Unsung Mountaineer from the State J & K | For him every day was a Mountain Day || LIVE IMAGE

 No one knows perhaps outside his family members that there was a mountaineer  from the State . Which Kashmir has neither seen nor known so far .No  exaggeration that it will be a long time before another native Kashmiri can come any close to his mountaineering achievements. But to most Kashmiris that he was a mountaineer par- excellence may come as a shocking surprise. To some it may seem even unbelief whose mountaineering achievements unfortunately have remained unknown and unsung. He indeed was a man who belonged to  ‘mountains’ at least as much, if not more, as much he belonged to ‘office files’  in general are familiar with him  the ‘chief secretary’ Pushkernath Kaul. 

The compelling attraction of the mountains  brought out the mountaineer in him the   instinct and inherent quest to climb . As   a  Tehsildar Ladakh   1950- 53  .Traveled   through the length and breath of Ladhak as the land settlement officer .That led him to scale several peaks  even beyond the call of his .In the   process negotiated and climbed almost all major mountain peaks in the region.Many  of them never  negotiated before by anyone.  There is no denying the fact that he  was not a ‘trained mountaineer’ but the mountaineering feats he achieved in Ladakh do confirm to us that he was a ‘natural climber’ of exceptional abilities. 

They will help the reader appreciate and acknowledge that he doubtless was a world class mountaineer

The First Climber of Mountains in Ladakh. 

While the major international mountaineering thrust, between 1950 and 1953 remained focused to conquer Mount Everest, far in the north-east Jammu & Kashmir in Ladakh some dominating remote ‘peaks and passes’ there were climbed and conquered too. These, however, were not scaled by any regular expedition team or an acknowledged mountaineer, but by a ‘natural’ native climber. He scaled over them at a time when Ladakh was still a forbidden place and its mountain terrain almost unknown.

Like a ‘mountain goat’ he  scaled Nebuk La at 17850’, Digger La at 17930’, Zoji La at 11578’, Namika La at 12200’, the peaks between Dongti and Roloman at 14500’, Sasir La at 17480, those between Rolman and Chshul at 15000’. And yet these heights dwarfed when he crossed the Chang La at 18730’, Khardung La at 18380’ and the high pass between Tanche and Chushul at 19000’ Pushkernath Kaul stood amidst the densest group of glaciers in the world and came so near to the Karakoram mountain range and Siachen Glacier. He also rubbed shoulders with the Memosthang and Kangri glaciers at 24690’ and was even on the neck of Sasir Kangri- the highest peak in Indian administered part of Jammu & Kashmir at 25710’ above the sea level.

Looking back at his mountaineering feats we now know that he was there in the early 50s and that is more than three decades before the warring Indian and Pakistani soldiers vied for the control of the glacier in 1983. The achievement earns the coveted recognition of being the first man ever to be on the Siachen Glacier. It is sad that his feat has remained in anonymity.

 Civilian Expeditions to Sasir Kangri

 Sasir Kangri is the highest citadel of the Eastern Karakoram Range in Ladakh. It is considered as one of the toughest in the world and so far only four ascents have been recorded. Two of these are as recent as  in July and August  2011. These expeditions were sponsored by the Tata Steel Foundation. The teams comprised women members also. Binita Soren and Shreelarani Mahato of Jharkhand thus became the first women mountaineers to climb Mount Sasir Kangri on August 8, 2011.

Three weeks later, an American mountaineer Steven John Swenson who too attempted to scale the peak was , however trapped at Shupka Kunzang, one of the most difficult glaciers located at the base of Sasir Kangri. On information, he was rescued by Leh based 114 Helicopter Unit popularly known as Siachen Pioneers. But strangely enough, all mountaineering records are bereft of any mention that Pushkernath Kaul was on Sasir Kangri more than six decades ago. And still more importantly it needs to be appreciated that he went there in meagre tunics and not in an expedition dress. Braving sub-zero temperature, Pushkernath Kaul went to a height and place where no one before him had ever gone. He went   there even without 1950s technology and what to speak of 21st century technology. For this great feat he deserves both a eulogy and recognition.

 Other Rare Credits

During much of his  ‘amateur climbing’ in Ladakh, the precision of his topographical observations even improved the Great Trignometrical Survey maps. This achievement alone earns him a credit of lasting reputation and duration in the annals of geography. At another level,  mountain travels  of his inform us other firsts of Ladakh such as the existence of 108 ‘Chambas’ of Baltistan - the mountain sculptures similar to Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan - and  Bodhi manuscripts, “the letters of which are written in tiny pearls strung in thread”.

