As Col Sarfaraz Singh’s name was recommended for the Tenzing Norgay National Adventure award last week and later finalised for the honour in the land adventure category, Singh had just completed the National Integration Trekking Expedition to Gorichen Glacier and was on his way to scale Mt Gorichen West along with his team. He is now back in Dirang for the for the virtual award ceremony to be held at Itanagar on August 29.
The 43-year-old, whose father Col Balbir Singh is a member of the 1968 Olympics bronze medal winning Indian hockey team, is the director of NIMAS since 2017.
The next adventure for him will begin from September 1, when he will be leading the NIMAS team to the summit of Mt Kangto, a 7,060 m high peak, yet to be fully summited by any team.
“It’s a great honour for me as well the whole mountaineering and allied sports community in the country. Due to Covid, some of the earlier expeditions had been cancelled and after the national integration trekking expedition, I was leading my team to the summit of Mt Gorichen West when I got the news of my recommendation. Unfortunately, we had to cancel the summit attempt due to bad weather and since we have to try the summit of Mt Kangto starting September 1. I arrived in Dirang Monday evening and after the virtual award ceremony, I will be heading back to my team, who are equally part of this prestigious award to be given to me,” said Singh while talking to The Indian Express from Dirang.
With his father, Col Balbir Singh, being member of the Indian hockey team and having won the bronze medal in the 1968 Mexico Olympics, a young Sarfaraz had shown his love for boxing and squash as a youngster. After his selection to the Rashtriya Indian Military College (RIMC), Dehradun followed by selection in National Defence Academy (NDA) and later IMA, Singh would win trophies in boxing and squash at the military academies. It was on his induction into the 6th battalion in Parachute Regiment in 2001 that Singh’s love for adventure sports started and the young officer was part of the Indian Army’s expedition to 7,105 m high Mt Nun in Zanskar in Ladakh in 2004. The following year, Singh was selected for an Indian expedition to Mt Cho Oyu in China before he had to drop out of the expedition due to his selection to the UN Mission in Congo.
“While my father was a hockey Olympic medallist, I was always fascinated by boxing. I even wanted to pursue boxing but officers in Army are not allowed to play combat sports professionally. Joining the Para regiment meant that adventure was part of our training and climbing the Nun peak in 2004 was a big motivation for me. I was the deputy leader in the expedition and my leader, Saurabh Singh Shekawat, remains my role model. I also dedicate my award to him and my father. During the UN Mission posting, I would accumulate my holidays and would scale peaks like Mt Stanley and Mt Kilimanjaro within 10 days apart from climbing Europe’s highest peak, Mt Elbrus, through glacier route. Doing those expeditions solo or with one team-member, helped my confidence,” said Singh.
Various postings in his regiment and other commitments meant that Singh would miss some of the expeditions before he scaled
Mt Aconcagua, the highest peak of South America, in a solo attempt in 2015. In February, 2017, Singh was appointed the director of NIMAS. He and his teams have scaled more than six major peaks including, Mt Trishul, Mt Labouche, Mt Kangto-6. In December 2018, he and his team completed an MTB expedition to the 16,000 feet high Bumla Pass and earlier this year, Singh and his three team-members completed the 4000-km long five-nation cycling expedition. In 2018, Singh had also led the eight-member Indian team to the summit of Mt Everest.
“One thing which I have learnt is that you have to respect the mountain. During the Mt Aconcagua solo attempt, high speed winds meant that my tent was blown away after I returned to the final base camp. A Russian instructor, whom I had met earlier, helped me. Another Indian mountaineer, Mastan Babu, died during his summit try the same week. During the Mt Everest climb, my team members made to the summit on May 19 while I had reached base camp 4 with empty oxygen tanks. So, I had to wait for one more day and spent the day with three oxygen bottles secured from dead bodies. I had taken my father’s hockey stick to the Mt Everest peak and wished that India wins the Olympic gold medal,” shared Singh.
With Punjab having the foothills of Shivalik mountains, Singh believes that Punjab too can have a mountaineering institute.
“There are small hills and rocks in Punjab and they can be used for preparing and running basic climbing and mountaineering courses for youth. Mountaineering skills and survival skills are also important keeping in mind that the recent border issue with China and such expeditions also help the armed forces to prepare for operating in high altitude areas,” concludes Singh.