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He was the youngest in our community of outdoor and adventure enthusiasts who were struggling to get a budding adventure tourism industry off the ground in the late 80’s, early 90’s. Most of us had come to it through passion and interest. Here was this young man with the illustrious Col (Bull) Narendra Kumar for a father and thus, very large boots to fill.
He skied almost as soon as he could walk, he spent a rookie time at Lake Winipeg in Canada, learning how to raft. He learned of mountains and their mysteries at the knees of his ‘Pala’–the man that India issued a stamp to commemorate.
With this background there was no question about what this man went on to achieve; almost the Olympics for skiing, if a last minute accident hadn’t curtailed that.
He did first descents of rivers, and put Indian ice hockey on the international map. And he certainly created his own boots with his sheer zest for life, traversing new frontiers and all things adventurous that kept him off that office chair!
Akshay and I first spent time doing rounds of the then Uttar Pradesh government offices trying ever so hard to create official guidelines on safety and environmental protection for our budding adventure industry. We collaborated on the first eco guidelines for trekking, rafting, camping. We sat outside myriad offices for hours on end, drinking ‘babudom chais’. It was a learning time that stood Akshay in great stead when he went on to captain many of our adventure tourism associations.
We were a small group of adventurers and our operations were fledgling, Akshay was the only one working with Col. Kumar’s already established Mercury Himalayan Explorations. I say 'working with' because I think he identified himself with every other river guide that he worked with. They slept in the same staff tents, shared clothes and river stories. He was one of the most down to earth and open-hearted people I've met, ready to provide help or support to anyone up and down that lovely Ganga river that we all started our professional lives on. If you needed equipment – Akshay would help; if you asked him to guide a trip for you – he was there; if you needed a rescue – he was first in line.
That was the start of my journey of friendship with Akshay. He would call and say, "Want to go driving in the deserts of Egypt?' And we did. "A new pass has opened – need a recce." That’s all it took – off we went.
"I need a back roads route in the mountains – shall we go find?" For sure and we did, and met other intrepid travellers like ourselveson the road.
We shared a love of the great outdoors, discovery and challenge and, above all, trust.
I have to mention here that he made the monumentally wonderful decision to marry a woman who was able to walk in step with him all the way – Dilshad Master, who also became a great friend to me, thankfully.
I eventually shut my own operation and went wandering around the world. The moment I got back, there was Akshay waiting with a job for me. The first day we sat in the same office – he said to me, ‘I can’t tell you how awesome this feels, to have you finally working in tandem with me.’ It warmed my heart wholly.
We went on to work at developing Outward Bound India Himalaya, an international programme for development of youth and young adults through the wilderness. This was a passion for Akshay and me – to introduce our young people to the possibilities of what lies within them and the world that surrounds them, much of which lies undiscovered when confined to the city. Many young people will remember that world and their ability in it, that Akshay was able to show them.
His intrepid leadership and trust in his own ability to take on a challenge made everything a possibility. If it failed, it just meant you try again. That is Akshay’s legacy. Nothing was impossible.
That I miss him is a given, that we lost a champion for harnessing the ability of youth, of discovery, adventure and new horizons, is a loss for all of us in this fraternity of the great outdoors.
Pavane Mann is Executive Director of Outward Bound India. She's the brains behind The Lama House in Manali. You can read more about her adventures in her blog
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