[By Col NN Bhatia | A Preface]
The human spirit needs places where nature has not been rearranged by the hand of the man. – Anonymous
The Regimental Centre Officers’ Mess in Ranikhet provides the most grandeur view of the eternally majestic snow capped Himalayan peaks that inspired a young mountaineer Capt (later Col) Narinder Kumar of 3 KUMAON (Rifles) to conquer them. Bull was lured to mountains during his tenure in the KUMAON Regimental Centre by leading an expedition to Trishul (23,360 feet).
Nothing thrilled him more than being on top of Trishul on 4 June 1958. His subsequent exploits put him among front rank mountaineers of Tenzing Norkey and Sir Edmond Hillary fame. He was a member of the first all Indian Expedition to Everest (1960), Deputy Leader of the successful Indian Everest (1965) and Leader of the Nanda Devi (highest Indian peak) Expeditions.
He also led successful climbs to Chomalhari (highest peak in Bhutan), Nilkantha, Sia Kangari and Teram Kangari in the Eastern Karakorum ranges besides the Indo- German Boat Expedition and Trishul Ski Expedition.
He was the Principal of the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, National Ski Institute and the Commandant of the High Altitude Warfare School. His exploits brought him many national and international honours and awards notably the Padma Shri, the Param Vishisht Medal, Kirti Chakra, the Ati Vishisht Sewa Medal, the Arjun Award, fellowship of the Royal Geographical Society (FRGS), the Gold Medal of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation and Mac Gregor Memorial Medal.
Bull’s unique contribution towards the world of mountaineering was the ascent of Kanchenjunga from the Northeast spur. For 45 years, several expeditions tried to climb the Kanchenjunga peak from the dangerous Sikkim route and were unsuccessful. This achievement was considered so remarkable that he was awarded the Gold Medal at the Los Angeles Olympics.
Lord Hunt described this achievement as being ‘far greater than the Conquest of Everest as it involved technical climbing and objective hazards of a much higher order than those found on Everest.’
I had the unique privilege of meeting for the first time Capt (later Col) Narinder Kumar during investiture ceremony in the Rashtrapati Bhawan in Oct 1963. While he was being awarded Ati Vashisht Sewa Medal (AVSM) – the first Indian Army Captain to be awarded AVSM, my brother Major Prem Nath Bhatia (6 KUMAON), Hero of the 1962 Battle of Walong) was awarded Vir Chakra in the same investiture ceremony.
I felt very proud when my brother introduced me to the legendary Capt Kumar as ‘the renowned Indian mountaineer of the Regiment’. I found him down to earth humble, jovial and thorough professional. During our that very short meeting, he advised me to respect the mountains and the high altitude as my unit 13 KUMAON was then deployed in Darbuk after the world famous 1962 Battle of Rezang La.
Whenever we meet, he always greets me by his nostalgic saying, ‘when I meet you Narendra, I am always reminded of your great brother Prem’. My every interaction with him in the recent past has left an inedible mark in my mind.
The three major influences I suppose in his life are the ‘far far mountain peaks’, his fierce regimental spirit, and his caring family supporting him in his all the wildest endeavours.
Bull was decorated with prestigious Mac Gregor Memorial medal in 2010, instituted by the United Services of India to recognize exemplary service in the fields of Military reconnaissance, expeditions, river rafting, world cruises, polar expeditions, running and trekking across the Himalayas and adventure flights.
Col Kumar was honoured for leading multiple expeditions in the Siachen area of the Eastern Karakorum ranges, in uncharted territory, under extremely harsh weather conditions, with minimal equipment and administrative support and grave risk to life and limb and gain highly valuable terrain and enemy information that was instrumental in safeguarding our borders in that area and subsequent launch of “Operation Meghdoot”. He has led nine out of 13 expeditions to peaks above 24000 ft.
He often proudly is mentioned as ‘the Officer who got us Siachen’. He is also prolific writer on adventure sports and has penned six books on mountaineering, skiing and rafting. A documentary film by the Film Division of India has also been made to honour him.
He at this age serves the country as Associate Vice President of the Indian Olympic Association. Bull is an extremely passionate mountaineer with a missionary zeal as Almighty gave him wings to soar higher and higher on mountain tops as if for spiritual quest.
With age, he has become humble, egoless to achieve great heights, yet, he bubbles with energy as he says ‘if you are low in energy you won’t love what you do’ as while exploring mountains, every moment of the day is crucial to survive.
In our country in these turbulent times, Sachin Tandulkar, Anna Hazare, Amitabh Bacchan and Shah Rukh Khan are the top three role models. It is time to add to this illustrious list the name of Col Narinder Kumar too. He has been an awesome soldier, trail-blazer, thinker, innovator, motivator and leader in the adventure sport.
It was a great honour personally for me when I approached him to write his biography. My telling him that I was an ordinary writer on matters military, he smiled and said
‘Narendra, I have read your many articles and you write from your heart’.
Hence this story on the ‘legendary Kumaoni’ from another ‘Kumaoni’