Dipen Samanta had just become a father when he heard his friends were setting out on a trek to Annapurna base camp in Nepal. Not even his week-old daughter could hold him back from answering the call of the mountain. Three decades later, far from resenting her father’s passion, Rupin has become his trekking companion.
A desire to conquer the unknown and the adrenaline rush are what take Dipen, 52, back to the mountains again and again. There have been tough times and close encounters but nothing could stop him from going on the next expedition.
“Once during an expedition to Kamet in Garhwal we got caught in a blizzard. After sunset, it snowed so hard that we could barely move our feet. The tents were uprooted and we lay on our stomachs the whole night. It was pitch dark and there was not a single living being within hundreds of metres. We could easily have been buried in snow but we held on till sunrise, managed to pick ourselves up and carried on with our expedition,” recalled the engineering products manufacturer and assistant secretary at the South Calcutta Trekkers’ Association (SCTA).
Upal Chakrabarti’s love affair with the Himalayas began early. He was just nine years old when his mother Bhaswati, an associate professor of English literature at Deshbandhu College for Girls, enrolled him into a kids’ camp at SCTA during Christmas break in school.
“After he came back, Upal began to do things on his own. Within a week it seemed as if he had metamorphosed into this self-reliant and disciplined child who knew what he wanted out of life! As a mother, I was both happy and confused,” said Bhaswati, now 58.
To find out what camps are all about, Bhaswati enlisted herself for the next one along with her son. The mother-son duo have never looked back since! “We all lead extremely busy lives. Rarely do we sit up and take notice of what is happening around us. When on the mountains, I feel free of all social bindings. I am me, I don’t have duties to attend to, no deadlines to meet! It is just me and nature with a few like-minded people around,” Bhaswati said.
For Upal, it is the grandeur of the mountains and the sheer thrill that is “a sort of intoxication that refuses to fizzle out”. “You just have to give in, whatever the circumstances,” said the assistant professor of sociology at Presidency University.
Sayantan Dutta, too, relishes the “feeling of liberation”. “Proximity with nature seems to set the spirit free. Even if you are carrying a weight of around 20kg while scaling a peak, the beauty of what you see around you is mesmerising, to the point of intoxication,” said the ground staff with Indian Air Force, who has led expeditions to the Valley of Flowers, Panch, Mt. Bhagirathi and Gangotri.
Mountaineering came naturally to Santanu Saha, 47, having spent his childhood in the hills of Tripura, Bhutan and the East Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh. “I have a natural inclination to explore mountains and jungles wherever I go. I can’t seem to get the mountains out of my system,” said Saha, who teaches botany at Taki Government College.
A software professional at TCS, Dibyendu Seal, 35, feels the youth need to be trained in the discipline of the mountain life. “That inculcates a lot of life skills which widen the range of one’s mind later in life,” he said.
The members of South Calcutta Trekkers’ Association are like a close-knit family and it is the company of like-minded people that draws Alok Sil, 49, a professor of ENT at Calcutta Medical College, and Indranil Sarkar, 41, who runs a plastic manufacturing business. “At present, the club has 64 members. We charge a nominal fee. We have one thumb-rule — no activity with a business purpose,” Indranil said.
Agreed Alok. “The idea is to inculcate warmth, affection and a sense of natural camaraderie. There are times when we run short of funds but personal contributions, corporate and government funding and sponsorships have kept the boat sailing. We want the youth to fall in love with the mountains. We want to show nature’s bounty in all its elements to youngsters,” he said.
Sita Ghosh, one of the founder-members, recalls how it all began in 1978. “Heavy rain had left railway tracks across the country flooded. I had to cancel a trip to Mumbai and a friend suggested a trip to the Himalayas instead. On that trip we came across a group of people wearing strange coats and boots and heard about their trip to the Pindari Glacier snout. The following year we made that trip and set up the association,” said the 65-year-old, who overcame jeers and resistance to conquer many a summit and still continues to be part of mountain expeditions.
“When I started out, women climbers were not really welcome. On my first expedition, I had been hesitant to wear the costume. I wore a sari when I set out from home and changed into the gear in a Howrah station washroom. I remember a few people wanted to back out when they heard a woman would be climbing with them. But I stuck to my guns and with time they accepted me as one of them,” Sita smiled.