WHEN THE WORLD TURNED AROUND 180 DEGREES
The word para itself turns around life around 180 degrees.
I was getting these ominous feelings for quite sometime. Just 4 days before the accident, I had also mentioned to someone ‘kuch galat hone wala hai’ after I got involved in a fight with some seniors.
“On 30th January 2018, my world crashed in front of my eyes. A bus rammed into my bike and I lost a leg during the accident.”
“I kept telling my mother, ‘kuchh bhi ho jaaye, mera pair mat katne dena’. I asked to put a rod in my leg for 2 years so I can join the army after that. But it was inevitable. I underwent multiple operations and two amputations.”
I am emotional yet practical in life. Different doctors were debating among themselves. I just wanted to tell them, ‘cut karna hai to kar do, beech mein latkao mat’.
“Thoughts of suicide did occur to me. At a time when it was my age to support my father, he was the one who had to pick me up and carry me. It pinched in my heart. I felt like a burden. I questioned myself, ‘main jee kyun raha hu’.”
I couldn’t even tell anyone what I was going through because looking at me, they thought I was fighting well. But inside I wasn’t able to fight at all.
My best buddy Shantanu got into depression after seeing my condition. My senior at NCC Keerthi Naresh looked after me like his son. He spent several nights with me in the hospital. Another friend Anmol left his job seminar to be with me at the hospital.
“Families don’t have an option but to be with you in all situations. But our friends do. These people left everything and were there for me at every step of the way. So I wanted to fight for them.”
RISING FROM THE ASHES LIKE A PHOENIX
Seven months after the accident, I even went to Goa. My friends literally carried me in their arms everywhere, to the beaches and to party.
“I do miss my leg. I haven’t been able to run because I can’t afford the running blades. I am scared to slip in the bathroom. My left leg often gets numb. That irritation of having one leg cannot go. I have after all spent 21 years with 2 legs.”
“One of the best prosthetic doctor once told me I should give up on cycling and mountaineering and start preparing for a government job. I was like ‘har baar main hi kyu. Jab TB, asthma aur thyroid ko hara diya, to ye bhi kar lunga’.”
But I was still determined to improve things for myself.
I did two 5Kms marathons which were more of a walkathon for me but I still wanted to participate.
I also went to an adventure park in Shimla where I did a lot of activities including the single rope walk which a lot of people were skipping because it was a difficult task. Seeing me on a prosthetic leg, the park people were telling me ‘paise kyun daale ismein, nahi kar paoge’. But I did it!
“I remember I asked my surgeon right the next day after my amputation if I can be a mountaineer. I told him I want to climb Kanchenjunga. He said, ‘tune aisa socha hai to tu zaroor karega’.”
In April 2019 I did the Kheerganga trek in Himachal. I often wanted to give up in between when my leg started to bleed but I still gathered the courage and finished it. My re-amputation happened later in 2019.
In 2020, I went for the Tungnath Shiv Mandir Trek in Uttarakhand at more than 11,000 feet.
“TOUGH TO BECOME AN ATHLETE, FOOLISH TO THINK OF BEING A PARA-ATHLETE”
“For the para-games in Jodhpur in February 2020, I trained on my own. ‘Bhagwan bharose practice kiya’ with whatever I could find on YouTube. I eventually won a silver in Shot Put and bronze in Javelin, Discus Throw and Power Lifting.”
“The problem in India is that the government doesn’t support us specially at the initial stage when we need it the most. I still haven’t received my prize money since a year which I was planning to use for my training equipment, coaches and nutrition needs. That’s why most athletes give up.”
I love mountaineering but I can’t rely on my father’s financial support for long. He says he will not say ‘no’ – ‘agar junoon hai to kar le khud struggle. Requirements like diet, special wheelchair, artificial limbs, doctor visits and coaches hi maar deta hai para athletes ko‘.
“Papa insists on a job for a secure furture. He said ‘itna bada ho gaya hai, kuchh nahi karta. Hum kab tak palenge tujhe. I felt even more miserable after hearing this, ‘bojh ki tarah’. But how can I take a job. I have to keep my fitness levels on top. My training takes up at least 6 hours of the day. And after all this, I also have to hear, ‘itni mehnat kyu kar raha hai, khelna hi to hai’.”
When people say, it is very difficult to become a para-athlete. I say, there are lakhs of people who attempt the UPSC and IIT exams but how many actually crack it?
“It is not to prove anything to the world but to restore the faith in myself that I can still do whatever any other person can.”
SETTING THE RECORD AT 20,000 FEET
“After I made the decision to summit the Yunam peak (Lahaul) in October 2020, I went to seek funds from the same hospital where I was operated in return of doing their orthopaedic department’smarketing as one of their successful stories. I asked for Rs 1,10,000. They offered me just Rs 10,000. I said take Rs 10,000 from me instead. I have that much capability to earn!”
My mama and a friend’s uncle eventually helped us with the funding.
Out of a team of ten people including an Everester, only me and my friend were professionally non-qualified without a mountaineering course certificate but only the two of us did not suffer any altitude sickness.
“My prosthetic loosened up because the muscles shrink in cold. I successfully summited the peak and came back none the less.”
“I keep pushing myself harder to shut that little voice in my head that keeps telling me things have changed now.”
But even after accomplishing this feat, I am unable to receive any sponsorship for any expeditions or athletic training.
NO ACTION WITHOUT SOME NOISE
Just 3 hours ago, I got to know that the state para-games are not taking place this year because of COVID-19 and I cannot apply directly for the nationals because of a classification card that I have not received. This means all my efforts have gone to waste. I feel dejected but this is what it is.
I can drive but I am not allowed to have a valid license because according to the government I’m extremely dangerous to the lives of others. I have signed many petitions but nothing changes.
“It is clear that everything is not possible. I have not failed. I will still do it. ‘Kaise karna hai ye pata nahi’. ‘Shaanti se cheezein nahi hoti’. Have to grab attention one way or the other.”
CATCHING SOME LIMELIGHT
“Through an amputees group on social media, I received a modelling assignment from an Indian prosthetic brand. They were very impressed with me when they saw I could swim, cycle, bike, play badminton, cricket, mostly all sports except football.”
