Well, not literally! But he had such a strong connection with them and was so passionate about exploring them, that he deserved to be written about! For him, a mountain was never to be conquered, only explored. Conquering implies defeating, and he loved the mountains too much to do so.
I had written this piece last year as a Facebook post; had not started blogging then, but today as one more year has passed and it’s his birthday, here it is once again in fond remembrance of the man who was happiest when in the Himalayas!!
Simple, unassuming and with a steely resolve!
My grandfather – my mother’s father, or “Bhatkaka”, as he was fondly known, would’ve turned 95 today. Today is one of his birthdays when his date of birth according to the Gregorian calendar and the Marathi Lunar calendar “tithi” coincide; he was born on the auspicious day of Gudi Padwa.
He passed in 2005 at the age of 84, but left a legacy behind which all of us are immensely proud of and what better day to write about it than today.
They say life begins after 40, but I think for him it began in earnest after 1979, at the age of 58, when he retired from the CDA after 39 years of service. A life more fulfilling, enriching and challenging than the previous duty-bound years. And a life, which wouldn’t have been possible without the support of my aaji, my grandma, who, wherever possible accompanied him and whenever not, encouraged him to go, never ever tying him down.
So what was different about his life, one may ask?
He started trekking after he retired, and achieved feats which left each and every one of us awestruck and inspired.
Just a gist of what all he did in those years – 31 different treks in the Himalayas, beginning with Amarnath Yatra in 1982 ( and yet again in 1995) and the last one of these at the age of 82 to Manimahesh in 2002. In between – Khowli pass, Kailas Manas Sarovar, Annapurna Base camp, Everest Base camp, Pokhara Valley, Panchakedar ( alone, no fellow Trekkers), Muktinath, Jalori-Basilio pass trek, Chhota Kailash, Kinnaur Kailash.
A page out of his books. He took beautiful pictures wherever he went.
Apart from this, he did countless other treks on lesser known stretches of the Himalayas – it was like an addiction- he had to go there at least once a year, most years he went at least two to three times!!
His other feats were even more commendable, because of their unconventional nature. A testimony of what a person can do to test his/her limits and for the love of exploring.
The Western Coastline trek over a period of 12 years with his senior citizen buddies – from Dwarka in Gujarat to Kanyakumari – the goal being to cover a distance of 250-300 kms every year in December and January. What began as a Kokan coastline trek, continued for the next 12 years!
The 4-month-long Narmada Parikrama from the source to the sea – beginning from Amarkantak in MP and going upto Bharuch in Gujarat; then back. From November ’87 to March ’88. Much later in 1999, when he had come to my place in Nagpur, he narrated his experience about this Parikrama and his other treks in such a lucid and spell-binding manner – he held an audience of about 150 odd people, all my neighbors and friends, in a trance for over a couple of hours!! People were bowing down before him at the end of his talk, and I was crying, never felt prouder of anybody like I did of him that day!!
Countless treks into the Sahyadris – all the forts here in Maharashtra were like his backyard. For as long as I remember, he used to climb Sinhagad near Pune thrice a week! Time taken to climb it – 45 minutes! At the age of 80!! And his Birthday gift to himself – climb it thrice in a day!!
To test how much he could walk, he walked from Pune to Mumbai in 4 days in 1986. Ok! So what about walking nonstop now? So Pune-Saswad (66 km) in 17 hours, Wai-Pune (80 km) in 20 hours, Mahabaleshwar-Pune (120 km) in 30 hours! In 1989 – at the age of 69!! This man had no limits!!
In Marathi we have a saying – “Murty lahaan, Kirti Mahaan”. Nothing described him better! A simple, unassuming man of very few needs and a vast, vast circle of friends of all ages – except for 1 pm – 3 pm, the house was always open and there was always somebody or the other visiting.
He learnt to take amazing pictures during his treks and later even slides; and after each trek we couldn’t wait to see his latest slideshow. I particularly remember the slides he has taken of the Kailash Parvat at sunrise when the peak just lights up and then the entire face looks as if covered in a sheet of gold! Pure magic!! So many of our friends and relatives have lovingly received framed pictures that he had taken on his various treks!
He was a master storyteller too and it was always a treat to listen to him narrating his experiences on these treks. But long before that, we knew tales from the Mahabharata, Ramayana and Indian Mythology as he told them. Images of he narrating those and Aaji feeding us some delicacy or the other at that time are very vivid in my mind even now.
He wrote a book too, about his experiences as a trekker and it has the same flowing, lucid, interesting style of narration like he used when telling us stories.
He learnt to cook after my aaji passed in 1994 and very lovingly invited us to savour whatever he made! And if a grandson-in-law was visiting? The dish never failed to impress!!
Some people achieve so much in life. In their quiet, unassuming ways they touch lives and become celebrities in their own right. It’s been so many years since he left us, but when people still remember his birthday and call, or strike up a conversation when they hear we are his grandchildren – there could be nothing more that a person would want than to be fondly remembered by others.
I sign off on this note, hoping that we have at least some of his enthusiasm when we reach that age!!