Meet Bhagwan Chawale (39) who recently scaled the Mt Annapurna, the 10th tallest mountain in the world. He is a member of RC Pune Gandhi Bhavan, RID 3131.
Mt Annapurna is a massif on the Nepal-Himalayas with one peak 8,091 m tall and other ranges 7,000 m high. “We were an 87-member team. But only 67 of us could reach the summit as the rest had to discontinue due to health issues,” he says. This trek had two unique achievements — Priyanka Mohite, a mountaineer from Satara became the first Indian woman to scale this mountain and “we broke a record by having eight Indians reach the summit against an earlier record of four.”
Chawale had earlier climbed the Everest in 2018 after a failed attempt the previous year. “In 2017, I was just 100 m away from the peak.” He had to abandon the last leg due to harsh weather, and the death of two of his teammates added to his misery.
For the recent expedition he and his fellow climbers left Pokhra, Nepal, by May-end and completed acclimatisation rotations for a week in each camp before reaching the peak on April 16. “We were fortunate not to experience any casualty this time because Mt Annapurna is quite formidable. Words cannot describe the elation I felt when I stood there at the top. All those discomforts —
treacherous slopes, cold winds, avalanches and frost bites — just blurred. It felt like being on top of the world, and I had goosebumps when I planted both Rotary and Indian flags there,” says Chawale proudly.
However, the mounds of garbage dumps on these mountains caused him worry. “People should be a little more sensitive to keep this fragile environment clean and at least clear their garbage while they descend to the base camp,” he says. He did collect and bring down abandoned oxygen bottles, tents, cans and wrappers. “We have to deposit $1,000 as refundable garbage fee which is forfeited if we do not bring back our waste. But mountaineers bring back a small amount of waste to reclaim the deposit,” he adds. Cleaning campaigns are regularly organised and sometimes those who descend with garbage get monetary compensation.
Talking about expenses, Chawale says he spent around ₹14 lakh for this expedition. His Rotary club had helped with ₹50,000. “In addition to support from friends and family I took a loan and also dug into my savings. Whenever I plan an expedition, I get into a shoestring mode and save as much as possible,” he smiles, adding that the Everest expedition cost him $11,000 to get a permit from the Nepal Mountaineering Association and an overall ₹30 lakh for the climb. His daily fitness regimen includes three hours of running, cycling and strength training.
Chawale, a development manager at LIC, Pune, developed a passion for mountaineering and other adventurous activities during his college days when he was an NCC cadet. He is a national winner with a gold medal in rifle shooting and a bronze in yachting. A triathlon athlete, he organises adventure camps over weekends. His other mountaineering expeditions include scaling the Kanchenjunga, Dhaulagiri, Stoke Kangri and Bagirathi-2 peaks of the Himalayas and Vanarlingi, Vajir, Lingana and Tailbaila on the Sahyadri ranges.
“My elder daughter, Raj Nandini, is my biggest fan and she loves to accompany me on short treks. My wife who was initially reluctant, is my best cheer leader now,” he says. He is now preparing for the next climb up Mt Manaslu on the Nepal-Himalayas, a 40-day expedition beginning on Sept 4.