King Albert I Mountain Award

King Albert I Mountain Award for Harish Kapadia; Dedicated to memory of Lt Nawang Kapadia

< La Volonte,
La Qualite Maitresse
De L’Homme >

King Albert I, the King of the Belgians, was an ardent mountain lover. In 1920s and 1930s he roamed the hills around his state, the Belgium, and also made many climbs in the Switzerland. He was a regular visitor to different Alpine summits from the centres at St. Moritz, Chamonix and Zermatt. With his love for mountains that most of these trips were not made as a royalty or king but as a common climber who loved the Alps.

On one such trip, he met Walter Amstutz a Swiss guide and they formed an instant friendship. For few years, they climbed together and shared a good camaraderie. However, King Albert I died in a solitary mountaineering accident near his home in 1934. This was a tragic event. Soon the Second World War and its aftermath intervened and put mountaineering and climbing out of mind of people for a long time. However as the time went by Walter was more and more keen to start an award in memory of his friend. Initially an appeal to the people of Belgium and Switzerland raised a good reasonable amount to start an award. The money was invested in a Swiss bank and for few intervening years, it was all forgotten. However, towards the late 1980s Walter now in his old age suddenly realized that the amount in the bank has now become a considerable sum due to addition of interest. A further appeal to public subscription was generously supported and thus the King Albert I Mountain Award was started in 1994.

The King Albert I Memorial Foundation, registered in Zurich, was founded by Walter Amstutz in 1993 in honour of the Belgian King Albert I (1875-1934), a great alpinist and fervent mountain climber. The foundation’s aim is to honour individuals or institutions which, through their efforts in any area pertaining to the mountain regions of the world, have made outstanding and lasting achievements.

This award is given every two years or at the discretion of the committee. It is the committee that selects outstanding achievers in fields related to mountains. Generally people who have studied the mountains, written about it, have undertaken some research or are explorers of repute, are selected. Though this is not an award for climbers, a few outstanding climbers who have achieved a lot are also awarded. The list of past awardees is full with scholars, professors and explorers. Among the well-known mountaineers and explorers who received the award are as under.

Lord Hunt, Wanda Rutkiewicz, BradfordWashburn (1994); Dr Charles Houston, Erhard Loretan (1996) ; Augusto Gansser, Elizabeth Hawley (1998) ; Shiro Shirahata (2000) ; and Stephen Venables (2004).

This year, 2006, four awardees were selected as under:

As the first Indian to receive this award happily, my wife Geeta and myself reached St. Moritz on 30th August 2006. It was indeed a wonderful place to be, the playground of the rich and famous, of Hollywood stars and of industrialists. In winter the place would be full of people and it would be impossible to get a place.

We gathered at St Moritz, and were hosted at beautiful Kulm Hotel, overlooking the lake. A special performance of music on Swiss Horns was arranged in the hotel compound.

The award ceremony began with a dinner hosted on 1st Sept night – a very formal affair and in traditional Swiss style and punctuality. On the 2nd, at 9 in the morning the party walked to Sagantani Museum nearby and the award ceremony was held there. In a beautiful room with three large paintings, the award was presented by Mr Bruno Messerli, President of the Foundation. A representative from the family of King Albert was also present. Later a party was arranged at Pik Nair about 3015 m, which was reached by a cable car.

The award ceremony was held on 2nd September 2006 at Segantini Museum. This was a hall with large historic paintings of the great Italian painter Segantini on the wall. Dr. Bruno Messerli , the President of the Foundation gave a welcome speech and explained the award and its importance. After this each of us was invited to receive the award as its citation was read out and the award was handed over in presence of important guests in this magnificent hall. The citation states:

“Harish Kapadia, born in India, on 11th July 1945, Mountaineer, Explorer and Writer with a degree in Commerce, Law and Management from Mumbai University, received worldwide recognition for his long-standing commitment to geographical explorations in the Himalaya and Eastern Karakoram.

