Updated: January 16, 2022 9:38:35 am
Founder of the Indian Spinal Injuries Centre (ISIC), professional mountaineer, and Padma Shri recipient — Major HPS Ahluwalia donned many hats. He passed away on Friday evening at the age of 85.
At the age of 26, Major Ahluwalia was part of the first Indian expedition to summit Mount Everest in 1965. Six months to the exact date of scaling the Everest, he was posted at Gulmarg during the Indo-Pak war when a gunshot wound to his neck left him paralysed waist down and confined him to a wheelchair.
This did not deter him. He was known to say, “Much more difficult than scaling Mount Everest is scaling the Everest within, but anything can be achieved with the power of the mind.”
Describing his grit, Captain M S Kohli, the team leader of the Everest expedition, said: “At first, doctors said he would not survive. But he was determined to. He did not just survive, the role he played in creating the spinal injury treatment centre is tremendous.”
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Determined to rebuild his life, Major Ahluwalia travelled to the United Kingdom for intensive rehabilitation. It was there that the seed of developing a centre for comprehensive care of spinal injuries was sown. Setting up the ISIC at Vasant Kunj in 1993 was the culmination of it.
“He symbolised his saying. For a person with his level of injury, he has achieved so much in life which no able-bodied person can think of. Setting up the Centre is only one of the feathers in his cap — he also went on the Central Asia Cultural Expedition much after his injury. To us, he is an inspiration, a role model. We are here because of him. And innumerable lives across the globe have been touched by him and his work,” said Dr H S Chabbra, medical director of the ISIC, who has worked closely with Major Ahluwalia since the institute’s inception.
Major Ahluwalia was part of the last summit party during the 1965 expedition. But before they could start their climb, an avalanche struck, burying the oxygen bottles in the snow. He was just 1,000 metres away from the summit when Captain Kohli thought of calling it off.
Recounting the events, Captain Kohli said: “Major Ahluwalia came up to me and said he will find the bottles. The sherpas said there was no chance. But he, along with two sherpas, kept digging through the snow the whole day. And, sure enough, by the end of the day, he found all the bottles. And, on May 29, he climbed the summit.”
The expedition put nine mountaineers at the summit — a record that lasted 17 years.
After his injury, he received an early discharge from the Army in 1968 with the honorary rank of Major. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri for his contributions and received India’s second-highest sporting honour, the Arjuna Award.
He is survived by his wife Bholi Ahluwalia and daughter Sugandh Ahluwalia.
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