In the previous two parts we got to know two different sides to the man, Kuntal Joisher, A mountaineer and a Vegan. In this last part of the interview series lets know Kuntal Joisher Vegan Mountaineer more as a person, how his family is supportive of his love for photography, Nepal and the Sherpas.
Kuntal Joisher combines the distinction of being both an accomplished mountaineer and a high-end, computer science professional. He is an alumnus of Vivekanand Institute of Technology, Mumbai, and USC Viterbi School of Engineering, Los Angeles. His insatiable passion for mountaineering has led him to climb mountain ranges across the world, including the Western Ghats, the Andes in Patagonia, and the Nepalese and Indian Himalayas.
Kunatl Joisher is the first Indian “Gujarati” in the world to have climbed two 8000 meter mountains. He is also a respected photographer, and his work has been published in National Geographic, BBC Earth, Space.com, EarthSky, Himalayan Journal, The Outdoor Journal, and several other newspapers and magazines across the world.
Winner of the Kutch Shakti, Kutch Ratna, and Kutch Kohinoor awards, he continues to train both mentally and physically to achieve his dream of climbing the fourteen tallest 8000-meter mountains in the world, and to become the first Indian to do so. In addition to his dedication to climbing, Joisher is passionate about two causes: raising awareness about the disease known as Dementia, and spreading the message of veganism and vegetarianism.
Get to know him more…
Q. How has your family supported you in your quest to summit Everest?
It is impossible to pull off a climb such as Everest, or pursue any passion without the support of one’s family. And my wife, mother and family have selflessly and steadfastly supported me through all the ups and downs of this entire journey. My Dad is suffering from a disease called Lewy Body Dementia (LBD), and he is totally dependent on me for everything. I am his primary care giver. However, when I’m away climbing in the mountains, my mother and my wife take on the responsibility of being my Dad’s primary care giver. I can without any worries head to the mountain and I know that my mother and wife take care of my dad, and that too a lot better than I can.
In addition to this my sisters and rest of my family have been the backbone of my Everest journey. They have helped me in each and every step as I climbed to the Top of the World. In short, my entire family deserves as much credit, if not more, for me reaching to the summit of Mt. Everest.
Q. What are your hobbies?
One of the biggest reasons I photograph is so that I can share the beauty of our world, and inspire people to go experience it for themselves. My one piece of advice to anyone wanting to take up photography is that it’s an art that’s not about how fancy your camera is, or how expensive your lens is; photography is all about expressing how you perceive this world. So, go grab a camera and start capturing the magical moments before it’s too late.
Q. Have you taken up Mountaineering full time? Other than that how do you sustain yourself and your family?
Mountaineering is just a passion. I’m not a professional or a full-time Mountain climber. I don’t earn a single penny from it. On the contrary I end up spending every single bit of my savings to climb mountains!
On the other hand, I am a Software Engineer by profession. I started writing code at from 8th standard in school. This was back in 1993 when computers were a huge novelty. I am a very passionate technologist, however today it’s only a means to an end.
Q. It seems you love Nepal a lot, when did the love for the place spark? What do you have to say about the condition of the Sherpas who help Mountaineers summit Everest?
I visited Nepal first when I was 4. Since then I have returned to the country 10 times and I call Nepali people my brethren and their families my family. Nepal has given me Himalaya. I consider Himalaya my mentor, my friend, my well-wisher, and someone on whom I can always count. And so for me, the famous John Muir saying “Going to mountains is like going home” is actually true. When I am in the Himalaya, I am home!
Growing up in India, Sherpa were part of my cultural wheelhouse. In fact one Sherpa in particular served as a sort of superhero for me as a child. Every now and again I would hear about Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, one of the first people in the entire world to summit Mt. Everest. His iconic photo on the summit of Everest gave my childhood-self confirmation that he might actually be a mythical creature like the characters in my fantasy books. The photos and his story have inspired a generation of mountaineers, explorers and adventurers alike, including me.
A decade later, as a budding mountaineer I finally got a chance to visit the Everest valley, home to a significant majority of the Sherpa community. I was instantly struck by Sherpa life, culture, infamous hospitality, and their super human strength — things that I had only read and heard about in mountaineering and Himalayan literature.
A climb such as Everest is impossible to pull off without the support and guidance of Sherpa guides. Right from fixing the route from Base Camp to the summit, setting up the entire base camp and all the high camps (Camp 1, Camp 2, Camp 3 and Camp 4), ferrying food, gear and oxygen to all the camps, and guiding us through the entire mountain, I cannot stress enough the important role that these folks play. Any climber who claims that they have climbed the mountain unassisted is lying. Without the direct or indirect support of Sherpa guides, Mt Everest cannot be climbed.