By promoting awareness of the unknown valleys, its history and people and by drawing attention of the trekking and mountaineering world to the beauty of their peaks, he has made a unique contribution to the development of trekking and mountaineering in the Himalaya and the Karakoram.

Harish Kapadia participated in more than 25 expeditions, frequently as their leader, and published 15 books and, in addition, a large number of articles and papers on his experiences. Since 1978 he is Honorary Editor of the prestigious Himalayan Journal and Himalayan Club Newsletter.”

The award consists of a glittering Gold Medal with embossed picture of King Albert on one side and the name of the recipient of the other, a certificate as citation, a historic black and white picture and details of King Albert pasted inside. All these are covered in an exquisite leather casing. The leather was specially been selected from Nigeria which was beaten into a very smooth shiny piece and which adorned the box and the citation.

On the cover it is written

< La Volonte,
La Qualite Maitresse
De L’Homme >
(“ The Will,
the Master Quality
of a man ”)

It was explained that the gold is so pure that it must be touched only with gloves on otherwise, the fingerprints on the medal would remain. There were other functions in the evening, where every awardee was asked to say in brief what he has achieved in last ten years, what work he is doing today and above all, what he intends to do in next ten years. This was followed by a dinner, fit enough for royalty in a nearby hotel.

I was honoured to receive the award, wearing the Gorkha Khukri badge in honour of my brave son Lt Nawang Kapadia and – wearing the Himalayan Club tie!

King Albert Mountain Award. Acceptance Speech by Harish Kapadia at St Moritz, Switzerland, 2nd September 2006

Whenever I am interviewed, the first thing that journalists ask is about how I started going to the hills. There was an understandable need for the freedom of the hills since I lived in the large city of Bombay, I was a cloth merchant for all my working life and lived in a joint family. But this only portrays how the attraction for the mountains works on a person, against all odds. In fact the more the challenge, the more I went to the hills.

There is a lovely mountain range near Mumbai, called the Western Ghats or the Sahyadris. It has small but challenging mountains, going up to 1600 m but with varied difficulties. There are historical forts, which have seen many wars and the valleys are inhabited by happy villagers. For decades, we as a group of friends roamed in these valleys and climbed most of its 650 peaks. These were golden days for me, learning to love nature, staying with villagers and gaining strength.

At the same time I was visiting the Himalaya, first on trekking trips and later on serious climbing expeditions. We climbed many peaks but more than that saw many different valleys and met many villagers. It was in 1962 that by a sheer accident I met a porter from a village in Kumaun. We formed a unique friendship and people from this village have since accompanied me to almost all the places to which I have been. My relationship with these simple but faithful villagers now extends to two generations! Without their devotion I would have found trips in the vast Himalayan range more challenging and maybe lonely.

There have been many companions who joined me. The list is long and they have contributed to the pleasure. We shared much together, climbing together, singing together and when the need arose rescuing each other. I suffered two major accidents and injuries high in the mountains and without the brave support of my friends I would not be standing here today. As it happens ours is a risk taking sport and I have lost a few friends in the mountains. It was all the more sad because they were young and fit people.

In the last three decades I participated in many joint expeditions with foreign climbers: the British, French and the Japanese. It was a wonderful cultural experience as we introduced them to our food, Indian culture, relaxed style of trekking and climbing. And we learned about the world and forged strong friendships, which have lasted until today. These were serious expeditions and we climbed in remote areas, thus combining explorations with challenging climbing.

As a habit from early days, I generally never liked to visit the same place or area again. Though there were favourite places to go to, the serious ventures, the expeditions, were more of an intellectual activity and not merely physical exercise. Looking to a new hill or range gave me more pleasure than simply climbing a peak. Most of the peaks I have climbed were only to be able to look on to the other side of the mountain and at the vast new panorama. The second habit I developed since the early days was to maintain detailed notes of my activities. These notes ultimately allowed me to write about the visits to mountains and publish books. In fact writing about the mountains is almost as great a pleasure as visiting them. Like the passion to visit the mountains, I had to write when the need was felt, there was no escape from it. I hope the fund of knowledge these books have created will be useful to future generations.

