Patron's Medal awarded by the Royal Geographic Society, London
- Harish Kapadia
was in Nairobi and checking my e-mail, when suddenly the message from the
Director of the Royal Geographical Society arrived.
It stated that I had been awarded ‘Patrons Medal’ of the Royal
Geographical Society by Her Majesty the Queen.
My immediate thought was certainly of a big
“thank you” to Him! . It was particularly a happy occasion as RGS had
recognized my small climbs, major explorations and work in an area, which not
many people would generally know or appreciate. I have climbed no Everest, but
exploration of this beautiful unknown ranges of Himalaya of India have given me
I started drafting my acceptance speech which is to be delivered to the Royal
Geographical Society on 2nd of June, the first and foremost thought
was to dedicate this award to Lt. Nawang Kapadia. As I say, in my acceptance
speech, I am sure he would be proud of it.
and myself arrived in London on 28th of May, one day before the 50th
Anniversary of 1st ascent of Everest. Same evening, we participated at a major reception at the
Alpine Club to celebrate Everest. More than 200 people were drinking champagne
and we were all very happy to meet old friends and renew contacts. In fact,
Chris Bonington, the past President of the Alpine Club mentioned,
“Harish, RGS must be giving you medal but we got you first”. I am already an
honorary member of the Alpine Club elected few years before. Next day on 29th
of May, we attended the presentation about Everest, 1st ascent and
its history at the Odeon Theatre at Leicester Square. This was the Royal Gala performance where Her Majesty,
The Queen was present. In fitness
of things, Geeta and myself were given a seat in the Royal box just few rows
away from Her Majesty. The programme was conducted with dignity and the Royal
party arrived sharp at 6.00 p.m. when everybody stood to attention and ‘God
Save the Queen’ was sung with gusto. And then without any ado,
speeches or lectures or welcoming with garlands and flowers the show
began, conducted by David Attenbourogh. Once
the show which traced the entire
history of Everest in the British eyes with Bonington, Venables and all the
living members of 1953 team was
completed, everybody got up, clapped and the Royal party left quietly. It was
very nice to see that no speeches were made and the program, ‘The Celebration
of Everest’ was the main theme.
the theatre we traveled by the special
cars sent by the Palace to St. James Palace, Spencer House. There a special reception
was to be held. Again champagne and food was flowing in plenty. Her Majesty and
Duke of Edinburgh came for first half an hour and few selected people were
introduced to her. When
they past next to us, the khukri that I was wearing in memory of Nawang was
noted and they asked, “Is this some Gorkha symbol”, I said, “Yes, my
son was in the Gorkha regiment”. And George Band who was standing next to them
briefed them about Lt. Nawang and his sacrifice. ‘Is there still plenty of
troubles in Kashmir?’ they inquired.
Duke of Edinburgh had a look at the khukri
closely and said, “That seems to be some Indian symbol” to which I replied,
“Yes, that’s the Ashoka Chakra, the state emblem” and the party moved on.
Of course, the champagne flowed till late in the evening and a very enjoyable
and memorable day of meeting the Queen ended.
the scene moved to 2nd June at the headquarters of the Royal
Geographical Society. Geeta, myself
with Savita, Raina and Mrs. Edila Gaitonde our great aunt reached the
Society’s building by 3 o’clock. There was a photo session where several
portraits of mine were taken which would be kept in the archives for many years
and pictures with the President of the RGS and other recipients were taken.
Annual General Meeting began at 3.30 p.m. and after half hour of discussions,
the award presentation ceremony took place.
When my citation for the award for the ‘Patron’s Gold Medal’ was
read by the President of the RGS, six to ten slides of the work that I have done
in mountains were projected on the scene and background. And after the citation
I was called onto the podium and to thunderous applause, and the Gold Medal was presented. The acceptance speech lasting about six
minutes was read to the audience. Few others also received the award immediately
thereafter. Once the ceremony was
over, it was back to champagne, good food and meeting many old friends. In the
crowd was Lord Charly who was the
President of the Alpine Club when I organized my first Indo-British joint
venture to East Karakorams. Stephen Venables, Lord Fagen Ian MacNaught Davis and
Loretto and several other friends made up for our evening.
the entrance of the RGS near the main door, list of all the gold medal winners
since 1837 has been painted on the wall. As I entered I noticed that against
year 2003, there was a little black patch. No sooner the award was given, the
black patch was removed and there was my name already written and ready.
Somebody said it with a smile, “Now we will look after it for next 100
years”! But that was a very thoughtful and well organized gesture.
Winser who is the Deputy Director
of RGS and his wife Shane, both explorers and recipient of medals in their own
right, were present in the audience and we had a long chat with them along with
Dr. Rita Gardner, the Director of RGS. Finally
we shook hand with the President, Sir Ron Cooke who had presented me the award
and took leave of the RGS but the warm friends will not leave us at that.
The entire party moved to 80 Abingdon Street, the home of our friend, Ian
MacNaught-Davis and Loretto. Indian food was ordered, more champagne
flowed and we were joined by Lord Fagen and
Charlotte Langley for dinner. And finally tired, but extremely happy, we
reached Savita Apte’s house, a little later than midnight.
morning, I was at the airport at 7.00 a.m. flying home with the medal and Sonam
received me at the airport.
sooner we reached home, the medal was kept next to the portrait of Nawang and
truly it was presented to him.