An Ode To The Legendary Colonel Narender Kumar ‘Bull’ Of The Kumaon Regiment!

While the legend has gone, his legacy stays forever and ever...!!

An Ode To The Legendary Colonel Narender Kumar ‘Bull’ Of The Kumaon Regiment!

The Regimental Centre Officers’ Mess in Ranikhet provides the most grandeur view of the eternally majestic snowcapped Himalayan peaks that inspired a young
mountaineer Captain (later Colonel) Narender ‘Bull’ Kumar of 3 KUMAON (Rifles) to conquer them. Bull was lured to mountains during his tenure in the KUMAON Regimental Centre by leading an expedition to Trishul (23,360).

His subsequent exploits put him amongst the front rank mountaineers of Tenzing Norkey and Sir Edmond Hillary fame. He was a member of the first all Indian
Expedition to Everest (1960), Deputy Leader of the successful Indian Everest (1965) and Leader of the Nanda Devi (highest Indian peak) expeditions. He also led successful climbs to Chomalhari (highest peak in Bhutan), Nilkantha, Sia Kangari and Teram Kangari in the Eastern Karakorum ranges besides the Indo- German Boat and Trishul Ski Expeditions.

He was Principal of the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI), National Ski Institute (NSI) and the Commandant of the High Altitude Warfare School (HAWS). His exploits brought him many national and international honours and awards notably the Padma Shri, the Param, Vishisht Sewa Medal (PVSM), Kirti Chakra (KC) and the Ati Vishisht Sewa Medal (AVSM), the Arjun Award, fellowship of the Royal Geographical Society (FRGS), the Gold Medal of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation and MacGregor Memorial medal awarded for valuable reconnaissance of military intelligence of Siachen Glacier internationally of geo-strategic importance.

Presenting Ice Axe planted at Indira Col to PM Indira Gandhi

Bull’s unique contribution towards the world of mountaineering was the ascent of Kanchenjunga from the North East spur. For 45 years, several expeditions tried to climb the Kanchenjunga peak from the dangerous Sikkim route and were unsuccessful and it is among the most treacherous peaks to climb due to constant threat of snowstorms, avalanches, unpredictable weather and extreme paucity of oxygen. It is nightmare for logistical support and many climbers say, ‘Kanchenjunga is three times tougher than Everest’.

This achievement was considered so remarkable that he was awarded the Gold Medal at the Los Angeles Winter Olympics. The Winter Olympic Games is a major multi-sports event held once every four years for sports practiced on snow and ice. Lord Hunt, best known as the leader of the successful 1953 British Expedition to Mount Everest, described this achievement as being ‘far greater than the Conquest of the Everest as it involved technical climbing and objective hazards of a much higher order than those found on Everest.’

I had the unique privilege of meeting for the first time Captain (later Colonel) Narender Kumar ‘Bull’ during the investiture ceremony in the Rashtrapati Bhawan in Oct 1963. He was the then first Indian Army Captain ever to be awarded AVSM, for distinguish service of exceptional order during peace time, while my late brother Major Prem Nath Bhatia (6 KUMAON), Hero of the 1962 Battle of Walong, was awarded Vir Chakra (VrC) in the same investiture ceremony. Both were friends from their Joint Services Wing (JSW) days.

I felt very proud when my brother introduced me to the legendary Capt Kumar as ‘the renowned Indian mountaineer of the Regiment’. I found him down to earth humble, jovial and thorough professional. During our this very short meeting, he advised me to respect the mountains and the high altitude as my unit 13 KUMAON was then deployed in Darbuk in Ladakh- after the world famous 1962 Battle of Rezang La.

I kept meeting him informally every now and then, thereafter during various Regimental Reunions, Biennial Conferences, the Officers Association of The Kumaon Regiment (OAK) get together and periodical lectures and seminars organized by the United Services Institution (USI) in Delhi. Whenever we meet, he always greeted me by his nostalgic saying, ‘Whenever I meet you Nini, I am always reminded of your great brother Prem’. But my five interactions with him in the past that have left an inedible mark in my mind. The first being the meeting during the Oct 1963 investiture.

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The second incident took place during one of the Regimental Reunions in the late seventies in Ranikhet. I was posted in Ranikhet and living in ground floor flat of the newly constructed ‘The Eight Major Flats’ close to the Military Hospital. In the flat above ours, Col & Mrs Kumar were accommodated for the Reunion period. I and my wife were all set to leave for the last major event, the Reunion Regimental dinner in the Regimental Centre officers’ Mess that our doorbell rang.

I opened the door and to my utter amazement I saw Col Narender Kumar looking highly worried and harassed. As my wife was behind me, I introduced her to Bull telling her that he was the greatest mountaineer our Regiment that the country has produced! In his then very weary chaste Punjabi tone he said ‘Yaar mountaineering sountaineering chadd... we are getting late for the regimental party and right now I am looking for the clothes given for ironing to dhobi which he has not brought back and I wonder he may have delivered them by mistake at your place’.

It was indeed a very hilarious but serious situation that reminded me that every man how so ever small or BIG may be, is hassled by such laughable situations! The two major influences I suppose in his life had been the ‘far far mountain peaks’ and his ‘charming wife’ supporting him in his all the wildest endeavours. The third impacting interaction was when this veteran mountaineer was decorated with prestigious Macgregor Memorial medal in 2010, instituted by the USI in 1888, in the memory of Major General Sir Charles Metcalfe MacGregor to recognize exemplary service in the fields of Military reconnaissance, expeditions, river rafting, world cruises, polar expeditions, running and trekking across the Himalayas and adventure flights.

