Despite a near-death experience in 2013, Indian Everest climber Basanta Singha Roy is all set for his next mission to Nun Kun peak in Zanskar valley. Hassan M Kamal spoke to the brave climber on his passion, and what drives him to the Himalayas, year after year
Standing majestically as a guardian of the Indian subcontinent, the Himalayas have always been an inspiration to Basanta Singha Roy. The 53-year-old mountaineer from West Bengal, who has led 21 successful expeditions including the triumphant scaling of Mount Everest (8,850m) in 2010 and a year later of the Kanchenjunga (8,586m), was recently in the city to share his experiences with aspiring and professional mountaineers.
Pic courtesy/Basanta Singha Roy
How it all started
Roy’s love for mountaineering began in his late 20s, during his trips to hill stations, where he began to sense a connection with the mountains. The realisation took him to rock climbing camps, and later to sign up for the Basic and Advance Mountaineering Course at the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering in Uttarkashi. Roy mastered his skills for the next two decades, leading several successful civilian expeditions. In 2010, Roy led a team of civilian climbers from Krishnagar Mountaineers’ Association to the top of the Mount Everest, followed by India’s first civilian expedition to Kanchenjunga in 2011. “I started climbing the Himalayas after the course, in the 1990s, but it took me 20 years to reach the top of Mount Everest,” recalls Roy. In 2012, he successfully led the first Indian civilian expedition to Annapurna I (8,091 m).
(L-R) Indian mountaineer Basanta Singha Roy and Debasish Biswas on top of Kanchenjunga. PICS Courtesy/Basanta Singha Roy
When danger strikes
But not all climbs are successful. Roy and his team of mountaineers went missing during a climb to Dhaulagiri I in May 2013. The group lost all communications to the base, and had to be rescued via helicopter. “I was lying in the open air without oxygen one whole day. I was lucky that I survived. I think the years of training really helped me there,” he says. Having suffered severe frost bite in both legs, Roy had to undergo amputation of toes in both legs.
Basanta Singha Roy
But this has not deterred the mountaineer, as he is all set to climb the Nun Kun peak (7,135 metre) in Zanskar Valley, in the last week of this month. “Soon after the accident, I thought of giving up, but I have decided to continue with mountaineering. I will climb as long as my body will permit,” he adds.
A banker by profession, Roy advises youngsters to start training as early as possible. “As you grow older, your strength decreases, so, it’s best to start early,” he says. So, how has he maintained his stamina at the age of 53, we wonder. Roy replies, “Everyday, I make 20 rounds of a football field; this gives me all the exercise I require. Nutrition is important to maintain stamina. So, I ensure that I eat everyday, on time.”
>> In case you are keen on pursuing mountaineering, Roy suggests that the best way to start is to find out local clubs or groups of mountaineers. “Most mountaineers and clubs are well-connected with each other, so they can be a good place to meet veteran mountaineers, and interact with them for proper guidance,” he advises. Besides, local groups are always the first to know of mountaineering-related activities (including expeditions, seminars and training camps and courses). So, if you wish to stay updated, join these. “They are also useful in finding the right places to buy equipment,” he adds.
>> As for training, he advises beginners to start with rock climbing/bouldering, and then to slowly take up high altitude trekking. “And, if one wants to climb higher, then they should sign up for the basic and advance mountaineering courses from one of the government-approved mountaineering institutes,” he adds.
>> The Indian Mountaineering Foundation (www.indmount.org) is the apex body governing all activities related to mountaineering in India. It can be a good place to begin research. However, don’t rely on it solely, as some of the links on the site are incorrect.
Learn mountaineering in India
If you are keen on following mountaineering seriously, Roy advises you to sign up for a basic course initially, and then an advance course in mountaineering. He suggests one of these three mountaineering institutes:
Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling
Courses offered: Mountaineering (Basic and Advance), Adventure Course, and special course for the visually challenged and groups.
Log on to: Hmi-darjeeling.com
Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, Uttarkashi
Courses offered: Adventure Course, Mountaineering (Basic and Advance), and Search & Rescue (requires ‘A’ grade in Advance Mountaineering Course).
Log on to: Nimindia.net
Jawahar Institute of Mountaineering and Winter Sports, Pahalgam
Courses offered: Mountaineering (Basic and Advance) and Skiing (Basic, Intermediate and Advance), Whitewater Rafting and Basic Paragliding.
Log on to: Jawaharinstitutepahalgam.com
Bouldering in Mumbai
RA Podar College in Matunga (Central) has an artificial boulder facility, which is a great place to introduce yourself to bouldering or rock climbing. The wall is open to everyone, at a charge of R30 per session. The wall works like a gym, and those present at the wall can help you learn the basics. Ask for Kishan Paghare when you are there.
On: Monday to Saturday, 5.30 pm to 8.30 pm
At: Podar College, LN Road, Matunga (Central).
Log on to: Facebook.com/podarwall
Girivihar, which supervised the construction of the artificial wall at Podar College, and is also responsible for its maintenance, conducts regular rock climbing courses every year in the last week of December. Registration starts usually from October, or after the course is announced.
At: C/0 Lagu Bandhu, 206/207, Shilpin Center, GD Ambedkar Marg, Wadala.
Call:9869989542 (Franco Linhares)
Log on to: Girivihar.org
Every year in June, Mumbai hosts the Girimitra Sammelan, a three-day summit of trekkers, mountaineers and like-minded people from all over Maharashtra.
Log on to: Facebook.com/girimitra.sammelan