He has escaped mad elephants, brushed past tigers… P.K. Banerjea, clearly, is no ordinary traveller. In search of adventure, he has explored most of the wildlife sanctuaries in India, and then some. His love for history has taken him across the country, rooting out the less-known temples. His latest pastime is trekking, right up to the Everest base camp. And he is just 65.
Nothing deters Banerjea, who even managed to click a few pictures of a galloping elephant while the jeep beat a hasty retreat. “It was one of the most frightening experiences of my life. It was chasing us, and I was on an adrenaline rush,” he recounts, a gleam in his eyes. Gir Forest, Jim Corbett National Park, Ranthambor, Bandhavgarh… he’s seen them all. But what gets the erstwhile adventurer going is exploring the most isolated spots, off the beaten track.
“I’ve always found someone who shares my passion and tags me along on the journey. That way I’ve been to places and seen things that I otherwise wouldn’t have. Like the time a particular gentleman took me to an isolated house in Jim Corbett National Park and we sat on the balcony all night watching hordes of elephants and deer pass by,” says the geologist.
He has picked up many fond moments and memories on the way — the 80-year-old World War I veteran who regaled him with tiger stories, the WW-II prisoner of war who spoke five foreign languages, had met Rommel and Montgomery and was a sweeper at a jungle camp.
Banerjea was hooked after his first taste of forest life, in 1964, during a field trip to Balaghat forest in Madhya Pradesh, as a student of Jadavpur University. Three months there taught him to respect the inhabitants who shared the land. “But the most valuable lesson I’ve learnt is the power of complete silence. You know you are truly alone when the ticking of your watch echoes around you.”
His love of ancient temple architecture prompted the grandfather of one to travel up and down the westcoast, from Mount Abu to Sravanbelgola, in search of the elusive ones. “The most fascinating ones are always those that are hidden, tucked away on a mountain side somewhere,” he smiles.
Although a recent angioplasty has prevented the retired Bata employee from his yearly trips, even till a few years ago he was climbing the Everest base camp and trekking to Pindari glacier with the South Calcutta Mountain Lovers Association. “I found this passion rather late. Once you climb a mountain, it gets in your blood, and you want the thrill again and again,” he adds.
“If I had the opportunity I would pack my bags and be off to the mountains today,” the volunteer at Dignity Foundation laughs. “But I will be off again soon, hopefully.”