Col Kumar was honoured for leading, as earlier mentioned, multiple expeditions in the Siachen area of the Eastern Karakorum ranges, in the uncharted territory, under extremely harsh weather conditions, with minimal equipment and administrative support and grave risk to life and limb during 1978 and 1981 and thus, gained highly valuable terrain and enemy information that was instrumental in safeguarding our borders in that area and subsequent launch of “Operation Meghdoot”.

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In his personal capacity, Bull has led 9 out of 13 expeditions to peaks above 24000 ft. He was also the first individual to cross Siachen from ‘Snout to the Source’. He was a prolific writer on adventure sports and had penned six books on mountaineering, skiing and rafting. A documentary film by the Film Division of India has also been made to honour him. He at this age serves the country as Associate Vice President of the Indian Olympic Association.

Around 2015, in one of our Regimental get together, Col Narender Kumar ‘Bull’ putting his hand around my shoulders, took me to a corner and said in his chaste Punjabi, ‘Nini, terey naal ek gal karni ve.’ I was a bit nervous and he told me,’ I read your all articles, I have read your accounts on Rezang La and Walong Battles... your article on Prem brought tears in my eyes...I have read your book ‘Kumaoni Nostalgia’.....on Regimental matters your articles are too good or words to that effect.

Then coming to the point he said, ‘Can you write my biography? I have my notes scribbled and I can write my autobiography BUT blowing own trumpet is no good, so can you undertake the project?’ I was flabbergasted and politely replied, ‘Sir, I am not a writer of any sort...and I know very little about your expeditions, but he said,’ I know you can write and will do a good job’. He told me he would share all his notes, help me in typing, proof reading etc. and can pay my fees for my hard work and labour to write. I was quiet for a moment and he said, give it a try and don’t worry about your fees.

I with folded hands replied him, Sir, I will try BUT politely declined the fees. After a year’s hard work, endless meetings and numerous long phone calls, proof readings, notwithstanding that I live in Noida and he in Som Vihar Delhi and my ability to type only with my one finger, ‘Soldier Mountaineer’ was published. I modestly say it was a tremendous writing success for me and Col Kumar was not only very happy but always commented in our regimental gatherings with a glint in his eyes, ‘I am very proud and happy Nini Bhatia wrote it’. This indeed was the fourth impact on me.

Bull was an extremely passionate mountaineer with a missionary zeal as Almighty gave him wings to soar higher and higher on mountain tops as if for spiritual quest. With age, he had become humble, egoless to achieve great heights, yet, he bubbled with energy as he often said, ‘if you are low in energy you won’t love what you do’ as while exploring mountains, every moment of the day is crucial to survive’. In our country in these turbulent times, likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Anna Hazare and Shah Rukh Khan are the top four role models. It is time to add to this illustrious list the name of Col Narender Kumar too who had been awesome soldier, trail-blazer, thinker, innovator, motivator, leader and successful entrepreneur in establishing Mercury Himalayan Explorations after retirement.

GC Kumar & young Mridula before their marriage

Married to Mridula, Col Kumar’s daughter Shailja was India’s first winter Olympian now settled in California. His son Akshay, (50) also, an adventure sports enthusiast, was the CEO of the Mercury Himalayan Explorations, one of the first rafting companies to organise rafting trips in Ganga and Brahmaputra Rivers. His unfortunate untimely death on 16 Sep 2020 after morning cycling exercises due to cardiac arrest was devastating setback leaving the family completely shattered and thereafter Bull could not overcome the emotional overload and severe grief.

Dilshad, daughter in law, Saira granddaughter & son Akshay

On 31 Dec 2020, around 10 am I was shocked hearing from the Staff Officer of the Colonel of the Regiment (COR) that Col Kumar had expired in the Army Referral & Research (R&R) Hospital early in the morning, with a request to inform all serving and veteran officers to attend his funeral at 3 pm at the Brar Square, Delhi Cantt. I was stunned. I had just spoken to him a week back and he sounded fit and fine. Little did I know that it was my last call to him?

At the Brar Square cremation ground many senior Regimental serving and retired officers, his contemporaries and juniors were present and though many could not make up due to pandemic fears and short notice. The family was shattered and so was the Regiment, the Indian Army and the nation. The fifth most touching incident for me was bidding farewell to the legendary late Col Kumar at the Brar Square crematorium.

Little bit in me too died again bidding farewell to him as the pyre was lit after the painful eerie silence of the Buglers sounding ‘The Last Post!’ Along with the acute pain, unbearable sadness and deafening silence around reminding, ‘While Bull has gone leaving behind a saga of utmost dedication, courage and bravery, I very humbly felt in my heart as a junior regimental officer, ‘It was a GREAT honour for me to have written legend’s biography ‘Soldier Mountaineer’!

PM Modi tweeted, ‘An irreparable loss! Colonel Narendra 'Bull' Kumar (Retired) served the nation with exceptional courage and diligence. His special bond with the mountains will be remembered. Condolences to his family and well-wishers. Om Shanti.’

While The Legend has Gone, His Legacy Stays for Ever and Ever...!!

About The Author

Col NN Bhatia was commissioned into the 13 Kumaon in 1963. He commanded 2 Kumaon (Berar), which is one of the oldest Indian Army Battalions. Upon his retirement from the army, he went on to work in intelligence, specializing in industrial security, going on to conduct security audits of vital installations.

Presently he is a freelance Industrial Security Consultant and a prolific writer on military and industrial security. He is deeply involved in the release of 54 Indian POWs languishing in Pakistani jails since the 1971 War. He can be contacted at Email: [email protected]

(Views expressed are the author's own and do not reflect the editorial policy of Mission Victory India)

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