A Fateful Night at High Altitude 

Freezing cold made worse by biting wind.  Continuous rains.  15000+ feet above sea level. Resultant low oxygen levels and difficulty in.  Pitch dark at midnight. A full moon night with the moon no where in sight because of the clouds.

After a tiring drive through the mountains and making sleeping and food arrangements for 90 people who were traveling with me, I had just stretched out in a tent I shared with a few others, readying myself for a few hours of sleep.

I was half asleep. Suddenly there were loud noises of someone crying from the tent in the neighbourhood and murmurs in my own tent.

“Mundraji is no more” informed someone as they woke me up.   I rushed to his tent to assess what actually had happened.  Within the next 10 minutes I was told, “Naru is breathless and appears to be in a serious condition”.  Naru is Nirmala Gilda, my niece.  Her husband, was obviously in a state of panic. “Someone save her!”.

Leaving Mr. Mundra’s tent, I rushed to Naru’s tent.   I was told that someone had rushed to get an oxygen cylinder for her.  Within 5 minutes, another news came in, “Shobhaji fell and has fractured her hand.”   She had rushed to fetch the oxygen cylinder and got herself tangled with the rope that keeps a tent erect.

All three events happened in a span of 20 minutes. I was shaken up. I was confused at what was happening and scared of what was in store for the rest of that fateful night.  I prayed to Lord Shiva  for a few moments.  We were right next to Him, after all. We were camping at the bank of Mansarovar Lake, at the foot of Mt. Kailash, his mythical abode.

Lake Mansarovar – a place where no facilities were available, no shops, no habitants let alone medical facilities.   This was a trip I had initiated. I had taken a group of 90 people to Kailash Mansarovar Yatra along with Guruji, for a charitable cause.

We had nine qualified, helpful doctors in our group including Dr. Meena from Nashik who had spent more or less all of past ten days serving the members of the group.

Naru’s breathlessness was due to high altitude.  We were at a height of 15,060 ft, which does not suit everyone.  Immediately, a landcruiser was arranged to take her to a lower altitude.  Mrs. Shobha also was sent in landcruiser to a lower level for treatment at a place where provisional medical facilities were available.  Actions were prompt and brisk.

Right at the beginning, in the briefing sessions, all members were told that they ought to report even if they have minute symptoms of sickness.   Those few who reported slightest sickness were promptly treated.  One person who had acute altitude sickness had to be sent back to the base.  Another person who had mild symptoms of sickness was held back at the same place for another day for further acclimation and was then escorted to join the group the next day.  Arrangements for such emergencies were well taken care of.

Mundraji had been unwell for 3-4 days.  But neither he nor any body else reported the problem, probably presuming it was of no major consequence.   On that fatal day, he suddenly collapsed.  It is assumed that it was a massive heart stroke.

Mansarovar is in Tibet.  As it is a sacred place, his family, who was accompanying him on the trip,  agreed to have the funeral there itself instead of getting him back to India.  It took a full day to complete all the formalities.  Guruji was present all the time.  We could see the smoke from his pyre blowing towards the sacred Mount Kailash.

We found consolation in the fact that Mundraji was lucky to have survived till he reached Mansarovar and his last rites could be performed at such an auspicious place.

Though Mundhraji’s demise was something none of us could have helped, I still feel guilty and often wonder if there was anything I could have done for his survival.  The burden of that event I still bear on my heart and soul .

I guess this event is an eye opener to anyone travelling to high altitudes, “do not ignore, even mild symptoms, of any illness and report to the organisers immediately”.


Written & Experienced : Badri Baldawa

Editor  : Meeta Kabra

Family Misadventure

I got the impression from my studies in school that the foreign invaders had mainly two difficult and tricky routes to enter India – Khyber Pass and Rohtang Pass.   A pass is a narrow path at a high altitude that lies between two mountains.  I wanted to visit them to see how difficult they were in reality.  Khyber pass is presently between Afghanistan and Pakistan and hence not easily accessible.  However, I could visit Rohtang Pass .

Around 1986 I decided to take my family for an adventure vacation.   I selected Rohtang Pass.  My wife Pushpa and our three children Meeta, Seema and Anand, in the age group of 7 to 12, were excited and were looking forward for a week’s fun and pleasure.

Rohtang Pass is a dangerous narrow passage at a height of 13,000 ft between two tall mountains of about 15,000 ft.   It is a dangerous and tricky route as the very name ‘Rohtang’ suggests ‘pile of corpses’.

We took a train from Bombay and drove to Kulu and then Manali.   I engaged a popular travel agent for all arrangements from Manali.   I chose April in anticipation of finding snow around.  It was just the start of season and we were amongst the first tourists that season that wanted to use tents.   The tents were at a beautiful location at the bank of a river that ran next to a mountain.  There was a water-fall very close to our tent.  It was a romantic atmosphere.

