In this day and age of burgeoning horror stories on Everest caused by overcrowding and climate change, it is a pleasure to read of an Everest summiting story from another era. Major H.P.S. Ahluwalia’s Higher Than Everest is a new edition of his 1973 autobiography, so this isn’t a new book. However, the author has expanded his story to talk about the past four decades of his eventful life. A native of Sialkot in Punjab, the young HPS was a career army man when he caught the mountaineering bug and enrolled at the mountaineering institute in Darjeeling under the tutelage of Tenzing Norgay. A member of a gifted generation of Indian climbers, he would go on to climb extensively in Sikkim and Nepal, culminating in the successful Indian attempt on Everest in 1965. As one of the fabled nine Indians to stand atop Everest that year, Ahluwalia’s fame was assured. However, soon after this triumph, Ahluwalia was injured during the 1965 Indo-Pakistan War and suffered a grievous spinal injury. The fact that he thrived despite this physical disability and opened India’s first institute for spinal injuries takes his achievements to a whole different level.
Reading about the expedition in these pages, it strikes me just how far removed the Everest of 1965 is from the Everest of 2016. There were hardly any crowds; the Sherpas of Namche Bazaar were still primarily agriculturalists or small traders; and whoever had the temerity to try and climb Everest had to do so on their own steam. Granted, the Indian expedition was literally on a military siege scale, but the climbers themselves, legendary figures like Bull Kumar and Sonam Gyatso among them, were seasoned mountaineers with excellent skills, none less so than Ahluwalia, who was an excellent rock climber. Another aspect of that famous climb that shines through is the sheer will of the Indians to make the ’65 attempt count, especially after missing out on the summit in 1960 and 1962.
Defeated by the mountain in late April, the party waited almost a month, and against the odds, put nine men on top of Everest. It’s some story, and Ahluwalia tells it well.