“When I first told him about my decision to climb the Everest, my boss sarcastically said, ‘You can very well climb the moon as well’,” recollects Kuntal Joisher, India’s only vegan mountaineer, with a smile. After all, who would have thought that a simple Gujarati boy, weighing 110 kgs would literally make it to the top of the world in the next five years? A software engineer heading the India operations at an MNC in Mumbai had never imagined quitting a plush corporate job for his passion, but his love for mountaineering overpowered it all.
The seeds of mountaineering were sown in a young Joisher when he undertook trips to the Himalayas with his mother. However, a trip to Shimla with his wife in 2009 changed it all. Joisher recollects a memory during the trip when he and his wife, wanted to experience snow fall and ended up going on a trek to Hatu peak in Shimla. However, the drive to stand on top of the peak was so strong that Joisher continued to trek till the point he was on the highest peak. “My life changed in that very single moment because when I was on top of that peak, I could just hear my heart beat and my breath coming in and out. I had never experienced this before and at that moment, I found my calling,” he says. And Joisher decided to go after this calling.
Joisher then started taking one-day expeditions to local mountains, signed up for Himalayan expeditions and simultaneously started physically training. But in Joisher’s own words, “Mountaineering is 10% physical fitness and 90% mental fitness.” Joisher knew that to take on his passion seriously, he would need to prepare himself mentally for the expeditions. “I deliberately started detaching myself from my family; this meant I had to forbid myself to have a good relationship with them,” he admits.
After Joisher started incurring heavy expeditions, his focused approach came in handy. “When I am climbing, I am completely into the situation of that nano-second moment and all I am thinking about is the next step and the other after that,” he says. However, what makes it worth the effort is the thrill of standing on the highest peak and the experience he collected during the expeditions. Joisher remembers a night in 2013 when he was trekking towards the Island peak in Nepal. It was a serene full-moon lit night, with the whole mountain surface capped in silver. “I happened to look up and saw a meteor entering the earth’s atmosphere. It was as though someone has lighted up the sky with fireworks. This moment was worth all the effort,” he recalls.
However, there were bad days as well. Joisher was on another expedition in Nepal, when the earthquake hit the area in 2015. One of the biggest avalanches was heading towards Joisher and his team. “It was like swinging on a giant swing and it sounded like a bomb blast,” he says. Joisher was fortunate enough to find cover behind a tent and as the avalanche hit them, it buried him in only 2 inches of snow. After experiencing a death-like situation first-hand, Joisher had learnt his share of lessons. “Mountaineering has embedded in me patience and quelled the ego inside me. Working in a start-up environment, I used to be impatient, but the mountains have taught me to be patient and humbled me as a person,” he says.
So, does his learning from mountaineering overpower his profession as a software engineer? “I have learned to manage risks and have realised the potential of team-work. Mountaineering teaches you to take decisions in nano-seconds,” he adds. Joisher proudly admits that he is not just an Everest climber, but a mountain climber and his journey will not end even though he completed his Everest expedition in April this year. He has further ambitions ahead. Out of the 14 magnanimous mountains in the Himalayas, Joisher has managed to explore just two — the Everest and the Manaslu. “I want to climb the remaining 12 and come back alive,” he laughs.