Narendra Kumar (mountaineer)
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PVSM, KC, AVSM
8 December 1933|
Rawalpindi, British India
|Years of service||1950–1984|
Param Vishisht Seva Medal|
Ati Vishisht Seva Medal
Colonel Narendra "Bull" Kumar, PVSM, KC, AVSM, (also spelled Narinder; born 8 December 1933) is an Indian soldier-mountaineer. He is known for the mountaineering reconnaissance expedition he undertook in Teram Kangri, Siachen Glacier and Saltoro Range for the Indian Army in 1978 at the age of 45. If he had not undertaken this expedition, all of Siachen Glacier would be Pakistan's. That is an area covering almost 10,000 km2 (3,900 sq mi), but because of his expedition, India conquered all the entire area. Kumar crossed seven mountain ranges—Pir Panjal Range, Himalayas, Zanskar, Ladakh, Saltoro, Karakoram and Agil—to give India Siachen.
Narendra was born in Rawalpindi, British India in 1933. He has three more brothers who all joined Indian Army. His skirmishes with history began in 1947,when Narinder represented Punjab state at a scouts jamboree in Paris at the age of 13. The team of 50 scouts was returning by ship, when news of Independence broke over them like a tsunami. "All of us, Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus, decided to design a flag," he says. "We put the Union Jack in the Centre, India and Pakistan on either side." They wanted to sing a national song, but which one? So in just-broken voices, "we sang… tera sahara." One night, he thought a ship engine had failed. Next morning, he found all Muslims had been asked to disembark in Karachi. Narinder got off in alien Bombay and went to Shimla, where his parents had migrated after partition of India. Narendra's youngest brother Major K.I. Kumar ascended Mount Everest in 1985, but died after falling from 8,500 m.
Army life and mountaineering
Narendra Kumar entered the Indian Army in 1950. He took part in boxing, riding and cycle-polo during his years of training. He was commissioned in Kumaon Rifles in June 1954 and then became interested in winter sports and mountaineering. He earned "Bull" sobriquet at the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun, during the first boxing match he fought. His rival was a senior cadet, Sunith Francis Rodrigues, who went on to become the Chief of the Army Staff. Kumar lost the bout, but helped earning himself a nickname: "Bull." The nickname "Bull" comes from his tendency to charge relentlessly into whatever he does.
The mountain bond was born when Colonel Kumar met Tenzing Norgay, director of the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, in Darjeeling.In March 1958, Narendra led the successful Army and Navy expedition to Mt. Trisul(23,360 ft).He also scaled Kabru Dome (21,780 ft) in 1959 and Yellow Needle Peak (22,480 ft) in 1960. He was the first Indian to reach up to 28,700 ft, in his first attempt at climbing the Mount Everest in 1960, before having to turn back due to inclement weather.In 1961, Kumar led a harrowing 5-men expedition to climb Neelkanth (21,644 ft) in the Garhwal Himalayas. While descending from the summit,Kumar lost four of his toes due to frostbite and stopped 200m short of the summit. In 1964,he was first Indian to scale Nanda Devi.In 1965, he was deputy leader of a team that put nine Indian Army climbers at the top of the world's tallest peak. Capt. Mohan Singh Kohli, who led the 1965 Everest expedition, said Kumar's climbing career was "astonishing". He also scaled Mont Blanc (15,782 ft), the highest peak in the Alps in 1968. In 1970 he led the first recognised ascent of 23,997 ft Jomolhari(Chomo Lhari), the highest mountain in Bhutan. Kumar successfully climbed the Kangchenjunga from the toughest north-east spur in 1976.
Kumar followed up his 1981 Siachen feats with the challenge, as Antarctica Task Force member, of acclimatising the First Indian Expedition there, led by Dr. S. Z. Qasim in 1982. Training was carried out at Dras, where temperatures touch minus 56 degrees Celsius. In 1983, Kumar conquered Kamet (25,595 ft) and Abi Gamin (24,272 ft). He superannuated on 1 January 1984 but that did not slow him down. Later,Kumar was put in "permanent category C" by the Indian Army, which meant no postings above 7,000 ft. Every time he was in the mountains, he had to give the government a non-liability certificate saying that he absolve them of all responsibilities should anything happen to him. He has entered the oxygen-depleted death zone above 8,000 m, twenty times. He spent 35 years in the Indian Army. Lieutenant General V. R. Raghavan, commanding officer of Operation Meghdoot, called Colonel Kumar 'a mountain of information'. He has shared a lifelong camaraderie with Tenzing Norgay.
