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India’s mountaineer Harish Kapadia plants his flags in the digital realm with interviews with climbing legends and explorers – India News, Firstpost

It’s called The Last Adventurer, and its latest foray is a growing digital archive of exclusive chats with some of India’s and overseas’ top mountaineers, explorers and researchers.

When the movie Ishq Ishq Ishq was released in 1974, its director, Dev Anand, decided to invite some rather unusual guests for the Bombay (now Mumbai) premiere.

Unusual, of course, in the context of Bollywood, although quite familiar with the Nepalese Himalayas which served as the film’s backdrop. In fact, the film also boasts of a glorious shot, as Anand is quoted as saying, “…of Mount Everest with a lover of a cloud revolving around it, a very rare sight indeed!”

These two guests knew the world of the high mountains only too well. One of them was Noel Odell, the last man to see his British teammates, George Mallory and Sandy Irvine, before they disappeared on Everest in 1924. Closer to home, Odell had been the first mountaineer alongside Bill Tilman to have climbed the Nanda Devi in ​​the Garhwal Himalayas in 1936. The other was Heinrich Harrer, an Austrian mountaineer who made the first ascent of the infamous Eiger North Face and who is the protagonist of the film “Seven years in Tibet”.

There was only one catch – outside the world of mountaineering, few knew Odell and Harrer. On arrival they were entrusted to Harish Kapadia, a legendary mountaineer and explorer in his own right, and for the next two days he took them through the city.

Today, Kapadia is left with nothing but memories of the time he spent with the two climbing legends.

“The crowd that had gathered for the premiere of the movie outside Metro Cinema was so big that it was impossible to find our way. I had to tell a policeman that the two gentlemen with me were the main guests and that the film wouldn’t start without them. He then led the way through all these people for us – according to Odell, it was like Moses parting the sea in the Bible! That’s how we got to our places,” Kapadia recalls with a laugh.

Kapadia is a goldmine of stories like these. But none of them had been documented until 2007 when he started conducting and recording numerous interviews with some of the best mountaineers, explorers and researchers from India and around the world. This digital archive has grown to around 65 guests today.

“Oral history is a well-known concept around the world. The British had also recorded with some of the old masters of the time which are now held in the National Archives of India. However, there was no such project that I could locate in mountaineering,” he says.

“During all these years, I had the opportunity to meet several mountaineers. Some like Chris Bonington know me well and would even stay with me when visiting Mumbai. So I decided to start recording with them,” Kapadia explains.

Chris Bonington and Harish Kapadia

One of its first guests was Dr. Charles Houston, an American mountaineer best known for his two classic attempts at K2 in 1938 and 1953, in addition to a host of other ascents and exploratory expeditions around the world. Apart from his time in the mountains, he also talks about his days with the Peace Corps which brought him to Delhi in the 1960s.

Many of Kapadia’s interviews concern British mountaineers. Veterans like Tony Streather relieve their days in the British Army under the Raj and his ascent of Kangchenjunga with a team that made the first ascent in 1955. As well as recalling his many ascents around the world, Bonington expresses his feelings about all the friends he’s lost in the mountains. And active climbers like Stephen Venables and Leo Holding share their thoughts on the future of climbing and the projects they are passionate about today.

Kapadia also approached family members of deceased climbers. During a trip to England, he interviews Susan Band, wife of George Band, the first climber of Kangchenjunga alongside Joe Brown in 1955. Another time, he talks with Tony Smythe about the memories he has of his famous father , the legendary English mountaineer, Frank Smythe.

Indian mountaineer Harish Kapadia plants his flags in the digital realm with interviews with climbing legends and explorers

George and Susan Band outside Gateway of India in Mumbai.

“Many of the climbers I’ve interviewed are now dead – some like Houston and Doug Scott due to age, while others like Martin Moran died on the mountain, a few years after our conversation. In fact, the Martin’s family was happy to receive the tape, as it was his last in-depth interview before the accident, so the documentation was important for other reasons as well,” Kapadia says.

