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 was one of them and that day he had a new lease of life. Five years down the line, his luck ran out while scaling Kolahoi, the highest feature of Kashmir, a rock-fall around Burdalaw would devour him. Finally, the mountains succeeded in securing its precious asset. His life would come to an end on the alpines he had become synonymous with.
Few years back when I organised a maiden Jammu & Kashmir Mountaineering And Hiking Club (JKMHC) Trek to Gangbal, many boys where anxious to join and among them Adil,, the alpine adventurer, was part of a 30-member trekking team.
I met him for the first time at Gangbal. I could gauge his ebullience as he marched ahead, was the first to reach the lake, went on to visit Koulsar, wading through four feet of snow to the lake. His agile persona echoed that he was bit by adventure bug very early and in coming years it would turn virulent.
Soft spoken and humble, he used to post lots of adventure anecdotes and spice it with interesting lines. He was cut above the rest and caught my attention. We stated interacting, initially through social media and eventually in person at my office. We discussed routes, treks, lakes, passes, equipment, maps, hiking boots, literature, almost everything on adventure. He had a flair for it and was blessed with organizational capabilities.
For the next few 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.
Seeing his passion, I could not refuse him support. He wanted to trek Chadar (the Zanskar Gorge in Ladakh). 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. He was focussed, his passion insatiable. He was daring and would take risks to be in the mountains.
I was attending a conference when my phone rang. It was an unknown number. I hesitated a bit, took the call, on the other side it was Adil. He was elated to announce that his team had summited Kolahoi and was on way down.
He quickly gave the details of the ascent and weather conditions. I told him to take care 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 over the phone.
Earlier, before embarking on the expedition, he had dropped me a message that he would start a reconnaissance on September 2 to NandlalBakayas route. However, he did not mention that he was planning to summit the peak.
He was a trail blazer, perhaps the first local to have climbed Harmukh, Sunset, Katsal, Kutwal, Shin Manyiun, StokKagri and Kolahoi, the mountain which ultimately wrested him away from us.
He trekked to more than 100 high altitude lakes. Only last year, he discovered highest high-altitude lake around Sonmarg at an altitude of 4602metres. Every year, on mountain day, he would prepare yearly achievement for the club. He meticulously collated trekking logs and would present them immaculately. He was unique in many ways. Though short in stature, for he lacked height and build, Adil compensated it with his unfailing passion and high spirits.
He was a pivot, a role model for many youngsters whom he inspired and would command their blind following. He indeed was a pick of the bunch.
Later in the day, I would get frantic calls for help regarding the mishap. One confirmed death of Naveed, a young promising KAS officer while the fate of Adil remained unclear. I would, for the next three days, get involved in the rescue that would finally end with the retrieval of the two bodies.
It was September 7, the flood anniversary and the whole adventure fraternity of Kashmir was inundated in grief and shock to what had happened on Kolahoi. Gwashibror or mountain of light, as the mountain is known as in Kashmiri, 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, his 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 would reach 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 helicopter would bring the bodies down.
Hoping against hope that Adil would survive the accident, I went to his home to console his grieving father. While I was talking to him, my sight wandered to the wall calendar 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, I wrote an obituary of Dr Hamid, the famous teacher-cum-trekker, who died while coming down from Mahadev. A thought came to my mind later that when I will leave this world, Adil will write my obituary. It never crossed my mind that I will have to write his one instead. As we lowered him into grave, he took a part of me along. He has done the same with his friends and family.
Fate had a strange twist for him. On September 10, Wing Commander Anshul Saxena of Indian Air Force landed his chopper on the Kolahoi ice field to pick up Adil’s body bag.Anshul had picked him up earlier from Kousarnag as well but this time around it was his final ride. His five years of luck had finally run out. From Kounsarnag to Kolahoi, his life had come full circle. He was a great man who lived his life to the fullest.