(January 13, 2023) When mountaineer Avtar Singh Cheema first decided to be a part of the Indian Army mission to scale Mt Everest in 1965, many in his village came to see him off, thinking they wouldn’t meet him again. He went on to become the first Indian to conquer the world’s tallest mountain, inspiring many Indians to undertake challenging expeditions. However, the last few years have seen a steep rise in the number of young mountaineers who are not afraid to scale the heights of these ice monsters. Global Indian takes a look at some of these young mountaineers, who are flying the nation’s tricolour very high – quite literally!
Snowed in for seventy-two hours at 7,000 metres, Arjun Vajpai lost sensation in the left side of his body. His Sherpas had long since abandoned the teenager – his first attempt to scale Mount Cho Oyu in Nepal in 2012 had resulted in catastrophe. Arjun is no ordinary kid, however, two years prior, in 2010, he had achieved the ultimate mountaineering feat – scaling Mount Everest – and becoming the youngest Indian ever to do so. In 2011, he became the youngest person to climb Lhotse and the youngest mountaineer to scale Mount Manaslu. No stranger to adversity, therefore, Arjun began the agonising descent from Mount Cho Oyu, crawling for 17 hours using only his right arm and leg.
Today, the youngster holds the title of being the world’s youngest mountaineer to summit six out of the total 14 highest mountains in the world. Born to Col. Sanjeev Vajpai and Priya Vajpai in 1993, Arjun’s fascination for trekking and mountaineering goes back to his childhood. He started young and began training at the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, Uttarkashi. The mountaineer who loves exploring the routes of new peaks, however, doesn’t feel are records are endgame. “It makes me feel super happy but I’m not someone who chases records. It’s a moment of pride, not just for me but for the country, to hold a title and each time motivates me to climb more and take India’s flag to some of the highest peaks on earth. I want to be the youngest in the world to do all 14 peaks above 8,000 metres,” he shared during a press interaction.
The youngest daughter of a farmer from a small district of Telangana, Bhongir, Anvitha was always good at sports. She got to know about mountaineering while pursuing her graduation and was motivated by her physical education trainer to join a group training to climb Mt Kilimanjaro – the highest peak in the African continent. There was no looking back for this mountaineer after she conquered the African giant in January 2021. The same year, Avnitha scaled Mt Elbrus and Mt Khadey.
In 2022, Anvitha became the first Indian woman to reach the True Summit of Mount Manaslu – the world’s eighth-highest mountain (8,163 metres) – in Nepal. “I was ecstatic on reaching the top of the world, a moment I aspired for the last eight years had come true. It was this moment which kept me going despite enormous challenges,” the mountaineer shared during a press interaction, adding, “I’ve planned to climb seven mountains in the seven continents in one-and-half years. Now that I’ve already climbed three, the next treks will begin in December.”
When a five-year-old Virat first told his parents that he wanted to climb mountains, his parents thought that it was just one of those things kids say while growing up, and forget about the next day. But when Virat persisted, they had no choice but to introduce him to a local mountaineering trainer. Exactly two years later, Virat Chandra Telukunta became one of the youngest mountaineers to summit Mt Kilimanjaro in 2021. And just one year later, Virat won the prestigious Pradhan Mantri Rashtriya Bal Puraskar.
“I remember when we stepped out for the last leg of climbing Kilimanjaro, the visibility was very low. I was frightened because it was still dark and whistling winds with a snow downpour. With support from our guides, we could make it to the summit. It took almost eight hours to reach the summit,” the mountaineer shares, adding, “I am very happy and proud that I was honoured by the Prime Minister of India. I have just started my mountaineering journey and there are many other peaks I want to scale.”
A young primary school teacher from the small village of Chandernagore in West Bengal, Piyali Basak created history by becoming the first Indian to scale the highest mountain in the world, Mt Everest, without any supplemental oxygen in 2022. The mountaineer, who has been passionate about this adventure sport since she was a young girl, had attempted the record in 2019 as well, however, had to drop the plan due to bad weather conditions. But that is not where it ends. After conquering Everest, she climbed Mount Lhotse – the world’s fourth-tallest mountain – in just two days. In 2021, the young mountaineer also climbed Mount Dhaulagiri in Nepal without oxygen supplementation.
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The mountaineer, who was inspired by legendary Tenzing Norgay, shared with the press, “I started my journey when I was just five. I could climb mountains easily without any support. I started going for treks at an early age and developed a passion for them. Mountaineering is my life and I will continue climbing new peaks, and making my country proud.”