“My funda is simple, zindagi kaati nahi jaati, jeene ka mauka mila hai khulke jiyo.”
“If you are struggling for something, that means you don’t love it enough. Passion is what will get you closer to your goal.”
Anshul manages to sustain his passion for sports and mountaineering through his part time income from the stock market and online fitness coaching. He is also a financial advisor after an exam he took.
Anshul hopes to accomplish larger goals as a mountaineer and athlete with support from the government and sponsorships from corporates.
Why do some people do what they do that is off the beaten track? Somewhat unthinkable. What many call crazy! Everyone has their own reasons. 31 year old Utpal Tamuly had his own reasons for his audacious adventure of riding a bicycle more than 3000Kms from Guwahati, Assam to State of Unity, Gujarat. First to utilise the lock down days with something daring, second to bring people’s attention towards his home region North-East India and finally and most important to spread awareness on causes like stopping rape and gender discrimination, saving the one horn rhino in Kaziranga national park in Assam and education for all.
A native of Guwahati, Utpal is a sports enthusiast and was also a junior level national volleyball player. Growing up he aspired to serve his country by joining the army but his dreams dashed due to a minor technicality. He ended up graduating in civil engineering followed with a job in a construction company.
Someone who thrives on blood rush, he soon surpassed his limit and realised this wasn’t his cup of tea, what Utpal really wanted to brew in his life was something ’toofani’!
“I have always wanted to do something in adventure, something ‘toofani’.”
THE DEFAULT IN THE SYSTEM OF NORTH-EAST INDIA
Utpal started his company Traventure Buddy in 2016 with the aim of promoting adventure tourism. He also wants to enable travellers to explore the hidden gems of the enchanting North-East India while also busting the myths surrounding the region.
“There is a wrong perception of the North-East regarding naxalism, crime and dark jungles. I want to bring forth the positive side of the region and tourism is the only way to show its real value and know our traditions deeper.”
“There is a default in the system itself in the North-East. It has been neglected since Jawaharlal Nehru in terms of development. India is a fast growing developing nation, so how come even railways are not fully connected in the region except Assam? There is extreme poverty in the villages which are completely disconnected even by road. We are poked fun at for the way we look. We are called Chinese.”
“Just like Kashmir, Rajasthan or Kerala are known for their distinct natural beauty, food, music and art, similarly the states in North-East India should also be promoted and recognised for their beautiful landscapes, folk music, handicrafts, culture and traditions.”
“The North-East region can also be developed as the country’s adventure hub. Here one will find everything one seeks for an extreme adrenaline rush or just to surrender to its beauty.”
“One doesn’t have to go to New Zealand or Norway for adventure sports. Here we have glaciers, jungle trails, wild life, national parks, forest reserves, bird watching, rafting, kayaking, rock climbing to cliff jumping in one region.”
“When I give you a diamond, you can only use it in the form of jewellery but when I give you coal you can give it whatever shape you want. The same can be done with the North-East.”
“Thanks to the growing music scene with festivals like Ziro Music Festival in Arunachal Pradesh, more people are coming and exploring the region.”
After months of sitting idle during the lockdown, Utpal decided to undertake a journey that would give him an experience of a lifetime. And so the idea of bicycling through the East-West corridor started taking shape.
THE GREAT EAST-WEST CORRIDOR JOURNEY!
“I decided not to ride a bike as it will just zip past in high speed besides taking a lot of money in fuel. On a cycle though, I can minutely soak in India’s natural beauty from sunrise to sunset at my own leisurely pace. I would be able to experience every kilometre up close and personal.”
Utpal’s month long preparation included studying maps, gathering information on temples and community halls to spend his nights, dhabas to eat and rest, areas that pass through dense forests and cycling uphill 20Kms daily.
On November 16th, 2020 Utpal took off on a long, slow, exhausting but invigorating ride for the next 34 days putting faith in his year old bicycle.
“There were a few options to reach Statue of Unity from Guwahati which were about 500Kms less but I decided to take the longest route which is the E-W corridor or NH 27 as it was the dream project of our Late Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It connects Silchar, Assam to Porbandar, Gujarat.”
Utpal covered a total of 7 states in his journey that included Assam, Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat.
“When I went to seek support from a local Guwahati NGO Xohay, they laughed at my ‘pagapanti’ but when they sensed my seriousness, they contacted their partners in other states to help me with transit accommodation.”
“The cycling communities in Kanpur, Lucknow, Shivpuri, Darbhanga and Muzzaffarpur not only rode along with me for a distance when I crossed through their respective cities but some even offered me stay and food.”
Along the way Utpal distributed pamphlets and interacted with people to spread awareness on the causes his ride was associated with. Social media hashtags helped as well.
“Awareness on all these causes is important. I studied the statistics of rape cases in India and ways in which the victims and their families can be supported. One horned rhino which is the pride of India must be saved and finally education must be accessible to all which the foundation of any developed nation.”
Social media also extended a helping hand in letting close ones know of Utpal’s safety and location through regular updates along with motivation and encouragement that poured in from everywhere, even strangers wishing him luck.
Covering 100-125Kms starting early at 6am daily, Utpal saw the colours, languages, attire, food and people change almost every day of his sojourn. Some incidents even uncovered the truth from what stories since ages have conjured up.
“I remember I had put up my tent on Kosi river bank in Bihar. A highway contractor was having food with his engineers at a nearby dhaba when he saw my cycle. They came and sat with me and listened to what I am up to. They paid for all my food and offered help in case I need any. They were complete strangers. So you see, people in UP and Bihar are perceived as notorious for committing crimes but there is nothing like that. ‘Sab bolne ki baatein hain’.”
“There are good and bad people everywhere. If you are good, you will find good people.”
Utpal’s adventure was replete with a myriad moments, some spooky and others serene.
