Harish Kapadia “Mountaineers Never Retire”

Website Interview with Wildcraft, Bangalore

For over 4 decades now, Harish Kapadia has been an active mountaineer, trekker and explorer, true to his statement ‘Mountaineers Never Retire’, Harish Kapadia is 67 years old and continues to head out on treks, climbs and exploratory expeditions.

Having had his roots in the region of Mumbai, Harish’s relationship with the outdoors began with the beautiful and elusive Sahyadri Ranges. Around 40 years back when the Himalaya were a distant and difficult dream for many, Harish had explored different regions of the area.

“I have had several expeditions with the British, Japanese and the French,” adds Harish Kapadia. His expeditions along the Himalayan region initially were around the Kumaun and Garhwal areas. Today, Harish is renowned as a Himalayan Explorer. Apart from the same, he has also been awarded the Patron’s Medal of the Royal Geographic Society UK.

Harish has also been awarded with the Life Time Achievement Award for Adventure by the President of India and has also been awarded the King Albert Mountain Award, which was presented by The King Albert I Memorial Foundation.

Over the years, Harish has written over 15 books on mountaineering and numerous articles on exploration and the outdoors. Some of the famous books written by Harish Kapadia are Trek the Sahyadris, Trekking and Climbing in the Indian Himalaya, High Himalaya Unknown Valleys, Meeting the Mountains and many more. Harish was the editor of the famed Himalayan Journal for 37 years till 2 years back.

It wasn’t difficult for Harish to look into exploration, thanks to an encouraging family, “you might have to reduce the other social activities like partying and going out and dedicate it to explorations, but I never regretted it. I always wanted to look and explore new areas,” adds Harish.

From 1964 to 1974, Harish went on exploring and discovering new regions and areas. In 1974, Harish met with a serious hiking accident. “In the Nanda Devi Sanctuary, I fell in a 150 feet crevice, and dislocated my hip joint; I was carried around for 13 days by a porter after which, I was taken to a hospital where my hip joint was operated on,” says Harish.

After this accident, Harish was on crutches for 2 years, this however did not deter him to his next adventure, “You see we mountaineers are rather hard-headed,” jokes Harish, “I went on a hike with my crutches,” he further adds.

It was a psychological blow, but the secret was to not let the fear take over, “I simply knew that this is what I wanted to do, going to different new places, explores untouched areas had become a complete passion for me.”

“I have been active as a child, and since I was in Mumbai, and was in the traditional family business of cloth merchandise, exploration in my earlier days revolved around the Sahyadri Ranges. With time the interest to explore new areas just kept increasing and in 2000, when my children were not interested in the cloth business, I sold everything and got full time into the world of the outdoors,” says Harish.

Tragedy however struck this family when in 2000, when Harish’s younger son Nawang a Lieutenant of the Gorkha Regiment was killed by terrorists when he was 25 years old. “It was a severe blow for my family and me, but it nevertheless pushed me more ahead into climbing and doing something for my son. I wanted to do something for my son, who too was interested in the outdoor world and climbing.

As a tribute I climbed in the Siachen Glacier with a team of climbers from the Japanese Alpine club. After days of tough climbs, tough climate and weather, we reached the summit of   peak Padmanabh and placed my son’s photograph as a celebration to his life and work,” reminisces Harish.

The family maintains an active site in the memory of their son www.nawang.com, apart from this Harish has also been an integral part in the discussion of a proposal for a Siachen Peace Park and cleaning the environmental damage in the area. With several decades of climbing and exploratory experience, there comes great humility and learning. “While you enjoy the complete experience of climbing and exploration, you have to respect nature and the mountains, you simply cannot have an ego tussle and battle with nature,” says Harish.

When we asked Harish, which was his best trek or exploratory experience, he answered, “Every trek or exploration teaches you something new and different, so every expedition is the best, you learn so much, you discover so much more.”

Harish Kapadia has helped create a great awareness of the Indian outdoor scene. There are several maps and photographs that have been donated by Harish to the American Alpine Club, and set up a Lt. Nawang Kapadia Collection. There even is a Nawang Kapadia Library at the Himalayan Club.

“These explorations and treks help me understand the geological setting of the areas along the Siachen glaciers, the geo-politics of the Indo-Chinese, Indo-Burma bordering areas and many other such factors, you begin to understand several factors much better,” adds Harish.

With decades of exploratory and climbing experience, Harish Kapadia has seen several changes in the field of outdoors. “The whole scenario has changed in terms of organization and ease of access. In the early 60’s and 70’s there was no information available, we had to hunt for a long while to get the right kind of equipment. We had to go to the thieves market to get equipment, transport was minimalistic, and so were the supplies. Also, if someone was looking for a Himalayan expedition the cost was simply too much, and we need a lot of planning,” adds Harish.

While the scenario has changed visibly over the decades, disposable income is more, transportations are easier, and there are numerous tour operators who can plan your journey. “People might have the money, but they do not have the time, for many people it is all about just discussing and talking about their exploits. It has become a mania right, this definitely was not there sometime back. However, having said that commercialisation has its benefits; it has helped planning and preparation a lot easier. Whether everything else changes, the Mountains Never Change,” says Harish.

“I have been going to these areas for over 30-40 years now, and the porters along the Kumaun region have become more like family for me, I have known them, their children, and the children’s children and it’s a bond we have built over the decades. I have been fortunate to explore areas where others have not been allowed, thanks to having come from an army family,” says Harish while talking about his experiences along the Siachen glacier region.

When asked about what the outdoors and nature has taught him, he says “the outdoors definitely teaches you to be more organized, it simply gives you courage and strength, and it changes attitudes and teaches you to respect nature. As Eric Shipton says, ‘I do not want to be the best mountaineer, only longest surviving mountaineers!’ Same with me! The mountains teaches you to test your limits and it also gives you the wisdom to understand where to stop”

Citing an example of how important it is to understand one’s limits Harish says, “In 1985, when were on an expedition along the Siachen glacier along with the British, there was this particular steep slope, while some of us opted out and understood that it would be a difficult climb, many of the British climbers wanted to attempt it, but to no avail. You need to understand the limitations and work around those, but this comes with experience.”

At the age of 67, Harish is still raring to go and advices all outdoor enthusiasts, “Have no ego against nature, respect her. While mountaineers never retire, it is important you adapt according to your age. Every single time whether it is an unexplored terrain or an explored terrain, there always is something new and enjoyable.”

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