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Nestled in the bosom of the Hindu Kush and Karakoram ranges, Haripur lies in the North-West Frontier Province, in modern-day Pakistan. Born in 1931 in Haripur, Captain Mohan Singh Kohli has certainly lived a life full of adventure.
In this revised edition of his autobiography, the famed mountaineer recalls the trials and tribulations of his tremendous life, juxtaposed against his triumphs and tender moments.
His book traverses through memories of his father and brother, his friends whose names he tattooed on his arm, and the communal violence that came with the tail end of the British Raj.
Come 1947, at the dawn of India’s partition, Capt Kohli’s life took an uncertain turn. Mass killings and violence soon squashed any plans of identifying with the aspirations of the newly-formed Pakistan, and Capt Kohli, with his family in tow, wove through near-death experiences and find his way to the train to India.
In 1954, Capt Kohli was commissioned to the Indian Navy, which took him from the coasts to the mountains, all the while adding feathers to his rapidly-filling mountaineering cap. Posted in INS Shivaji, the young officer spent many weekends scaling the many mountains in the nearby Sahyadri range. He went from climbing Martyr’s Summit (a hill near his childhood home and on his father’s shoulders as a three-year old), the Sahyadri and Karakoram ranges, and on to the Himalaya. In 1959, he embarked on a mission to Nanda Devi, nicknamed in the book as the ‘Naval Siege of Nanda Kot.’
“With our limited experience, climbing the steep north face of Nanda Kot without using a fixed rope was indeed a dangerous proposition. I had been inspired by the vision of Guru Gobind Singh a few hours ago, and now it was the sight of the summit that motivated me. I was like a man possessed. I felt Guru Gobind Singh nudging me on,” he describes.
The book in detail, talks of his attempts to summit Everest in 1960 and 1962, with new struggles and worse weather with every climb. “A large stone hit Sherpa Nawang Tsering and hurtled him down the ice slope,” he describes of the 1962 expedition. “His liver had been shattered and he did not survive. Two years earlier, in 1960, while returning with me from South Col, he had refused to spend a night at this very spot, fearing death.”
Mountaineering over five decades ago was a far cry from the Everest expeditions we see today. There were no tour guides or an industry transporting scores of enthusiasts up and on the mountain. Before Capt Kohli’s attempt, the mammoth had been scaled only about three times. Today, he is famed for leading India’s first successful Everest expedition in 1965—it was the first time that three men stood on the world’s highest summit together.
Capt Kohli established the Himalayan Environment Trust with the help of mountaineering stalwarts like Sir Edmund Hillary, Maurice Herzog, Reinhold Messner and Junko Tabei. His career also panned across the ranks of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and Air India.
The book is a captivating read for all those looking to discover India and Pakistan’s history from a unique perspective, from the words of India’s most famed mountaineer, we might add.
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