We were all very hungry and anxiously waited for our food.  Due to some problem, the cook hadn’t arrived.   One of the other staff members cooked some food.  After 9 PM, we were served some tasteless boiled rice and daal.  None of us could eat.

By then it had begun drizzling and soon it started pouring heavily.    Heavy wind added to problems and the temperature started dropping below 5 degrees C.   There was no power or lanterns and the candles would not survive to the wind.  We were drenched even in the tent due to heavy showers.

The facilities were inadequate to survive the night.   Sleeping bags did not reach.  I was frustrated and had a heated argument with the tour operator.  I lost my patience and decided to quit the place, without realising how to move out of that isolated location.

In the heavy rain we started walking through the pass.  There were no habitants for a 2-3 kilometer stretch.  No vehicles either.   We were all shivering from the cold.  I fell short of ideas.

Just then we saw an army vehicle approaching from behind us.  We signaled the driver to for help and guidance.  He said there was no facility around that place which could provide shelter to us for a night.  He was on duty and didn’t have authority to pick anybody up in his vehicle unless his boss granted permission.

Though he had a walkie talkie, he didn’t want to disturb his senior as it was past 10 PM.   I requested him to, at the very least, drop us till their camp site so that we could somehow manage from there.  Looking at a family with children, he picked us up and dropped us near the entrance gate of their army office.   He told us to take shelter under a shed near the entrance gate till the rain stopped and then find our a way to Manali.  We were not adequately geared to stand to the cold weather.

When we have many problems at the same time, the major one dominates over the minor ones.  Finding shelter was the dominating problem right then.

I requested the security guard for permission to speak to the officer in-charge.    When I explained the situation to the officer, he spared one of his jeeps and instructed the driver to drop us to a hotel in Manali.  He was a God-sent for us.

We reached the hotel past 1 AM and at last had a cozy sleep.

I learnt the lesson, however popular a travel agent might be, we should be prepared and equipped to face contingencies on our own.


Written : Badri Baldawa

Edited  : Meeta Kabra

Expanding Business? Take care !

Expanding Business?  Take care

Expanding a medium size business needs to take care of certain tricky problems like expanding business vs infra-structure for increased activities and safety of capital already earned.    .

Any business is run to make money, of course, in a fair way.  Once a business starts earning money, the owner wants to make more money!  He realises soon that expansion or diversification of activities are the solutions. This invariably needs infrastructure which in turn needs further investment.

Expansion of activities also means a bigger uncertainty in revenues. Any unnecessary investments in infrastructure might eat up on the profits and liquidity, including that of the current business.  While, without taking business risks, it is close to impossible to expand business, an expansion without proper infrastructure is suicidal.  Therefore the owners have to adequately balance strategy between expansion of business and additional costs of larger infrastructure.

4-5 decades ago, our family business went through a similar balancing act or lack thereof.  The reasons stand good even today.  My dad owned iron ore and manganese mines.  He was as good at looking for and selecting remunerative mines as he was at obtaining Government permissions to operate those mines.  He started with a small mine of a few acres and expanded to 9 mining leases. From the records, I found out after his death that just two of them were as big as 1064 acres!  These could have been sources of unimaginable and unlimited revenues.

He was the lone manager of this enterprise.  Infrastructure for expansion was not planned.  We, all his sons, were still students.  Management was not adequate and therefore the controls on the resources were inadequate.  If controls are missing, the funds would go missing too!  The entire business turned out to be unremunerative whereas it should have earned multi-millions.  It was all due to inadequate infra-structure.

My son Anand, who earlier was in UK, took over operations of my business over a year ago. He wanted to expand and diversify the business.  His first thought was about infrastructure.  He spent almost a year in planning and building additional infrastructure for future activities and wisely limited it within affordable means.  We occasionally felt that the business could be managed without additional infrastructure, but learning from my dad’s experience, I was very happy to support him.

I have seen some not-very-large businesses that they were very successful when they were small, but failed miserably when they expanded.  On analysis, it was clear that the main reason for their failure was that only the value of fixed assets was taken as investments and funds for expansion were arranged accordingly. The need for working capital for day-to-day activities and transition costs were ignored.  This is extremely important and is a significant amount in most businesses.

A businessman I know, failed to notice another significant problem. “When one heads towards the top at top speed, he had to ensure that he doesn’t drop down”. At whatever height one is, it is a human tendency to assume that the peak is yet to come.  But one cannot judge when one is at his peak. Therefore, to be safe, at every stage of climbing, one should secure themselves from a fall.

How do we secure that?  Simple, set aside a good percentage of earnings for a rainy day, a saving for safety from failures.  Do not put entire capital at risk. For any reason, if expansion investment is lost, at least you are left with a base capital to survive for future.

These are some of the lessons learnt while analysing the reasons for failures of some of the prosperous businesses while undertaking expanded activities.

Take care!

Written: Badri Baldawa

Edited: Meeta Kabra