"Where eagles dare"- Narration from a man who chase the mountains

Dr. Aniruddha Babar *

"Mountaineers climb because they love the mountains, yes; but they climb too because climbing prepares them boldly and tenaciously for death, then guides them faithfully to the edge of another world, a world I now recognize as the world of the dead, and there allows them to dance, mountain after mountain, year after year, as close to death as it is possible to dance; which is to say, within a single step."
~ Robert Leonard Reid, "The Mountain of Love and Death"

…….Spending days and nights in -50 degree Celsius temperature with winds blasting up to 130 km/hr, in an environment of avalanches and crevasses, at extreme altitude so high that each of your step requires you to take ten breaths…….. !!!!!

I have been wandering in the mountains since childhood. Ever since I was introduced to the mountain range around my village in Maharashtra, I have been enchanted and mesmerized by the great mysteries of those tall and mighty peaks. There was no fort, no hill, no Peak in great Sahyadri ranges of Maharashtra that remain untouched by my overwhelming desire to assault and win over them. As I grew bit older I started hearing the calls from far north and I responded with great passion and vigor with my attempts to explore mighty Himalayas. Most of my solo Himalayan expeditions were unplanned.

I never enjoyed planned expeditions as I knew for sure that in mountains no plan works except your tremendous mental strength, quick decision making ability, desire to achieve the climbing objectives and ability to withstand higher degrees of physical and psychological pressure in the most extreme terrain. However, whenever I took people along with me I had to initiate proper planning.

As someone from the mountaineering circle once said, "Planning & Organizing mostly done to make expedition team members psychologically assured and to bury their worries about the 'unknown'". People love plans, they like to be part of a design, a system that may protect them and help them to achieve what they desire without any or little discomfort. However, things are never like what they seem. Once we enter their jurisdiction, Mountains "rapes and reaps" our soul and there is no way to escape such an assault of great power and force except having a choice at our disposal to battle it with a counter-attack.

In mountains and mountaineering world all the ideals of democracy ends up losing their meaning. The 'Sirdar of the Expedition' is the most powerful person. He is the Emperor. He is required to be venerated, respected and followed blindly because the Life and Death of the members of Expedition rests in his hands. Sirdar is the one who is capable to penetrate the soul of the mountains and therefore earned a rare honour to have an audience with them.

He is the one who understands the language of the mountains and takes decision according to what he perceives in the best interest of the 'Expedition'. Disobeying the orders/decisions of the Sirdar is an invitation to death. IT has always been like this, it will continue to be like this-whether we like it or not. Mountaineering is a battle of spirits and souls- human, inhuman.

Climbing mountains is dangerous – the more dangerous it is, the more beautiful. It's kind of adventure and meditation together. What is charming and inexplicable to me is the extreme danger rock-climbing and high-altitude mountaineering exposes to us. It brings us into the present moment like nothing else. Mountaineers are often very competitive, self-motivated, driven people – either by nature or through some sort of ego-compensation, or both. Most of them are certainly relentless in their need to conquer mountains. Sometimes they manages, and many times they doesn't manage – but they keeps trying.

For over a century, from all over the world Mountaineers have come to the Himalayas and have made tremendous efforts, dangerous efforts to reach unconquered peaks. In their efforts, hundreds of Mountaineers died; not even their bones have been found. But most amazing thing is, these mountaineers comes from all over the world but in almost 140 crore population of India hardly handful of the Indians ever bothered- and why would they? After all mountaineering is too risky, too dangerous.

During childhood my father used to bring books-many of them had the stories of great valor and adventures, stories of robust warriors, dreamers-treasure hunters-lonely inventors & scientists, I would often wonder what is that these people in stories seek. I found answers as I undergo a transformation myself. I think adventure is a spiritual path. Mountaineering is a great meditation.

Whenever the danger is very close, the mind stops. The mind can think only when you are not in danger, it has no say in danger. Danger makes one spontaneous and in that spontaneity you suddenly recognize that you are not really what you think you are, but you are something 'else'- far superior, superhuman that you could ever realize.

I am of the firm belief that mountaineering is a stoic sport. The pain, the uncomfortable feelings, the discomfort and dangers of high altitude, the deprivation of sleep, and the cold that one is forced to digest is compensated by the goal. In other words, while climbing, all these negative factors are absorbed by the climber's determination to make it to the summit. For handful of men with drive, this is a natural urge, for as human beings we tend to be drawn towards challenges as we understand that they make us grow. They are part of life itself and the struggle that life itself represent.

