Mountaineering legend Gurdial Singh passes away after prolonged illness : The Tribune India

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Mountaineering legend Gurdial Singh passes away after prolonged illness

Mountaineering legend Gurdial Singh passes away after prolonged illness

Gurdial Singh

Tribune News Service

Deepankar Sharda

Chandigarh, May 30

Gurdial Singh, who was presented with the Arjuna Award in 1965 for his contributions to Indian mountaineering, today died at the age of 99 at his residence in Sector 8 here. He had been bedridden for the past few years with complications caused by a hip fracture and chikungunya.

Gurdial Singh performs headstand on Trisul summit. - File photo

The mountaineering legend led an expedition to Trisul (7120 m) in 1951, which marked the first success by an Indian team on a major Himalayan peak and is acknowledged as the real beginning of Indian mountaineering. In 1967, he was awarded Padma Shri and in 2007, Lifetime Achievement Award and the Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award.

Popularly known as "Guru" at The Doon School, he always advised young mountaineers to stick to the ethics and keep exploring mountains. His nephew, Harpal Singh fondly remembers Guru's meeting with former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. "I don't remember the year...but he (Guru) was coming to New Delhi for buying a new Maruti car. After his meeting with ex-PM Rajiv Gandhi, he was just smiling throughout the evening. He greeted the ex-PM with a formal handshake and referred to him as 'Rajiv'. The ex-PM preferred to sit besides him instead of sitting across the table," said Harpal.

He added, "From his batch mates to youngsters, everyone is reaching out to condole his death. I still remember, he was offered the headship of The Doon School, but he refused saying 'I am a mountain-loving human, cannot restrict myself to administration'."

'India won't have another Guru'

Brig (retd) Darshan Khullar remembers Guru as not only his mentor but also a man of never-say-die attitude. "I don't think India will ever have the like of Guru in the years to come and there's been none of his class and stature in the India's mountaineering history. In 1945, he joined The Doon School as geography teacher and became associated with the Trinity of Mountaineering (John Martyn, RL Holdsworth and Jack Gibson). He was part of Jack Gibson's expedition to Bandarpunch in 1950," said Khullar.

He shared, "His expedition to Trisul is acknowledged as the real beginning of Indian mountaineering. He was on Kamet in 1952, 1953 and again in 1955, when he climbed Abi Gamin. In 1962 and 1965 he was a member of the Indian expeditions to the Everest. He had spent nearly six days and nights at the South Col without oxygen. In 1967, he accompanied the Indian Military Academy expedition to Leo Pargyal and in 1968 to Deoban. I don't think any other Indian came anywhere near to his knowledge of the flora and fauna in the Himalayas, may be the late Hari Dang to a large extent, who, too, joined The Doon School and became a great mountaineer in his own right."

'A teacher, guide & friend'

Capt (retd) Alok Chandola said, "Besides being our geography teacher at the school in Dehradun and my father's colleague, Gurdial was an inspirational personage in one's little life. He introduced us to birds, trees, wild flowers, dark forests, alpine meadows, Himalayan glaciers and the high mountains beyond, and the value these lend to our lives. He was our mentor on two expeditions in 1967 (Reo Purgyil) and 1970 (Saser Kangri), and generously gifted much of his climbing gear to me in my late teens."

Mandeep Singh Soin, a prominent Indian mountaineer, also remembers his association with Guru. "He basically taught us to love the nature. People these days have equipment and aim to get fame by scaling the Everest, but Guru was something different. His love for mountains was never for fame. He was the man to go for all members of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF) at the time of crisis," said Soin.

Married to Himalayas

“He remained a bachelor. It would not be wrong to say that he had been married to the Himalayas. His long Himalayan journey had been unencumbered by any family commitments and worries and he was free to indulge in his other passions such as reading, classical music, ornithology, gardening and travelling,” said Brig (retd) Darshan Khullar.

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