Despite being endlessly impressed with their physical feats, I’ve enjoyed my time in the Nepal in large part due to the friendship and generosity of Sherpa people. And it was an honor to stand on the very top of the world with my very dear friend Mingma Tenji Sherpa!
In the future, all mountaineers and visitors to the area must treat the Sherpa climbers as equal partners on the mountain, coming better prepared — physically, mentally, and technically. Climbers should limit the liability they bring to the team and the Sherpa guides, and share in the responsibility required to climb the mountain. It’s important to protect not only the Himalayan environment for generations to come, but also its people.
Q. Do you plan on spreading the word about being a Vegan?
Through my climbs I’m already breaking stereotypes about Vegan diet and lifestyle. I am not out there to prove that my diet is superior to someone else’s. All I’m out there to prove is that on a Vegan diet climbing big mountains across the world are very possible. My climbs are my way of spreading the Vegan word.
Q. How many times have you tried to attempt Everest, and in which attempt did you succeed? What is your message to the community who want to achieve something like this in the future?
I tried climbing Everest twice – in 2014, and 2015. Both times the climb was cancelled due to natural disasters. Post that several people dissuaded me from climbing saying — ‘the mountain doesn’t want you there’, and some even said – ‘I don’t have it what it takes’. I didn’t listen to them. Instead I kept the fire inside me burning, trained harder than ever, never gave up on my dream, and finally made it to the top in May 2016 on my 3rd attempt! The lesson I learnt is that one should never give up on their dream. People will say things such as – you are crazy, it’s impossible, you are sure to fail etc. And a lot of those things will happen.
Whether it’s running a business or climbing a mountain, we are so focused on getting to the top that we forget to live in the present and enjoy the journey we took to get there. Now don’t get me wrong, getting to the top is important and extremely rewarding. Having a dream or a goal to pursue gives direction and focus to your journey that is also very necessary. Since I began spending more time in the mountain wilderness, I’ve started living in the present, enjoying and learning from every moment and living life as if there is no tomorrow. I realized that every destination segues into a new journey, thus making life an endless journey that needs to be lived fully.
And this attitude got reinforced when I escaped from a sure death in 2015 avalanche. That night when I went to sleep – my entire life played out in front of me. And I realized one thing –
if you have any dreams or passions, the best time to do them is now, not tomorrow, not the day after, not in 60 years when you have all the time and money saved. Now.
At the same time I realize that most of us live a very privileged life. We don’t have to worry about roof on our head, or whether we would have food on our table. Millions of people across the world don’t have that comfort. A significant part of the world lacks the most basic necessities of life. Forget about pursuing dreams and passions, for them every day is a struggle. And that’s when I told myself that when I get back home I’m going to strive and work hard to do my bit to create a world where everyone would have the basic necessities of life and at least would have an opportunity to pursue their dreams and passions and is the biggest Everest of my life.
Q. Was your Ambition of summiting the Everest as a Vegan questioned or ridiculed by the mountaineering community? If yes, how did you motivate yourself to achieve what you have?
Most people in the mountain climbing community might think I’m crazy, seeing as the recommended diet for extreme climbing expeditions includes salami, Spam, cheese, processed meats, candy bars, hard-boiled eggs, and milk powder. I can’t eat any of these high-fat high protein animal products. I’ve been a vegan for about 14 years now and I’d consider myself a vegan for life. This is a way of life for me, no matter what endeavors I attempt. All this said, my diet has never been an issue. I’ve been part of over a dozen serious Himalayan climbing expeditions, and I’ve never had any problems being a vegan, even on this last attempt wherein I made it to the top of Everest. When you are committed to the cause, you don’t need to motivate yourself. The inspiration and motivation to succeed comes from within.
Q. What next are you planning to do?
First up, I am a mountain climber and a mountain lover. Everest was a big dream of life, and now that it’s complete I’m looking at climbing several other mountains in coming few years. Currently I’m in process of putting together a team of like-minded individuals to go do some climb in April-May 2017 in the Himalaya.
So here’s how we got to know a man with unusual feats, who is touching many hearts with his story of summiting Everest as a Vegan. It’s tough to choose a lifesyle and then stand by it and explain it to people that why does one live this way. But Kuntal has done a great job of making people know about Veganism and still continues to motivate and inspire people to do the impossible.
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To read the first two parts click on the button below:Part 1 Part 2