Geeta and myself arrived in London on 28th of May 2003, one day before the 50th Anniversary of 1st ascent of Everest. Same evening, we participated at a major reception at the Alpine Club to celebrate the first ascent of Everest. More than 200 people were drinking champagne and we were all very happy to meet old friends and renew contacts. In fact, Chris Bonington, the past President of the Alpine Club mentioned, “Harish, RGS must be giving you medal but we got you first”. I am already an honorary member of the Alpine Club elected few years before. Next day on 29th of May, we attended the presentation about Everest, 1st ascent and its history at the Odeon Theatre at Leicester Square. This was the Royal Gala performance where Her Majesty, The Queen was present. In fitness of things, Geeta and myself were given a seat in the Royal box just few rows away from Her Majesty. The programme was conducted with dignity and the Royal party arrived sharp at 6.00 p.m. when everybody stood to attention and ‘God Save the Queen’ was sung with gusto. And then without any ado, speeches or lectures or welcoming with garlands and flowers the show began, conducted by David Attenbourogh. Once the show which traced the entire history of Everest in the British eyes with Bonington, Venables and all the living members of 1953 team was completed, everybody got up, clapped and the Royal party left quietly. It was very nice to see that no speeches were made and the program, ‘The Celebration of Everest’ was the main theme.
From the theatre we traveled by the special cars sent by the Palace to St. James Palace, Spencer House. There a special reception was to be held. Again champagne and food was flowing in plenty. Her Majesty and Duke of Edinburgh came for first half an hour and few selected people were introduced to her. When they past next to us, the khukri that I was wearing in memory of Nawang was noted and they asked, “Is this some Gorkha symbol”, I said, “Yes, my son was in the Gorkha regiment”. And George Band who was standing next to them briefed them about Lt. Nawang and his sacrifice. ‘Is there still plenty of troubles in Kashmir?’ they inquired.
The Duke of Edinburgh had a look at the khukri closely and said, “That seems to be some Indian symbol” to which I replied, “Yes, that’s the Ashoka Chakra, the state emblem” and the party moved on. Of course, the champagne flowed till late in the evening and a very enjoyable and memorable day of meeting the Queen ended.
Then the scene moved to 2nd June at the headquarters of the Royal Geographical Society. Geeta, myself with Savita, Raina and Mrs. Edila Gaitonde our great aunt reached the Society’s building by 3 o’clock. There was a photo session where several portraits of mine were taken which would be kept in the archives for many years and pictures with the President of the RGS and other recipients were taken.
The Annual General Meeting began at 3.30 p.m. and after half hour of discussions, the award presentation ceremony took place. When citation for the award for the ‘Patron’s Gold Medal’ to me was read by the President of the RGS, six to ten slides of the work that I have done in mountains were projected on the screen in background.
And after the citation I was called onto the podium and to thunderous applause, and the Gold Medal was presented. The acceptance speech lasting about six minutes was read to the audience. Few others also received the award immediately thereafter. Once the ceremony was over, it was back to champagne, good food and meeting many old friends. In the crowd was Lord Chorley who was the President of the Alpine Club when I organized my first Indo-British joint venture to East Karakorams. Stephen Venables, Patrick Fagen Ian MacNaught Davis and Loretto and several other friends made up for our evening.
At the entrance of the RGS near the main door, list of all the gold medal winners since 1837 has been painted on the wall. As I entered I noticed that against year 2003, there was a little black patch. No sooner the award was given, the black patch was removed and there was my name already written and ready. Somebody said it with a smile, “Now we will look after it for next 100 years”! But that was a very thoughtful and well organized gesture.
Nigel Winser who was the Deputy Director of RGS and his wife Shane, both explorers and recipient of medals in their own right, were present in the audience and we had a long chat with them along with Dr. Rita Gardner, the Director of RGS. Finally we shook hand with the President, Sir Ron Cooke who had presented me the award and took leave of the RGS but the warm friends will not leave us at that. The entire party moved to 80 Abingdon Street, the home of our friend, Ian MacNaught-Davis and Loretto. Indian food was ordered, more champagne flowed and we were joined by Patrick Fagen and Charlotte Langley for dinner. And finally tired, but extremely happy, we reached Savita Apte’s house, a little later than midnight.
Next morning, I was at the airport at 7.00 a.m. flying home with the medal and Sonam received me at the airport.
No sooner we reached home, the medal was kept next to the portrait of Nawang and truly it was presented to him.