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Satyabrata Dam: India's Greatest Mountaineer

I spent last weekend with my good friend Satyabrata Dam, an Indian mountaineer and world traveler, and one of the nicest and most humble people you could ever meet.

Satya is renowned as perhaps India’s greatest mountaineer and adventurer. He’s climbed Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak, eight times, with four of those ascents on each of the mountain’s four faces and summitted many peaks in the Indian Himalayas, many of them unnamed and previously unclimbed. Last Saturday morning he told me, “Stewart, you need to come to the Himalayas. We can explore many valleys and mountains where no one has ever been, beautiful, beautiful places.”

That sentiment is the way that Satya (his name means "truth") has lived his life. He said that when he was a child, he stood on a hill with his father and looked north at a horizon filled with high, white mountains. “I told my father I am going to climb all of them.” And he did.

Besides standing atop Everest, Satya has climbed all of the other 8,000-meter peaks, some several times, except the five in Pakistan. “They won’t give me a visa because I am Indian.”

In the next breath, Satya told me that the highest unclimbed mountain in the world sits astride the India-Pakistan border, with their armies on each side of the peak. “I have applied for a permit and asked them, Please stop shooting at each other for one month so I can climb the mountain.” Permit denied.

Satya has been to every country in the world except North Korea and Pakistan. “I don’t want to go to North Korea. Someone is with you all the time and you cannot climb any mountains.” As for Pakistan, “They won’t give me a visa since I am Indian.”

The man doesn’t just visit all of these countries. He also climbs the highest mountain in each one. At last count, he says, he has been to the high points of 174 countries, more than anyone else. He has climbed many of those high points, like Denali, Huascaran, and Kilimanjaro, several times.

Besides these high adventures, Satya has traveled to both the North and South Poles; served as a submarine commander in the Indian Navy; walked across Africa from Tunisia to South Africa; followed the fabled Silk Road from Mongolia to Istanbul; skied across the Greenland icecap; climbed the second highest peaks of the five continents, one of only three people that have done that; been a TED Fellow, and is a member of the Royal Geographic Society.

As if that wasn’t enough, Satya also was invited to study glaciology at a university in Iceland. “They told me that I had on-the-ground experience on all of the major glaciers in the world, so I knew first-hand about the effects of climate change.”

Satyabrata is now exploring more of the United States for three months with his friend Belinda, a Swiss-American adventurer. He had been in Europe for the past few months and had to leave to renew his visa. “He called me,” said Belinda, “and said, Do you want to go on a road trip in America for three months? Ask your mother if we can borrow her car?” So she asked and now they are driving everywhere on a great American odyssey.

“I am free,” Satya says. “I trust in Life each day to provide.” He has no home, no family, nothing to inhibit fully experiencing his life and passion for exploration and personal growth. “The mountains are my teacher.”

Besides climbing, walking, and exploring, he also writes books and articles. One of his best books is Life on Top: Lessons from the High Mountains, a premier on living your best life and learning to let go. Some of the chapter titles are Learning to Fail, Learning to Live, Learning to Die, and Learning to Love. All topics that we discussed until midnight last night along with my personal mantra—we become what we dream.

Last Sunday night, Satya promised to cook an epic Indian feast. “I am a very good Indian chef,” he said. “And I have everything with me.” Satya was right--it was an amazing dinner filled with taste, color, and variety as well as stimulating conversation about the Himalayas, Colorado's mountains and canyons, Indian philosophy, Hinduism, and, of course, climbing and mountaineering. And, of course, we ate Indian-style with our right hand, making sure to lick our fingers to show the cook how much we appreciated his efforts.

Photograph below: Satya and I on top of South Gateway Rock at the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.


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