Thursday, February 21, 2013

A remarkable man at Khangchendzonga

Aditi Singh

From the moment he came on to the stage, I was completely taken in by the gentle, smiling face of Mr. Love Raj Singh Dharamshaktu. Born in the town of Munshiari, amidst the Pancholi range in Uttarakhand, the mountains have been his home. He fondly remembers the intriguing explanation his elders would give him for the chalky, snowy winds sweeping the peaks, “The gods are praying,” they would say.

This 39-year-old BSF commander is a seasoned mountaineer and the only Indian to have scaled Mount Everest four times. He has been for over 35 expeditions and for his mountaineering achievements he was honored with the Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award in 2003.

He thus began the awe- inspiring account of his two-month journey to the top of the Barf ka Khazana, a name given in Sikkim, to the formidable Khangchendzonga. With a carefully put together team of 15 climbers, 12 support staff and about 200 porters, they set out on this exciting adventure in the first week of April 2012.They trekked through landslide-prone and Maovadi areas to Nepal through Siliguri. Talking about the local people he met on the way, he said, “They are very poor, but are always smiling. They have a very tough life.One man has to carry a heavier load than a khachar (mule), about 120 kg.” He showed us a picture of a woman carrying a baby in one hand and a white sack of about 50 kg of salt in the other. “Women walk like this for 2-3 days just to reach the market to sell it off.”

An ardent nature lover, Mr. Singh spoke about the region of Taplajunas as one blessed with beautiful forests and overwhelming biodiversity.  “You get about 10-15 types of Rhododendron there itself.” There were no amenities such as schools there, he told us, marveling at the cleanliness and organisation of villages. In fact, the locals had set up temporary toilets away from their homes and even cowsheds were built at a distance. In addition, every household had beautiful well-tended flowerbeds. Mr. Singh spoke with utmost compassion for the local people and their hardships.

The careless attitude of many climbers, however, is destroying the beauty of the magnificent Himalaya. His fourth expedition to the Everest, 'ProPlanet Climbs Everest' was focused on making climbers aware of their responsibility towards the mountains. There are reports of huge piles of garbage on the Everest and Mr. Singh has been committed to spreading awareness about cleaning up this high altitude dumping ground.

Although this particular expedition wasn’t focused on cleaning up the mountains, he spoke of how his team attempted to clean up whatever and wherever possible. “Waste dumped here can be in the form of tin cans, food packets, suit packets, tents, oxygen tanks, ropes and a lot more. If not removed, litter left behind in these low temperatures could lie around for years.”

Before this climb, it was mandatory to deposit a refundable
Rs. 5000 with the Sikkim Forest Department, which was reclaimable later once climbers brought back the waste their expedition had generated. This is the norm for these high altitude expeditions, however, the lackadaisical attitude of the forest department and this meager amount is barely enough to prevent littering and waste accumulation up there.

With more dedicated mountaineers like Mr. Love Raj Singh, we should strive to undo the damage that has been done and continues to be done to our magnificent mountains.

Aditi Singh is recent graduate in Economic Honours with an interest in environmental issues. She is currently working with WWF-India as an intern. She can be contacted at

1 comment:

  1. Great article Aditi. If only all climbers were sensitive enough to bring back what they bought, these lovely mountains would be so much more beautiful!
    Anyways, Kudos to Mr. Dharamshaktu! I belong to the same region of the Himalayas and can testify the strength of these villagers who come from the Munsyari region. The region is known to have produced some of India's most renowned mountaineers.
    And that range is rightly spelled as "Panchachuli" meaning 5 stoves based on the mythological anecdote that these were the cooking stoves of the Pandavas on their way to heaven.