IN THE last 40 years, city-based Gopal Vasudev Lele, who is 81 years, has been to Himalayas on a trek more than 10 times. A week-long trek that he completed in September has recently got him an entry in the Limca Book of Records for being the oldest trekker. The trek was to Rupin Pass that is situated at a height of 15,350 ft in Himachal Pradesh. Staying in a tent and braving the rain, snowfall, landslide and temperature that was as low as minus 7 degree Celsius, Lele successfully completed the trek.
“I don’t feel like an ‘81-year-old’, I regard myself as 81-years-young,” says Lele. Even at this age, the octogenarian walks for nearly eight kms daily, performs suryanamaskar, does other physical exercises and climbs a tekdi near Mumbai-Pune Highway once a week.
“I bring rigorous change in my routine whenever I plan a trek to the Himalayas. For instance, I will be covering Roopkund in Uttarakhand in September, for which I will start preparing from next month onwards. I increase the frequency of climbing tekdi so that I am better prepared by the time the trek nears,” says Lele, a resident of Pradhikaran, who does not suffer from any old-age ailments such as blood pressure, diabetes and arthritis, among others.
“I have often heard people saying that there’s less oxygen in high altitude areas. I have trekked Himalayas number of times but have never felt breathless. I think health and fitness is all in the mind. Sitting here in comfortable homes, one should not imagine things,” says Lele, who’s been trekking since 1972 and has covered places such as Kedarnath, Kailash, Kanchenjunga and Sangla, among others.
Hailing from Baroda, Lele, who was an electrical and automobile engineer by education, shifted to Pune in 1964. After working in different factories, he set up his own business over 25 years ago. Even now, though the factory is managed by his son, he visits it daily. Since the past seven years, Lele is a part of a city-based trekking group named Treknik.
Based on his years of experience, he says that trekking Himalayas require planning and method. “One should not hurry up because it’s not a race. Besides, months of preparation that requires focus on physical fitness, is needed. One cannot decide just one fine day to trek Himalaya,” says Lele, adding that the younger generation especially, should focus on fitness more than earning money as it is an investment that will pay in the long run.