HARISH KAPADIA began climbing and trekking in the range around Bombay, the Western Ghats. His first visit to the Himalaya was almost 40 years ago. He has never looked back since, still trekking and climbing actively. His main contribution to Himalayan climbing has been to explore unknown areas and, in number of cases, to open up climbing possibilities. With detailed studies he has named several peaks and features in the Himalaya which have been officially accepted. His writings and books have recorded the explorations, climbs and legends for posterity.
The Eastern Karakoram is the formidable and unknown area north of Ladakh and Leh. It contains several large glaciers and formidable passes. From 1980 till 2009, Harish Kapadia has visited these areas 12 times, exploring different valleys.
The Siachen Glacier which is scene of conflict between India and Pakistan was visited three times. He was instrumental in exploring the Terong Glacier systems and climbed peaks on the North and South Terong glaciers. Team made the first ascent of Rimo III.
One of the few civilian parties to be allowed on this glacier under control of the army. He traversed the entire length of the glacier and reached Indira Col (Workman, 1912) and Turkestan La (Younghusband, 1888). He returned to the glacier several times by different routes and climbed in different valleys.
The Chong Kumdan glacier dam was known due to a glacial blockage caused at its mouth which generated devastating floods. His was the first expedition that explored the dam and the glacier. The team climbed several peaks on the glacier, including the highest of the group, Chong Kumdan I. Many side glaciers and valleys were explored. Other areas and peaks in the surrounding valleys like Aq Tash peak, Thangman Glacier and North Kumdan glaciers were thoroughly explored.
The Rimo Glaciers are huge and longest in the East Karakoram. Harish trekked to the historic Karakoram Pass twice, rare civilian party to stand there in last 50 years. He also explored the Central Rimo Glacier, which was not visited since expedition of Filippi de Filippi in 1913-14. They discovered lakes (Lake Filippi and Lake Dainelli) and recorded large number of unclimbed peaks. He stood on “Col Italia” , only the second party to reach there.( Prof. G. Dainelli, was the only other person to have reached the Col, way back in 1929). The col was crossed by him in 2002 and the unique Teram Shehr Plateau was explored for the first time. The team made the first ascent of Padmanabh (7030 m).
Expeditions to the unknown Arganglas area in 2001, climbing peaks and visiting different unknown valleys in the region.
The unknown Lingti Valley in eastern Spiti was explored by Harish in 1983 and 1987. By three different routes they entered and covered the entire length of the valley. The highest peak of Spiti, Gya (6794 m) was discovered by him and photographed for the first time. They reached Yangzi Diwan pass at the head of the Lingti valley. Several peaks on the high ridge of Gyagar were climbed, like Runse and Gyadung.
In the western valleys of Spiti, his was the only party (two members) to explore Khamengar valleys. They descended the Ratang Gorge which had only one visitor before them, Sir Peter Holmes in 1955.
Few passes were crossed in different trips, like Pin-Parvati pass, Tari Khango and Killung la.
The Rangrik Rang range, in the Charang area of Kinnaur, bordering Tibet was explored by him in a joint expedition with the British in 1994. The highest peak of the range was climbed by his team. At different times, areas of Hansbeshan (in winter) and Shaone Gad were explored.
The Buran ghati pass from Pabar valley was crossed and the kora of (circuit of) Charang Ghati was performed. Manirang pass is a high and challenging pass and it was crossed and his team climbed Manirang peak, which included legendary climber Paul Nunn. Several other trips covered Lamea pass, which joins Kinnaur with Western Garhwal, Chanshil ghati a connector between Rohru and large villages of Dodra-Kwar and Hangrang pass, facing Leo Pargial and Reo Purgyal peaks.
Several visits were made to the lovely valleys of HP on some long and some short treks. Bara Bahngal was visited and difficult Nikora pass was crossed. Treks were made in the Pangi valleys to cross Pimu pass, reached foot of Hansbeshan peak in winter, explored the Sorang valley, and trekked in the Sainj and Tirthan valleys. In several visits to the Dhaula Dhar range Mon pass, Jalsu pass and Sach pass were reached. Taking advantage of fast means of transport (trains and cheap flights) many weeklong treks were undertakes to the Dhaula Dhar. This Range was traversed and few small peaks were climbed. Long treks in the areas were undertaken to Pin Parvati pass to Spiti, Karcha nala to the Gyundi valley and trails across Sach Pass. Himachal offers a variety of adventure and much remains to be done.
