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C. N. Bodh



Sanjay Austa

"Before I start my climb I send an E-mail to God and he clears up the weather for me"

C. N. Bodh is the only Indian to ascend four of the world’s highest and most perilous peaks


Naib Subedar C. N. Bodh never climbs a mountain without the beads of his rosary and a picture of the Dalai Lama in his rucksack. If there is anyone who needs the power of prayer more than anyone else it is he. For Bodh is the only Indian to ascend the Death Zone of four of the world’s highest and most perilous mountains and flown the tricolour on these summits.

The mountains peaks Bodh has set his foot on are the Everest, Anapurna, Lotse and Kanchenjunga- in that order. The Death Zone--referred to a height above 8000 metres--often sends a spike of fear in the hardiest of mountaineers. Which is why whenever he is on the final ascent he always has a prayer on his lips.

While climbing Kanchenjunga in September last year, Bodh lost the picture of Dalai Lama. He was over the dangerous 8000-metre mark and needed another two hours climb to make it to the summit. But Bodh climbed down looking for the photograph and resumed his climb only when he had found it. "I know God protects me. He has protected me on many mountains. I cannot continue climbing without my God," he says.

Besides divine help what makes Bodh climb successfully to the top of skyscraping peaks is his physical and mental perseverance. "One has to go on. One cannot think too much about life and death while climbing. Risks are part of this adventure. But you must have faith in yourself only then will God help you."

Luck, he says, is another important factor on the mountains. His best friend and fellow mountaineer Naib Subedar Neel Chand-who many, including Bodh, regard as the best mountaineer of India, had to return barely 200 metres from the Anapurna summit when a severe storm made climbing impossible. But the next day, when it was the turn of Bodh’s party to ascend from the base camp, the weather was calm and the climb to the summit was successful. "Before I start my climb I send an E-mail to God and he clears up the weather for me," he jokes.

Perhaps what also helps is the fact that Bodh was to the mountains born. His village in Lahul-Spiti in Himachal Pardesh is at a height of 3,500 meters -an altitude that can bring most city dwellers down with High Altitude Pulmonary Edema.

Climbing All The Way

Bodh has seen snow piling up on the sides of his house and gotten up in the middle of the night to shovel it. He has walked in snow buried up to his shoulders and experienced temperatures 30 degrees sub zero. When he joined the army he never thought his job would entail climbing mountains. He thought life would be more about bunkers, guns and battles. But it is ice axes, crampons, ice-walls and climbing all the way.

After doing a course in mountaineering, Bodh volunteered to join Indian Army’s mountain expeditions. The expeditions never left him and Bodh found himself a part of almost every major and minor mountain expedition in India. "I have spent more time on the mountains than in my unit," he admits. But he doesn’t regret it at all. "Is there anything as beautiful as mountains? They are the abode of the Gods. Who wouldn’t want to be surrounded by them’’, he says. Till now Bodh has been a part of more than a dozen mountain expeditions in India and Nepal.

When the Indian army geared itself to climb Mount Everest in 2001, C N Bodh was an integral part of the expedition. `` Everest is Everest ‘’, says Bodh when asked which is his favourite mountain. Though he admits Kanchenjunga is a far more technical mountain to climb. In 2002 Bodh became the first Indian to set foot on Annapurna1 -another technically difficult mountain and in 2003 he successfully climbed Lotse. In 2004 when he climbed Kanchenjunga he became the only Indian to climb four of the world’s highest peaks.

Ask Bodh why he likes to climb these inaccessible and inhospitable mountains and his answer takes you by surprise. "When the great mountaineer George Mallory was asked why he wanted to climb Mt Everest he said, ‘Because it is there’--- can there be a better reason to climb any mountain?"

Though he joined the army after finishing his matriculation Bodh continues to catch up on books when he can. For a man who has spent his entire life in the quietude of the mountains he is remarkably well informed about the world. He regularly tunes in to BBC radio for news and writes his diary regularly. And that is what puts him apart from his fellow climbers in the army.

Bodh gives great emphasis to keeping the mountains clean and advocates it constantly to his colleagues and juniors. He chooses to walk last and picks up any chocolate or chips wrappers any expedition team members might have thrown while climbing.

After the Kanchenjunga expedition Bodh declared he had climbed the last of the mountains. When the Indian Army was looking for experienced mountaineers to guide its all-woman team for the Everest this year, they could think of no one but Bodh. Despite his declaration, Bodh took up the offer readily. "There is something else about Everest. It draws you to it. I can never refuse paying my tribute. It seems the Everest has not seen the last of me yet!"




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