Major Harsh Vardhan Bahuguna, and his younger sibling Major Jai Vardhan Bahuguna, weren’t just any two climbers among the many who died in an effort to summit the world’s highest mountain peak, Mt Everest. They were both competent climbers, with many others successful expeditions to their names, and both Army Officers. But the fact that sets them apart from the many who envisaged the climb to the highest point on the planet was that both the brothers died during their second attempts to summit Everest, almost at the same spot near the South Col route, only fourteen years apart . Their story is an enthralling tale of coincidences and a memory that has long been forgotten.
Much before the era of cricket, at a time when different sports had palatable perceptions among the youth in India, mountaineering as a sport was of some significance. With its mountain corridor towards the north being home to many of the biggest and grandest peaks in the world, India was in someways destined to summit the highest points, both figuratively and literally. Our associations with the mountains are integral to us, and a backdrop to many of our mythological tales and renditions.
Like every sport in India, mountaineering too has its own set of Heroes, fables on whom are passed onto generations of enthusiasts. Such a fable is that of these two brothers, Harsh and Jai Vardhan Bahuguna, both of them Army Officers who are now immortalised in the annals of mountaineering history as among the first few Indians to attempt summit Everest.
Major Harsh Vardhan Bahuguna, a.k.a “Bogie” was commissioned into the Armoured Corps of the Indian Army in 1958. A established mountaineer,and a former instructor at the prestigious High Altitude Warfare School(HAWS), Gulmarg, Bogie had a lot of experience to his name leading up to his expeditions to the Everest. Part of the famed Indian Everest Expedition in 1965, Maj Bahuguna was ill fated to have developed medical problems just 400 feet short of the summit, and had to withdraw. Notwithstanding externalities that came to pose a hindrance to his passion , Maj Bahuguna took a second chance at Everest while taking part with an International Everest Expedition in 1971. However, his long yearned dream to climb atop Everest became the cause of his untimely death, as he died due to exposure on April 18, 1971, stranded and alone near the South Col near Mt Everest.
Major Jai Vardhan Bahuguna in an obituary of Maj Harsh is listed as Cadet J V Bahuguna of Indian Military Academy. After getting commissioned into the Bengal Sappers (Later 1 Para), Maj Jai followed in his brother’s footsteps to take up mountaineering. This was an excellent showcase of fortitude, since he took to similar goals that resulted in his brother’s death. Maj Jai too was a part of a famous Everest Expedition during his first attempt in 1984, the expedition which is known for putting the first Indian woman atop Everest, Bachendri Pal. As is proclaimed, Maj Bahuguna and another special forces officer, Maj Kiran Inder Kumar, who also participated with Maj Jai on his second expedition, showcased utmost sportsmanship spirit by opting to give their reserve oxygen to Bachendri Pal, so that she could summit the peak. They both then opted out and returned, while putting Bachendri Pal on course. Major Jai Vardhan Bahuguna’s second expedition came in 1985, which till this date remains the most horrifying Indian Expedition to Everest. This expedition resulted in the death of five Indian Army Officers, four due to exposure, and one due to fall. Major Jai Vardhan Bahuguna died on October 10, 1985 due to exposure, following extreme weather on the mountain and with no possibility of safe recourse to lower camps. Major Jai Vardhan Bahuguna died at South Col, just near the spot where his elder brother had died fourteen years before.
In popular culture, their names have long been forgotten and not much justice has been done to their memory. However, among the select set of mountaineering fraternities, they are well remembered for their courage and undying resolve. Among the few public representations in their memory, is the Auditorium at the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering , which has been named after both the brothers, apart from a gas station in Noida.