(Major H.P.S. Ahluwalia was a member of the first
successful Indian expedition to Mount Everest in 1965.
How did he feel when he stood on the highest point in
the world? Let us hear his story in his words ---
climbing the summit and, then, the more difficult task
of climbing the summit within.)
Of all the emotions which surged through me as I stood
on the summit of Everest, looking over miles of
panorama below us, the dominant one I think was
humility. The physical in me seemed to say, 'Thank
God, it's all over!" However, instead of being jubilant,
there was a tinge of sadness. Was it because I had already
done the 'ultimate' in climbing and there would be
nothing higher to climb and all roads hereafter would
By climbing the summit of Everest you are
overwhelmed by a deep sense of joy and thankfulness.
It is a joy which lasts a lifetime. The experience changes
you completely. The man who has been to the mountains
is never the same again.
As I look back at life after climbing Everest I cannot
help remarking about the other summit --- the summit
of the mind --- no less formidable and no easier to climb.
Even when getting down from the summit, once the
physical exhaustion had gone, I began asking myself
the question why I had climbed Everest. Why did the
act of reaching the summit have such a hold on my
imagination? It was already a thing of the past,
something done yesterday. With every passing day,
it would become more remote. And then what would
remain? Would my memories fade slowly away?
All these thoughts led me to question myself as
to why people climb mountains. It is not easy to
answer the question. The simplest answer would be,
as others have said, "Because it is there." It presents
great difficulties. Man takes delight in overcoming
obstacles. The obstacles in climbing a mountain are
physical. A climb to a summit means endurance,
persistence and will power. The demonstration of
these physical qualities is no doubt exhilarating, as it
was for me also.
I have a more personal answer to the question. From
my childhood I have been attracted by mountains. I
had been miserable, lost, when away from mountains,
in the plains. Mountains are nature at its best. Their
beauty and majesty pose a great challenge, and like
many, I believe that mountains are a means of
communion with God.
Once having granted this, the question remains: Why
Everest? Because it is the highest, the mightiest and
has defied many previous attempts. It takes the last
ounce of one's energy. It is a brutal struggle with rock
and ice. Once taken up, it cannot be given up halfway
even when one's life is at stake. The passage back is as
difficult as the passage onwards. And then, when the
summit is climbed, there is the exhilaration, the joy of
having done something, the sense of a battle fought
and won. There is a feeling of victory and of happiness.
Glimpsing a peak in the distance, I get transported
to another world. I experience a change within myself
which can only be called mystical. By its beauty,
aloofness, might, ruggedness, and the difficulties
encountered on the way, the peak draws me to it --- as
Everest did. It is a challenge that is difficult to resist.
Looking back I find that I have not
yet fully explained why I climbed
Everest. It is like answering a question
why you breathe. Why do you help your
neighbour? Why do you want to do good
acts? There is no final answer possible.
And then there is the fact that Everest
is not just a physical climb. The man
who has been to the mountain-top becomes
conscious in a special manner of his own
smallness in this large universe.
The physical conquest of a mountain
is only one part of the achievement.
There is more to it than that. It is
followed by a sense of fulfilment. There
is the satisfaction of a deep urge to rise
above one's surroundings. It is the
eternal love for adventure in man. The experience is not
merely physical. It is emotional. It is spiritual.
Consider a typical climb, towards the summit on the
last heights. You are sharing a rope with another
climber. You firm in. He cuts the steps in the hard ice.
Then he belays and you inch your way up. The climb is
grim. You strain every nerve as you take every step.
Famous climbers have left records of the help given by
others. They have also recorded how they needed just
that help. Else they might have given up. Breathing is
difficult. You curse yourself for having let yourself in for
this. You wonder why you ever undertook the ascent.
There are moments when you feel like going back. It
would be sheer relief to go down, instead of up. But
almost at once you snap out of that mood. There is
something in you that does not let you give up the
you. Just another fifty feet. Or a hundred, maybe. You
ask yourself: Is there no end? You look at your
companion and he looks at you. You draw inspiration
from each other. And then, without first being aware of
it, you are at the summit.
Looking round from the summit you tell yourself
that it was worthwhile. Other silvery peaks appear
through the clouds. If you are lucky the sun may be on
them. The surrounding peaks look like a jewelled
necklace around the neck of your summit. Below, you
see vast valleys sloping into the distance. It is an
ennobling, enriching experience to just look down from
the summit of a mountain. You bow down and make
your obeisance to whichever God you worship.
I left on Everest a picture of Guru Nanak. Rawat left
a picture of Goddess Durga. Phu Dorji left a relic of the
Buddha. Edmund Hillary had buried a cross under a
cairn (a heap of rocks and stones) in the snow. These
are not symbols of conquest but of reverence.
The experience of having
climbed to the summit
changes you completely.
There is another summit.
It is within yourself. It is in
your own mind. Each man
carries within himself his
own mountain peak. He
must climb it to reach to a
fuller knowledge of himself.
It is fearful, and unscalable.
It cannot be climbed by
anyone else. You yourself
have to do it. The physical
act of climbing to the
summit of a mountain
outside is akin to the act of climbing the mountain
within. The effects of both the climbs are the same.
Whether the mountain you climb is physical or
emotional and spiritual, the climb will certainly change
you. It teaches you much about the world and about
I venture to think that my experience as an Everester
has provided me with the inspiration to face life's ordeals
resolutely. Climbing the mountain was a worthwhile
experience. The conquest of the internal summit is
equally worthwhile. The internal summits are, perhaps,
higher than Everest.
The School Boy.
(The school boy in the poem is not a happy child. What makes
him unhappy? Why does he compare himself to a bird that lives
in a cage, or a plant that withers when it should blossom.)
I love to rise in a summer morn,
When the birds sing on every tree;
The distant huntsman winds his horn,
And the skylark sings with me.
O! what sweet company.
But to go to school in a summer morn,
O! it drives all joy away;
Under a cruel eye outworn,
The little ones spend the day,
In sighing and dismay.
Ah! then at times I drooping sit,
And spend many an anxious hour.
Nor in my book can I take delight,
Nor sit in learning's bower,
Worn thro' with the dreary shower.
How can the bird that is born for joy,
Sit in a cage and sing.
How can a child when fears annoy,
But droop his tender wing,
And forget his youthful spring.
O! Father and Mother, if buds are nip'd,
And blossoms blown away,
And if the tender plants are strip'd
Of their joy in the springing day,
By sorrow and cares dismay,
How shall the summer arise in joy,
Or the summer fruits appear?
The One Furrow.
When I was young, I went to school
With pencil and footrule
Sponge and slate,
And sat on a tall stool
At learning's gate.
When I was older, the gate swung wide;
Clever and keen-eyed
In I pressed,
But found in the mind's pride
No peace, no rest.
Then who was it taught me back to go
To cattle and barrow,
Field and plough:
To keep to the one furrow,
As I do now?
The Other Way Round.
Quicksand works slowly.
There is no egg in eggplant, no ham in hamburger
and neither apple nor pine in pineapple.
Boxing rings are square.
There are noses that run and feet that smell.
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