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ExWeb interview: Everest 2005 - Indian Air Force
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Mar 10, 2005 12: 50 EST
The Indian Air Force is sending a team to Everest this spring, to attempt the North Route. The IAF team has been training for this expedition for the last three years, climbing in Garhwal, Ladhak, Himachal and Sikkim Himalayas.

Coca-Cola joining the Spirit of Adventure

The increasing zest for mountaineering in India is great news for the large nation, holding some of the biggest mountains in the world. Coca-Cola recently announced its big Thums Up Everest Challenge, targeting Indian youth, to reinforce the brand personality with "the spirit of adventure, thrill, and heroism". The winner will get a chance to climb Everest and cash Rs 10 lakhs. The final Thumps Up tests will be headed by Colonel Kumar, the first Indian to summit Everest in 1960.

Everest makes for tough soldiers

Mountaineering makes for some tough soldiers and the Indian Defense has always been cutting its teeth on high peaks. Everest Navy summited last year, the Indian Army is sending an all female expedition this year, and now the Indian Air Force is signing up for an Everest climbing permit.

We checked in with the expedition leader, Wing Commander Amit Chowdhury, to get a scoop on the upcoming Everest expedition:

ExWeb: Last year, it was the Indian Navy and now its the Indian Air Force: Do you guys know each other?

"Yes, Satya is a good friend; We've met all the others in the Navy team a number of times."

The oxygen system commonly used on Everest is POISK - made originally for fighter pilots. Is that what you'll use or do you have your own system?

"Last year we tried out the 'Summit' system on Kamet. We were quite happy with it. So we're using the Summit system. However, we are also carrying the POISK system, mainly because the Sherpas are comfortable with it."

Are you all pilots in this Everest expedition?

"Not, all."

How did the Air Force come up with the idea to climb Everest?

"Air Force mountaineers have been climbing for a very long time. We've been represented in the 60, '65, '84 and a couple of other Indian Everest expeditions. Air Force mountaineers have been on Nanda Devi, Kamet and have done several other interesting climbs."

"The Air Force Trekking Mountaineering and Skiing Society was formed in 1952 and has always been very active. In 1986 it was renamed 'Air Force Adventure Foundation'. Skydiving, paragliding, skiing, ultralight flying, rafting, water-skiing, mountain-biking, car-rallying are some of the activities we actively indulge in."

"Our Skydiving team called 'Air Devils' (of which I am a founder member) displays its skills regularly all over the country. As fas as mountaineering is concerned, it was really a matter of time before we went to Everest. We have the same reasons as any other mountaineers have to climb Everest."

The Indian Army planned an all-women Indian expedition to Everest this year - any news on that?

"Yes, it's on."

The Indian military will soon sport an impressive amount of Everest summiteers; is this a deliberate defense strategy and if so, can we have the details please :)

"A large part of the Indian border lies in the Himalayan region, so its natural that the military produces a lot of mountaineers ;)

Last year, the Navy team kicked off their Everest expedition in a Russian EKM submarine, 250 ft below the surface. Do you plan on a similar spectacular take off?

"Yes, but I can't tell you how just yet..."

You are a Wing Commander - what exactly does that mean?

"It's a rank equal to Lieutenant Colonel."

Lack of funds has prevented Indian mountaineering to flourish according to the Navy's commander and expedition leader last year. Do you feel that that's changing with the growing prosperity in the country?

"Well, I differ with the Commander, because I feel that there are a lot of organizations in the country who encourage mountaineering and provide funds for young people to go on climbing expeditions. There are close to 150 expeditions each year by Indian clubs; and almost all popular peaks above 6000 mtrs have been climbed by Indian expeditions. At least 800 people take a 30 day course in mountaineering at one of the four mountaineering institutes. These courses are heavily subsidized by the Govt. There's a lot of support for mountaineering here."

Your are an experienced climber with a number of cool peaks in your bag. You are also Wing Commander in the Air Force. Do you battle a serious fear of heights - or do you just like the view?

"I have often wondered. No I don't have a fear of heights; I think have a very simple uncomplicated reason. I love the mountain air."

Any big mountaineering dreams after Everest?

"I haven't thought about this..."

What's your personal ultimate dream - going to Space, perhaps?

"No, no! nothing fancy like that at all. I'd love to go to the Poles."

Amit Chowdhury 46, is married with two kids (13, 17). An experienced climber he led the Jadavpur University team to climb all three Jogin peaks (Garhwal Himalaya) including the virgin Jogin II in 1980.

Later he led expeditions to Sudarshan, Jaonli, CB53/54, Habuman Tibba, Deo Tibba, and was a member of expeditions to Satopanth, Kamet West Ridge and Principal of the Indian Institute of Skiing and Mountaineering in Gulmarg, Kashmir.

Image of last year's Navy Everest summit team, courtesy of Lt Cdr Abhiskek Kankan. Also check out a video of their summit in the links section.

Image of IAF trophy, courtesy of RAF.

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