Mount Everest is tallest mountain peak in the world at a height of about 8.848 meters above sea level. The peak was named after Sir George Everest, the Surveyor General of India, in 1865 by the Royal Geographic Society. It is called Sagarmatha in Nepali and Chomolungma in Tibetan. Climbing the summit has been the ultimate dream for the mountaineers.
Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay became the first climbers to reach the summit of Mount Everest on May 29, 1953. Thereafter there had been many mountaineers who climbed the peak. However, despite its proximity to the Himalayas, it was not until 29 May 1965 that an Indian conquered the world’s highest mountain peak. Major H.P.S. Ahluwalia became the first Indian to climb Mount Everest.
Name: Major H.P.S. Ahluwalia
Full Name: Hari Pal Singh Ahluwalia
Born On: 6 November 1936
Birth Place: Sialkot, Punjab Province, British India (now in Pakistan)
Famous As: The First Indian to climb Mt. Everest
Residence: New Delhi, India
Alma Mater: St. George’s College, Mussoorie, India
Board Member: Chairman, Indian Spinal Injuries Centre
Spouse: Bholi Ahluwalia
Parents: Mr. Sarjit Singh (Father), Mrs. Harbans Kaur (Mother)
Awards: Padma Shri (1965), Padma Bhushan (2002)
H.P.S. Ahluwalia was born on 6 November 1936 in Sialkot, situated in the erstwhile province of Punjab in British India. Now his birthplace is in Pakistan. He had two sisters and two younger brothers. His father Sarjit Singh was in government employment, and worked as a Civil Engineer in the Central Public Works Department. In the course of employment of his father, the family moved to Shimla, where he grew up and spent his childhood.
H.P.S. Ahluwalia had his schooling in Dehradun at the St Joseph’s Academy. Then he got admission in St. George’s College, Mussoorie. He spent his early life in three top hill stations of India namely Shimla, Dehradun and Mussoorie.
At college, he developed an interest in photography. He also began participating in rock climbing. He began his rock-climbing expeditions while doing his graduation. He participated in rock-climbing at Garhwal, Sikkim, Nepal, and Ladakh.
Career in Indian Army
Upon completing his graduation at Mussorie, Ahluwalia joined the Indian Army in the rank of an officer. In the Army, Ahluwalia continued to nurture his love for rock climbing and mountaineering. He also enrolled for training at the Himalayan Mountaineering institute, Darjeeling. He got his first glimpse of Everest on a trek to Namche Bazaar in Nepal, above the Sun Kosi river. He made up his resolve to climb the Mount Everest.
Ahluwalia was also a Major in the Indian army. In 1965 there was a war with Pakistan, in which the brave major received a bullet injury in his spine. He received treatment in U.K.’s Stoke Mandeville Hospital in England. This injury later confined him to the wheelchair.
In 1965, the Indian Army expedition became the first successful Indian Expedition to Mount Everest. This expedition put 9 mountaineers on Mount Everest. This record stayed for 17 years. H.P.S. Ahluwalia along Phu Dorjee Sherpa, Harish Chandra Singh Rawat, Avtar Singh Cheema, Sherpa Nawang Gombu, Sonam Wangyal, C.P. Vohra, Ang Kami Sherpa, and Sonam Gyatso became the first Indians to climb Mount Everest.
The Everest Expedition
1965 Everest Expedition was India’s third attempt in five years after 1960 and 1962. The team constituted 21 climbers, 800 porters, and 50 high-altitude sherpas. Sherpa Nawang Gombu had earlier summited in 1963 with the American expedition. The sherpa head Ang Tshering was in the 1963 American expedition.
On 22 February 1965, the team members met at Jaynagar, in Bihar on the Indo-Nepal border. They left on 26th February to start the expedition through the Terai region. They started from Namche Bazaar (11,300ft) in Nepal and reached 17,800 ft. to put their Base Camp.