“I was on a highway bypass around 1am, 16Kms to Gorakhpur. I decided to spend the night at an Air Force medical camp 4Kms away. Just 100 meters later, I was passing through a patch of very narrow dense jungle path. It sounded like trees were getting axed somewhere in the distance. God knows what would have happened if someone looted or captured me.“
“It felt eerie and I was scared like never before. It was pitch dark except the moonlight piercing through the tree leaves which rustled and made crackling noise. I played Hunuman Chalisa on my phone and continued riding. It then seemed like hundreds of monkeys were jumping towards me and started following me as if protecting me. Those 4Kms were the most surreal experience ever.”
“In Ram janmbhoomi Ayodhya, I could feel purity in the air. I stayed at the Sarayu river ashram on Jhunki ghat which is believed to be the place where the four sons of Raja Dashrath spent their childhood. The bhajan keertan at the ashram was so divine and peaceful.”
It was finally time to set foot on the destination. For Utpal it was a feeling that cannot be described in words – both at his accomplishment after more than a month of endurance and thrilling experiences and the sight of the world’s highest statue of one of India’s greatest leaders, the Iron Man Sardar Vallabhai Patel.
“When I finally witnessed the statue, I had goosebumps! Wo dekhte hi khatarnaal wala feeling tha.”
“I wanted to end my journey here because Sardar Vallabhai Patel is the perfect symbol of unity who brought together different communities – be it the pandits, the nizams or the dalits. According to him we are all Indians first and then the caste/ religion we belong to. The statue project itself is made using iron donated by farmers from across villages in India. It was a privilege to be there.”
Thanks to support from various places, Utpal’s trip did not cost him a fortune.
“I did not have any funding. I camped at places where I didn’t find accommodation. In the entire trip I spent just about Rs 7,000 from my own pocket and some contribution from a friend and a didi because they understood my motive. My parents sponsored my return flight ticket from Ahmedabad and dismantling of my cycle.”
In all of this, one companion proved to be the most loyal to Utpal. His bicycle.
“I am suddenly in love with my cycle. Till now it was just a regular cycle for me for some neighbourhood riding but now it is something special. It has really been there for me throughout the unforgettable journey.”
“This trip has been a turning point in my life. I have learnt to adjust myself in every situation. I had very less patience. ‘Mujh mein dhairya aa gaya’.”
“There is only one country like India. No matter what perceptions and assumptions we have of other states, I have realised people across India are warm and welcoming. Our country’s culture, tradition, hospitality is like no other.
Utpal runs a travel and adventure company called Traventure Buddy based in Guwahati. He envisions the North-East India as a tourism and adventure hub by enabling travellers to see the region from a different perspective, one which is mesmerising in its natural beauty and which offers everything from adventure sports, music festivals, wild life to even some relaxation time from the city’s hustle bustle. To get a taste of the bewitching North-East India up close and personal, you can follow and get in touch with Traventure Buddy on Facebook and Instagram.
You cry, you fall, you doubt, you curse, you shiver, you sweat. And you endure – right till you somehow painfully but proudly drag your feet across the finish line. That’s what La Ultra – The High is all about!
In 2017, Jyotsana Rawat at 17 became the youngest participant and the only Indian female along with her father, an experienced marathon runner Dy. Commandant Yashwant Singh Rawat, the oldest participant at 53 to successfully complete the 111Kms race. They are also the only father-daughter duo to participate in any La Ultra race.
The ultra distance races take place annually in the remote Trans Himalayan region of Ladakh and claimed to be the highest and toughest race on foot.
La Ultra distances range from 55Kms, 111Kms, 222Kms, 333Kms to 555Kms covering Nubra Valley to Changthang plateau to be completed within 126 hours.
Covering 5 mountain passes along the route, all above 17,000 feet with temperatures fluctuating between minus 12 to 40 degrees Celsius and oxygen level going down to up to 50% compared to sea level, this race is tough, risky, dangerous and well, even sometimes impossible to the best of athletes.
According to Dr. Rajat Chauhan, Founder & Race Director of La Ultra-The High, being crazy is the basic requirement to get into the race. And Jyotsana it seems happens to be one!
She also participated in the consecutive year for 222Kms but fell short of just 17Kms. But those incomplete 17Kms taught her the most valuable lessons of life and not the achievement of finishing 111.
Every champion also has his or her days when they’re vulnerable. But they always rise like a phoenix and conquer again.
Read Jyotsana Rawat’s journey in her own words. And let me tell you, the race of her life has just started! She isn’t running to compete, she’s in it to make her own mark, for her name and the happiness it gives to fuel her soul.
GROWING UP WITH 4AM RUNS
We are Garhwalis, settled in Dehradun. I am the eldest of 3 siblings and ever since I can remember, my sister and I used to wake up at around 4am, go for a run and then go to school. This was our daily routine whether dad was in town or posted elsewhere.
“We thought that’s normal for every kid, but later realised it isn’t. It is only me and my sister who are made to follow this 4am running schedule to make fitness as a way of life from the beginning.”
There is one important value that my father has passed on to me which I hold on to in life.
“Money and boys are not important. Name is.”
When people start knowing you by your name, money and boys/ people will automatically follow.
THE STARTING LINEOF READY, GET SET, GO!
I was in 8th class when my father was transferred to Dehradun and just a couple of days later after moving in, he asked me if I want to run from home to his office which was 23Kms away. In an instant I said yes! We ran through the hilly jungle area along the railway track since it was hot.
When we finally reached, everyone started praising me saying, ‘Rawat Sahab ke beti daud ke aayi hai’. I felt I have really achieved something.
My first racing competition was in the same year for a cross-country run in Dehradun where I stood 4th!
“I don’t like celebrating my birthday the conventional way. I like doing something different which I can be proud of.So, on my 15th birthday I decided to run 45kms from Dehradun to Rishikesh. My mother and siblings followed us in the car and cheered us while dad and I ran.”
The same year, I ran my first ever marathon. It was a half marathon in Dehradun. I stood 2nd in the open category followed by a woman from Germany even though I was under age. I appeared in newspapers and my school mates started taking me seriously.
“I guess running is in my genes. There are days when I don’t run. But if put 10%, I get 20% result. Things get even better when I start focusing on training.”
THE BEGINNINGS OF LA ULTRA
I had no idea of La Ultra races. A friend told me about 74Kms Dehradun to Dhanaulti run. I was 16 but the organisers let me participate considering my experience in running. Dad and I finished the race in 10 hours.
