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Adieu Colonel Prem Chand ‘Snow Tiger’ – OpEd

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I knew the late Col Prem Chand from the end of the 70s, while Captaining our respective Ice Hockey teams and always playing the finals in Leh. Maj Prem Chand Captained the Ladakh Scouts team and myself the Tangtse Bde team composed entirely of my Gorkha Bn. Then as a near novice climbed Saser Kangri in 1979 along with him and ND Sherpa. Since then our association grew and we were interacting regularly untill the final journey of Col Prem Sir. He passed away in Kullu on October 4 at the age of 87. He had not been well for some time. Col Prem Chand was a resident of Lindur village in Lahaul-Spiti of Himachal Pradesh, India. Lahaul-Spiti is situated at an average altitude of 14,000 feet across the Rohtang Pass, and is the fourth least-populous district in India. The inhabitants of the district are sturdy and born adventurous, since for them life itself is a daily adventure. The spirit of adventure came naturally to him. Col Prem Chand was a leading advocate of tribal culture, traditions and protection of environment. Through this write up on the best known Indian mountaineer I pay my homage to Prem Sir, and bid Adieu.

He was a lover of mountains and had a sincere passion to climb. Col Prem Chand, for his mountaineering exploits and achievements over the years of his active climbing had been awarded with KC, SM and VSM by the Army. Prem Chand started climbing mountains from a very young age and was known as a ‘Mountain Goat’ in his boy scout days. He has been the best mountaineer  of the country and was  affectionately known as ‘The Snow Tiger’ in mountaineering circles.

During his career with the Indian Army, he successfully scaled some of the highest peaks in Bhutan, Sikkim, Nepal, Garhwal, Kashmir and Eastern Karakoram. His mountaineering career started in 1970 with the climbing of Chomolhari, the highest peak in Bhutan.He devoted his life to adventure. He was the first Indian to scale the country’s highest peak Kangchenjunga a sacred mountain in Sikkim from the most difficult route ‘the North East Spur’  in 1977 along with Hav ND Sherpa.Lord Henry Hunt, leader of the successful 1953 British expedition to Mount Everest, later described “Prem Chand’s achievement as greater than that of Everest. Because it involved technical climbing and hazards of a much higher level than those found on the Everest”.The Kangchenjunga was first climbed on 25 May 1955 by Joe Brown and George Band, who were part of the 1955 British Kangchenjunga expedition.So the second successful summit of Kangchenjunga was only possible after 22 years.

Kangchenjunga Climb  a Great Achievement. 

The conquest of Kangchenjunga was considered such a great achievement that Col Prem was awarded the Gold Medal for continued excellence in mountaineering in India by the Mountaineering Federation of India (IMF). The name Kanchenjunga is derived from four words of Tibetan origin, usually rendered Kang-chen-dzo-nga or Yang-chhen-dzö-nga and interpreted in Sikkim as the “Five Treasuries of the Great Snow.” The mountain holds an important place in the mythology and religious ritual of the local inhabitants. Respecting the sentiments of the Sikkimese people and his own respect for the mountain, Colonel Prem Chand and ND Sherpa paid their respects a little short of the summit. Colonel Prem Chand has been to Mount Everest twice. He has climbed about 30 peaks during his entire career.  

The Indian Army offers a variety of adventure activities, but mountaineering remains the main focus and not without reason, for in the Army, mountaineering is not just climbing peaks, but an integral part of mountain warfare. 

Col Prem Chand was tough, dynamic and an inspiring Leader who inspired generations of mountaineers while he trained aspiring mountaineers in the NIM (Nehru Institute of Mountaineering) and HAWS (High Altitude Warfare School).He had also trained the first Indian woman expedition to Mount Everest. Ms Bachendri Pal, the first Indian woman summiteer was trained by Col Prem Chand in the techniques of climbing and he was instrumental for her success. In turn gave up his own summit attempt to Mount Everest. Bachendri Pal the first Indian woman to scale Mt Everest in 1984 says;  she owes her career to her ‘Guru’ Colonel Chand. “He inspired me to take up mountaineering and shaped my professional life too.” 

Col Prem had all respect for the mountains, he used to say we do not climb to conquer but to pay respects to the mountain and the mountain judges who should climb and who should not. Col Prem Chand was a natural leader as he always led by example. He himself was tough and was a tough trainer as well. As an instructor at HAWS he would start the course by asking the trainees to have a dip in the river in winter and seeing all reluctant he would himself jump into the freezing river water and the trainees would then follow. 

On protection and preservation of the environment he often said; “You have only One Himalaya to lose.” He ensured that the mountain is left clean by bringing back the waste or burying it. He will be deeply missed by the mountaineering fraternity.

Patial RC

Patial RC is a retired Infantry officer of the Indian Army and possesses unique experience of serving in active CI Ops across the country and in Sri Lanka. Patial RC is a regular writer on military and travel matters in military professional journals. The veteran is a keen mountaineer and a trekker.

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