LOVE RAJ SINGH DHARMSHAKTU, 47, is one of the most accomplished mountaineers in India and the world. By scaling the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest, seven times, Dharmshaktu has become the only Indian to achieve this amazing feat.
He began mountaineering at a young age and has so far completed about fifty major expeditions. A Border Security Force (BSF) officer, Dharmshaktu imparts training to the BSF personnel in rock climbing, trekking, ice craft, snow craft, environmental protection, disaster management and mountaineering.
He climbed Mount Everest for the first time in 1998, and went on to do it again in 2006, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2017 and 2018. He has also scaled Kunchenjunga, Kamet, Abigamain, Sathopanth, Bhurphu Dhura, Mumatsang Kangri, Nanda Kot, Nanda Bhanar, Trishul among many mountain peaks .
For his extraordinary contribution to mountaineering, he was the conferred Padma Shree in 2014 and was given Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award in 2003. In a freewheeling interview with RAJU GUSAIN, Dharmshaktu shared his thoughts on mountaineering expeditions, challenges and life.
Q. How did your love for mountaineering begin?
A. During my school days I was staying in Lucknow and was associated with an adventure club there. I was 17 and a Lucknow club was going for an expedition to Nand Kot in Pithoragarh. The year was 1989 and I was also included in the team but was first permitted to go up to the base camp only.
Team leader Chandraprabha Aitwal was impressed with my fitness and skills. She allowed me to proceed further and I was among the other members of the team to scale the Nanda Kot (6861-metre high).
Q. What did you learn from your first expedition?
A: I am a native of a remote village, Bona, in Pithoragarh district in Uttarakhand. My ancestral village is yet to get basic infrastructure like road, electricity, telephone.
You can imagine the situation there in 1989. I saw mountaineering equipment for the first time during the Nanda Kot expedition. The expedition taught me the importance of fitness, discipline and punctuality.
Q. You have scaled Mount Everest a record seven times.What was your feeling when you scaled the world’s highest mountain peak for the first time and how did it change your philosophy on life?
A. It is the dream of every mountaineer to stand on the top of Mount Everest. I too had a similar dream and got it fulfilled for the first time in 1998. Subsequently, after returning from Nepal a big change occurred and I began working for protection of the environment, empowerment of village communities, clearing garbage from expedition sites and on other social issues. It was a major turning point in my life.
I joined hands with other mountaineers and replaced the old Russian oxygen mask that used to block the view and was not handy. We are happy that now most of the expedition teams are using the oxygen mask designed by us.
Q. What were your feelings when you reached the Everest summit for the first time — and for the seventh time in 2018?
A. I consider Everest to be like god. Without its approval no one can walk to its top. I have seen strong, physically fit, financially stable people failing in the expedition and not so physically fit people scaling Everest. The feeling of standing on the top of Everest is like magic. It can’t be described in words. I consider myself fortunate for having scaled Everest so many times.
Q. Would you share one of the most remarkable experiences from your 2018 Everest expedition?
A. I witnessed amazing shadow formation like a pyramid at 4.30 am during the sunrise there. A rare sight which only lucky mountaineers have seen on Everest! This shadow formation is visible for a few minutes only.
Q. That must be a once-in-a-lifetime experience?
A. Yes. I took video and photos of the shadow formation and circulated it to share the unique experience.
Q. Nepal and China jointly announced recently that the revised height of Mount Everest is 8,848.86 mts, about 86 cms more than the measurement done by the Survey of India in 1954. Does it matter that the world’s highest peak is a bit higher than previously measured?
A. I am not the right person to answer this question. Scientists and other technical persons know it better. As mountaineers, our work is to climb the mountains.
Q. But, why do you climb some of the highest mountains of the world?
A. It is my passion.
Q. Doesn’t it feel a bit lonely atop Everest — out there in the snowy embrace of the world’s highest peak?
A. It’s actually a great feeling that remains after you return from the expedition.
Q. Which of your about 50 expeditions do you consider the most challenging and why?
A. In 2001 we made an attempt to scale Everest through the East Ridge route. The long route, avalanches and other conditions made the expedition difficult. After reaching about 7,700 mts we had to abandon the expedition. Everest has still not been scaled through the East Ridge route. And our team still maintains the record of reaching the highest point through that route.
Q. What is your future plan?
A. To do mountaineering till I am physically and mentally fit. And after that, to inspire and help others to take up adventure sports. My dream is to scale Everest through the East Ridge route.
Q. The Covid-19 pandemic has badly affected the tourism industry. Do you see any silver lining in the pandemic?
A. The pandemic has increased public awareness about health and immunity. This is a good sign and will inspire people to take up outdoor activities.
Q. What is your take on the adventure tourism scene in Uttarakhand?
A. Uttarakhand can turn into a hub of adventure tourism. The only requirement is that the government and private players should work together to promote adventure tourism activities.