After an unsuccessful first attempt, they had to wait at the Base Camp for almost a month. On 20th May, Cheema and Gombu set out in for the peak while the expedition leader, Kohli was stationed in Camp III or Advanced Base Camp. Singh was at South Col and Kumar was at Pumori Ridge which gave a clear view to the summit route. Cheema and Gombu reached South Summit, beneath the true summit and then reached the summit. Later they were rescued by Wangyal who brought them to the safety of the Camp at South Col.
On 22nd May, the second team’s attempt was successful. The third pair Vohra and Ang Kami reached the summit on 24th May. However, due to an avalanche, the uninhabited Camp II was buried under snow. It had all the oxygen cylinders. Ahluwalia was part of the last summit team. They somehow extricated a few oxygen cylinders. They wanted to put 9 men on the summit and break all earlier records.
On 29th May, 1965, H.P.S. Ahluwalia reached the peak of Mount Everest with Phu Dorji and Harish Rawat. Coming sown also has its own set of problems which Ahluwalia, Dorji, and Rawat faced. The oxygen cylinders malfunctioned and they were unable to locate the South Col camp. They dug a hole to sleep. They were found later by sherpas and brought to the camp. On June 1st the Base Camp was removed as the expedition had come to a successful end.
The team was greeted by the then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri. They visited several places and were felicitated. They had talks in schools and colleges.
Later Career, Expeditions, and Adventures
Ahluwalia pursued his passion for mountaineering all through his life. He organized several events like the first Ski Expedition to Mount Trisul, the first Trans-Himalaya Motor Expedition. He also organized the Central Asia Cultural Expedition. This followed the Silk Route and Marco Polo’s Route. It entered China and the cities of Kashgar and Yarkand. It passed through Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan. The return was through Tibet and Kathmandu.
Positions of Honor
Ahluwalia was conferred the position of the President of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation and Delhi Mountaineering Association.
He also became the Chairman of Special Ability Trust which gave fellowships and scholarships to young achievers with disabilities.
He became the Chairman of Youth Exploring Society which has its chapters in Ireland, West Germany, and Italy.
Ahluwalia was also made Chairman of Rehabilitation Council of India which is a Statutory Body under the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment, as well as Chairman of Planning Committee of Persons with Disability.
In 1993, H.P.S. Ahluwalia himself being a victim of spinal injury knew first-hand the needs of victims of spinal injury, set up the Indian Spinal Injuries Centre (ISIC) in New Delhi.
Besides the above, he also held the following positions:
- Member – Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust.
- Member – Planning Commission – Steering committee of the Social Welfare and other special groups.
- Member – National Consultation on National Policy for PwD.
- Member – CII Core Group on Disability.
- Member – National Finance and Revenue Committee constituted by the Ministry of Finance.
- Member – CBR (Community Based Rehabilitation), in collaboration with AISPO-ITALY.
- Member – International Spinal Cord Society.
- Member – Patron, Spinal Cord Society, India.
Ahluwalia received a number of national and international awards. He received the top National Awards like the Padma Shri in 1965 and Padma Bhushan in 2002.
Besides these he received these awards:
- 2009 – Tenzing Norgay National Adventure award for Lifetime Achievement
- 1998 – National Award for the Welfare of People with Disabilities
- Nishan-e- Khalsa or the Order of the Khalsa
Given below are some of the International Awards that he received:
- Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society
- CONDOR-DE-ORO – From Argentina – given to persons for their contribution in adventure sports
- Advisor to the Argentina Everest Expedition
- World Health Initiative for Peace Award
H.P.S. Ahluwalia has also written a number of books on the Himalayas and Mountaineering in the Himalayas.
Here is a list of books written by him:
- Higher than Everest
- The Everest Within
- Eternal Himalaya
- Everest – Where the Snow Never Melts
- Ladakh: Nubra The Forbidden Valley
- Tracing Marco Polo’s Journey: The Silk Route
He also produced a TV serial, Beyond Himalaya, which won several awards and was telecast by the Discovery and National Geographic channels.
Most Memorable Quote by Major H.P.S. Ahluwalia
“As I look back at life, it is nothing but power of the mind that matters the most. Scaling Mount Everest and setting up ISIC have taught me a powerful truth: Life is all about conquering the other Summit – The Summit of the Mind.”