“I was congratulated for being the first Indian woman to qualify for La Ultra – The High in Ladakh. I was in the newspapers again. I was too young to understand what was happening!”
“I made my decision to participate in the 111Kms La Ultra race where people have gone through all kinds of extreme physical and mental struggles. But I was confident and too excited to go to Leh.”
I was already fairly experienced in running and mountaineering but did not train so much. I hardly trained two times in a week.
“I am blessed to have a strong will power. If I want to achieve something, I put in my all.”
“On my 16th birthday, I did something different again. Dad made me walk non-stop for 6 hours in the house from 2am after which we went to Dhanaulti, came back via a jungle route and continued our walk in the house. We completed 20 hours of walk and run that day before we finally rested.”
CONQUERINGLA ULTRA 111
During the two weeks leading up to the race, my father and I trained by finding different short cuts to Khardung La, as covering a distance of 48Kms by road was difficult to achieve on foot every day.
We even went to Nubra Valley which was the starting point of the race and I came back running 20Kms to prepare for the altitude.
I kept myself hydrated and slept as much as I could before the race.
Finally, on race day the energy was high and our adrenalin racing at the starting line. Since I was the youngest and the only girl among the participants, everyone was nice and motivated me a lot.
“The race started at 8pm. It was really dark and I was shivering. My father advised me not to compete with anyone. All I needed to do was finish the race even if I took a full 20 hours cut off duration.”
Up until the first 21kms I was running well and in good shape. Towards the steeper slopes I took it easy and started walking. I was offered water and food by the crew but I refused to drink or eat.
“Running towards Khardung La was difficult. The terrain is rough and steep. The temperature and oxygen were dropping. I still refused to eat. It was a crucial juncture, because that’s when most people are not able to make it on time.”
But my crew member made me have water, a little maggi and soup. We were there for 15 minutes.
“I could hear on the crew’s walkie talkie about the people who were injured, who had given up, someone who had fallen off a cliff and so on. It was unnerving.”
“After the second check point at mid-night my eyes were heavy with exhaustion and I just wanted to sleep for a while. I told dad but he rudely snapped at me and said he will continue and a car will come to pick me up. I got so angry that I stood up and continued walking without a break.”
I felt extremely cold till the time we reached Khardung La around 7am. But then a constant temperature fluctuation began between cold and hot for most part as we started running down-hill. From being fully covered, I was in t-shirt and shorts but it got better mentally as we started spotting civilisation with more people around. I started to enjoy the way down with other runners.
“Around 4kms before the race ends, I started getting extremely restless and frustrated because I just couldn’t see the finish line. It isn’t visible until one actually reaches there.”
“We finally crossed the finish line in 19 hours 45 minutes. I was ecstatic. My father being the calm person that he is, patted my back and said ‘shaabash’. I spoke to my mom and told her, maine kar diya.”
Had dad not pinched my ego when I was dying to sleep 15Kms before Khardung La, I wouldn’t have been able to finish within the 20 hours mark.
“I became the youngest and the first Indian woman and my father the oldest to finish La Ultra 111Kms.
“My true feelings after the race was a longing to go back home and sleep. Even though I travel a lot, I do get home sick very quickly.”
“La Ultra is not just about a race. It is a life & death situation.”
There was a woman I know who was practicing for months for La Ultra 333Kms in Ladakh. She had completed the route as part of her training but she dropped out just after 21Kms because her oxygen levels dropped.
May be because I am from the mountains and actively participate in adventure sports along with my ‘never give up’ attitude, I was able to complete the race without any major medical issues.
“The fact that all of us were at the starting line knowing the risks and danger that lie ahead including the possibility of not coming back alive, is in itself the biggest achievement.”
“It is not about any ranking, it is about pushing your boundaries and giving your best.”
AN EMOTIONAL LONE FIGHTER ATLA ULTRA 222
We were back for La Ultra 222 in 2018 but unfortunately my grandmother passed away and dad had to leave before the race.
“I became extremely de-motivated and a negative person to be around with. For me I had given up the moment my father left me in Leh and went back to Dehradun for his mother’s last rites.”
But dad was back a day before the race, not to participate but be there for me. My mother was handling everything back home alone during this difficult time.
“I couldn’t sleep at night as I used to see my grandmother. I was not in the right mental position to run but I was in a dilemma. I owed this to my family which was doing so much for me and invested both emotionally and financially. So, there I was at the starting line.”
The race director Dr. Rajat Chauhan was personally crewing me. Everyone did so much for me.
“At the same point as last year some 13Kms before Khardung La, I was seeing flashbacks of dad and me running. I was crying and just didn’t know how to carry on. It was the most difficult part of the race.”
It was only because of my crew that I was able to push myself.
“I quit the race just 17Kms before the finish line even though I had 2 hours with me. I could’ve easily finished but at the end it is the mental strength that matters which I lacked at that point.”
I felt I did something wrong to myself and to all those who love me. But back home everyone behaved normal. Dad was in fact proud of me for being able to cross my limits and attempting 222Kms.
“I was not able to convince myself that what I did was also a big achievement at 18. Weird things started happening to me. I distanced myself from everyone and even shaved my head.”
I also got a panic attack during a para-gliding course. I stopped cycling. But a sports background really helped me get over that phase.
Then in 2019, I pushed myself to participate in the Delhi half marathon.
“Although 21Kms is a distance I can cover any day, I was sweating from nervousness at the starting line. I was doubting and cursing myself for participating.”
My mind was playing with me specially in the last 3Kms. I finished in my worst ever duration but I was still proud of myself for getting back on the track.
DISCOVERING THE GOOD INSIDE
In June 2019, two of my friends and I cycled from Manali to Leh in 8 days where I celebrated my 19th birthday!
“I was also scared to come back to Ladakh after the 2018 La Ultra 222 fiasco. I wanted to get over it so I asked my friends to follow me on their cycles while I run towards Khardung La. I had these flashbacks again and started crying.”
I was part of a mountaineering expedition during that trip to Mount Kun. By the time it finished it was time for La Ultra and the crew started pushing me to participate again.
