Fireside chat with Amit Chowdhury
Currently the executive board member of UIAA, Berne, Switzerland, and co-founder of Reccy, Amit Chowdhury has so many feathers on his cap! An ace mountaineer, skier, paragliding pilot, sky diver, a former serving Wing Commander of the Indian Air Force and founder of several start-up ventures, and to top it all, recipient of the Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award from the President of India. Amit humbly acknowledged our request for an interview regarding his adventures and life experiences, because, to tell the truth, he is a passionate adventurer and mountaineer from the core of his heart and has some fascinating stories to share.
I can assure you one thing, for all the budding mountaineers and adventure enthusiasts out there, this fireside chat will rekindle all those lurking spirits in your bodies that always aim to reach the farthest summits and the remotest parts on earth.
1. What would you say inspired you to take up mountaineering, from a hobby to a sphere of life now?
On a visit to HMI, Darjeeling, as an 11-year-old, I had the chance to look through a telescope (supposedly presented by Hitler) and ‘see’ places where mountaineers visit high up in the lap of the mighty Kanchenjunga.
Approach to the treacherous North ridge of Satopanth
I think that was a defining moment in my life and I decided then and there that I would climb those mountains. As an 11-year-old, one decides many things like becoming a firefighter and saving people from burning buildings or an engine driver, but somehow the mountaineer got stuck.
So, when I got admission to Presidency College and Jadavpur University, my only reason for choosing the latter was that it had a Mountaineering Club. Then, of course, one thing led to another, and I didn’t quite realise mountaineering and the outdoors had become a part of my life.
2. Can you please tell us about your first mountaineering expedition?
My first expedition was to the three Jogin groups of peaks. We had taken up an extremely audacious plan that was backed by a few very skilled mountaineers but with no prior experience and two very experienced and skilled mountaineers.
Early expedition to CB53
At that time, we didn’t quite imagine how audacious our plan was or could turn out to be! One of the peaks (Jogin II) hadn’t been climbed before and the other two were high and quite challenging as well. It was crazy, but we managed to pull it off and bagged all three peaks. What’s interesting is that until today, no one has repeated this hat-trick on Jogin!
3. Out of all the treks and climbs, which one have you found to be the toughest in your lifetime and why?
Chatting with legendary mountaineer Sir Chris Bonnington
According to my understanding and experience, the toughest one attempted was the West ridge of Kamet. It’s a lifetime climb. 3000 feet of vertical rock and ice to get to the ridge. It took us 10 days to fix the route and a two-way ferry for stocking the summit camp was a 16-hour trip. Absolutely killing! The high point of that expedition was the rescue that we carried out - bringing down, injured and frost-bitten climbers from the summit camp after an accident.
4. How do you generally prepare yourself before any mission?
The preparation comprises mostly running, cycling and aerobic exercises to get your lungs and heart in the best possible shape but also a lot of upper, lower and core strengthening. As counter intuitive as it might seem, however, it is essential to accumulate some fat reserves because on the expedition you will need to depend on those fat reserves. Consuming poly- and monounsaturated fat, such as olive oil, nuts, seeds, canola, fatty fish, cheese, and eggs helps.
5. What are some of the challenges you have faced while mountaineering? How would you advise prospective adventurers to stay fit throughout their journey?
My personal challenges have been to stay focused on the task at hand because very too often, physical and mental fatigue sets in because you can’t sleep comfortably, and you want to return home as soon as possible.
On a hike up the frozen Indus
Food is another challenge because it’s very repetitive and you must survive on packaged food for long periods and that tends to get really sickening after a point of time. Staying hydrated is another big challenge and before you know it, dehydration makes you weak and unwell. So, I would say, plan your food well, stay hydrated and train yourself to undergo long periods of discomfort!
6. Which is the next adventure/expedition you wish to embark on and why?
As told to Gourab Majumder, freelance content developer and adventure writer with Reccy.