By Mahmood A Shah
In 2013, a helicopter rescue operation was carried by Wing Commander Anshul Saxena of Indian Air Force when five trekkers got stranded while clicking pictures on an iceberg at Kousarnag Lake. Their only chance of survival was heli-rescue. God was kind. Help arrived in time and all the five trekkers were safely airlifted. Adil, the young trekker who passed away a few days ago, was one of them and that day he had a fresh lease of life. However, five years down the line, his luck ran out when, while scaling Kolahoi , the highest feature of Kashmir, a rock fall around Burdalaw consumed him. Adil’s life would come to an end on the alpines he had become synonymous with and where he was in his element.
But, this is getting far ahead of the “story”. I have fond reminisces of Adil, our fallen adventurer which are worth delineating.
A few years ago when I got a maiden JKMHC Trek organized to Gangbal; many boys were anxious to join and among them was Adil the alpine adventurer, part of a thirty member trekking team. I met him for the first time at Gangbal. His ebullience was noteworthy as he marched ahead with vigour and was the first to reach the lake. He went on to visit Koulsar, wading through four feet of snow, to the lake where he was bitten by a mountain bug very early(in the coming years it would turn virulent)
Soft spoken and humble, Adil used to post lots of adventure stuff and spice it with interesting stories. He was cut above the rest and thus caught my attention. We stated interacting, initially through social media then meeting in my office. We discussed routes, trek, lakes, passes, equipment, maps, hiking boots, trekking books, literature, almost everything pertaining to the universe of adventure. Adil had a natual flair for it and was blessed with organizational capabilities.
Over the years, we would trek together and with each passing trek our bond of friendship grew stronger. While I picked up many things from him, he nurtured deep respect for me. He used to seek my advice on crucial matters and keep me informed about upcoming treks and expeditions. Noticing his obvious passion for the natural and the apline, I could not refuse him support. He wanted to do chaddar, I gladly supported. I even went to seek support from a friend for his Everest base camp trek. As he would return from a trek, he would plan future trails. Adil was focussed; his passion un-satiated. He was daring and would take risks to be in the mountains, a truly a man possessed, so to speak.
Destiny, alas , had a different plan for Adil.
I was attending a conference when my phone rang. It was an unknown number. I hesitated a bit, but took the call; on the other side, it was Adil. He was elated to announce that his team had summited Kolahoi and was on its way down. He quickly gave the details of the ascent and weather conditions. I told him to be careful and get down safely. Little did I know that it was going to be his final call and I would be the last person he would talk to. Earlier before embarking on the expedition he had dropped me a message that he would start on 2nd September to reccee the Nandlal Bakayas route. However, he did not mention that he was planning to summit the peak.
Adil was a trail blazer; perhaps the first local to have climbed Harmukh, Sunset, Katsal, Kutwal, Shin Manyiun, Stok Kagri and Kolahoi, the mountain which ultimately wrested him from us. He trekked to more than 100 high altitude lakes. (Only last year, Adil discovered highest high-altitude lake around Sonmarg at an altitude of 4602 metres). Every year, on mountain day, he would prepare and maintain a yearly achievement graph for the club. The young trekker meticulously collated trekking logs and would present them immaculately. He was unique in many ways; though short in stature, he lacked height and build, however, he compensated it with his spirit. Adil was a pivot, a role model for many youngsters whom he inspired and commanded their devoted following.
On that fateful day, I received frantic calls for help regarding the accident. One such call confirmed death of Naveed, a young promising KAS officer while the fate of Adil remained unclear. I, for the next three, days got involved in the rescue that finally ended with the retrieval of the two bodies. It was 7th September, the flood anniversary and the whole adventure fraternity of Kashmir was inundated in grief and shock about what had happened on Kolahoi (Gwashibror). The mountain of light had this time around spread darkness. This is the first ever death on the mountain since it was climbed in 1912 by Kenneth Mason and Dr Earnest Neve.
As the news went viral, Adil’s friends, relatives, club boys, Aru inhabitants and district administration rushed to save them. Nawab, Junaid, Tufail, Gullu, Shafqat ,Riyaz ,Tahir and many more would reach Danwat that night only to be confronted by bad weather. The climbing team reached down that night along with the injured, to be airlifted next morning. The rescue efforts would remain hampered for the next day till finally a coordinated effort of rescuers and the rescue helicopter brought the bodies down.
Hoping against hope that Adil would survive, I went to his home to console his grieving father. While I was consoling the grieving father, my eyes wandered to the wall calendar that Adil would design and print every year. I was shocked to see the coincidence, September pictured Kolahoi with the surrounding ice field, place where he was destined to take his final breath. He had planned it, the picture, the ascent and his demise looked like a jigsaw that matched perfectly.
Earlier in 2013, while I was writing an obituary of Dr Hamid , the famous teacher-cum-trekker, who died while coming down from Mahadev, a thought came to my mind and it was when I would leave this world Adil would write my obituary. Never did it even occur to me that I would have to write our fallen Alpine hero. As we lowered Adil into grave, he took a part of me along as he has done with his friends and family.