“In the 2019 edition, I decided to crew for La Ultra just a day before the race. But I feared my negativity might affect other runners and if I see that Jyotsana inside me, it will be the end of me.”
On the contrary though, I found myself encouraging and motivating everyone!
“There was one woman who was running for 222kms. I was cheering for her and really wanted her to cross the finish line which I had failed at. When she gave up, I broke down. But I could see good in me.”
LIFE LESSONSAND GOD PARENTS
“It was not 111, it was 222 which taught me a lot. You may be physically at the peak of fitness, but if you’re not mentally strong, you lose the game.”
There is no award or cash prize for runners at La Ultra. There is a possibility of death. But La Ultra is my beginning. They are my family. Nothing else has given me so much recognition.
I even made god parents at La Ultra – my crew members Kanchan Bhat who I call Moose and Mukul Oberoi, my Panda. I never knew people can be so good who have the ability to do so much for others.
“I also realised that people come and go. They live and die. You ought to move on no matter how much you love them. I know my father will not always be by my side, so I need to be independent.”
I firmly believe in La Ultra’s motto – Failing is not a crime, lack of effort is.
“So, no matter what you want to achieve, keep trying, someday you’ll get it and if you don’t it is fine. When we talk about winning positions, we stop admiring people who failed but gave it their all.”
BEYOND JUST A RUNNER
Being a Jack of all trades and ace of none, is my reality. I love adventure sports. I am a certified skier, mountaineer, para-glider and also undertaken courses in horse riding and kayaking.
I also have a diploma degree in Kathak. I can even have my own Kathak school and teach!
“I am limitless. I can do anything I put my mind to. Nothing is impossible.”
“I am an atheist. I don’t believe in God or any religion. But I do respect my guru – my father and nature. I requested the mountains to let me pass through them. I was lucky they did.”
Jyotsana’s next big target is what is considered the world’s toughest race in South America at the end of 2021. It is an expedition which takes adventure athletes through hundreds of miles of remote backcountry terrain with just compass and maps. It involves climbing, glacier trekking, horseback riding, kayaking, mountain biking, mountaineering and rappelling.
As for her education, she is pursuing her under graduation in BA through an open university focusing on achieving new milestones in the great outdoors and just enjoying life!
DIVYA PARTHASARATHY – SINGLE MOM OF SENIOR & SPECIALLY-ABLED DOGS
They look at you with tender eyes, hoping for just a little bit of kindness, if they’re lucky a pat on their head or even a treat on the street. But these voiceless mostly just have to fend for themselves from trash or get a harsh treatment for trying to find shelter in the unforgiving rain or cold. There are many who have it even worse owing to their health condition.
I came across ‘Tails of Compassion Trust’ on social media and my heart immediately turned into a pulp looking at the work they do for these senior and specially-abled dogs.
Divya Parthasarathy is single handedly, painstakingly and lovingly looking after over 60 dogs with 25 out of them with special needs, along with 2 goats and a calf.
Divya and her family are animal lovers and have always had dogs at home, often tending to injured ones. Seeing dogs in cages bothered Divya and so was the condition of those who couldn’t help themselves due to age or an ailment.
“There are hardly any places for paralysed or specially-abled dogs to live with dignity. It is very convenient to either cage them or be put down.”
“When you try your best to make a human survive despite all odds, why not an animal? Why give up on them so easily and euthanise them?”
Given this state of affairs and people’s mentality towards the stray, Divya took the initiative to start ‘Tails of Compassion Trust’ in Gurgaon to provide a safe haven for dogs in need who are in their old age, paralysed, accident victims or require extra attention.
Divya was 32 when she started the trust in 2018, putting in all her savings. She finally quit her job as a corporate communication professional a year later to dedicate herself full time to be with her furry family.
“Awareness is very important when it comes to changing people’s mentality. There is hardly anyone who wants to adopt a desi dog.”
“There’s no harm in wanting a breed dog but at least adopt one who has been abandoned or give an older dog a chance. Don’t consider them as products or a property which you can buy.”
“It hurts when dogs are discarded as desis.”
“Having said that there are also good people who have adopted a full-grown desi dog. All I tell them is if a situation arises that they don’t want the dog anymore, they should call me and not abandon her.”
Isn’t it true that the family suffers more when a loved one is in pain? That’s what happens with Divya most of the time considering her family of dogs comprise mostly of senior ones and in pain.
“I just can’t deal with the loss of my dogs. I know I have to become stone hearted and let go but I can’t! Most of the time I am upset and crying at night. It is very heart breaking to see them pass away after loving and taking care of them so much.”
“It is sometimes so overburdening and overwhelming when I get dogs in unimaginable conditions. Recently I rescued 6 dogs in a single day.”
“It is a huge investment, both financially and mentally.”
“Even though the bodies of paralysed dogs are broken, their souls are intact, their spirits undying and their zest for life bubbling like ever before. You have to meet one to know what I am talking about! They are happy dogs and deserve a fighting chance at life.”
Divya is supported by a minimal staff and some helpful volunteers. Mostly she personally takes care of the vet visits. Please support Tails of Compassion Trust in whatever capacity you wish. Here’s Divya’s appeal in her own words:
“These dogs have gone through a lot and my work is all about closing their past and unboxing a beautiful present and future. ToC’s dream is to expand its facility to accommodate more animals and also improve our services for the ones already living with us. We needs funds to dream big and do big. We depend on generous animal lovers to help support our cause. Please donate and share to help ToC save more specially-abled and senior dogs.”
Know more on their website or contact Divya on +91 96506 50044
How wonderful it is to harbour dreams and have a set graph to achieve those. One of the most ideal career timeline goes something like this – complete education in school and college, get a prestigious MBA degree and then bag a fancy high paying corporate job.
But some timelines also have a sudden turn in an unexpected territory to pursue what’s been brewing in the heart for long but never really thought of executing it.
Pooja Mishra did something of that sort. On the day of placements at her MBA college, she decided not to sit for any of the interviews and instead went back to her roots to give something back to the children who might otherwise never have the opportunities she was lucky to have.
