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Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Taming all odds


The intrepid man has been on the top of the world five times. The incredible woman has opened the way for other Indians to the southernmost tip of the earth. There can be no couple quite as ‘poles apart’ as the adventurous Dharmshaktus
MAYANK SINGH | Issue Dated: March 2, 2014, New Delhi
Tags : Love Raj Singh Dharmshaktu | Border Security Force | Kanchenjunga |

The Dharmshaktus are a couple unlike any you will encounter in this country. Bound by a shared love for high adventure, they have earned name and fame by touching opposite ends of the planet. Having done so, they complement each other to perfection.

Meet Love Raj Singh Dharmshaktu, 40, who has climbed Mount Everest, the earth’s highest point on Earth, as many as five times.

His wife, Reena Kaushal Dharmshaktu, 38, herself no mean mountaineer, is the first Indian to reach the South Pole, the earth’s lowest point. Her feat opened a route that was later taken by a team of Indian soldiers.

Like true mountaineers, the couple has come up the hard way. But they aren’t the kind of people who thrive on seeking hosannas for their battles against the odds. They see every obstacle as an integral part of life. 

Says Love Raj: “Nobody knows about the period when we were toiling away in complete oblivion. Today we are feted because our achievements are in the public eye.”

Love Raj is an Assistant Commandant in the Border Security Force (BSF). He was a 16-year-old student when, in 1989, he joined a group of people who pooled money together to undertake an expedition to the peak of Nanda Kot in Uttarakhand. Since then he has been atop more than 40 mountain peaks.
Love Raj, who belongs to Bona village nestled in the Kumaon hills at a height of 2200 metres and a distance of 35 km from Munsiyari, has fond memories of his very first expedition.

At 6861 metres, Nanda Kot is the highest peak in the impressive arc of mountains guarding the Pindari Glacier area. He was a very fit boy. He did all sorts of odd jobs for the expedition. While some of the experienced porters struggled to make their forward, the sprightly Love Raj literally ambled up to the peak.

Although he was well and truly bitten by the mountaineering bug, Love Raj had no way of knowing at that point of his life that he would one day be beckoned by the biggest one of them all, Sagarmatha (that is what Mount Everest is called in reverence in Nepal).

He had to face many obstacles on the way. His family was opposed to his passion, while there was little support from the government. But some members of a mountaineering club based in Lucknow suggested to the young man that should go in for a formal adventure course.
He did just that with help from the office of UP Tourism’s Officer on Special Duty (OSD) in Uttarkashi. The facility provided a taste of adventure to school students, teachers and other young people. Love Raj worked there as a help earning Rs 75 a day.

In 1990, he did his Basic Mountaineering Course from the town’s Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM).

Today he is armed with every degree that is possible to acquire in this domain, including Advanced Mountaineering, Search & Rescue and Method of Instruction.

The Dharmshaktus are the only couple to have been awarded the Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award, the country’s highest accolade.

The five-time Everest conqueror missed making it to the summit on two other occasions due to circumstances beyond his control.
In 1999, noted mountaineer Santosh Yadav led an Indian expedition to Everest’s Kangshung Face, among the toughest mountain faces in the world. Love Raj was a part of the team. Between Camp 2 and Camp 3, he was hit by a falling stone that smashed his goggles and injured his eye. He had to be evacuated.

Two years later, Love Raj was back on another Everest expedition led by Santosh, this time from the East Face. The team got to the highest point.

He has been part of BSF expeditions to Satopanth (7075m), Kamet (7756m), Mana (7274m) and Abi Gamin (7355m). In 2006, he reached the top of Everest with a BSF expedition. In 2008, he successfully climbed Kanchenjunga (8586m) as a member of another BSF team.

In 2009, as climbing leader on NIM’s Everest expedition, Love Raj reached the summit for a third time. His fourth time on the summit of Everest was in May 2012. He was part of the Eco Everest Expedition organised by Nepal’s Asian Trekking. Love Raj was sponsored by Woodland, the well-known shoe and apparel brand.

By this time, Love Raj could see that the mountains were choking on garbage left behind by climbers. So, on this sortie, Love Raj and his team members cleaned up the mess.

On May 21, 2013, Love Raj reached the top of Everest for the fifth time.

It was their love for the mountains that brought Love Raj and Reena together. They first met in 2002 during an expedition in Ladakh. After several more such meetings on other outings, they tied the knot in 2004.

Reena received her training at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling and has been on IMF expeditions to Gangotri 1, the first ascent of Argan Kangri, Fluted Peak, Stock Kangri, Phawararang, Mt Nun and others.

In 2009, she was among the women from seven countries who were selected for the Kaspersky Antarctic Expedition mounted to mark the 60th anniversary of the Commonwealth. For Reena, who edged out 116 competitors, it represented a unique achievement.

This was a very tough journey. As a part of the team, she skied for 38 days for eight to 10 hours a day, traversing a 915-km path through one of the coldest and most desolate regions of the world and reached the trademark mirror ball in the middle of nowhere that marks the geographic South Pole. She became the first Indian woman to ski to the southern-most tip of the Earth.

This arduous journey was through the incredibly cold crevasses hundreds of metres deep where they had to tow their 80-kg sledges in the icy wilderness.
“I struggled in life. No work on any expedition was below my dignity. That shaped my character and even now I don’t hesitate to do any work on an expedition. I know struggle and I know when someone else is struggling,” she says.

It bothers the couple no end when they see today’s boys and girls being given so much comfort in life that they lose the intrinsic human power and desire to explore the extremes of their mind and body.

Reena says, “Their sedentary lifestyle leaves our young girls and boys bereft of the spirit of leadership and adventure that is so crucial in development.”

Love Raj, on his part, rues the fact that in cricket-crazy India, mountaineering is not even regarded as sport. “Moreover, it is an expensive sport on account of the equipment and resources required. It needs more support from the government and the corporate world.”
He acknowledges the contribution of the Border Security Force to his life. “Had I not been part of BSF I would have not been what I am today. The force has helped me a lot.”

Reena is currently a freelance instructor with the US-headquartered National Outdoor Leadership Schools (NOLS) that teaches outdoor skills to people. She now wants to spread awareness about conserving the environment.

She says, “The careless attitude of many climbers is destroying the beauty of the magnificent Himalayas.”

Reena was part of a 15-woman cycling expedition -- Go Green Girls – from Kolkata to Kanyakumari, covering nearly 3000 km in 35 days in early 2011 and promote a clean, green and healthy environment.

Love Raj and Reena are blessed with a son who is 13 months old. They have named him Ozas Tenzing Dharmshaktu drawing inspiration from Buddhism and the Dalai Lama.

Their desire is to motivate people to come out of their shells to achieve more not only for themselves but for the planet. They are thinking of campaigns to apprise people of the damage which we have been doing to the environment. To this end, they intend to visit schools, speak to children and motivate them to push the boundaries of physical endeavour.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017