Mountaineering is a great adventure, and only passionate people take up this challenge. Climbing mountains teaches patience and persistence. Kazakh mountaineer Anatoli Boukreev who died at a very young age of 39 said, “Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion”.Jammu & Kashmir is known for its lofty mountains and beautiful valleys. From 19th century onwards British, French and German trekkers would trek and explore our mountain peaks. Local Kashmiri men would act as their coolies and guides during several tough expeditions. We have been reading about Ghulam Rasool Galwan, a Ladakhi explorer of Kashmiri descent. This man was in the news last year when Chinese troops infiltrated into Ladakh around Galwan valley named after Rasool Galwan.
Ghulam Rasool Galwan (1878-1925) was the chief guide of his times who accompanied European mountaineers to Gilgit, Hunza, Nagar or central Asian cities of Kashgar, Yarkand. It is said that Rasool Galwan’s grandfather had come to Ladakh after the Galwans were banished to Buwanji, Gilgit by the Dogra ruler, Ranbir Singh. The ancient silk routes moved through the western Himalaya (that include the area between Chitral to Uttarakhand) , consisting of many high-altitude ranges, namely the Pamir, Hind-Kush, Karakoram, the Greater Himalaya, and the Great Plateau of Tibet. There are many such trade routes that entered India via the NE Himalaya too.
Kashmiris traversing Silk Route
There are many families in Srinagar whose forefathers have been traversing the Karakoram mountains to reach Kashgar, Badakhshan, Yarkand and many other cities in central Asia through the traditional silk routes. One such family is the Tramboo family who lived in Kawdara area of Srinagar’s old city. Tramboos originally hail from Sopore and had come to Srinagar more than 200 years back in connection with their business with central Asia. They were the traders who would sell Kashmiri handicrafts, dry fruits and other items in central Asia and bring lots of merchandise to Srinagar. There is a clear mention of Samad Tramboo in Tareekh-e-Aqwam-e-Kashmir. This man was a leading trader who would travel for six months a year through silk routes of Ladakh or Gurez. Noted adventure tourism expert and mountaineer Rauf Tramboo belongs to the same family and Samad Tramboo happens to be his great great grandfather. Junior Tramboo, from a young age had been hearing stories of his ancestors from his grandfather and father, and that developed an urge in him for mountaineering.
Professional trekking in Kashmir
The trade through silk route came to an end after 1947 when Jammu & Kashmir was divided between India and Pakistan. It was around late 1950s or early 1960s when professional trekking began in Kashmir. The main credit goes to British nationals again who were teachers at Tyndale Biscoe School Srinagar. During this time more European mountaineers started exploring the mountains of Kashmir and Ladakh. Rauf Tramboo had his initial schooling at Biscoe School and then he shifted to Islamia school. In 1976 when Rauf had just passed his matriculation, he went to Gulmarg for a Skiing course. There he met Late Mohammad Ashraf sahib who was posted as Assistant Director Tourism in Gulmarg those days. Ashraf Sahib later on retired as Director General Tourism J&K Govt.
When Mohammad Ashraf saw this talented boy, he asked him to join his Kashmir Mountaineering and Hiking Club (KMH Club). Ashraf Sahib also headed the KMH club those days. In Summer 1977 Rauf Tramboo went for a 12 day trek to Gangabal via Naranag. Prof late Abdul Hamid Bhat, a noted mountaineer and passionate trekker, was leading this group. The group climbed Mount Harmukh ( altitude 5142 meters) during that expedition. From 1977 Rauf sahib never looked back.
Expedition with Reinhold Messner
In the summer of 1978 Rauf Tramboo went with a group of European mountaineers to scale Mt. White Needle (7000 meters altitude) in Kishtwar valley. World renowned mountaineer Reinhold Messner from Italy was heading that expedition. Pertinently Messner had made the first solo ascent of Mount Everest and, along with Peter Habeler, the first ascent of Everest without supplemental oxygen. He was the first climber to ascend all fourteen peaks over 8,000 meters above sea level. During the White Needle expedition Late Ashraf Sahib was the guide of that group.
In 1978-79 Rauf Tramboo went to climb Brahma Peak 1 with German climbers. In 1981 he went to Uttarkashi for a mountaineering course at Jawahar Institute of Mountaineering. In 1982 Rauf Tramboo went for another mountaineering course at Himalayan Institute Darjeeling. In addition to it he would join skiing courses at Gulmarg every winter. In 1981 Rauf Tramboo trekked from Gulmarg to Poonch via Noorpur Gali.
24 day expedition
After completing his LLB from Kashmir University Rauf Tramboo went for a 24 day expedition to Lamayuru in Ladakh. The trekking began from Duksum via Sinthan Pass Kishtwar, Boktol Pass (5000 meters), Warwan, Panikhar in Kargil and Lamayuru. A total distance of 360 kms was covered by Rauf Tramboo and a group of European climbers. Garry Were, noted mountaineer from Australia who heads Australian Himalayan Foundation had organized that trekking expedition. Later on Tramboo began working with Garry’s Sydney based Australia Himalayan Expeditions (AHE) from 1984 onwards. For 24 years, Rauf Tramboo worked with AHE. He was based in Kathmandu and would accompany western climbers to explore mountains around Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet.
Back to Kashmir
Rauf Tramboo finally came back to Kashmir in 2005 and started his own Adventure Sports Company. He has been a pioneer in starting rafting in Pahalgam and Sonmarg. Rauf Tramboo has trekked about 56000 Kms in length & breadth of Himalayas He has been part of many ski mountaineering and mountaineering expeditions including International Ski mountaineering expeditions to Mt. Kolahoi, Ski Mountaineering expeditions to Tarsar ridge of Sikwas Valley and Ski mountaineering expedition to Amarnath cave. He led the first ever ski mountaineering expedition in Mt Mahadev. Rauf Tramboo undertook a water siking expedition from Khanabal to Wullar lake in 1986. With an aim of promoting adventure tourism and mountaineering in Kashmir, Rauf Tramboo has travelled to several European countries including Switzerland and France. He travelled to New Zealand and Australia as well.
I have been following the work of Mr Rauf Tramboo for last many years. Whenever I see his trekking expedition photos of early 80’s on social media it always turns me nostalgic. As I myself am passionate about mountains and forests, I developed a great respect for this man. I would always think why a person like Rauf sahib has not been honoured by the successive Govts of J&K? He could have been recommended for a Padma award or given some good assignment in Tourism Department. I always wanted to write about the great work of this unsung hero of Kashmir. I think the International Mountain Day is the best day to pay my gratitude to Rauf Tramboo. His contribution towards adventure tourism in Jammu & Kashmir is immense and budding mountaineers should always learn from his experiences & expertise in this field.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.