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In memory of an army officer slain in battle

The Rediff Special/ Vivek Fernandes

On the eve of Independence Day, August 14, 2002, the Indian Army posthumously honoured Lt Nawang Kapadia for his valour and role in Kashmir by presenting a badge of sacrifice and a certificate of honour to his father, Harish Kapadia, in Mumbai.

Lieutenant Nawang Kapadia of the 4th Battalion, Third Gorkha Rifles, laid down his life while fighting terrorists in the jungles of Rajwar in the Kupwara district, Jammu and Kashmir, on November 11, 2000.

It was in the memory of his son that Harish Kapadia, the wellknown climber, led a team of nine mountaineers to the summit of the virgin peak, the 7,030-metre-high Mount Padmanabh, located in the Himalayan range in Jammu and Kashmir. The expedition also visited the Siachen Glacier, thus making it Harish Kapadia’s fifth visit to the glacier and his tenth visit to the Himalayas.

Present in Kapadia’s team were five Japanese, members of the Japanese Alpine Club. “It was a historical expedition for India and Japan and came as a celebration to the completion of 50 years of cordial diplomatic relations between our two nations. This was the first time in Independent India’s history that a team involving foreign mountaineers were permitted to reach the historic Karakoram Pass,” said Kapadia on his return to Mumbai in mid-July after the 61-day trek.

“I had delivered lectures in Japan and I had been planning a trip to explore the eastern parts of the Karakoram valley since my last trip in 1998. Since I had to do it before I got any older, I invited them to come along,” he smiled. “The Japanese climbers are very disciplined, very organized.”

Preparations for the expedition began over a year ago with letters requesting permission from the Indian Army. “As civilians, we had to obtain permission from the ministry of defence, the ministry of external affairs, and the ministry of home affairs because there were Japanese involved. The permissions were granted only five days before we left. We are very grateful to Lieutenant General R K Nanavatty, General-Officer-Commanding-in-Chief, Northern Command, Indian Army, for all his support,” said Kapadia.

“Planning the logistics was the most demanding task. We had to be very careful, meticulous…we simply could not fall short of even a matchstick. Thankfully everything went off well…we had no injuries, accidents or illnesses. No mean feat considering we had over 2,500 kilos of luggage, were subject to temperatures which ranged from -20 degrees during the night time to 32 degrees during the day, a jump of almost 50 degrees, and we each trekked over 550 kilometres,” he said.

“We would rise every morning at 3 am and walk until 11 am because after that, the ice would melt and we’d have to swim. We trekked all along the ancient winter trade route to Karakoram Pass — the first expedition to achieve this in the last five decades. The team was also the first to cross the Col Italia, a high pass between the Central Rimo Glacier and the Teram Shehr Plateau and traverse these glaciers in the past 73 years. No other team is recorded to climbed on the Teram Shehr Plateau so this was another accomplishment of the team,” says Kapadia.

“The final climb was also very arduous. On June 25, Hiroski Sakai and Yasushi Tanahashi, the Japanese climbers, made the first ascent of the peak, after 11 hours of continuous climbing. We were to have made the second ascent on June 26 but were unable to due to bad weather. Nonetheless, the excursion was a historic event and it was more meaningful as the United Nations had declared 2002 to be the International Year of the Mountains.”

He said the excursion was dedicated to his son Nawang, who was martyred in Kashmir fighting terrorists. “It is part of the family’s ongoing effort to raise awareness about the situation of the troops in Kashmir. In Mumbai we are not concerned about the hardships our soldiers have to face and we hope to improve that by speaking about the work they are doing,” he added.

The family hosts a web site dedicated to their son. They also distribute the ‘Khukri of Honour’ Badge with an emblem of the 4/3 Gorkha Rifles, Nawang’s regiment, to supporters of their cause. The badge, in the form of a khukri, a curved dagger carried by Gorkha soldiers, commemorates the valour of Nawang and also represents the bravery or the Gorkha soldiers.

Geeta Kapadia, Nawang’s mother, has also been spearheading a tree planting campaign in honour of her son. Family friend and legendary mountaineer Chris Bonington planted the first oak tree in Cumbria, United Kingdom, in the young soldier’s memory.

“Certain trees are believed to possess qualities that resemble the characteristics of the person in whose memory they are planted. In Nawang’s case it is the amla tree and many of our friends have planted such trees in Mumbai, Kathmandu, Poland, and Japan,” said Kapadia.

The Kapadias, in their efforts to spread awareness about Indian soldiers, have spoken on camera in Anand Patwardhan’s new film Jung Aur Aman (War and Peace).

They are also involved in the project of building a peace park at the Siachen glacier. “India spends Rs 30 million a day on our defence efforts in Siachen,” says Harish Kapadia. “We propose to build a park that will preserve the natural environment and allow the snow leopard and ibex to return. We hope to construct this uninhabited park in memory of Nawang under the aegis of the Peace Parks Foundation that was established in southern Africa a few years ago and the World Conservation Union. This could be a possible solution to the conflict in Siachen, an area that has undergone tremendous ecological degradation and would be the best tribute to our son.”