Ninety nine-year-old Chithran Nampoothiripad first heard about the Himalayas as a child, in the bed time stories an old neighbour in their native village would tell him and his brothers. A curious nine-year-old then, Chithran Nampoothiripad would stay awake to hear stories about the glorious mountain ranges, and how his neighbour would walk from Mookuthala, their village in Malappuram, all the way to Badrinath in Chamoli, Uttarakhand.
“His name was ‘Kashi’ Nambeeshan and he would take trips every year to pilgrim centres in the Himalayas. That was my first encounter with the mountains and I was totally enraptured,” Chithran Nampoothiripad tells TNM.
Back then, Chithran Nampoothiripad had no idea that 80 years later, he would make a habit of going to the Himalayas every October. Today, the 99-year-old educationist has already completed 29 trips to the mountain ranges and has been doing so, without a break, for three decades now.
“I did my first trip in 1990 where I visited Badrinath, Kedarnath and other places in the Himalayas. Since then, I’ve been up there every year, without any breaks,” Chithran Nampoothiripad adds.
In October 2019, the nonagenarian, who currently resides in Thrissur, would turn a century old and take his 30th trip to the mountains.
“This is a big year for me as I will visit the Himalayas for the 30th time. It is only in October though. Hopefully, I don’t fall sick before then,” Chithran Nampoothiripad says.
The emperor of mountains and the father of holy rivers
Ask what fascinates him about the Himalayas and Chithran Nampoothiripad has several answers.
“It is fascinating that the mountain range is the origin of all big rivers in the country. I honestly don’t mind traveling to any part of the Himalayas. But I love to visit the source of these rivers – the Gangotri – origin of the Ganga and other places. Beyond Gangotri, it is difficult to trek. People don’t go there often," he adds.
Besides this, Chithran Nampoothiripad adds that the mountains stand as a barrier between India and other countries. “It is the perfect natural barrier. If not for this, India would have been vulnerable to invasions from our neighbours,” he says.
Trips down memory lane
Back in the day several places were inaccessible by road and hence a lot of walking was involved, he says.
“We would have to trek for hours on hilly terrain to reach places. Now it’s easier. I go by bus and then by horseback as I cannot walk much. If there is absolutely no other way, then I walk. I have also been taking the train to Delhi every year. But this time, I might fly if I am unable to travel so much,” he adds.
Despite visiting the hills every year since the 90s, Chithran Nampoothiripad's first time to the Himalayas was decades ago with a friend. “I went for the first time in 1952 with a dear friend of mine. I had visited Delhi for a conference and from there we decided to go,” he says.
However, luck did not favour the duo as they had to return without completing their trip, thanks to food poisoning. “We were traveling by bus and eating food from the streets. After we reached halfway up till Badrinath, we had to abandon our plans and return as we could not stay there. We had our winter clothes, but we were sleeping under trees and using public bathrooms,” he says.
An award winning educationist
Chithran Nampoothiripad also had a few big achievements to boast about back in the day. A national award winning educationist, he founded the first high school in his village in Mookkuthala back in the 1940s.
“My family wanted me to be a lawyer. But I knew I wanted to be a teacher. I then decided that I would open a high school in my village, which was still backward in terms of education. The Mookkuthala high school which I began on 5 acres of land my family gifted me, was the first high school in the village,” he says.
He worked as a teacher and then as the headmaster of the school for a decade, after which, he decided to donate his school to the government.
“I had built a successfully running institution and there was nothing I could add to it. So I decided to offer it to the government for running. I received a token amount of Re 1 and left the school to the government,” he says.