In 1988 Harish and team traversed the Girthi Ganga gorge and crossed Unta Dhura pass to Milam. Gupta Khal on shoulder of Mana peak was reached.
Other new areas visited for explorations were Bhagirath Kharak Glacier and crossing of Shrak La (first to do so after Shipton-Tilman in 1934). Exploring of Arwa Valleys and photographing of Arwa Tower and Arwa Spire peaks, exploring of Trimukhi Parvat in the Jadh Ganga valley (the first visitor after J. B. Auden in 1931), and attempt on the Panpatia Glacier to discover the Col crossed by Shipton-Tilman in 1934.
Visits were made to the Valley of Flowers, Kangbhusandi tal and Obra valleys.
The Nanda Devi Sanctuary was visited by Harish first in 1970. One of the few early parties to visit and they climbed Bethartoli Himal South. Four members of his team died in a massive avalanche on the peak.
He returned to enter the inner Sanctuary in 1974 and climbed Devtoli where he suffered a major accident. Finally in 2001, as leader of the official IMF sponsored expedition he explored unknown corners in the Sanctuary to prepare a detailed Management Plan.
In 1982 Harish explored the upper Lasser Yankti and Darma Valley. Passes like Gangchal Dhura and Shin La were crossed in a pioneering effort.
During two expeditions then unknown valleys of the Kalabaland Glacier were explored and peak Chiring We at its head was climbed.
In the eastern Kumaun valleys, the Balati Glacier and the Pyunshani valleys were explored and peaks Panch Chuli II and V were climbed along with several smaller peaks.
Due to an accident on Pach Chuli V, major helicopter rescue was mounted to save Stephen Venables.
His was one of the first Indian teams to explore the northern areas of Sikkim, north of Zemu Glacier like Lhonak Valley no sooner Sikkim was part of India. With one other member the entire North Sikkim area was covered, four passes crossed and all the peaks photographed for record.
In 2012 The Plateau, the rarely allowed area of North Sikkim was visited and the entire area photographed. Borum la a pass between Lachen and Lachung valleys was reached. It was rare occasion when the sensitive area of The Plateau was visited. It so close to the Chinese border but the high peaks on its rim were explored by legendary mountaineers like Dr Kellas, T. H. Braham and Bill Tilman.
The Northeast Indian Himalaya, known as Arunachal Pradesh (formerly as NEFA) are a most unknown part in the entire range. Since 2003 Harish Kapadia has made yearly trips to the different valleys of the state reaching high passes and opening new areas.
The first visit was to range near Tawang Tract. They reached the border pass of Bum La, near Tawang and also visited Zimithang-Khinzimane areas.
In a long trek they went over the ill-famed ‘Bailey Trail’ from Bomdila towards Pota and Tulung La, crossing Poshing La. F. M. Bailey and H. T. Morshead had used this trail in 1913 from Tibet to Assam and the Chinese troops attacked Indian army through this route in 1962. Only mountaineer to have crossed this pass was Bill Tilman in 1938.Harish Kapadia and party reconnoitred and photographed high peak on Kangto (7042 m) the only peak above 7000 m in the Indian Northeast Himalaya.
In 2004 he returned to Arunachal Pradesh further east in the Siang valley. For a century it was a matter of conjecture where and how the great Tsangpo river flows to become the Brahmaputra in Assam. It is exact entry point in the Indian territory was never visited from the south. This was achieved in 2004 by a small team led by Harish. They reached a high pass Guyor la, observed the rare views of Namcha Barwa and Gyala Peri peaks and finally reached the ‘S’ Bend by which the Tsangpo enters India and is called the Siang. This completed the great exploration which started in 1715.
2005 in Arunachal was devoted to exploration of the ancient pilgrim route to Takpa Siri. It is a holy peak where people, both Tibetans and from Arunachal performed kora (circumambulations). This tradition stopped from 1960s due to conflict between India and China, with line drawn cutting across the route. Harish Kapadia and party trekked to areas accessible from the Indian side, gathering historic material, photographic people and places in this remote region.
2006: Reached the historic Yongyyap la on the McMahon line and trekked in the adjoining Dri valley.
2007: Visit to the Lohit valley, trek in the Dong valley and the look at the Burma Hump.
2009: The Yang Sang Chu valley, known as the holy Pemako was trekked till Pema Siri. Party reached Riwutala. Menchuka, a beautiful side valley from Along was visited in 2009.
