That’s a stunning photograph. The mountain surely looks like Deo Tibba. Have you ever tried your luck climbing this massive snow tower?
Yeah! I am a regular visitor here. Climbed a few times.
That’s how we started. I asked this seemingly stupid question to Lalit and he
answered typed as shyly as he talks. I could see him reframing-rewriting his answer for one full minute in my Facebook chat box.
A photograph randomly appeared on my Facebook timeline and I was curious to know about the man in focus. The mountain in the backdrop , a white circular icy dome of enormous proportions, was Deo Tibba.
A couple of months later, as I stepped inside his quaint home-stay in Jibhi, I am welcomed by Lalit’s wife Leena. Lalit is busy with their one year old daughter Aditi, teaching her nuances of ‘climbing’ a traditional wooden window. The little one holds steadily to the bottom window grill while her father cajoles her to climb the higher one. Unsurprisingly, the little one has a solid grip.
Like father, Like Daughter!
Meet Lalit Kumar. A seasoned climber. A Yoga Instructor. A Rescue Expert. A Paragliding Pilot. A trekking guide. A Farmer. He even worked as a high altitude porter during his initial days. And also as a snake rescue expert, needless to say he learned how to handle them poisonous reptilians. Seven times Deo Tibba summiteer. Two times Hanuman Tibba summiteer. Not to forget his summits of Mount Manerang, Mount Menthosa, and Friendship Peak.
A taciturn who can speak for long hours if you are talking about the mysterious world of Himalayas. Else you’ll have to keep talking until one of you hits the deck. Most probably that will be you because I don’t he think he ever gets tired.
Lalit started early. As an enthusiast kid wandering around with the deities. Then, like it does, it caught him. This love affair continued for six long years until he decided to leave the valley and do something in his life. He ran away with a couple of his friends to Delhi.
In a train to Delhi, he got his first major lesson. Bought a general ticket, traveled in AC. The TTE robbed them off whatever they had. The moment they landed in Delhi, they encountered the great ‘auto rickshaw’ barrier which forced them to turn back there and then.
That, Lalit tells me, was one of the greatest moments of his life. That shaped his life to a great extent. Not to mention the scolding he received from his retired ‘fauji‘ father.
In 2001, the same year he went to Delhi, he thought of doing what everybody else of his age was doing in Jibhi; to grow and sell apples. However, the agricultural venture couldn’t last long as his itchy feet again took him to the mountains.
He started working as a tourist guide and at the same time continued his studies. Getting back to studies after a long gap is a herculean task. (Ask Me!) He pursued his studies in Tourism and gained specialty certification in as many as eight courses. But that didn’t help him much.
He was still working as a high altitude porter in and around Manali. Getting paid INR 300/- per day. And we all know how many serious climbers reach Manali! During winters, he would manage a resort in Goa. But that did little to help him. Being a freelancer in India is being a nobody’s dog.
By 2005, he decided to take another leap of faith decided to start his own venture in Jibhi.
He happily shows me around in his small office. His mountaineering gear spread all around and an old album lying on the table. As Lalit talks about his old days, I see a sense of determination in his eyes. His job is tiring. If climbing mountains was easy, why would we do it anyway?
It’s a demanding job, he says, but I want to do this. That reminds me of a famous dialogue from Rocky Balboa, ” I gotta go out the way I gotta go out.” As we speak, he finalizes tour details of a group that has been coming to him since 2008. Another short hike to Lama Lambhri Peak.
As I am about to leave, I ask him one last question.
“With so many things to take care of, how does the ‘climber’ in you gets satisfied?”, I asked him.
My pilgrimage is Deo Tibba. Once a year, with or without a client, I always try to climb the beautiful mountain. That keeps me going.
I am sure it does. Lalit, a self learned college dropout is a courageous man. His courage is not in climbing the mountains. His dauntless perseverance is his courage. The Himalayas, his driving force.
These mountains are his final homecoming!Lalit and Leena own a lovely home-stay in Jibhi. A quaint wooden house in the foothills of Jalori Pass. Say hello to them when you are in the valley. Lalit might as well teach you a few Yoga Tricks.