In climbing, there is a term used to describe the hardest, most risky move of the route – the Crux. Moving past the point of retreat (the crux), the climber transcends. Is the fun of climbing worth the risk to life and limb? Can a climber justify his or her actions when a mistake on the mountain will require rescuers to face equally perilous risks? And, what about those who are left behind when a climbing accident results in death?

Is there something about human nature or human society that draws many toward risk-taking activities? While the risks associated with climbing lead to ethical concerns and considerations, there are also questions about human nature and a coddling, risk-averse society that may explain and justify what climbers do. I think, Man has always been having a spirit of an explorer. Our ancestors courageously stepped out of their comfort in the AFRICA around Seventy Five Thousand years ago in search of unknown lands.

There is something in genes which could probably have been staying dormant in humans of the modern world-but in handful of us it is active-live-kicking and that 'something' is a primary booster that drags the person out of his/her material comforts and throw them at the mercy of 'cruel nature'.

I could be the only Non-Naga (except soldiers of Assam Rifles) who have explored the most challenging jungles and the mountains of the Nagaland located in deep, almost inaccessible regions of Indo-Myanmar Border. I led the first ever mountain expedition (in the history of Nagaland) of my college Mountaineering team to hoist "Tiranga" on top of Mt. Saramati in monsoon season (climb becomes most deadly during this time) on 15th of August, 2022 to honour our nation on 75th Independence Day.

I led the first ever mountain expedition in March, 2022 consisted a team of 46 strong climbers to explore alternate, uncharted route to Mt. Saramati through Border Pillars 136, 137 and 138. I was also a part of Mt. Khulioh (Khelia) Expedition organized by the team of teachers of Christian High School, Noklak. Also, I led a Mt. Japfu Expedition consisted of 'spirited' members of my college mountaineering team in November, 2022 that successfully climbed one of the most challenging mountains in the BARAIL RANGE, Kohima in blitzkrieg style through a midnight ascent in a record time.

Leading college Mountaineering Teams is not a joke. We follow Military pattern of leadership and command structure while planning, organizing, conducting various Mountaineering and Trekking Expeditions. Moreover, at the primary level, firstly you will have to convince the college management, then the parents. Our Indian society in general is a risk aversion society. We normally don't allow our kids to play with their life and prefer to keep them under the comfortable wings of family's love, affection, comfort and security which often makes them generally weak, emotionally delicate, physically diaphanous and permanently dependent.

However, I feel proud to say that my 'Mountain Warriors' are of different breed altogether. First of all, Mountains do not call any Tom, Dick & Harry and those who are called to the Mountains they are born with different mindset- which means- you need to have IT in you to become a mountaineer, as your wealth, power, social status, material resources, emotional desires cannot make you one.

I train my mountaineers well, make them bleed in training and then teach them to literally play and toss their life into thin air on the mountain top- and they did really well. This is certainly not a magic but a systematic awakening of DNA which had kept desire to challenge the nature in a dormant state in nucleotides. Mountains are channels of energy and also the portals of spiritual transformation. They are life givers to those who can open themselves before them. I use great mountains as a tool to construct great Men and Women from ordinary girls and boys.

In todays' modern world people who are willing to lead a life in a different way are truly handful. History of mankind witnessed great ages of Sea, Mountains and Polar Expeditions. There have been number of incidents when people had to sacrifice their wealth and relationships to give justice to their inner callings. Number of oceanic and mountain expeditions of the past were financed by the Captains and the MEN themselves from their own savings and pockets in absence of sponsors. So many of them got bankrupt, suffered heavy financial losses, died in poverty but lived in glory. We do not know their names, what we know is their deeds.

Great men are known by their failures than the success. Todays' modern explorers, now handful of them have survived the madness of materialism, are carrying forward the legacy of those great men who dared to venture into the unknown in the past. Those men were not professionals, most of them were amateurs from different civil professions who loved to play with the life for higher gain.

So, what does the Mountains, Oceans, Sky and the great jungles teaches us? I think they teaches us about freedom. Freedom is primarily a spiritual concept, not a political. Freedom, Liberation has remained the primary quest of mankind- everything that man has ever done throughout his evolutionary process-all those inventions and adventures has been done in quest of freedom . Therefore, what todays' teachers and professors have to demonstrate and teach their student is nothing but the 'FREEDOM'. Once FREEDOM is taught, everything gets streamlined. Only freedom can ignite intelligence and courage to seek knowledge, only freedom can facilitate critical thinking, only freedom can take a student to success at various stages in life.

In schools and colleges we 'chain' students in the name of marks and compulsory classroom attendance. We 'sinfully' deprived them from the greatest lessons that the academic institutions are capable to impart.