2010: In a major exploration in the East Kameng valley Harish and party reached the head of the Kameng valley and obtained rare photos of Kangto, Chomo and Nyegi Kangsang.
2011: Trekked in the Lapti valley on border with Burma to Hoot pass.
2013: The Chaukan pass is a historic point from where a party of Second World War survivors escaped to India. Many perished and others were rescued by trained elephants. This pass on the border with Burma was visited only once after that rescue in 1942. Harish and companions reached the pass in January covering major difficulties, constructing bridges and walking in deep mud.
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Ladakh has been visited many times since 1980. Areas on the Nubra, Shyok and Pangong Tso were trekked to in1980. In different trips few treks in the Rupshu area covered different lakes, valleys and the Tso Moriri lake. Lungser Kangri (6666 m) the highest peak of Rupshu was climbed (first ascent in 1995).
In a long traverse from Sarchu to Rusphu, several valleys were crossed and Pankpo la pass was crossed, Monto peaks explored. The area of Hanle, Chushul and Pangong Tso were visited in winter.
Bhutan offers many trekking areas though climbing is strictly controlled. For Indians it is as easy and economic as trekking in India. In 2003 Harish undertook a long traverse covering l the areas from west to east. This allowed for enjoying views of peaks like Chomolahri and Masagang. Bhutan has a unique culture and there are many famous Dzongs (forts), monasteries and places that were visited in a leisurely trip. From Paro in the west to border with Arunachal Pradesh were visited. These eastern areas are not often visited and its coverage was good addition to knowledge and visual collection. This trip to Bhutan linked up the exploration to east with the areas of Arunachal Pradesh. Moreover study of history of climbing in Bhutan and its general history were written about and are a standard easy reference to the area.
Most popular treks in Nepal, like Everest Base Camp (twice), Annapurna Base Camp and others, were undertaken starting from 1960s as young school student. Nepal was different then and it was a challenge to travel and trek there. In 1978 Harish undertook a long traverse from Kathmandu to Darjeeling, following the traditional ‘Sherpa Trail’ through which the Sherpas had traversed to Darjeeling decades ago. This trek covered all the valleys in the Eastern Nepal including the dreaded pass of Trashi Lapcha. By bifurcating north from different valleys high passes were crossed including Trashi Lapcha pass. It was a unique opportunity for photographing ethnic people and high peaks. Several rivers had to be crossed in improvised crafts and organising logistics like food and travel was a great challenge on those days. Since then Harish has returned to Nepal many times on shorter visits, including as a Jury Member at the Kathmandu Film Festival.
Three long visits were made to the Tibetan plateau. The first trip was a trek from Simikot (Nepal) to border of Tibet. Crossing the border Kailash area was approached from the south via Taklakot. The second visit was from Lhasa across the Tibetan plateau to extreme west of the country via the Northern road. Visits were made to the areas of Rongbuk (Everest North base camp), Lhasa, Shigatse, Gyantse. Kailash, Manasarover. During the third trip apart from Kailash, Tirthapuri and rare areas of Tholing Math, Tsaparang and Guge were visited. In a long drive from the north, Shinquen (Ali) was reached and visit made to Rudok on the Aksai Chin road. Demchhok monastery on border with India was visited. These are very different areas apart from usual kora of Kailash and Manasarovar. Thus the Tibet was covered extensively by different routes.
Based in Mumbai a new concept of smaller treks, quick visit to the Himalayan range and minimum equipment concept was developed. Taking advantage of fast and economic travels available many areas were trekked to in not more than 10 day trips, a pleasure like listening to Bagpipes in the hills. Small treks were made to: Chur dhar, in foothills of Shimla and offers a grand view of many surrounding ranges. Nag Tibba, Kedar Kantha, Budha Pinath, are small but attractive areas with a very different views and have different routes of approach.
Bharadsar lake on border of Garhwal and Himachal is a beautiful lake and it was traversed by Harish through a different and difficult route.
Jatropani, Chiltha ridge and Chanshil Ghati are some of the other short but enjoyable treks undertaken, each in different areas and offering different challenges and pleasures. In recent years few trips to simply read a book or listen to music on high Himalayan ground were done. Facing a wonderful view these activities take a different meaning. All these ‘Bagpipe Treks’ has allowed different kind pleasure in the lower ranges of the Himalaya.
Quite a few of the above explorations have not been repeated as yet while many have enjoyed treks and climbs in his footsteps. In some cases his explorations have led to opening of the area for climbers. Based on his writings climbers and trekkers have followed his footsteps to these unknown valleys.