Interview with Chandan Lahiri, a Double World Record Holder

Chandan Lahiri, a Double World Record HolderChandan Lahiri, a Double World Record Holder

DS: Chandan Lahiri. An OutThere Adventurer. A double world record holder with an immediate third lurking somewhere. An entrepreneur. Also a husband and a father. Many roles. How do you manage?

CL: Difficult. If one can be ONE good something in his or her life, it would be a life well lived. And here we are trying to be the best in every role that life makes us play. As for me, the space I find myself in – adventure sports – is not what one would call run-of-the-mill. I love it though it makes life difficult for my wife who is as far removed from this space as I am involved with it. She finds it very difficult to understand why I end up doing what I do. She would much rather have me back in a job with the money coming in at the end of the month. Sadly (for her), I am not yet ready to throw the gauntlet and push pens, yet.

The toughest role I need to play is that of an entrepreneur. The adventure space is still nascent in India. And within that what OutThere Adventurers tries to do is to design, develop and execute expeditions, put it in the public space to inculcate the spirit of adventure and get more and more people to indulge in these activities. The path is riddled with obstacles, but like I keep telling myself, DARE TO FAIL. Only then will I have a chance of experiencing success.

DS: You seem to have a penchant for accumulating biking world records in a space not frequented by the faint hearted. When did this unique bug bite?

CL: When I was 12 or 13 years old, I designed a riding suit, preparing to bicycle around the country. I was too young and the thought of growing up one day and the possibility of a motored vehicle for the journey was in the realms of fantasy. At that time even my father did not own a vehicle!
I suspect that the bug did not ever bite … I was the bug.

It was more than a quarter of a century later when a few of us, got on to our motorcycles and spent the next 38 days travelling all around the country. It was a dream which I realised. Something that I always knew I would do, it was just a question of when.

As far as records are concerned, you do not need to be super human to achieve them. Anyone can achieve the ‘impossible’. As long as we start by believing in what we are attempting to do, the mind and the body will find a way to work towards it. Of course, we should not be stupid. We need to know our strengths and our weaknesses. Being brave is creditable, being stupid is not. One needs to do a lot of study, research, training and preparation prior to undertaking any feat. Anything is possible once we set our minds to it.

We are faint hearted or strong willed because we choose to be so. As long as we believe in our inner strengths and our potential, whatever we try and do will have a chance of success. No, all attempts will not end up in success, but one will be left with the satisfying thought of having done one’s best. Success or failure is incidental; the attempt is what makes the heart grow fonder and more resolute.

DS: It’s always exciting to listen to your heart’s calling and chase the dream. Have you ever felt it waver though? How do you ride through and out of such phases?

CL:Hmmm. The proverbial rainbow! I have always known that life will be difficult, but had not realized exactly how difficult it would be. In this space, many times we have to depend on other people to share our passion as strongly as we do, sometimes forgetting that for others it may just be the opportunity of embarking on another interesting holiday. At knowing the cost of some journeys I have had people tell me, “But why would I spend that kind of money and go on a trek? I can have a holiday in Bangkok instead.” Wow where did that come from? It is not a choice of where to spend one’s money, but to spend it on something that is unique.

Trying to associate with sponsors for my expeditions is yet another experience. So, life is difficult. It is an uphill task. But perseverance is the name of the game. I know for a fact that I am on the right track and that it is going to hit pay dirt one day. Often when I am depressed, dejected, frustrated (particularly after a bad meeting with a prospective associate), I shut shop for a few days, meditate, listen to music, laze, get my mind away from all things adventure. There have been times when I have scoured the Appointments sections of newspapers thinking of getting back to a job. But then, the bug bites again and life gets back on the crater filled road of adventure sports. Hope resurfaces. Yet another expedition comes to life. And a new list of prospects is drawn up.

DS: Ride us into all the three record breaking attempts from conceptualisation to execution to the experience, starting with your solo attempt of crossing 3 of the world’s highest passes in a single day; the July 31st, 2004 Guinness World Record of covering 4 of the world’s highest passes under 24 hours and finally the aborted 2008 Guinness World Record Attempt of the highest altitude reached by a motorbike.

CL: Summer of 2003 a few of us went on a motorcycle trip to Ladakh, my first and was meant as a recce. On the way I found signboards proclaiming the world’s highest roads – not just Khardung La, but four more. The thought germinated and I started putting together my first expedition – riding across the highest passes in the world in a one non-stop journey. A couple of months later I was back on the road across Khardung La, Tanglang La and Wari La in 14:44hrs to get my first world record. I started from Leh at 3 am and froze by the time I reached Khardung La. I had the good fortune of watching the sun rise in the eastern skies, standing atop the world’s highest road. It was a humbling and beautiful experience.

