August 15, 2018. Atop Mount Kilimanjaro’s 19,341-foot (5,895-meter) summit, Vaibhav Aiwale drops to his knees, bows his head to the ground, and offers up a silent prayer of gratitude.
What makes Aiwale’s accomplishments all the more impressive is the fact that he did not start climbing until he was a 16-year-old. Born into a middle-class Maharashtrian family, Aiwale recalls how unplanned trekking with friends in high school opened up his eyes to the world of possibility that the mountains might hold for him. But then, money was tight, and climbing mountains wasn’t even a blip on young Aiwale’s radar.
“But reaching the top of a mountain bestows you with emotions that can’t be put into words,” Aiwale explains, in a conversational tone. True that. Well, if standing on top of the world’s highest peaks isn’t enough to give you a good perspective, we don’t know what is. “Mountains have a lot to teach you. Given its unpredictable state of nature, it teaches us to not take things or our own lives for granted,” he says.
A chemical engineer by profession, Aiwale, mountaineering for 20 years, has added a total of four records to his name, namely, ‘Asia Book of Records’, ‘India Book of Records’, ‘Incredible Book of Records’, and ‘High Range Book of Records’ for hoisting the most number of Indian flags atop the highest peaks of Europe and Africa.
“After a few treks here and there, I started becoming more confident of myself. That’s how other small expeditions began. Some peaks, mountains, and other adventures. I completed my first international trek in Iran, and have never looked back since,” says Aiwale.
For his first foray into the mountain climbing world, he attempted to reach the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in the African continent. Everything went as planned, and he was hooked, but he knew there was more to look forward to. It was an exhilarating experience, spurring him on to venture into another such expedition in Europe’s Mount Elbrus last year.
Isn’t the undying, forceful energy that comes from vibrant passion towards mountains seemingly deathless among climbers? Aiwale nods, with a grin. He was perhaps too quick to realise that climbing was about something greater than just an accolade to boast of.
What’s even more baffling is that the Mumbaikar doesn’t just conquer lofty mountains but hoists a chain of Indian flags. “On the occasion of India’s 72nd Independence Day, I decided to hoist a 72-feet flag in Mount Kilimanjaro. It was tough, the weather conditions were not favouring me. That’s when I thought of designing a flag chain in such a way so that it becomes a lot easier for me. I managed to design a chain of 72 Indian flags. I must say that my engineering skills came to use,” he reveals, laughing mildly.
So much of Aiwale’s life has been about stretching the boundaries of his abilities and pushing up against the outer limits of the human spirit. And each time he seeks a new adventure, he pursues a personal challenge and fulfills a commitment to special causes he advocates. “Every time I set out on an expedition, I make sure I do my bit to help promote a cause. My first summit was to promote ‘save the girl child’ cause, the second was in support of ‘anti-rape movement’. I am planning to repeat the same feat this year in Mount Kosciusko on August 15 to promote the global cause of ‘save the environment and discard the use of plastic’. This is because I believe in these causes, and to raise awareness of the same among people,” adds the 36-year-old.
With so much achieved in life, what does he wish to shout out to the world full of aspiring travellers? “We are not all mountaineers by birth. It requires a lot of patience, a good attitude, and proper training. Don’t challenge nature’s ways. You cannot predict what is going to happen in the mountains. So, be prepared,” he signs off.