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Sep 16, 2020

Akshay Kumar, Adventure Travel Visionary, Dies at Age 51

India's tourism industry mourns the untimely death of Akshay Kumar, CEO of Mercury Himalayan Explorations and Former President of ATOAI.

WRITTEN BY

Rhea Varma

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The morning of 16th September 2020 came as a shock to India’s adventure travel and tourism community over the news of the untimely death of Akshay Kumar, CEO of Mercury Himalayan Explorations in New Delhi at age 51. The former President of ATOAI (Adventure Tour Operators Association of India) and ex-vice Chairman of FAITH (Federation of Associations in Indian Tourism and Hospitality) died of a cardiac arrest in the hospital after complaining of discomfort post his morning cycling routine.

Kumar came from a family of mountaineers and skiers and was the son of a legendary mountaineer and soldier, Col. Narinder (Bull) Kumar, best known for securing the Siachen Glacier for India.

Kumar’s love of outdoor adventure started at a young age. He trained as a river guide in Canada when he was 15 and rafted over 30 rivers across India and Canada. Not only did he pilot the first-ever descent of the Brahmaputra river in Arunachal Pradesh in 1990, but he was also the leader of the first trekking group to the Nanda Devi Base Camp after a gap of 22 years in 2001. He led the first-ever Isuzu Challenge Expedition in India–a first of its kind offered jeep safari across the upper Himalayan region.

Kumar went on to join Mercury Himalayan Explorations as CEO, India’s largest adventure travel company set up by his father. He was a passionate and professional skier, trekker, rafting guide, 4×4 specialist, and ice hockey player.

He was also the founding Executive Director of Outward Bound: Himalaya, a part of a global chain of outdoor education centers, a consultant with the Tourism and Hospitality Skill Council (THSC) under the Skill India mission to identify and develop job role qualifications across verticals of the adventure travel industry and ran India’s first Adventure skills program along with KITTS (Kerala Institute of Travel and Tourism Services).

The pistes (ski runs) of Kashmir had been his home ground since he was three. He was the National Skiing Champion in 1981 and 82 and the Calgary Winter Games in 1988 would have been his Olympic debut had it not been for a skiing accident while training in Val Thorens, France. While studying at St Stephen’s in Delhi, Kumar was an active part of the college’s hiking club.

His company, Mercury Himalayan Explorations, had been known for its innovative approach towards adventure travel and the industry mourns this unexpected loss today. Akshay Kumar had been writing extensively about the adventure travel industry suffering due to the pandemic.

In a comment for ET Travel World, Capt. Swadesh Kumar, President of ATOAI, said that Kumar’s passing is a “great loss” to the adventure community as a whole, that he was a big asset to the travel industry, and his loss is irreplaceable. He adds, “He was the architect of many important guidelines to professionalize and promote adventure tourism in the country,” and remembers him as a “passionate adventure operator and a great human being.”

Mandip Singh Soin, a fellow mountaineer and MD of Ibex Expeditions, shares some of his memories with the Kumar family in the ET Travel World article, “I first met Akshay when I went for a ski course in Gulmarg where his celebrated mountaineer father Col N Kumar was the Principal. Akshay and his sister were young kids coming barely up to my belt. But they skied faster and more skillfully as naturals. Years later, he was to join St Stephen’s College Delhi and kept the legacy alive of our active Hiking Club there, and later took on the reins of Mercury Himalayan Expeditions from his dad. Supported by his wonderful wife, Dilshad, they ran a great adventure travel operation along with a rafting lodge in Rishikesh called Bulls Retreat. A qualified mountaineer and a rock climber and biker, he was most comfortable in a raft navigating skillfully through rapids. That we lost him whilst he was cycling is a small consolation in at least he was doing what he was passionate about but the shock in our adventure fraternity is like a tsunami that has left us all shattered. Also a campfire singer – one feels that the song may have ended, but the melody lives on…!”

Kumar is survived by his wife Dilshad and daughter with whom he used to ski and trek in the Himalayas.