The plan was to ride all the way to Manali and set the record between Leh and Manali, but at Baralacha La, the motorcycle broke down and I had to sleep at 16,000 feet. That was a scary night. I was (stupidly and due to lack of time and money) not acclimated enough. It was almost the end of the season and traffic was sparse. It was past 9 pm. It was cold. And I was not carrying a tent. Fortunately I did have a sleeping bag and after a lot of thought, I laid out my sleeping bag on the side of the road and lay down. High altitude can be a scary place. People go to sleep never to get up again, gently passing over to the afterworld somewhere in their dreams. That was scary. Fortunately the night was fairly clear and I could reach out and touch the stars. I do not remember when I finally fell asleep, but I did and woke up the next morning, alive. My bike was still kaput and I had to somehow ride and push it for the next 100 odd kilometers and more to reach Keylong and a mechanic to get it fixed. But I did have my record. All the adventures I went through were finally worthwhile. If life was a bed of roses, the word adventure would be missing from our lexicon.

Next year, in 2004, six of us raised the number of roads to four and added Marsimik La, the world’s highest road (non tarmac). In fact, during the research, there was no information on Marsimik La. Google came up with a couple of hits. It took us more than six months to figure out its exact location, route and then to get permissions from the Army, Defence Ministry, Home Ministry, ITBP, BSF, BRO, etc. We went back and forth and back again, crossing rivers and streams and negotiating broken bridges even before we could start the expedition. We started from Pang at half past midnight, on a full moon night though a cloudy sky, encountered snow at Tanglang La at 2 am and by the time we hit the road to Chang La, it was snowing quite heavily. Breakfast was at Karu thanks to the hospitality of the Army and we had a good ride all the way to Pangong Tso. That was when the tough part really began. The road to Marsimik La was tough – rocks and sand all the way up and down and it took us one hell of a long time to tick of the third of our four passes in our target. By the time we came down from Marsimik La, drove to Leh and finally ended the expedition at Khardung La at midnight, we had ourselves a word record – riding across four of the world’s highest roads in less than 24 hours. It was a beautiful ride. I want to make this attempt solo one day and have set myself a target of 15 hours!

I am happy and proud to state that we ‘discovered’ Marsimik La. Today a Google search will bring up millions of hits on Marsimik La, including Wikipedia articles, features on Google Maps, forums discussing its altitude, and has long since become a regular destination for almost everyone visiting the area. And the permit is available locally at Leh. It seems a long time from those days in 2004 when we were trying to figure out how to spell it. We opened up Marsimik La to adventurers all over the world. Incidentally, I also gained my second world record during this trip.

The 2008 expedition had to be aborted due to very heavy and unseasonal snowfall in Ladakh. The idea was to reach 21000 feet on motorcycles for the highest altitude reached by a motorcycle, for the Guinness World Record. The attempt is postponed, not cancelled and hopefully in 2010 we should be in a position to accomplish that too.

DS: What records next await the Adventurers?

CL: The ones I really want to attempt are in two categories – (1) closer to Heaven, and (2) epic journeys.
The first one will take me up the high mountains to attempt two Guinness World Records – (1) highest altitude reached by a motorcycle and (2) highest altitude reached by a motor vehicle. The target altitudes are 21,000 feet and 23,000 feet respectively. The first is scheduled in Ladakh while the second will take me to the greatest mountain on Earth – Mount Everest.

There are three epic journeys I am planning to attempt – Longest journeys on a jet ski, on a tractor and on an ATV.
And there are two Jet Ski records (both Guinness) that I am working on – longest distance covered in 6 hours and longest distance covered in 24 hours.

Though not a record, I am designing One Helluva Ride ~ a motorcycle journey, from Delhi to the Arctic Circle.

DS: At the present rate then, you’d perhaps add another Guinness World Record or a Limca World Record for holding the maximum number of World Records?! Ever thought of that?.

CL: No, I am not trying that. Records are only a means to prove to everyone that it is possible. My aim is to promote adventure sports and it is through records that one can showcase various activities. If I can get more and more people to get out of pubs and bars and into the outdoors, I would have achieved my goal. As for the number of records, they are entirely incidental.

DS: For the readers, a final quote, a statement of intent to help them remember you and get inspired.

CL: The saying by TS Elliot is the guiding principle of OutThere Adventurers and I believe in it from the bottom of my heart – “Only those who risk going too far can really know how far they can go.” The other thing that keeps me going is that it is better to have tried and failed than not to have tried at all. And finally, to all those who are prospects in everything that we do – Never deprive someone of hope, it might be the only thing he has!

Your perseverance and grit not only on your journeys but also of holding strong to chase the endless dream is truly inspirational. May you never stop, Chandan Lahiri. It’s been a pleasure.

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