Dec 16, 2017 was a red letter day for Satyarup, as he realized his long cherished dream of summiting the highest peaks of all 7 continents in the world. The mission which had kick started in June 2012 with Kilimanjaro in Africa, concluded successfully with the summit of Mount Vinson Massif, Antarctica.
A mountaineer in a cricket crazy nation, Satyarup is a youth icon, inspiring them to climb mountains in all aspects of their lives, follow their hearts and live their dreams in the true sense. Winner of multiple prestigious awards, notable ones being - Radhanath Sikdar Tenzing Norgay award - the highest state award for Mountaineering, Bangalore Youth award, First season of "Grab Your Dream" contest and most recently, the Eminent Bengali Citizen award by Zee in 2018, he is unassumingly candid as we converse in his modest Bangalore home -
Every success story has an underlying inspiration. What was yours and who were your role models/mentors in this journey?
Mountaineering came as a fortunate stroke of serendipity in my life. It was never my childhood dream. In fact, it was an impossible dream for me, given that I was an asthmatic who couldn't even run for 100 meters without a puff from the inhalers till my college days. My dreams were triggered in 2008 after seeing pictures of a trek in Tamil Nadu – Parvathamalai. I was fascinated and became an avid trekker ever since. Then in Dec 2010, when I saw the imposing Mt Everest from its base camp, I realized that I had to learn mountaineering to climb it. From then on, I went through everything like in a trance. One summit led to another, dreams became limitless and boundary less and today as I take every step on high altitudes, a deep sense of gratitude fills me and I feel thankful to the universe for providing me this opportunity.
I have been most inspired by the stories of George Mallory and Ernest Shackleton and love the adventures of Tintin, Phantom, Mandrake and many more fictional characters. I love many Bengali adventure fiction story book characters like "Francis", "Rijuda", "Kakababu", "Shankar" , "Feluda" ...the list is long! They are my secret world .
Have you ever been scared during the climbs? How do you overcome your fears?
I am not fearless. Fear is something which can cripple us or can drive us forward. The fear which could have stopped me from going to the mountains actually helps me to wake up early morning and go for those extra workouts, swimming, cycling etc. It’s all in the mind. When equipped with the right frame of mind, and right skills and experience, fear can be used in a constructive way, fear can be channelized.
When I stood for the first time in front of the Kilimanjaro Baranco wall when I was a rookie, I trembled and was not sure whether I would be able to cross that wall. It looked so massive! But then I changed the thought a bit and broke the entire wall into minutest destinations and each such destination was nothing but one single step! And how difficult can be one step possibly be? A series of such “one step” is all that I would have to take… and Voila! My fears disappeared and my entire attitude changed. Every single step boosted my confidence exponentially and eventually I reached the top!
Which according to you, was the most difficult peak and why?
Mt. Denali was to me the toughest and most difficult peak. We were a team of five friends from Canada, Bangladesh, Nepal, USA and myself from India. We didn’t have the money to take a guided service to climb Mt Denali and hence decided to go unguided. Now, this was a peak where not many people dare to climb unguided. We didn’t want to prove our bravado but the decision was taken more out of compulsion and financial constraints. The weather was extremely bad and we faced multiple near death situations including first degree frost bite in 5 fingers after getting exposed to a blizzard.
On top of that, we had to do everything by ourselves – pulling 35 KG sleds with the added load of a 25KG backpack, pitching tents, cooking, cleaning, melting water and much more. That climb taught me many things and gave me a huge confidence boost. And most memorable, was the feeling of immense satisfaction as I reached the peak amidst all odds.
Success and controversy often go hand in hand and you have had your share of both. What were your reactions when you found that a couple had claimed an Everest conquest based on doctored versions of photographs of your successful attempt?
I was dragged into that controversy when I spotted my morphed picture which the couple had claimed as their own. What was even more shocking was that they claimed a summit picture of Moloy Mukherjee and myself as theirs and they put a copyright symbol on it. Because of this I had to run to Delhi, Pune, Kolkata, Nepal , spend a lot of money , lawyers everything to ensure that we got our summit certificate. Nepal denied giving me the summit certificate till the probe was over and I was scared that this might go on for years.
Finally with a global lens on that incident, including independent scrutiny by BBC and Washington Post which acted like a catalyst and 2 harrowing months, I finally got back my certificate. I value this climb a lot and this certificate was much more than a mere acknowledgement of my feat. It had a lot of emotional and sentimental value – few of my friends had died on that expedition and there were many other sacrifices too. Hence, it meant a lot to me. Looking back, I have forgiven the couple and moved on.
What do you do when not mountaineering? Tell us something about Satya, the person.
I love to experiment with my life and have exposed myself to a plethora of activities. I am passionate about environment conservation and related research and do it in my own capacity. Currently, I am in process of collaborating with the IIT Kanpur Geology Dept to do some scientific research in Antarctica.
Additionally, I am a motivational speaker and give corporate talks, coaching sessions to senior leadership team, employees, students and kids. I have now taken this very seriously as I have a very strong urge to significantly contribute towards youth empowerment and societal well-being through such activities.
I am a techie by profession and enjoy my techie identity equally. Recently, Sikkim Manipal University sponsored me a Distance Education MBA and I am thoroughly enjoying doing the course. I am also doing a master practitioner course on NLP from Neoway Academy. I feel that there is no end to learning and all these trainings helps me in problem solving. After all, mountaineering is also a kind of problem awaiting a solution. Apart from all these, I am also a very social person and love to enjoy quality time with family and friends
After joining the 7 summits elite club and being only the 6th Indian civilian to achieve this feat, what do you dream about now?
Dreams are so plentiful! They come out just like the water that gushes out from suddenly opened flood gates. And I don’t stop them, I let them flow. Dreams should be boundary less and limitless. I have always believed in Dreaming BIG but simply dreaming is not sufficient … to prevent it from remaining a mere wish I have to chase them with strategies in place! My immediate dream is to climb the highest volcanoes of each of the continents known as 7 Volcanic Summits! I am already done with 3, with 4 more to go! I want to ski the North Pole, cross deserts, go underwater … sooo many things to do and dreams to fulfill!
What’s your message for aspiring mountaineers?
It’s very important to have the necessary mountaineering skills and experience in place. Also, they should become financially stable with a steady source of income to fuel their dreams! A combination of Skills, Fitness and Experience can not only make the climb enjoyable, but also can help save lives.
In a cricket crazed nation, do you feel that mountaineers get the requisite support from the government? Do you have any asks from the government?
Well, if you are politically colored, you may get some support. But fortunately or unfortunately all my mountains were pristine white. Hence, I have had to struggle. I rely on taking personal loans and work as a consultant at two offices to pay back those loans. I did try reaching out to the central government but did not even get a response, leave alone any kind of support. Initially, I used to get very angry, but now I am quite indifferent. I got some support from the West Bengal State government, which has a policy for successful Mt Everest summits. But the cost of expeditions are so huge, these policies need to be revised and better support provided. There was zero support from Karnataka government where I have been staying for the last 13 years. I am fortunate and blessed to have an amazing friend circle and when things go beyond my personal capacity, I get the support through crowd funding.
There was also a golden streak as some companies like Decathlon, Favre-Leuba, Trip 360 and Manipal Group came forward to support my endeavors.
But, in the end, all that matters is the extreme satisfaction I got as I fluttered the tricolor on every highest peak of the seven continents. Nothing beats the sense of pride I felt at that moment for representing my country and all other difficulties pale into insignificance.