Malaysia’s renowned 50-year-old mountain climber RAVICHANDRAN THARUMALINGAM recently added Mount Rwenzori’s Magherita summit to the long list of towering peaks he has conquered. Jonathan Kamoga interviewed about his love for the outdoors and his experience climbing Uganda’s Mountains of the Moon.
What kind of childhood did you have?
I was an active child in sports. I started playing soccer at the age of seven with the neighbours’ kids.
I was also active in athletics at school. I come from a poor family outside the city and we used to stay close to the jungle. That is how I became close to nature and mountaineering.
I am the fifth born in a family of nine siblings. We had a lot of hardships growing up and this made me hurt because we had one parent taking care of all of us.
So, how did you start mountain climbing?
It was 25 years ago when I started to explore the Alpine mountains. Slowly, I started to climb the bigger mountains. In 2006, after five years of preparation, I climbed [the world’s highest] Mountain Everest on the north side in 2008 from the south in Nepal.
Then I started climbing other mountains in each continent that we call the seven summits. These include Mount Kenya, Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Rwenzori. That is why I am here to explore all the seven summits around the world.
At what age did you get this mountain climbing obsession?
It was at 30 years old when I moved from being an active footballer and athlete to mountaineering and outdoor life. Some of my colleagues would just give up after they finished with football but my case was different. I still wanted to be active; so, I ran into mountaineering.
It’s been 20 years now that I have been active; hiking and climbing around the world and I think I will take 20 more years to climb as many peaks as possible.
Besides conquering many peaks, there is a special thing people gain when they climb mountains. There is the journey; sometimes it takes seven days, other times it takes two months. All these days are spent with new people, you see things and you learn a lot. Every journey has a special memory. Since I reached Uganda, I have been learning.
Do you have a family?
Yes I have a wife and one child. My daughter is a climber too. She is 10 years now and she conquered Kilimanjaro last year and I think maybe I will bring her here to climb the Rwenzori too.
What was her mother’s reaction to this?
First of all, everybody will have fear but day by day, you build confidence when you go to a mountain and come back alive. The people around you will say; oh, it’s ok, he will come back soon.
The moment your child gets involved into something, you will be scared but when they are into it and coming back home every day, then you give them the chance to do it. She really likes it.
What challenges have you faced during your mountaineering?
I was swallowed by an avalanche and only rescued by a few people. I lost my fingers on my climb of the Everest where the coldness got too much and I had to pull them off. I have lost so many friends to mountains. These are deep effects on me.
The journey has not been smooth. Some days you sit down quietly lost in thoughts and not wanting to talk to anybody, some days you are so happy with friends up on the summit. It’s a mixture of feelings and it makes you resentful but every time you are hit by a tragedy, you need to pick yourself up and go back to the mountain that will build your confidence.
The negative effects will not take me off the mountain; they just stay with me as memories.
What are you proud of with your mountaineering?
I am proud that I’m climbing all peaks in the world, the historical ones like the Sinai Mountains, crossing the River Nile, reaching its end and now I’m here at its source.
I would say that there is still so much to achieve in the next 20 years, I’m not sure if the 20 years are enough. I have been to Turkey to climb where Noah’s Ark landed, Iran, China. All of them have a different history attached to them and when I go there, I get to learn all these.
Tell us about your experience climbing the Rwenzori mountains.
Before I started the journey, I had only read about it through the internet but when I went to the ground, I found so much that people attach to only a mountain.
Everybody from where I came from was saying that Rwenzori can’t be better than Mt Kenya or Kilimanjaro but I can say it is ten times better because it has tropical environment at the bottom and glaciers and dangers at the top. In Kilimanjaro, you don’t have those. You only have altitude, same as Kenya.
Here you have to cross snow that has broken, you can drop and die. You have to use all technical equipment and skills to reach the summit of Rwenzori. So, Rwenzori is so much superior.
How can Uganda promote the Rwenzori as a tourist attraction?
I think they have the ball rolling now. Uganda Tourism Board approached me to come here. Uganda has something special, which is the mountain itself and the mountain gorillas. These two are very unique features to Uganda.
The others like safari and game parks are common elsewhere like in Tanzania. But the two that I mentioned are special. If the tourism board continues with their work and keeps creating a lot of buzz around the world, Rwenzori will get to be known.
I am going to expose this to the rest of the world because what is on Mountain Rwenzori, you cannot get it from any other parts of Africa. We are going to work with Uganda and promote this. The tourism board should use video clips and photos to reach out to people all over the world through their embassies. I think they are on the right track now.
How would you wish to be remembered?
I have never looked at building my own name. I am more into enjoying my journey. There are some people who go for the glory, oh I want to be the first one here, but to me mountaineering is a humble sport.
Everybody can climb the mountain. I just want people to remember me as a mountaineer. I would love to do a ladder across the summit of Mountain Rwenzori and name it after me if it is possible, so that at least my legacy in Uganda will be there for people to see.
Do you have any programmes for young mountaineers?
We as members of the Global Expedition Club have a programme called basic mountaineering that we conduct on a yearly basis to encourage ordinary people go into outdoor lifestyle and hiking.
These are all healthy lifestyles. Not sitting at home, in front of a TV and eating while not moving. That is bad lifestyle. My dream is that if I touch 1,000 people around the world, they will be able to touch more people and mountaineering will be passed on.
What keeps you going?
Every time I have a journey to a new peak, that will keep me going. Every year I need to have at least five new peaks to climb. There are many peaks around the world. If you are a Ugandan and you have climbed Rwenzori, you still have many other peaks to go after in case you have finished all peaks in Uganda.
This passion will not die because the mountains are still there. People ask; why did you climb the Everest? I answer, because it is there. If someone asks you why you climbed Rwenzori, just say; because it is there.