Sunday, February 12, 2012

Higher than Everest, by Major H. P. S. Ahluwalia

Major H. P. S. Ahluwalia writes his autobiography in Higher Than Everest: Memoirs of a Mountaineer. Ahluwalia's is an interesting account from a unlikely source. After summiting Everest in 1965 with eight of his Indian countrymen, Ahluwalia returns to his job in Kashmir and is thrown to the front lines in the Kashmiri war, only to be shot in the neck. In addition to his account of Everest, the story includes details of his recovery and life after an injury that brings him to the brink of death. He includes several adventures from his early life as well, including a harrowing escape from Lahore during Partition (He is a Sikh.), his early climbs during his HMI courses, and his pre-Everest training climbs. On the Everest expedition, he is part of the third summit attempt, which is nearly canceled after a avalanche wipes out their camp high in the Western Cwm. Ahluwalia convinces Com. Kohli to let them search for the oxygen reserves in the buried camp, and after a lot of digging, he, H. C. S. Rawat, and Phu Dorje, are able to climb to the top with the resurrected equipment. Like Mullik's The Sky Was His Limit (about Sonam Gyatso), Ahluwalia's memoir is a peak into the early days of Indian mountaineering, but from the perspective of someone who came of age during the Everest climbs, rather than an established personality. I appreciated his sense of wonder at the many new experiences he has, including his courses at the HMI institute, the trek through Nepal, and the climb itself.

His tale of his rehabilitation puts the struggle of Everest in perspective. While a lofty goal and a major undertaking, ascending Everest is a voluntary goal and a relatively short effort compared to the gradual and painful recovery of Ahluwalia's spinal injury. He spends time in hospitals and physical rehabilitation centers in both India and Britain over the course of several years, and faces a number of treatments, from surgeries to traditional medicine some of his older family members impose upon him. His emotional rehabilitation is also a difficult journey. Ahluwalia has written several books related to Everest in addition to his memoir, including Faces of Everest, Climbing Everest, and Everest, Where the Snow Never Melts (for young readers). He is currently the Chairman of the India Spinal Centre and advocates for paraplegics through the Indian Spinal Injury Society. For additional information on India's 1965 Everest climb, consult Kohli's Nine Atop Everest.

This post is a revised and expanded version of an earlier post, which can be found here.

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