Col Narendra Bull Kumarimage

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Jan 02, 2021

Colonel Narendra ‘Bull’ Kumar (Retired), Dies At 87

Ace soldier-mountaineer who helped secure the Siachen Glacier for India—the highest battleground in the world, passes away on the last day of 2020.

WRITTEN BY

Rhea Varma

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Colonel Narendra Kumar (Retired), a mountaineering legend and one of India’s most decorated officers, born in Rawalpindi, British India (now in Pakistan) in 1933, was cremated at the Indian Army’s Brar Square in Delhi on 31st December 2020.

Col. Narendra ‘Bull’ Kumar (Retired) contributed significantly to India’s strategic security by helping secure the Siachen Glacier in the Himalayan Karakoram Range. Kumar was the Commanding Officer of the Indian Army’s High Altitude Warfare School in 1977 — a training and research establishment in Gulmarg, Kashmir, when his German friend and explorer approached him for help with a descent on the Numbra River originating from Siachen. It was then that Kumar noticed a cartographic error in the American map and brought it to the notice of his seniors and the Director-General of Military Operations. This US map of northern Kashmir marked the ceasefire line (LOC) between India and Pakistan much further to the east and the entire Siachen Glacier lay in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. After the necessary permissions, Kumar led a reconnaissance mission to the glacier and he would become the first to climb the Siachen Glacier — the second-longest non-polar glacier in the world.

glacier
Photo Credits: U.S. Army Map Service (Srinigar, 1:1,000,000 compiled in 1966 by Army Map Service as noted on map. 5th edition.)

In 1978, Col. Kumar formed a team from the High Altitude Warfare School and started his trek to Siachen. In 1981-82, he undertook a trip to the glacier again and mapped the entire area. Col. Kumar wrote about his exploration of the Siachen Glacier in The Illustrated Weekly of India in 1983.

Kumar’s well-documented expedition to the glacier helped the then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, to authorize Operation Meghdoot ( “Operation Cloud Messenger”) — the Indian Armed Forces’ operation to seize control of the Siachen Glacier in Kashmir which established the world’s highest battlefield. At present, the Indian Army remains the first and only army in the world to have taken tanks and other heavy ordnance up to such an altitude (well over 5,000 m or 16,000 ft). 

Col. Kumar earned the nickname ‘Bull’ for fearlessly charging into whatever he did early on. He had even trained in Austria and Switzerland as a ski-trainer and interestingly, managed to ski down all the passes on the Siachen Glacier.

 A 1965 Indian stamp dedicated to the 1965 Everest Expedition
A 1965 Indian stamp dedicated to the 1965 Everest Expedition. Designed and Printed at India Security Press.

Col. Kumar was the deputy leader of India’s first successful scaling of Mount Everest in 1965 and a member of the Antarctica Task Force in 1981. His other achievements include successfully leading mountaineering expeditions to the highest peaks of Bhutan, Sikkim, Nepal, Garhwal, Kashmir, and the Eastern Karakoram. The Indian Army’s Siachen Battalion HQ in the Siachen Glacier is named “Kumar Base” in his honor.

Kanchenjunga_peak
In 1978, Col. Kumar scaled the world’s third-highest mountain peak Kanchenjunga from its northeast spur – an attempt not made in 45 years. Photo Credits: Shitij Agarwal

Narendra ‘Bull’ Kumar is the only Colonel awarded the Param Vishisht Seva Medal (PVSM) distinction in all three services—awarded for peace-time service of the most exceptional order in India. He has been honored with several other prestigious awards and medals such as the Padma Shri, the Kirti Chakra, the Ati Vishist Seva Medal, the Arjuna Award, and the IMF Gold Medal by the Indian Mountaineering Foundation.

He won the McGregor Medal, awarded by the United Service Institution of India for the best military reconnaissance, exploration, or survey in remote areas in the country, and was also awarded a United Nations fellowship for ski teaching.

Colonel Narendra ‘Bull’ Kumar served in the Indian Army from 1950–1984. The soldier-mountaineer lived in Delhi until his death at the Army Research and Referral Hospital, Delhi on 31 December 2020 due to age-related ailments. Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid tributes to Colonel Narendra ‘Bull’ Kumar, saying his special bond with the mountains will be remembered, in a tweet.

The spirit of adventure ran in the family and his legacy was carried on by his children. His daughter, Shailaja Kumar became the first Indian female winter Olympian and his son, (late) Akshay Kumar was known for his innovative approach to adventure travel in India. Earlier this year, India’s tourism industry mourned the untimely death of Mr. Akshay Kumar, the late CEO of Mercury Himalayan Explorations and the former President of ATOAI (Adventure Tour Operators’ Association of India).


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