Mountaineering expeditions to Siachen in 1978 and 1981
Kumar's involvement with the Siachen dates back to 1977, when he was approached by a German rafter who wanted to undertake the first descent of the Nubra River from its source at the snout of the glacier. The man brought Kumar a map of northeastern Kashmir that had an unusual feature. Beyond NJ9842,the map showed a dotted line connecting NJ9842 with Karakoram Pass.Kumar quickly asserted that it was Cartographic error. In January 1978, he took his findings to Lieutenant General M. L. Chibber, India's director of military operations. Chibber quickly obtained permission for Kumar to mount a reconnaissance expedition to the Siachen. In 1978,Kumar, as commanding officer of the Indian Army's High Altitude Warfare School, joined two German explorers in an attempt to navigate the upper reaches of the Indus river in Ladakh. Two years later, one of his former co-travellers returned to India and asked Kumar to join him in an expedition to the Nubra Valley, which separates Ladakh from the Karakoram ranges. Kumar took one full batch of students(40 climbers and 30 porters) from the High Altitude Warfare School in 1978, saying that he is taking them for practical training.It was the first Indian expedition into the remote glacier. The team started at the snout of the glacier and reached glacier's halfway point, braving temperatures that dipped to −50 degrees Celsius, and navigating tricky crevasses, peaks and passes—bound to each other with thick ropes.From there, a summit team of three completed an ascent of 24,631-foot Teram Kangri II,located on the southern edge of Shaksgam Valley.The Indian Air Force provided valuable support to this expedition through logistic support and supply of fresh rations.The team returned with the trash left behind by Pakistani expeditions as proof of their incursions. Unusually for the normally secretive Indian Army, the news and photographs of this expedition were published in The Illustrated Weekly of India, a widely circulated popular magazine.
In April 1981, Kumar went back to Siachen Glacier with 70-member team with blank maps and a meagre budget of ₹50,000 (US$700), this time covering it from its freezing snout(lowest point) at 11,946 ft to its icy source on the Saltoro Ridge (18,91 ft). He thus became the first person to scale the uncharted Siachen Glacier—the world's third pole and second biggest glacier.In his salty style, Kumar said "Once you get the heights, you're the tiger. We put the tricolour at the farthest end of Siachen." In the process, he summited Sia Kangri I(24,350 ft), India's northernmost point. In eight weeks, they climbed Saltoro Kangri I (25,400 feet) and Sia Kangri I (24,350 ft), hiked to the top of Indira Col at 24,493 ft(the watershed at the north end of the glacier), and skied to the passes on the Saltoro;Bilafond La, Saltoro Pass, Sia La, Turkistan La and Pass Italia.
Later that year in 1983, Kumar published an account of his journeys in the newsmagazine Illustrated Weekly of India.The first public acknowledgment of the manoeuvres and the developing conflict situation in the Siachen was an abbreviated article titled "High Politics in the Karakoram" by Joydeep Sircar in The Telegraph newspaper of Calcutta in 1982. The full text was re-printed as "Oropolitics" in the Alpine Journal, London, in 1984.
Three years later, on 13 April 1984, the Indian Army launched its first major offensive attack,known as Operation Meghdoot against the Pakistani army at Siachen Glacier and established bases along the glacier. The detailed maps, plans, photographs and videos made by Kumar and his team,helped Indian Army to conquer the whole of Siachen Glacier and also the area to the west of it,along with the main ridges and passes-Sia La (7,300m), Bilafond La (6,160m), Gyong La (5,640m), Yarma La (6,100m) and Chulung La (5,800m), along the Saltoro Range. The key Bilafond La (Pass of the Butterflies) is on the ancient Silk Route linking undivided India and China.
He is married to Mridula. They have a daughter Shailaja Kumar(born 1964), India's first woman winter Olympian,who participated in 1988 in Calgary, Canada in Alpine skiing. and a son Akshay Kumar(born 1969), an adventure travel professional who runs Mercury Himalayan Explorations, one of the first rafting companies to navigate the Ganges and Brahmaputra. He now lives in Delhi.
Awards and recognition
On 25 June 2010, Narendra Kumar was honoured with the MacGregor Medal, awarded by the United Service Institution of India for the best military reconnaissance, exploration or survey in remote areas in India.
He received Arjuna Award and was also awarded the IMF Gold Medal by the Indian Mountaineering Foundation.
Narendra Kumar is only colonel with Param Vishisht Seva Medal (PVSM) distinction in all three services,which is generally accorded to generals.
He was awarded the United Nation's fellowship for Ski Teaching and was trained in Switzerland and Austria for 4 months. In his efforts to launch river rafting in India, he made the first descent of River Indus in Ladakh and the Teesta in Sikkim.
There is a Siachen Battalion HQ in Glacier named as "Kumar Base", a key forward logistics post at a height of 4,880 m.
- Mountain warfare
- Khardung La
- Actual Ground Position Line
- Bana Singh
- List of Mount Everest records of India
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