The archive also contains many interviews with veteran Indian mountaineers who chose to stay away from the spotlight but opened up to Kapadia because of their friendship. Gurdial Singh, who belongs to the first generation of Indian mountaineers, recounts his many ascents in the Indian Himalayas during his days at the Doon School in Dehradun. Another Indian climbing legend, Dorjee Lhatoo looks back on the years during their chat – how he moved to Darjeeling from Tibet, joined the Indian Army and was selected by Tenzing Norgay for his first climb, which eventually led him to other challenging mountains such as Everest. , Nanda Devi and Chomolhari.

Indian mountaineer Harish Kapadia plants his flags in the digital realm with interviews with climbing legends and explorers

Gurdial Singh, who belongs to the first generation of Indian mountaineers, recounts his many ascents in the Indian Himalayas during his days at the Doon School in Dehradun.

“This interview with Lhatoo is perhaps the one I enjoyed the most. He is a shy person but one of the most underrated climbers for what he has climbed,” says Kapadia.

“We recorded at his home in Darjeeling for five days. It was a very cozy setting, so comfortable that on one occasion I dozed off while he continued to talk,” he adds with a laugh.

Besides climbers, Kapadia has also spoken to mountaineering columnists such as author Bernadette McDonald, H Adams Carter and Lindsay Griffin, who served as editors of the American Alpine Journal, and Jagdish C Nanavati, former president of the Himalayan Club. Then there are conversations with former presidents of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF) such as MS Gill and Col Ashok Abbey.

Indian mountaineer Harish Kapadia plants his flags in the digital realm with interviews with climbing legends and explorers

Former President of Himalayan Club Jagdish C Nanavati.

“Gill was a very humble man. I remember he told me that the only thing he knew about rock climbing when he took over the IMF was the fact that he didn’t know much about rock climbing. His first mission was therefore to take on two deputies who knew the subject well, ”he says.

Then, during a visit to Geneva, Kapadia was able to spend many hours recording with Aamir Ali, a cousin of renowned ornithologist, Salim Ali, and former schoolteacher at the Doon School, who later worked with the International Labor Organization (ILO). While he did quite a bit of climbing and ski touring in the Alps, many of his early adventures were in the great mountains of India.

“During a trip to eastern Karakoram in Ladakh with Gurdial Singh in 1979, they spotted a lama on the road and offered to ride him in their car. They expected him to be a quiet monk and reserved, but this man talked nonstop for the next six hours. Aamir Ali remembered him as the monk who obviously hadn’t taken a vow of silence,” Kapadia laughs.

Next, Ali talks about life at the ILO and his proposal to establish the Siachen Peace Park to end hostilities between India and Pakistan on the world’s highest battleground.

“I still remember a few lines from that interview. He said, why don’t we have peace, just because we don’t kneel at the same altar? Why shouldn’t I be his friend, just because he doesn’t believe in my god,” Kapadia recalled.

Kapadia has also documented parts of his own journey – work he hopes to complete in the near future. It is full of accounts of his explorations in various mountain ranges across India, a valuable asset for any mountaineer in the future alongside the various books he has written so far. He also talks about his accident on Devtoli in 1974 which left him with a broken hip, far from civilisation. The heavy sedatives he was given to relieve the pain played tricks on him.

“I was carried by the locals for a certain distance. After that, it was an interminable wait for the helicopter to arrive, even though most of the team left on foot. When the stove was in use nearby or the tent was flapping in the wind, I looked up at the sky, thinking it was the helicopter coming. Finally, I was airlifted to a hospital in Bareilly and relieved of my misery,” Kapadia recalls.

He’s aware of the gold mine he’s sitting on, but isn’t sure what he’d like to do with it right now. But he hopes his documentation can help the history of mountaineering in times to come.

“The funny thing is when I hear these interviews today, my mind races to all these people I missed talking to,” he says.

And at the top of the list would certainly be the two gentlemen, Harrer and Odell, whom Kapadia was lucky enough to meet at the time.

The author is a freelance writer from Mumbai who thrives on telling a good story. The opinions expressed are personal.

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