Sunday, November 29, 2009

Rum 'n Shivraj...

Shivraj Singh Pawar demonstrates bouldering skills at Base Camp, Shivling Parbat

The other evening, Kailash and I were enjoying the rustic delights of Swathy Bar when I got a call from Jagdish of Agora village in the Himalaya. Jagdish was the cook's assistant on the trek to Dodital and Darwa 2 years ago and likes to call once in a while to ask me about a CD of photographs that I had apparently promised to send him. I had long since realized that the CD was only an excuse to ring up - he basically just wants us to hire him on our next trek!

Talking to Jagdish in my atrocious Hindi reminded me that I hadn't called Shivraj in several days. Shivraj is a young mountaineer from Harsil, near Gangotri. He had been our instructor in the Drawa trek in the summer of 2008, which was organised by the RedX club of Manipal and Tata Steel Adventure Foundation. During those days, in spite of my nearly non-existent Hindi and his less-than-satisfactory English, a strong bond of friendship had formed and we had kept in touch intermittently via phone calls.

Communicating face to face was easy in spite of all the linguistic deficiencies, but phone conversations are an entirely different story! I usually attempt a call to him only when I have a couple of pegs of rum inside me and Kailash (the great Hindi/Urdu lyricist and poet!) beside for emergencies...

This summer (June 2009), 3 of us had set out for another Himalayan trek - this time to Gangotri-Gaumukh-Tapovan and we met up with Shivraj at Harsil. We were impressed by the beautiful setting of this little hill town. Shivraj was our companion during the entire trek and we benefited a lot from his experience, especially while negotiating our way across the Gangotri glacier, where rockfalls and collapse of the glacier in places are very common.

Shivraj at Gaumukh - the snout of Gangotri glacier

As always, it was a pleasure to be with this young mountaineer - a product of the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, Uttarkashi, whose dream is to climb Mount Everest someday. Language is no barrier when communicating about one's dreams during the long marches and the camps at night. I'm surprised at how much we discussed over the few days we spent together. Another factor that bound us together is our love of wildlife. I still remember how, at Bhojbasa, camping after a tiring day's march from Gangotri, we both climbed up a steep hillside to get near a herd of bharal (blue sheep). I surprised myself how high I had climbed with Shivraj above the camp site, forgetting the fatigue and the altitude-induced headache!

Shivraj on the slopes above Bhojbasa, where we spotted bharal

Shivraj points to the peak of Mount Shivling, from near the Advance Base Camp

That night at Swathy I did call Shivraj, and for a change, the Hindustani just flowed (albeit as nonsensical sentences!)... Shivraj has summitted 3 peaks in the period since I last met him - Bhagirathi I, Satopanth and some other peak. We are planning our next Himalayan venture - an ambitious crossing from Gaumukh to Badrinath via Tapovan, Nandanvan and the Kalindi Khal. Hope it materializes...

Me with Shivraj on the trek to Gaumukh (Pic. courtesy: Jayaram Sir)

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