In the Indian Himalaya there are many areas which are untouched, some due to security considerations. We have fought five major wars in the range and these restrictions are not unreasonable. With my passion for the ranges I slowly worked towards being permitted to such areas — a vast terrain for exploration awaited us where no human beings had ever set foot, even in the age of satellite maps. I went to the Karakoram Pass and the surrounding areas and made several visits to the Siachen glacier. It is to be seen to be believed; the remoteness, the high mountains and the trails that speak of history. There is no doubt in my mind that this is the future of mountaineering: new areas, new horizons, new peaks.

On one of my trips to the Siachen glacier my son Nawang accompanied me. He was 22 years of age, fit and fired by mountains and patriotism. I saw him talking to young army officers on the glacier. And soon, as they say, ‘it happened’. He made a resolve to join the army, and soon became a Gorkha officer in the elite battalion. He died in the Kashmir war, trying to save life of a colleague. He believed in Hemmingway’s diktat that ‘The world is a fine place and worth fighting for’, and sacrificed his life in the defence of the Himalaya.

As you may know the Indian and Pakistani armies are engaged in high altitude war on the heights of the Siachen glacier for the past two decades. The war has led to major destruction of the environment and the human and economic costs have been heavy. I have been involved in proposing a Peace Plan to stop this war and save this great glacier and its peaks from the environmental degradation that it is reeling under. It will be my great pleasure if a recognition like the King Albert Mountain Award leads authorities to hear my voice and consider such peace proposals more substantially. To announce friendship among mountaineers, in the year 2002, the Year of Mountains, we Indian and Pakistani mountaineers climbed Monch peak together in the Swiss Alps and it was perhaps the only time that the Indian and Pakistani flags were hoisted together on any summit. We are two nations linked by Himalayan geography. Nations which do not understand and respect geography are condemned by history. Governments and people of both the countries should realise that there is a humanity that binds us together. Whatever our game. And whichever side of the fence.

Now as years have gone by I look to the future. Luckily there is no retirement age for enjoying the mountains. A mountaineer never hangs his boots and like an old soldier, he never fades away. I continue to explore unknown areas, especially in Arunachal Pradesh, in the eastern Himalaya, where much remains to be done. Given health and strength I will be able to pursue life in hills for decades to come. What started as a sheer physical challenge, turned into more of an intellectual interest in the middle years. Now when the experience of the Himalaya turns spiritual, I will have done my bit.

In our Hindu scriptures, Lord Krishna says in the Bhagwat Gita:

“Among the stars I am the moon,
Among the lakes I am the ocean,
Among the mountains I am the Himalaya.”

I was fortunate enough to experience the full glory of His range.

I am indeed honoured to receive the prestigious King Albert Mountain Award and dedicate it my brave son Lt. Nawang Kapadia, who will be proud of it.

As we reached London to Shirish and Savita Apte’s home at 15 Grosvenor’s Sqaure, my niece Shreya and her husband Anand dropped by with Mrs. Edila Gaitonde, our mami we had a small celebration displaying the Gold Medal and the citation to all. Next evening our family friend, Sir Chris Bonington came down to London specially and organized a celebration at the Traveller’s Club at St. James Palace Road. It was a wonderful setting in the traditional British Club with close friends like Dr. Charles Clarke, Louis and Gerry Wilson and Suman Dubey and Rajal Upadhyaya. We all had trekked together and it was a wonderful reunion of friends. After the dinner, we all retired to the library sipping liquor and coffee and recalling the happy memories of mountains for which this high honour was given to me. It was an evening of friends and a fitting end to the journey to receive this award.

For more information:
King Albert Memorial :


Few memories

King Albert I Award


King Albert I Award


King Albert I Award

Harish with Albert Medal

King Albert I Award

King Albert I medal

King Albert I Award


King Albert I Award


King Albert I Award

Looking at a presentation at Award ceremony

King Albert I Award

Award Presented

King Albert I Award

All winners