Announcement of the existence of such manuscripts is a unique new to the world of antiquities and must gladden the hearts of antiquarians all over the world. Indeed they need to be rediscovered / re-located and preserved as artifacts of world heritage .They art objects of rare value without second of the type found anywhere else in the world. It is quite probable that the discovery may turn out to be another “Rosetta Stone”. Who knows? May be, when posterity reads the ‘onlys and firsts’ of the oriental lore, they find the Nile not too far from Ladakh even though continents separate the two geographically.

 The Titan in League with the Pioneers

The dangerous ice bridges, the thundering mountain torrents, all the unavoidable inclines before each successive ascent, all the slippery steps on age-old glaciers over perilous precipices and the storms, thunder, cold and even sometimes the oppressing heat, Pushkernath Kaul negotiated during his ‘mountain sojourns’, acquaint us with the spirit that filled his soul and enveloped the steel of his determination. In conquering mountain after mountain, Pushkernath Kaul sought to overcome all obstacles with a yearning which irresistibly impelled him onward. Often difficulties that loomed so dangerously became his most necessary propellants for ascent. It may be appreciated that he trudged over highest mountain peak in Ladakh at a time when its mountain range was still unfamiliar and no man had scaled them before.

 In achieving these feats, Pushkernath Kaul had the protection afforded by the power of his spirit. He very well knew that only in spirit is one fortified both mentally and physically. In a way he possessed a remarkable thing what is called the ‘psychic energy’ which is warmer than fire and more nourishing than bread. It was this make and mould that helped Pushkernath Kaul survive some almost inhospitable terrains of earth in sub-zero conditions.

Sh  Pushker Nath Kaul in Ladhaki dress, at the tail of the Chong Kundum Glacier,Nubra,on the way to Karakoram PassAugust 1952               

 Time for Honour & Recognition

 Today there is no part of Ladakh which may be altogether unknown and unexplored. But Pushkernath Kaul’s feat came at a time when mountain peaks in the ‘barren waste’ had not even attracted a cursory attention of mountaineering fraternity. They were both unknown and un-scaled.

While all homage, glory, fame and accolades have deservingly come to the pioneers like Hillary, Tenzing, Mallory, Rawat and Shipton to name only few, a due acknowledgement has eluded Pushkernath Kaul. No one can lose the sight of the fact that they were trained professional mountaineers equipped with all modern mountaineering paraphernalia and also were part of scientific expeditions funded by international agencies. Their expeditions were a work of meticulous planning and execution. And as against he conquered, may be less formidable peaks, but how, when and what he scaled-over leaves us almost stunned. He was neither a trained mountaineer nor part of any scientific expedition team, nor was he attired and equipped to assault those heights. He made it to those dizzy earthly pinnacles as a novice in bare tunics accompanied only by his hardy horsemen and porters. For all practical purposes  he was only a self acknowledged team leader of private solo expeditions. Each mountain he negotiated dwarfed before his spirit His achievements though show that he etched his name in the mountaineering annals more than six decades ago, but yet formal glory is still to come to him. Pushkernath Kaul was a heroic figure who lived a life of determination, humility and generosity. Those who knew him well will confirm that he was shy and always modest about his achievements and this perhaps may be one reason most to contribute to his anonymity as a legend of mountains and the only one  of the kind Kashmir has produced so far.

Without any doubt,  he was an exceptional rarity as a  mountaineer of the state. Posterity  will remember him as ‘Roald Amundsen’ of Kashmir who rubbed shoulders with towering never- before- scaled, peaks of Ladakh that echo in everlasting celebration the spirit he carried and for eternal time stand as immovable witnesses to confirm the pride in having such a one in their bosom.

Pushkernath Kaul was a climber par-excellence, the greatest Kashmir can claim. He had pride in his feats, but success did not breed arrogance. his abiding legacy is that he dared to live an exceptional life and triumphed as a climber.

His life was marked by grand achievements, high adventure, discovery, excitement and by his personal humility.  Perhaps his abiding legacy is best summed up in William Blake’s pithy words: “Nothing ever so great is achieved when men rub shoulders in streets. They become men when they face mountains.” indeed was a colossus who faced mountains that have been irresistible to so many men and women over the years.  Now that his mountaineering derring-do has come to light, it only remains to be seen for how long fame can stay away from this quintessential Kashmiri hero. Delayed it has been ; to deny  will be a sin.


By- S.N. Pandita

(The author is a Gurugram based Stein scholar and researcher.)

(Feedback at: surindar.n.pandita@gmail.com)


Next Post »