Beginning of a New Era

This might have been in September of 1987. Journey on the Himalayan rough mountain roads is always gruelling, but especially on that day I found it testing patience. The only respite was to see the skittish Chenab flowing through the deep gorge on the right side, the cool misty breeze and the occasional vista of snow-capped peaks. An unknown fear was making me nervous. Everyone was exultant, but I was watching the road vigilantly. Just before Keeru, I saw a skeleton of a charred bus. A crowd of people could be seen at a distance and I could faintly hear the slogans they were shouting. It left a hollow in my stomach! This gathering was for the ‘Chakka Jam‘ movement on that day. The recent elections in June had created a vast unrest. Guess this was the beginning of violence in the Kashmir Valley.

We had started the trek from Padum in the Zanskar River valley in Ladakh. With me were six foreign guests, along with our two cooks – Gyan and Phunchuk. We traversed a steep ascent as we passed via Zongkul Gompa. After a strenuous trek of six-seven days we crossed the ‘Umasi La’ at a height of 17,500 feet. ‘La’ means a mountain pass. The last day was an ankle-testing walk alongside a glacier on the south-east side. We reached Gulaba or Gulabgarh after an exhaustive walk of eight hours. It is located in the valley of river Chenab. We were in a jubilant mood having successfully completed the difficult trek. We were unaware that the bus that was to arrive from Jummu, to pick us up had not yet arrived. By evening, the news broke that there was a ‘Chakka Jam’ movement that had turned violent. The foreign guests had a return flight three days later. Those were the days of STD calls, but the phone lines were down.So getting any further news or information was out of question and we all got very concerned.

I went to the village to see if arrangement of an alternative vehicle was possible. At that time the construction work of road linking Kishtwar to Tandi in Himachal, was in full swing. The mountain alongside river Chenab was being carved out for the road. This road reminded me of ‘Rarangdhaang’! I talked to the officers on duty there, but in vain. I was saddened, as all the efforts were futile. I could have said that in this force majeure situation, “We can’t do anything now and you will miss your flights”. But going by the High Places work ethics as a service provider this can be only your last resort, when all and every other alternative fails. After a lot of roaming and searching, I came to know of an ambulance in good condition in the village. I went to the RMO. It took a lot of efforts to convince him to do the needful. The plan was a easy one. One of the foreigners will fake injuries. We were to pretend carrying the medical emergency case to Jammu urgently, with all the plaster, bandages, and tomato sauce as blood applied in right places.

Next morning, We were on our way the and Mike, a stout fellow was ready with the make-up of fractured limbs. There was almost no traffic on the road. En route, the aftermath of the violence at few places sent shivers down our spines. I cautioned everyone as we were approaching Keeru. As we approached the mob, Mike pretended crying in agony and others acted to pacify him. “Don’t over-act”, I whispered and warned everyone as the ambulance slowed down. The armed mob in gray overcoats, their long flowing beards, sharp noses and hazel eyes looked at us with mistrust, anger and hatred. Thank god, looking at the patient in the Ambulance they were considerate.  “Jaane Do”– Let them go, one of them ordered and we swiftly moved ahead. A crisis situation had been avoided. After the next bend with the village out of our sight, everyone giggled and gave a sigh of relief.

From 1985 to 1992, I had an opportunity to be on many amazing treks and experience such eventful and thrilling episodes. High Places India’ while my proprietary business, was the counterpart of High Places in England. ‘High Places India’ was slowly but steadily spreading its wings. We had grown to be a team of ten-twelve members. My house in Thane was my namesake office. Until 1990 High Places conducted 14 to 15 treks in Himalay per year. It was during this period, the ambitious expeditions like ‘Kokankada’ in 1985, ‘Kamet’ in 1986 and ‘Kanchenjunga’ in 1988, happened. In 1988, we started conducting Adventure Camps for school children under the banner of ‘Ranphool’. I met Mrunal Paranjape around the same time. She was doing a research project on Impact of Outdoor Education on Personality of Children.

In 1985, we took a British team to the Himalayas. This was our first trek. From then on, every year from November to February, I would go to England to help with marketing. Initially, 15 Spring Hill, Bob and Mary’s residence, used to be our office. Three years later, we shifted it to a larger and plush space at Globe Works. We used to make an hour and half audio-visual presentation called ‘In High Places’, which we used to take across the country in 25 to 26 major cities in UK every year as a ‘Road Show’. Almost 70 to 100 people used to pay to see it. To charge your client to do your marketing was a brilliant idea! Of course, the future trekkers got benefitted with the detailed information in return! It was my responsibility to create this presentation. Every November end I used to lock myself up in the recording studio for two weeks. Taking the transparency slides of previous years treks, adding commentary and music… the fusion was simply fun. Wandering in the wake of this ‘Road Show’ was indeed a satisfying experience.

My trip in the year 1986 was yet another interesting one. Bob and Max had ample experience in Outdoor Management Development. They used to conduct 4/5 such programmes for Manchester University every year. Since I had studied Outdoor Education in Scotland, insurance was not a problem and I joined to assist them on their programmes. Each programme used to be of four days. They were conducted in ‘Bakewell; in the Peak District of Derbyshire at the Rutland Arms Hotel. Learning new training approach, new techniques, was an enriching experience. It was a privilege for me to plan and design the Management Games, Rock Climbing, Caving and Orienteering techniques used on these programmes. Old Monsal Dale was an abandoned rail track. It was fun to get up early and go along this railway track, placing the clues at their designated places. I still distinctly remember the red marks of rabbit droppings on the icy ground in the misty light of the dawn, also the stone troughs for horses and rare sighting of a deer!

Using Outdoors and Adventure as a medium for teaching and enhancing Management techniques like Team-Building and Leadership for Corporate leaders and managers was developed in the West during World War II. For a man like me with an Indian background and mentality, it was all revolutionary and exciting. I wasn’t aware but this was the beginning of a new era. In India, the organization ‘Ranphool’ was in full swing. In 1989, HR Manager – Mr. Sundar Krishnamurthy of Bharat Petroleum Corporation had sent his children for one of our adventure camps. That led to his acquaintance and later friendship. I had shared with Mr. Sundar about the Outdoor Management Development Programmes being conducted in the west. This was a subject close to his heart too.

Once he suddenly said, ‘Vasant, we have read a lot about this! We want to do this programme for our managers. You have all the necessary experience, will you do such a programme for us?”

And Friends, a new era had begun!

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