We do not teach them to use their brain but teach them how to memorize. We celebrate success of toppers, we give them false hopes that the grades; marks and top ranks in examination will bring them sure success in their life, we do not teach our students to value their own emotions, we do not teach them about 'contentment', we do not teach them that the 'Money, Wealth, Power and Beauty has never ever been the solution to the human misery and the classic tragedy of Human Existence', we never teach them about the 'illusionary nature of 'fear', we teach our students about careers, jobs, business but we never teach them about 'what to do when salary and profits starts pouring into the pockets', we teach young students to see dreams, but we never teach them as to what to do next when the dreams are achieved and success is gained, we teach poor students about wealth, teach them an art to become rich, but we never teach them as to what to do after becoming rich, we teach our students about power and politics, we encourage them to become an IAS, IPS, ADVOCATES, JUDGES, POLITCIANS but we never teach them as to what to do after becoming one, we teach them about life but we never teach them 'an art of dying', we never teach them 'anything' that will be useful to them to successfully swim through the inevitable, indestructible, perilous oceans of materialism and blind desires.

Indian students in general; especially our Naga students in particular are the victims of their society. Their family, their community have imprisoned them in the name of love, family/community bonding, social-political-cultural-religious obligations/duties/responsibilities, prestige, honour etc. The so called elders in community attempt to impose their outdated, irrelevant wisdom upon the heads of today's generation.

We Indians often boast about our family system, we take pride in such a time tested system that seems to provide firm base and security to its members, but in all this desire to be 'secured' we pay the cost in terms of the loss of individual freedom, ability to reach our highest possible potential and natural social liberty which once upon a time our ancestors enjoyed. Family, School, College, University are the institutions which in modern times have turned into the cells of indoctrination and burning grounds to create 'Slave Mentality'.

Products of such system are given a straight line formula- "Systematic education-> Some Job-> Marriage-> Children-> Retirement-> Old Age-> DEATH." This oversimplification of life and human existence is killing the very essence of humanity. This is all happening because we have divorced ourselves from the true message and the true messenger- THE NATURE. The more we shy away from nature, more problems we will create for ourselves and our future generation. Creator has kept a message for us in all those oceans and the great mountains.

A child studying in air conditioned classroom, with five star facilities and Ready-to-Inject vial of knowledge will never understand the deepest mysteries of human existence but remain stuck in the illusions of material world and die in ignorance. Mountaineering and all those activities that introduces us to risk and death helps us to break this curtain of illusions and introduces us to our true nature and final meaning of life. Nature plays an important role in the evolution of mankind, however to understand its manifestation, one needs to come out of their comfort zones.

Mountains, Oceans, Deserts, Jungles have been given spiritual importance. In various sacred texts of all the religions we find the mention of the spiritual importance of these entities. In the rat race to become rich, powerful and modern we basically ignore the 'life force' that sustained us throughout eons. Several mountains around the world are considered sacred. Mount Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva, is of special significance to Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and native Tibetans. Likewise, Mount Fuji is believed to be the incarnation of the Earth spirit and home to Goddess Sengen Sema.

In Christianity and Islam too mountains hold a special place by virtue of their being the site of revelations and miracles. Mount Tabor was where Jesus was revealed to be the son of God while Mohammed is said to have received his first revelation on Mount Hira. As for mountains being witness to miracles, Mount Carmel was where a little cloud rose, grew and replenished the land with copious rain after a prolonged drought and when Abraham was about to sacrifice his son on Mount Moriah, a ram was providentially substituted by divine intervention. Mountains have always attracted the seekers-the fallen and pure both.

Climbing mountains is a journey of self-exploration. I think it is all about knowing the godly essence in us. In my Himalayan exploration I encountered many extraordinary souls. An old, veteran British climber I met in Salleri (Solukhumbu region) many years ago gave a kind of talisman to me through his words. He must have been at least 80 years old then.

He said, "Lad, if you are born on plains; climb hills, if you are born in hills; climb mountains, if you are born in the mountains; keep going higher- and-higher, keep going up, let the hypoxic altitude tear you apart, let all the masks be melted, let all the shadows be disappeared, then you will be newborn-a new man with a renewed soul. Charge a mountain, baptize yourself with the tears of your own spirit". These 'mystical' words continues to guide me in my life. Mountains makes you a real human- AN EXACT FIGURE THE GOD ALMIGHTY-OUR CREATOR WANTED US TO BE.

I take myself and my 'disciples' where the eagles dare- into the valleys of death, towards the mountains of life and beyond!!

* Dr. Aniruddha Babar wrote this article for
The writer is at Dept of Political Science, Tetso College, Nagaland
The writer can be contacted at aniruddha(AT)tetsocollege(DOT)org
This article was webcasted on 12 November 2022.

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