Interview with Birendra Sarkar

Dream Wanderlust

Photographs: Dream Wanderlust
Category: Interview
Date of Publication: Feb 25 , 2016Vol-03 Issue-02


Birendra Sarkar is among the most respected senior Mountaineers from West Bengal, India. Popularly known as adventure travelogue writer, mountaineer he took part in several expeditions which includes Kedarnath, Trishuli, Kamet, Simolchu, Chaturangi, Satopanth, Vanoti, and several high altitude passes and glaciers around Gangotri region. He is the founder member of the famous Gangotri Glacier Exploration Club (GGEC).

He has authored several Bengali books which are 'Smritipath Beye' 'Gongar Kotha' 'Ishwarer Uddan' 'Himalayer Ful' 'Pather Tirthe' 'Sikkim' 'Chaitanya Rohosya Sondhane' 'Himalaye Durghotona' etc.

The first question I would like ask you is about the beginning of your journey, why did you choose mountaineering as a sport?

Actually, my passion with the Himalayas started at quite an early age, even before I thought about becoming a mountaineer. I was simply in love with the Himalayas. I always feel that what you cannot find in the whole world you can find it in the Himalayas. Then when I was in college I saw a film about the Himalayas and I got so fascinated with it that from that day onwards I started dreaming about going there. However, at that time I was a student and didn't have enough money to take up such an adventure. But I never left my dream. After college when I started doing job, I saved all my money to go there. In 1959, I first realized my dream. Birendra SarkarI first visited Lokpal in Garhwal Himalaya. Then in 1960 I went back again to see Rupkund. Then I took a basic mountaineering training and in 1964 I took an advanced mountaineering course. In 1965, for the first time I went to Trishuli expedition as a mountaineer. Soon after that expedition me, Sujal, Pranesh and Himadri decided that we should explore more of Himalayas. That time the Ganges caught our interest. The upper regions of Gangotri above Gaumukh was little explored at that time. Not much study was done about the glacial in those regions. We thought of exploring those unknown territories. Unlike today, at that time, conquering the peaks were not the only motif of a mountaineer. For me personally, simply seeing the Himalayas at such close proximity gave me immense satisfaction. I saw peaks like Basuki, Shivling, Kedarnath etc., witnessed an avalanche coming on us, the glacial, all of it made me love the Himalayas even more.

You were the founding member of The Gangotri Glacial Exploration Club (GGEC). Tell us something about it?

Yes, I founded the club when we decided of venturing to the upper regions of Gangotri, beyond Gaumukh and explore the glacial there. Somehow I found the name suitable to our motif. Our first venture was Kedarnath exploration as a club member.

You have done advanced mountaineering course. However, even after being an experienced and prominent mountaineer you never ventured for any of Himalayan peaks which is very unusual. Why?

As I said, I love the Himalayas and I wanted to explore the Himalayas. I took advanced mountaineering training not to conquer it but to explore it. I needed the mountaineering training to approach any part of the Himalayas safely. This is the first training that we learn in mountaineering, how to be safe in the mountains. I still remember in 1980, in the Sinolchu expedition for 21 days we were caught in snowfall and blizzard at 18,000 feet. We could not even see the sun or anything else. After 21 days we had no further option but to climb down. But just before the snowfall I saw the valley near Zemu Glaciar, how beautiful it looked from that altitude. In juxtaposition to them stood the mighty Kanchenjunga looking heavenly. We further went as far as the Green Lake before returning. At the end, the panoramic view of so many peaks standing together is mesmerizing. There are no words that can ever describe such a beauty.

When you use to go for these kind of expeditions apart from mountaineers there were also other members like botanist, geologist, doctors who use to accompany you for research purpose. Tell us little about their work?

In 1972 expedition, there was a geologist named Tewari. He was a scientist at Geological Survey of India. He went with us for his research. Then there was a Botanist named Naithan. Then there was Major Murty from the defense. All of them were from diverse fields and accompanied us in our expedition for research purpose. I personally was very enthusiastic about taking such people with me.

In the Roopkund expedition a renowned zoologist accompanied you...

Yes, in that expedition a zoologist named Himanshu went with us.

You used to venture into your mountaineering expeditions taking a faculty of researchers with you which was very unique and interesting. How did this idea come to your mind?

Mountaineering is a wrong term describe it actually. We were more kind of explorers of the Himalayas. Our aim was to collect more information about the Himalayas, especially scientific ones and give it to humanity. Interestingly, I found many other mountaineering clubs follow our ideology soon and took scientists and researchers along with them.

I remember, one of the researcher in our team was Dr. Sen. He was a physiologist. He did many case studies of behavior human body at high altitude. Then Dr. Mukherjee who was a geologist who extensively worked on glaciar.

And what about book writing? How did that begin?

Roopkund expedition is my first book. I never thought of writing it actually. I had a friend in Anandabazar Patrika named Dhruba. One day I happen to show him the photographs of our expedition and as luck would have it, Ramapada Chowdhury of Anandabazar overheard our conversation. He then proposed me of writing it. At first I thought it to be joke but then realized they mean it. I went to the Anandabazar office with them and showed them the pics. Thus began my writing career as a mountaineer. Initially they asked me to write 16 pages which were weekly printed in their column section. It became quite popular at that time and when I was finished with it then Mr. Ashok Sarkar proposed of printing it as a book. I first published with Ananda Publishers.

Birendra Sarkar

Now that you have retired how much do you stay in touch with mountaineering and what message would you like to give to young mountaineers and trekkers?

If you truly love mountaineering and love the Himalayas don't make conquering peaks your main ambition. Love the mountains and explore them. Himalayas is a vast treasure and one life is never enough to see it completely. But how much you can see, how much is humanly possible, try to explore it, love it, see its flora and fauna, its glacial and you'll realize what richness you are seeing.

Interviewed By: Dream Wanderlust

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