I call her ‘educator at the grassroots’ because she chose not to work in a corporate in an urban jungle or pay taxes to another nation, but instead work at the grassroots level where she can create innumerable like her who can make a difference to the development of their own country.
Born and raised in Lucknow as the eldest of 3 sisters, if it wasn’t for the support of her parents who insisted on good education, she might have had a very different life in their village Purasi near Raebareli (UP).
“My father’s siblings and relatives were of the mentality that there was no need to spend time and resources on educating 3 girls in a city. So it was better for us to move to our village to take care of our ancestral property. Eventually getting all of us married was our only fate according to them.”
But not only did Pooja live and completed her school and engineering in Lucknow, she even moved out of her home town for work and started her family too.
“After graduating in engineering, I moved to Bangalore to work with Infosys. Later I moved to the US and lived there for 7 years. I gave birth to my son there.”
Thanks to a supportive husband, Pooja was able to move to India to pursue MBA along with her son.
“I joined IIM Calcutta and stayed in the hostel with my 2 year old son. While I attended my MBA classes, he went to school. It was difficult but I managed with the help of the IIM staff and batchmates.”
Despite the prospect of a well-paying job from IIM placements, there was something else that Pooja yearned for.
“The thought of my cousins in my native village who never got the exposure or opportunity that I got, crossed my mind. They had kids at a very young age.”
“While there is nothing wrong with starting a family at a young age but I believe after food and shelter, it is education which is the most important. Once that is there, you can be in control of your own decisions.”
“And so, at a time when my batchmates were moving to Singapore, US and London for fancy jobs, I was moving to my village.”
“I settled in Lucknow with my family and started Gurukul in 2012 in Purasi, 80 kms away.”
“Initially I didn’t receive a good response.People didn’t want to pay even a nominal monthly fee of Rs 50.There were also a lot of caste and gender issues. Parents didn’t want their children to mix with other castes and wanted boys and girls to sit separately.”
“More number of girls were enrolled since it was free, while the boys were sent to ‘better’ schools. They didn’t want to send their sons to a school supposedly for poor kids.”
Gurukul was on the verge of being permanently closed but the universe indeed was conspiring to make things happen for Pooja and the children who deserved to learn.
“After a year, I was planning to shut down due to lack of funding but during summer holidays children asked me about school re-opening and I didn’t have the heart to tell them, that it might never. That’s when I reached out to my batchmates at IIM and instantly received a funding for 153 students. And now not only my batchmates but more people who they spread the word to have been donating for the school.”
As they say, the comeback is always stronger than the setback! What started with just 23 children is now an almost 900 student strong school with robust extra-curricular activities. Gurukul is now a senior secondary school affiliated to the CBSE board.
“It does occur to me often during difficult times that I could have prospered with a high paying job but then this is what I set my mind to, and I am happy with the way things are progressing.”
Pooja actively supports Gurukul in the capacity of a Founder and has plans to open more branches of Gurukul Public School in the adjoining districts of Raebareli and may be UP and Bihar in the near future.The aim is to make world-class education accessible to all free of cost irrespective of background.
If you wish to donate for the cause, you can do so through Give India.
Live every day like it is your last! Better said than done right? There are some people though who are so driven by passion that they’re lucky to be able to do just that.
Wing Commander Sudhir Kutty (Retd.), not only served his country as an Indian Air Force officer but also continues to live his passion for the outdoors. His experiences are a testimony to a life we’d only wish we could have.
Born to a middle class family as the youngest among three children, it wasn’t until he met an army officer for the first time who gave wings to the idea of the Indian Armed Forces in former Wg. Cdr. Kutty’s mind. And he’d soon know, wings they were, quite literally.
He continues to travel in his quest for adventure and love for the mountains, simultaneously propagating preservation of the environment which is a crucial need of the hour.
Here are excerpts from my chat with former Wg. Cdr. Kutty. Read on to know more about his experiences and beliefs on which he leads his life, in his own words.
GIVING WINGS TO HIS DREAMS OF THE INDIAN AIR FORCE
“I was I think in 10th class around that time. An army officer, known through a family friend visited our home and the interaction with him left a lasting impression on me. His confidence and overall personality was something I wished to emulate.”
Staying close to the Juhu aerodrome and seeing planes overflying daily, made me veer to the Air Force. The idea of flying to new destinations seemed enticing.
Around that time, one of my friends in the colony, a few years elder to me joined the National Defence Academy (NDA) and that sealed the deal for me.
Luckily, I managed to clear the NDA entrance exam in the first attempt and joined as an Air Force cadet.
CULTURE SHOCK AT THE NATIONAL DEFENCE ACADEMY
“Once at the NDA, it was a culture shock for me from the casual metro life of Mumbai to a strait jacketed one as an NDA cadet, It was an experience of un-learning and re-learning various concepts of life that taught appreciating the minute things otherwise taken for granted and treating every individual on his own merit irrespective of where they came from.”
The process of learning to fly and manoeuvre the aircraft over the Ganga and Sangam in Allahabad and finally being cleared for a solo flight was something I will always cherish. I was subsequent moved to navigation.
One person whom I will always remember is my first flying instructor, who took a lot of pain to teach me. And I mean literally lot of pain, because at times, when he did not get the desired response from me during the flight, he would hit himself over his knee and end up limping out of the aircraft (generally, the reverse was the case for some of my other course mates!). He used to blame himself for not being able to help me cope up and would try different methods with me. He kept in touch over the years and once when he met three of us who were his former pupils, he ditched an official social engagement to connect with us.
Then there was also a Flight Commander in the transport squadron. A bunch of us sneaked out in the night on our bikes to Sum Sand dunes in Jaisalmer where we were posted and returned to base early in the morning, totally exhausted. We were woken up soon after, hardly getting an hour’s sleep, with instructions to get ready since the Flight Commander had planned a picnic to Sum sand dunes for the entire Squadron that day. It was his way of punishing us!
SURVIVING IN ADVERSITIES
I have been a navigator in the AN-32 (Antonov 32) and IL-76 (Ilyushin 76) cargo aircraft and flown extensively across the length and breadth of the country.
