For Major H.P.S. Ahluwalia, the president of Indian Mountaineering Federation, life has been an adventure journey in which he likes taking challenges head-on. He talks about how he kept his spirit alive despite a spinal injury in the 1965 war with Pakistan.
After suffering a life-threatening injury in the 1965 war with Pakistan, he had to break many mental barriers to start life afresh. For the past many years, Major H.P.S. Ahluwalia has been keeping himself busy giving tips to budding mountaineers and also giving a new lease of life to the differently-abled.
“Climbing Mt. Everest is one of the achievements that I can never forget. The climb to the summit is still fresh in my mind. Life is all about a climb to the other summit – the mind. While climbing the world’s highest peak was about crossing glaciers, crevasses and the joy of reaching the summit, in real life I have had to break mental barriers to conquer the summit of the mind.”
Stating that after the 1960 and 1962 Indian expeditions failed to conquer Mt. Everest, the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru expressed a desire to see the Indian tri-colour on the peak, Maj. Ahluwalia says the desperation to conquer this important summit was all the more as after 1965 the summit was to be closed for expeditions for five years.
“At that time I was a 25-year-old daring man. There was a lot of energy inside me, no mental obstacles and I wasn’t even scared of death. To qualify for the Everest team, I had to climb Mt. Rohtang in Sikkim. I was among the first few to climb this mountain. We did not face many obstacles while climbing Mt. Everest but when we were descending we ran out of oxygen. We had not eaten even a morsel and were dehydrated. By the time we reached South Col, it was very late. Fortunately we saw light from a torch, our Sherpa was looking for us.”
Four months later, Maj. Ahluwalia was himself in the thick of action as Pakistani army men had intruded into Indian territory. “As an instructor at the School of Gulmarg I could have avoided going into the battlefield. But being a young hot blood I saw the war as another adventure. In the operation, I was shot in the neck and lay unconscious for a long time. That time nobody could understand spinal injuries. I was admitted to the Army Hospital and later the government sent me to Stoke Mandeville Hospital in the UK. While convalescing, I realised what rehabilitation means and how to best use the body part that is in working order. I was given a job at the Defence Ministry where I had plenty of time to organise mountaineering expeditions.”
Despite his debilitating injury, Maj. Ahluwalia continued to pursue his love for adventure by organising pioneering events such as the Silk Route Expedition (1994).
“In this expedition we travelled to various places including Uzbekistan and China. It had 16 participants including a geologist, old traveller, writer and film-maker and was filmed by Gautam Ghosh. We visited old exotic cities like Samarkand and Fargana from where Babur came to India. In Uzbekistan, I not only explored the first Mughal emperor’s place of birth but also went to an academy on studies related to him. We also travelled to Gobi Desert, entered Tibet and then went to the north side of Mt. Everest and finally entered Nepal.”
Acknowledging the worrisome fact about global warming, Maj. Ahluwalia says: “the Earth is becoming warmer. As the temperature becomes hot, ice shelves in the Himalayas start melting. Rapid glacial melting means that the sources of our great rivers are endangered. As president of Indian Mountaineering Federation, I am proposing a joint scientific expedition with China to study glaciers and the source of rivers at Mt. Kailash and Mansarovar.”
Maj. Ahluwalia, who has penned several books on Mt. Everest, the Himalayas, Ladakh and Central Asia, is helping out the differently-abled at the Indian Spinal Injuries Centre in Vasant Kunj.