The call of the mountains

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Mountaneer Seshadri Venkatesan talks to Pheroze L. Vincent about the adventure, safety and trekking he offers Coimbatore

H e resigned his job as a marine superintendent in Singapore to come back home and start a mountaineering school.

At age 39, he pushed through three mountaineering courses to become an instructor. He conceived the idea and chose his men on the job, lying under tents and on rocks during treks. Nothing surprises Seshadri Venkatesan, who spent 12 years in the navy preparing “to face the barrel,” as he says.

Business cum pleasure

Lieutenant Seshadri Venkatesan has taken something, that's so much fun, and turned it into a viable business. His National Adventure and Leadership School (NALS), in RS Puram, offers treks and outdoor learning programmes for any moderately fit person who is more than eight years old.

Coimbatore, lying in the cradle of the Ghats, is not ignorant of the hills. But, Seshadri is trying to let everybody experience the joy of trekking.

“If you provide very good service, it is a very viable business,” he explains.

The hazards are covered through meticulous planning and constant updating of safety procedures. “If you can manage the risks, people will be attracted. But one unsafe incident, and its over,” he adds.

Every risk is calculated. They had to turn back, due to bad weather, on the Trek for Charity to Shethidhar in Beas Kund Valley, Himachal Pradesh. The trek, organised by NALS for Sankara Eye Hospital, had to be abandoned at an altitude of 5000 metres, just 358 metres short of the summit.

Be safe not sorry

The weather in the mountains is unpredictable, he explains quoting his trekking guru and Everest veteran Rajeev Sharma, “When in doubt, go back. The mountains are always there.”

His first trek was as a 20-year-old engineering student at PSG College of Technology in 1986. He was hooked after that, and he started spending his summers in the Himalayas.

The duration of the trek and the emotional conflict experienced, positively reprograms the mind, explains Seshadri. “You change something within you that you will never forget,” he adds.

His most memorable trek was in Markha Valley, Ladakh in July 2004.

He and his wife trekked 122km in 10 days. “This was a turning point in life,” he says. Walking only with his wife through coldest stretches of rocky desert, with only an odd ibex or marmot to keep company, they trekked to an altitude of 5296 metres.

“My family wasn't surprised when I started NALS. I was the first (of the family) to join the armed forces. They are concerned however, as knowledge of mountaineering is quite low in the south,” says Seshadri.

NALS runs campsites in Kalath, Himachal Pradesh and Kulakombai in the Nilgiris. “The biodiversity is rich here,” says Seshadri. Sadly, after the devastation in the Nilgiris, many hill people have lost their lives and homes.

NALS is planning to launch a five-day trek, the proceeds of which will go towards the Nilgiris Disaster Rehabilitation Programme of an NGO named Rural Development Organisation.

Also, in an attempt to stem the tide of migration from villages, NALS has submitted a proposal to the government, to train youth in the Nilgiris in mountaineering. “They know the hills better than others. They can be registered trekking and adventure guides. In cities, they can't use their skills and knowledge of the hill terrain,” says Seshadri.

Seshadri adds, “We want to reach out, even to those who can't make it for mountaineering.” NALS is now holding rappelling and high rope demonstrations in schools too.

Disaster management

Another innovative programme the school offers, gratis, is disaster management.

“We want to educate people on dealing with earthquakes, floods and fire. We are trying out courses for apartment residents to escape through balconies using sarees, bedsheets and curtains. Nylon sarees work well,” says Seshadri.

NALS plans to teach people how to tie knots and help out those who can't escape themselves. “Might as well face a small risk than death,” he adds.

The NALS team is a happy bunch of adventurers. It is a group, young and not so young, that is smitten by the mountains. It brings adventure to us at reasonable costs.

Seshadri describes his work as a calculated gamble and a careful balance of finances, safety and meticulous planning. Gazing fondly at a plaque INS Kozhikode, the minesweeper ship he served in, Seshadri says, “When I go through difficult times, I look at this plaque. It reminds me of exciting times which prepared me for the greatest challenge, to face battle.”

For details on NALS contact

Photo: K. Ananthan

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