I have also served as a Survival Training Instructor at the Jungle & Snow Survival School. During this period, I was also able to satiate my thirst for adventure, participating in mountaineering expeditions, undergoing river rafting and paragliding courses, completing endurance races, trail runs and marathons.
“One of the earlier survival manuals used to recommend that after a crash, the pilot should move slightly away from the wreckage and take a smoke to gather his wits!!!”
The guiding principle for survival is to stay close to the crash site so that it is easy for the search party to locate. However, when flickering lights of distant villages seem to be within easy range, the aircrew unmindful of the hazards of the snow-covered terrain try to reach habitation and as a result lose their lives due to extreme cold.
“Conduct of survival training courses give an insight into the true character of an individual, since one’s primal instincts kick in during extreme crisis.“
The survival course exposes the Air Force personnel to stressful situations and develops their will power to overcome their fears.
FACE TO FACE WITH THE EVEREST
In 2004, I was a member of the IAF Pre-Everest expedition to Mt. Kamet (25, 640 ft). Around 6 in the morning when we reached around 24,500 ft, one of our fellow team members who was roped up with me, suddenly started running and shouting and then fell unconscious. Sometime later, he regained consciousness but was delirious and started removing his clothes, throwing them off the ridge and trying to move. On realising that he was suffering from hypothermia, we tried our best to keep him warm using our jackets and gloves and secured him with ropes till the rescue party arrived. All of us returned to the summit camp where he was given oxygen and stabilised.
“However, during this process, I ended up suffering from snow blindness. I had to negotiate the tricky descent to the lower camp completely blinded, relying totally on the instructions of the leader while rappelling down towards the camp, from where helicopter evacuation was being planned. By this time, another team member also developed frost bite, leading to 3 casualties needing evacuation.
“We were at an altitude of 23,260 ft, which is beyond the ceiling of 23,000 ft of Chetak helicopter. No one in the world had ever attempted landing a helicopter at such a high altitude let alone evacuate casualties from an unprepared, snow bound and sloping piece of ground. Despite the deteriorating weather, severe turbulence, gusty jet stream exceeding 120 KMPH and low margin of power available, Wing Commander SK Sharma, landed at the site not once but three times to evacuate the causalities.
It was the highest ever landing and casualty evacuation by any helicopter at that time and in the process set a world record which has been recognised by Limca Book of World records and got a mention in the US Aviation Hall of Fame.
“Finally when we landed at the Military Hospital in Bareilly, I had suffered severe frostbite on my hands and tip of the nose. A long period of treatment resulted in recovery of sensation in all the limbs except for a partial amputation of right ring finger.”
CLIMBING EVEREST FOR BRAGGING RIGHTS
Climbing Everest has become highly commercialised and marketed as a to do item on a bucket list.
“With adventure tour operators offering end -to-end services, and literally guaranteeing to drag you on the summit, if you have the money, it attracts a large number of novices without any mountaineering experience. The sole aim is to gain bragging rights of having stood on top of the world.”
In addition, various state governments in India, who otherwise do not promote mountaineering or other adventure sports in a big way, also offer some monetary benefits, awards or jobs to individuals for climbing Everest. This attracts a large number of desperate Indians trying to summit Everest, flouting all safety protocols, leading to death and accidents on the mountains.
However, this does not take away from the purists or the Alpinists who attempt to scale Mt. Everest, either without oxygen, climbing solo or exploring difficult routes to the summit.
PROMOTING SUSTAINABLE TRAVEL IN THE MOUNTAINS AS GREEN CRUSADERS
As part of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF), The Himalayan Club as its Honorary Secretary and founder of Bayberry Adventures along with Col. Asheesh Istwal (Retd.), my efforts are directed towards promoting ecological preservation and sustainable & responsible tourism practices.
“After serving in the Armed Forces for over 20 years we decided to dedicate the rest of our lives to curate responsible and sustainable experiences that would help travellers connect with the hills in their most raw and uncorrupted form while simultaneously empowering the local communities.”
We are passionate Green Crusaders, earnestly committed to sustainable travelling. We believe that travelling and experiences are strong influences that mould a character. The process is still on to achieve the right balance between commercial viability and eco-friendly activities.”
I have also been a key participant in the IMF’s Clean Himalayas Programme. We have launched cleaning expeditions on popular mountaineering and trekking trails across the Himalayan States. Under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan we have coordinated cleaning and awareness campaigns in remote Himalayan regions, tapping into CSR funds of PSUs like ONGC, Coal India and Ministry of Youth Affairs programme funds.
Another programme, which I was closely associated with was Climbathon-Himalayan Mountain Leadership programme, which is a platform that brings together practising mountaineers from India and abroad with the objective of broadening and deepening their ‘mountain sense’ through mutual sharing and learning, under the mentorship of experienced instructors. The 24 day programme with 17 days spent on the mountains, is designed for active mountaineers who are looking forward to enhance their foundational knowledge, skill and leadership through sharing of experience and expertise, structured by a problem based group learning.
Getting involved in various activities and new initiatives of the IMF like Mountain Film Festival, webinar series and other social media channels, help me connect to the younger generation of mountaineers and adventurers.
FATHER’S PRIDE,MOTHER’S NIGHTMARE
My father was very supportive of my decision. I remember he had attempted to enlist for the Army during the Chinese aggression in 1962, but was turned down due to his eyesight. Mother was not very happy to let go of her youngest child.
“Even now at 46, my mother expects me to check in every day to ensure that I am alive and kicking. The days when I am not in communication range while on an expedition are a nightmare for her.”
But she has a better understanding now that I am more at peace during my outdoor pursuits.
PEACE AT THE MOUNTAINS
Pictures from various expeditions (clock wise): Stok Kangri Ladakh, Alpine camp glacier, Chadar trek Ladakh and Siachen base camp.
I find myself totally at peace while I am in the mountains.
“It is a humbling experience to see the enormity of the mountain ranges and compare the pettiness of one’s ego and problems, which then start to seem insignificant in their presence.”
Life also takes a slower speed in the mountains as the anxiety, urgency and rush of city life reduces.
