If you have ever gone trekking, you know there is one person you can never do without. The local guide, who joins your holiday on a per day allowance, and ends up doing almost all your work — haul the luggage, cook scrumptious food, and lead you barefoot, sometimes, through the rocky terrain — come rain or shine.
One such man, Harsinh Harkotia from Kumaon Village, Uttarakhand, was felicitated in Mumbai for his service to Himalayan trekkers for over three-and-a-half decades.
On Saturday, the Himalayan Club in association with the Canadian High Commission in Mumbai and The Banff Centre presented the 62-year-old with the Jagdish Nanavati Garud Medal, a gold medal and Rs 11,000 cash.
“Harsinh, is like the unsung heroes, who do their job silently with no expectations,” said Geeta Kapadia, a regular trekker from Carmichael Road who has known Harsinh for the past three decades.
“It is because of people like Harsinh that trekkers feel at home even at the highest altitudes. Harsinh carries belongings, cooks food and walks up tough terrains with all the loads for long hours at a stretch,” said Harish Kapadia, another trekker.
Speaking to SMD, Harsinh, who has studied till grade five, said, “I never expected to get any award for my hard work, but I am happy. Even my villagers will be happy when I show them the award,” adding that even as a child, he had no option but to trek mountains and carry food grains from the city to his village. “At a time, I can carry a load of 30 to 35 kgs and walk with the trekkers for days. I get paid around Rs 300 per day, excluding meals and travels. I do not have any training in mountaineering.”
Saviour in the hills
In 1992, Stephen Benables, a trekker from England, met with an accident on the Panchchuli peak in eastern Kumaon region. He fell from a height of 21,000 feet. Stephen had broken his legs and could survive only because Harsinh managed to get food for him at that altitude. Stephen was later airlifted to the nearest base. As a gesture of appreciation the British trekking group wanted to give training to Harsinh in mountaineering in United Kingdom, but Harisinh refused. However, at his age now, Harsinh continues his work but has lessened the weight of the load he carries. “The new generation does not want to continue this work any more,” concludes Harsinh.