Dehra Dun and Mt Everest; Some Sad Memories

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Dehra Dun : Though Bachendri Pal, the first woman from India to set foot on Mount Everest is from Uttarakhand, but this small mountain state will also be attempting another first, with twin sisters, Tashi Mallik and Nungshi Mallik, from Dehra Dun district, making their bid to climb the highest mountain peak in a mission that has been dubbed as ‘Twin Sisters atop Everest – 2013’.

The two sisters who were flagged off by the Uttarakhand chief minister from his residence here on Friday, which incidentally was also International Women’s Day, happen to belong to Mussoorie, a known hill station that had earned for itself the sobriquet ‘Queen of Hills’. The two have already scaled a number of peaks in India and abroad, but this will be their first attempt on Mt Everest.

But whenever there is talk of Mt Everest in the state capital of Uttarakhand, the Bahuguna brothers who belonged to the city invariably come to mind. And though the entire city has wished success and is praying for the success of the Mallik sisters in their venture to scale the highest peak, but the fact that the two Bahuguna brothers lost their lives attempting to make it to the top, remains afresh.

While elder brother Maj Harsh Vardhan Bahuguna lost his life in the international expedition to the Everest in 1971, his younger brother Maj Jai Vardhan Bahuguna lost his life 14 years later in a jinxed army expedition in Oct 1985, in which four other army officers were also killed. It is a sad tragedy that neither brother could put his foot atop Mt Everest, their cherished ambition.

Ironically, both brothers lost their lives near or around the South Col. Harsh Bahuguna, who had to abort his first expedition just 400 feet short of the summit, died while making the second attempt. Term it fate or destiny, his younger brother Jai also died while making the second attempt. Both were skilled mountaineers, with several peaks to their credit.

Incidentally, Jai had his first attempt at Mt Everest in 1984, in an expedition, better remembered for putting the first Indian woman, Bachendri Pal, on the summit. Had it not been for the sportsmanship and team spirit of Jai and another member of the expedition, Kiran Kumar, she would never have made it to the record books as the first Indian woman on Everest.

Both Jai and Kiran Kumar were supposed to make it to the peak that day, but opted out at the advance camp to let Pal make it to the top because there was barely enough reserve of oxygen. They let Bachendri Pal use their share of oxygen and scale the peak, so that the expedition could at least get the credit of putting the first Indian woman atop the world’s highest peak.

The Army expedition of October 1985, was his and Kiran Kumar’s second attempt to scale the peak. But it was apparently jinxed. Maj Kiran Kumar fell along the south east ridge route. He suffered head injuries and died on the spot. Four days later four other members – Maj Jai Bahuguna, Cap Vijaya Pal Singh Negi, Maj Ranjit Singh Bakshi and Lt MUB Rao – died in one of the worst mountaineering tragedies.

Newspaper reports had then attributed the cause of death due to dehydration, injuries and exposure to cold with freak weather making rescue and salvage operations impossible. But the indomitable spirit of the Bahuguna brothers is now part of Doon legacy and with them in mind they eagerly look forward to greet the Mallik sisters on their return after conquering the world’s highest peak and thus putting their names in the record books as the first twin sisters to set foot on Everest.

A journalist with over 40 years of experience, Jagdish Bhatt is Editor Hill Post (Uttarakhand). Jagdish has worked with India's leading English dailies, which include Times of India, Indian Express, Pioneer and several other reputed publications. A highly acclaimed journalist, Jagdish is a recipient of many awards, latest being the 2011 Development Journalism Award. He lives in Dehra Dun.

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