“The concept of time of the mountain people helps you appreciate life better and savour the experiences that life throws at you.”
Challenges on a mountaineering expedition help you realize your innate mental and physical capabilities.
The actual thrill comes during the process and not the probability of reaching the summit or achieving a record. It is also very difficult to describe the experience through words or photographs but it is something only a fellow adventurer can understand.
Wing Commander Sudhir Kutty (Retd.) is based in Mumbai and runs Bayberry Adventures which aims to promote ecologically responsible and sustainable model of travelling in the mountains. They organise trekking experiences from Everest Base Camp to Nag Tibba trek, Chopta trek and more. For more information take a look at their website.
How far will you go to pursue your passion? A question that most of us strive to answer. Don’t we all harbour dreams of achieving that one goal that is close to our heart but seems impossible, risky or scary even? We want to embark upon that epic adventure but then with the ifs and buts that float in our mind, most of us just give up and lean back on our comfortable lives.
But some actually set their minds to it and when ‘just do it’ comes from within, they do it!
Kunal Sharma and Rishabh Kumawat at the young age of just 17 and 18 respectively, set out to achieve a daunting task of traversing a journey from their home town Jaipur to Ladakh. On their bicycles!
How I got in touch with Kunal and Rishabh was pure luck. My brother was on a bike trip from Delhi to Ladakh in 2017 with his friends, when he happened to meet them on the way at Rohtang Pass ahead of Manali. He had no recollection of their names, no number, just a memory of two fearless college boys on this daring quest and a picture with them.
So I took my chance and posted that picture on Facebook for public viewing and guess what, I found them! The world indeed is small, isn’t it?
And these young boys want to conquer this world in their own way, not just for thrill but for noble causes too. Here’s my chat with Kunal;
“We have always wanted to do something worthy for the world, something that we ardently believe in. Two in particular are wildlife conservation and spreading awareness on cerebral palsy.”
Kunal and Rishabh’s first bicycle ride took them from Jaipur to Udaipur in November 2016 to create awareness on leopard conservation after they gained insights about it from the NGO ‘Hope and Beyond’.
Both sports enthusiasts, they realised through an NGO that children with cerebral palsy also stand a chance to excel in sports but lack opportunity.
“I wanted to do something to bust the myth that children with cerebral palsy cannot play. This is when Kunal and I decided to embark on this long journey to create awareness.”
In the wee hours of a rainy night on 29th May 2017, Rishabh and Kunal set in motion their 1200 plus kilometre journey from Jaipur. Their next 22 days across Delhi, Manali, Spiti and en route to Leh was going to be an experience like no other.
“It was 4am and I remember it was raining cats and dogs. But we left nonetheless.”
And if you thought the actual journey was audacious enough, the preparation leading up to it was no less.
“We used to go to Nahargarh fort which is at a steep height of 700 meters every alternate day for more than a month. As we got better, we started going on longer journeys from Jaipur to places like Dausa and Pushkar.”
“My mentor and football coach Sarthak Mishra also inspired us and helped set our plan in motion. Our families were also a source encouragement to us.”
“Air pumps, oxygen cylinder, stove, tyre tubes, basic tool set for cycle repair, minimal clothing among other essentials were part of our backpack which weighed 30–40 Kgs. We even learnt how to repair our cycles.”
“Budget was tight considering we didn’t have any savings as we were just under-graduate students. Our friends lent us various things we needed. And we’re really grateful to the amazing people we met on the way who helped us with our accommodation.”
“We are from Rajasthan, land of humility and that’s what we witnessed in other parts of the country too all through our journey. Various villages and people taught us that while we may have different ethnic backgrounds, we were all deeply rooted with a profound bond of humanity. Everyone we met were really concerned for us and amazed at the same time. They all wished us well and applauded us for the awareness campaign.”
“We saved money by resting at different dhabas, roadside, near tolls, mountains and putting up tents along the way. We travelled in three shifts. On an average, we used to travel 120–140 Kilometres per day on highways, slightly lesser on uphill terrains.”
“There was this one really scary night. Kunal and I had left Keylong (Spiti) at 5pm and it was raining heavily that night. So we decided to stop and take shelter in our tent. Nothing and no-one was to be seen for at least in 20 Kilometres range. It was on a mountain with danger looming large, a deep pitfall on one side and a narrow road deep down on the other. Had we slipped even a few inches, it would have been catastrophic! We were exposed to extreme climatic conditions, wild animals and a landslide. We couldn’t sleep and prayed to get through that night safe and sound. Next morning, we saw our tent was covered in snow.”
That wasn’t the only scary situation Kunal and Rishabh came face to face with, there were challenges galore!
“It got difficult when we started moving uphill. Our speed reduced naturally. We had to put in more strength than ever to pedal. Once on our journey, Kunal’s cycle broke down. We travelled for another 18 Kilometres to a repair shop to get it fixed.”
“But the most tragic part was when we couldn’t make it to Ladakh just 30 Kilometres short. I suffered a sinusitis attack due to constant physical motion and less oxygen level. I collapsed on the road. Luckily Border Roads Organisation (BRO) spotted us. They took care of my immediate medical need and arranged our way back home.”
“We were disheartened but were elated too, that we made it that far. It was a wholesome feeling. It felt totally worthwhile for having taken up such an effort to contribute to the cause. We will cherish it forever.”
“May be if we had practiced more including appropriate climatic acclimatisation, we might have finished those last 30 Kilometres.”
Learning from their experience therefore, the two daredevils have some valuable advice for those seeking such adventures in unforgiving terrains.
“Be fully prepared. Be it your courage, finances, practice, health and even home sickness. When you’re peddling, there is no room for any negative thoughts.”
It has been 3 years since those exhilarating 3 weeks but their story is not over yet. Kunal and Rishabh are determined to complete what was left and finish their target of riding to Leh and further up till Khardung La.
“Just believe nothing is impossible!”
Both Rishabh and Kunal are natives of Jaipur and graduated from Rajasthan University. Currently, Rishabh 21, is planning a start-up in organic farming and Kunal 22, is preparing to appear in exams for the Staff Selection Commission. However they will continue to pursue their passion for animal welfare and sports.