Thursday, 24 October 2013

On top of the World. Again and Again.

Extreme temperatures, hunger, acute physical discomfort, one misstep and goodbye to your life, no rescue and no hope of rescue for even your remains: but you heave yourself up for one more time and hey! You are on top of the world. Literally.

Arjun Vajpai was barely 16 years when he became the youngest India to scale Mount Everest in 2010. He was in school then. At FICCI’s TURF 2013 in October, he is a strapping and confident young man of twenty and totally enamoured by the Mountains.

Arjun Vajpai at FICCI TURF 2013, 23 & 24th October.

“Climbing Mount Everest was definitely a challenge but convincing my parents, especially my mother was a bigger challenge” recalls the young Mountaineer who has since then gone on to conquer Mt. Lhotse and Mt. Manaslu both in the above 8000 metres above sea level and continues to be the youngest Indian to have done so. Three down out of his bucketlist of the 14 highest summits around the world. Mt. Kilimanjaro and K2 are on his list among others.

“Among mountaineers, Mt Everest is definitely an important achievement but there are other even more challenging summits. For me, it is the feeling of surmounting the difficulty that a mountain presents. It is an intimate connection because you are basically on your own. You have to trust your instincts and be physically and mentally fit. Mountaineering has taught me patience, focus and to take failure in my stride”

A typical day in his life would include over fourteen hours of endurance building exercise activities when preparing for the next climb. “I sport a big belly when I start out on a climb but by the time I return, I am down to my bony self. My parents are my support system.”

When asked if he had a timeline in mind to fulfill his dream of climbing the other summits on his list, he is very practical. “It takes time to prepare physically for it. There is also the issue of funding. I have some sponsors now but I am still working at funding from the Government of India. I am looking at the next 7-10 years to make more climbs. There is also the important factor of weather and climactic conditions that can make or break a climb. There have been occasions when we had to abandon a climb. Those are factors to consider. ”

This young role model continues to inspire and educate many people, young and old about mountaineering and life as he spends his time travelling to events as a Motivational Speaker. 

“I am often asked if I feel like I have missed out on life while chasing mountains. A lot of people think I am crazy but the call of the mountains is hard to resist. My journey began when I accompanied my grandfather on a short trek and we watched the sun go down from the top of one of peaks of the Sahyadri hills. At that moment, I was struck by the emotions that accompanied the sights from the top of the world and there was no turning back. I do know that I haven’t watched as many movies as people my age or have had enough free time to spend with friends or family but I feel fulfilled. I do not miss anything except maybe normal food when on a climb.”

The young mountaineer also has a few laments. “My main concern is that mountaineering as a field has not gained the recognition it deserves in India. In other countries, mountaineers are better recognized and rewarded than in our country. So I am still working to create awareness. Awards are not the sole concern but it feels good to be acknowledged and it does help in generating interest and funding. So many young people are now getting interested in mountaineering but with their own means. It will be wonderful to gain more attention to the field of mountaineering as a sport. It is sports tourism as well.”

In spite of the low moments and all that needs to be worked out to promote the sport, Arjun Vajpai takes it one day at a time. The young man who could have been a footballer if he had not made a trek with his grandfather, continues to work hard at realizing his lofty dreams. “Meeting my hero Messner was a surreal moment and it was an even better moment as he recognized me.  I feel stoked to be able to inspire the same of other youngsters. I would go through all the pains, to feel on top of the world. Again and again and again.”

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