It was a chilly morning on Sunday 5th March 1978. The weak sunshine gradually gained in strength and lit up the big black letters on the station platform which boldly declared the place name – Malavli . We were one stop east of Lonavala on the Mumbai – Pune line. The group was large : Carol, Dianne, Franklyn, Keroo, Kenny, Margaret, R.Thiagarajan, Thelma and me. Raghu had been co-opted as “Fearless Leader” of our motley group of young hikers.
I was the new kid on the block. I had been in Mumbai for less than a year and the only person I knew in the group was Margaret. She had spoken glowingly of a small hike the previous week (when I was out of the country ) with the group and had persuaded Raghu to organize another outing when I returned and he had obliged. This trait in Raghu to accommodate the wishes and desires of his friends was something that I came to appreciate very much as we became close friends during the course of the next few years.
That day we hiked up to the fort of Visapur and descended directly to the Bhaja caves over steep rock and scree. Raghu lent a helping hand wherever it was needed, once again demonstrating qualities of compassion and caring which were an inherent part of his nature.
Raghu helps Dianne down the rocks to Bhaja caves
The Visapur hike was only the forerunner of scores of hikes in the Sahyadri range which lies to the east of Mumbai. Our activities became so intense that Raghu felt that there was a need to formalize the group. Thus the club Trailblazers was born. It was his brainchild right from the start and he worked tirelessly to have it registered, design the club logo and print the official notepaper.
In October 1980 the Trailblazers graduated from the Sayhadri to the Himalaya when the Annapurna Sanctuary trek was organized. This was at a time much before trekking and mountain climbing became large scale commercial products. A lot of groundwork had to be done for an expedition like this. Once again Raghu took on the task of convening meetings, sending out appeals for donations in cash and kind, making the travel arrangements and making sure that everyone was on board with the program.
The Annapurna trek was a memorable affair and all of us who participated : Raghu, Kerman, Franklyn, Madhusudhan, Margaret and Dianne. The memories of the trip to that beautiful part of Nepal will stay with us forever.
On our return to Mumbai the Trailblazers forged ahead relentlessly, organizing hikes in the Sahyadri with clockwork regularity. We bonded together as friends and became very close.
Raghu had to begin working early in life as an illness grounded his father. He started his career at Godrej and worked there for over 40 years. While still in his late teens and early twenties he was the main support for his family which comprised of his parents and three sisters. He took great care of them and was the pillar of the family. Taking some time off for himself he took to the hills which must have brought him immense relief from the pressures of familial responsibilities.
Hikes to Ratangadh, Kulang, Gorakhgadh, Rajmachi, Kondana Caves, Peb, Chanderi, etc. became almost routine and in March 1989 some of us completed a 6 day cross country hike from Ambavane on the shores of Mulshi Lake to Panchgani. The 1980s were the heydays of Raghu’s brainchild the Trailblazers.
After 1982 Raghu was very busy dealing with family issues, including the health of the woman he loved dearly and who he married – Ajanta. Very soon they were the proud parents of a son – Siddharth – who has grown up to be a loving and caring son and now himself a doting father to his daughter. Raghu has passed on his love of photography and the outdoors to Siddharth who proudly carries on the tradition.
We shared many Himalayan adventures together – a visit to the Darma Valley and PanchChuli in 1988, the Tirung Gad and the Chango Glacier in 1993, the Parvati Valley in 1996, the Pindari Glacier in 1997.
Raghu loved the Himalaya and introduced his young family to places like the Valley of Flowers, Gangotri and Tapovan, Hemkund, Har ki Dun, etc.
In his senior years he began to take an active part in the Himalayan Club where he worked for some time and eventually also became an Admin for the Club’s Facebook page. He also shepherded groups on moderate hikes to places like Deorital which he visited many times.
The last time that I met Raghu was in February 2012. John had quite appropriately gathered together some of the original bunch of Trailblazers – there was Raghu and his wife Ajanta, their son Siddharth, Kerman, Rajesh, John and his daughter Mona. We all went on a short hike to Kohoj to celebrate our reunion after many decades. As with a lot of people our lives had moved in different directions with new challenges. It was great to meet up again and relive the old days.
Perhaps it is appropriate that the news of his passing away reached me when I was in the mountains in Sikkim. It was the 11th of October, 2019. Some of us aging Trailblazers – Franklyn, John and Sudhir – had just completed the trek to Dzongri and Goecha La and were descending to Yuksom. We had come into cellphone coverage range. Franklyn was ahead of me and was waiting for me at the end of he trail. He informed me that Raghu had passed away…… he had just received a call from Ravi Kamath, our common friend in Mumbai.
It was one day prior to what would have been Raghu’s 66th birthday. We had been planning to speak with him on the 12th and wish him, but it was not to be.
Even now, a month later, I find it hard to come to terms with the fact that I shall not be seeing him on my next visit to Mumbai.
I take comfort in the thought that Raghu lived a very full life. Those who knew him will know that he had no malice towards anyone, that he was a devoted father and husband, a proud and loving grandfather, a very keen trekker and hiker and an avid lover of the Himalaya.
He would always end his emails to me with the following quote and I feel this would be an appropriate epitaph for him :
“GREAT THINGS HAPPEN WHEN MEN AND MOUNTAINS MEET
THIS DOES NOT HAPPEN BY JOSTLING IN THE STREETS”