King Albert I Mountain Award
for Harish Kapadia - Dedicated to memory of
- Harish Kapadia
King Albert I, the King of the Belgians, was an ardent mountain lover. In 1920s and 1930s he roamed the hills around his state, the Belgium, and also made many climbs in the Switzerland. He was a regular visitor to different Alpine summits from the centres at St. Moritz, Chamonix and Zermatt. With his love for mountains that most of these trips were not made as a royalty or king but as a common climber who loved the Alps.
On one such trip, he met Walter Amstutz a Swiss guide and they formed an instant friendship. For few years, they climbed together and shared a good camaraderie. However, King Albert I died in a solitary mountaineering accident near his home in 1934. This was a tragic event. Soon the Second World War and its aftermath intervened and put mountaineering and climbing out of mind of people for a long time. However as the time went by Walter was more and more keen to start an award in memory of his friend. Initially an appeal to the people of Belgium and Switzerland raised a good reasonable amount to start an award. The money was invested in a Swiss bank and for few intervening years, it was all forgotten. However, towards the late 1980s Walter now in his old age suddenly realized that the amount in the bank has now become a considerable sum due to addition of interest. A further appeal to public subscription was generously supported and thus the King Albert I Mountain Award was started in 1994.
The King Albert I Memorial Foundation, registered
in Zurich, was founded by Walter Amstutz in 1993 in honour of the Belgian King
Albert I (1875-1934), a great alpinist and fervent mountain climber. The
foundation's aim is to honour individuals or institutions which, through their
efforts in any area pertaining to the mountain regions of the world, have made
outstanding and lasting achievements.
This year, 2006, four awardees were selected as under:
Werner Bätzing, Germany
Ursula Bauer and Jürg Frischknecht, Switzerland
Harish Kapadia, India
Oswald Oelz, Switzerland/Austria
Mountain Culture at The Banff Centre, Bernadette McDonald and Leslie Taylor,
We gathered at St Moritz, and were hosted at beautiful Kulm Hotel, overlooking the lake. A special performance of music on Swiss Horns was arranged in the hotel compound.
The award ceremony began with a dinner hosted on
1st Sept night - a very formal affair and in traditional Swiss style and
punctuality. On the 2nd, at 9 in the morning the party walked to Sagantani
Museum nearby and the award ceremony was held there. In a beautiful room with
three large paintings, the award was presented by Mr Bruno Messerli, President
of the Foundation. A representative from the family of King Albert was also
present. Later a party was arranged at Pik Nair about 3015 m, which was reached
by a cable car.
By promoting awareness of the unknown valleys,
its history and people and by drawing attention of the trekking and
mountaineering world to the beauty of their peaks, he has made a unique
contribution to the development of trekking and mountaineering in the Himalaya
and the Karakoram.
Harish Kapadia participated in more than 25
expeditions, frequently as their leader, and published 15 books and, in
addition, a large number of articles and papers on his experiences. Since 1978
he is Honorary Editor of the prestigious Himalayan Journal and Himalayan Club
La Volonte, La Qualite Maitresse
It was explained that the gold is so pure that it must be touched only with gloves on otherwise, the fingerprints on the medal would remain. There were other functions in the evening, where every awardee was asked to say in brief what he has achieved in last ten years, what work he is doing today and above all, what he intends to do in next ten years. This was followed by a dinner, fit enough for royalty in a nearby hotel.
I was honoured to receive the award, wearing the
Gorkha Khukri badge in honour of my brave son Lt Nawang Kapadia and - wearing
the Himalayan Club tie !
Whenever I am interviewed, the first thing that journalists ask is about how I started going to the hills. There was an understandable need for the freedom of the hills since I lived in the large city of Bombay, I was a cloth merchant for all my working life and lived in a joint family. But this only portrays how the attraction for the mountains works on a person, against all odds. In fact the more the challenge, the more I went to the hills.
There is a lovely mountain range near Mumbai, called the Western Ghats or the Sahyadris. It has small but challenging mountains, going up to 1600 m but with varied difficulties. There are historical forts, which have seen many wars and the valleys are inhabited by happy villagers. For decades, we as a group of friends roamed in these valleys and climbed most of its 650 peaks. These were golden days for me, learning to love nature, staying with villagers and gaining strength.
At the same time I was visiting the Himalaya, first on trekking trips and later on serious climbing expeditions. We climbed many peaks but more than that saw many different valleys and met many villagers. It was in 1962 that by a sheer accident I met a porter from a village in Kumaun. We formed a unique friendship and people from this village have since accompanied me to almost all the places to which I have been. My relationship with these simple but faithful villagers now extends to two generations! Without their devotion I would have found trips in the vast Himalayan range more challenging and maybe lonely.
There have been many companions who joined me. The list is long and they have contributed to the pleasure. We shared much together, climbing together, singing together and when the need arose rescuing each other. I suffered two major accidents and injuries high in the mountains and without the brave support of my friends I would not be standing here today. As it happens ours is a risk taking sport and I have lost a few friends in the mountains. It was all the more sad because they were young and fit people.
In the last three decades I participated in many joint expeditions with foreign climbers: the British, French and the Japanese. It was a wonderful cultural experience as we introduced them to our food, Indian culture, relaxed style of trekking and climbing. And we learned about the world and forged strong friendships, which have lasted until today. These were serious expeditions and we climbed in remote areas, thus combining explorations with challenging climbing.
As a habit from early days, I generally never liked to visit the same place or area again. Though there were favourite places to go to, the serious ventures, the expeditions, were more of an intellectual activity and not merely physical exercise. Looking to a new hill or range gave me more pleasure than simply climbing a peak. Most of the peaks I have climbed were only to be able to look on to the other side of the mountain and at the vast new panorama. The second habit I developed since the early days was to maintain detailed notes of my activities. These notes ultimately allowed me to write about the visits to mountains and publish books. In fact writing about the mountains is almost as great a pleasure as visiting them. Like the passion to visit the mountains, I had to write when the need was felt, there was no escape from it. I hope the fund of knowledge these books have created will be useful to future generations.
In our Hindu scriptures, Lord Krishna says in the Bhagwat Gita:
"Among the stars I am the moon,
I was fortunate enough to experience the full glory of His range.
I am indeed honoured to receive the prestigious
King Albert Mountain Award and dedicate it my brave son Lt. Nawang Kapadia, who
will be proud of it.
King Albert Memorial : www.king-albert.ch