Arjun Kumar Thapa is the only Indian man to have reached the top of Mount Everest and South Pole. But, he has also done what many others who have reached both these places won’t ever be able to do: two stints at the Siachen glacier.
A Havaldar with the Gorkha Regiment of the Indian Army, Thapa completed the feat on May 20, when he scaled the Everest as part of a 30-member Indian Army Massive Everest Expedition: 2016. This team will be ceremonially flagged in by the army chief in New Delhi on Tuesday.
Two Indian twins, Tashi and Nungshi Malik, daughters of a retired army officer, had achieved the feat last year when they reached the South Pole.
Thapa, 34, had reached the South Pole in Antarctica as part of an eight-member army team on January 15, 2011. The team had covered the distance of 1170 km in 50 days of skiing.
Speaking exclusively to The Indian Express, Thapa said that “even though both are glaciers, the two challenges are totally different. The journey to South Pole is on a flatter terrain, with gradual slope and there is no problem of oxygen. The climb to the peak of Everest has more obstacles, particularly the icefalls like the Khumbu icefall.”
Thapa is a second generation soldier, whose father had also served in the Gorkha regiment.
While travelling to South Pole, Thapa said that the challenge is to remain fit for 50 days of skiing, with little time for recovery. He had achieved the feat during the period of six months of continuous daylight at Antarctica, which made rest even more difficult. “For the first week, I couldn’t even sleep in Antarctica. But then you get tired and you start sleeping,” says Thapa, father of a one-year-old son.
On the climb to Everest, he says that there is enough time for recovery but there is always a danger for life and safety. In 2016, so far, six climbers have lost their lives and more than 25 rescued after going down with frostbite and hypothermia.
His two stints at Siachen, one at the Siachen Battle School from 2013-15 and the other at Southern Glacier with his battalion from 2006-08, were of great help in his climb to South Pole and Mount Everest. In 2012, he was part of the team which opened the route at Siachen Glacier from Bhim to Shiyagra Complex. “You get used to living at a glacier and it also toughens you mentally for any hardship. There can be no better preparation than that,” says Thapa, proudly wearing the Everest badge on the left pocket of his army uniform.
Lt Colonel RS Jamwal, the team leader of the Everest expedition team and a three-time Everest climber says that “the expedition was a particularly successful one, with 14 of our team scaling the peak at Everest, as planned by us. We had no casualties. Five of our boys also successfully participated in the Everest Marathon, the highest marathon event in the world.”
The Everest Marathon is an annual event held on May 29, to commemorate the day Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay first climbed the Everest. The 42-kilometre race starts from the Base Camp at 17,500 feet and ends at Namcha Bazaar at 12,000 feet. The Indian participants completed the race in a time of 5.30 to 6 hours, Jamwal said.
Having reached South Pole and Mount Everest, what is next challenge for Thapa? “The North Pole”, the soldier replies, “I want to be the first Indian man to complete The Three Poles Challenge.”