Dubai: Raman Chander Sood, an Indian expat grandfather in Dubai aged 70, has been a keen trekker throughout his life. After losing his elder daughter Richa, 39, to COVID-19 last year, Sood turned to mountaineering and last week climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak of African subcontinent, in memory of her.
Sood has become one of the oldest UAE residents to climb the 5895m-high Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania on October 15. He hoisted the UAE flag and the Indian flag at its Uhuru peak. He achieved the feat at the age of 70 years, two months and 11 days.
After returning from the expedition organised by Indian adventure company, Sood said he plans to climb the highest peaks of all seven continents in the world including the Mount Everest in the next two years. “Mt. Kilimanjaro is the first of these seven peaks,” the retired banker told Gulf News.
Trekking has been his hobby since childhood and he has done several treks during his youth. However, Sood pursued his passion more vigorously after retirement from the State Bank of India, where he worked for 40 years.
After his retirement, he has done Kailash Mansarovar Yatra crossing Dolma La Pass (5470m) in China at 64 years and Shrikhand Mahadev Peak (5227m) in Himachal Pradesh at 65 years of age. In 2021, he completed trekking to the famous Everest Base Camp (5364 meters), Kala Patthar (5644m) and the Three Passes Trek, the ultimate trek circuiting the entire Everest region in Nepal at above 5000m at the age of 69 and became the oldest Indian to do so.
From trekking to mountaineering
However, what pushed him to be a mountaineer is the loss of his daughter, Sood said and added that he would establish a foundation in memory of Richa one day.
“We (he and his wife Anita Sood) used to live in India and used to visit her [Richa’s] family here in Dubai occasionally. We became residents here after we lost her to COVID.”
Richa, who had done her post-graduation in social work, used to work for voluntary organisations back home till she developed health issues due to an autoimmune disease. “Since 2019, she had to use a wheelchair. When she contracted COVID-19 in April 2021, we came over to Dubai. Her whole family had got it but her lungs were compromised and we lost her on May 14. It was shocking to all of us and we were devastated. Then we stayed back to take care of our 10-year-old grandson along with our son-in-law,” the grandfather recollected.
He said he had felt aimless in life and it was his grandson who inspired him to think of having some purpose in life.
“That was when we had come over for a visit in January. That made me think about starting trekking again. But Richa’s demise had devastated me. I had even stopped exercising for more than a month. My family members including my son-in-law then pulled me out of grief and I started again with a firm determination to do something extraordinary to honour her [Richa’s] memory,” he said.
That is how Sood decided to start mountaineering. “Instead of trekking, I wanted to start climbing mountains.”The tedious trekking trip to the Everest Base Camp was in preparation for that.
Earlier this year, he climbed Mt Yunam Peak (6111m) in his home state in India, Himachal Pradesh. “On July 2, I became the oldest person to climb that peak.”
His biggest wish is to climb Mount Everest in 2024. “I am planning to climb two peaks in Ladakh — Mt Kun (7200m) and Mt Kang Yatse 2 (6200m) in 2023 in preparation for that.”
Keeping fit in Dubai
Never missing to eat on time and having mostly vegetarian food are the food tips that Sood has to offer. “I try to take proteins — pulses, paneer and chicken — also. Ever since I started training for the Everest Base Camp trek, I started taking 20-25g of whey powder daily.”
Explaining his fitness regime, Sood said he exercises for 60 to 80 minutes per day for four to five days a week. “Once a week I jog for about 12 to 15km. Three to four days I go to the gym.” After he decided to start mountaineering, he has added a more rigorous exercise routine.
“Once a week I go for a 25km walk carrying a 15kg backpack at night. I put some linen clothes like towels and bed sheets and water bottles in the bag and walk at night because I want to prepare for summit climbing at night. I am planning to make it 50km now.”
Sood said he wants to prove that age is just a number and a person is as young as he feels. “I want to inspire the young generation to be physically active.”
He said he sees Dubai as the perfect place for that and he is all praise for the Dubai Fitness Challenge. “The way this place promotes fitness is amazing. To me, the biggest advantage of being here is the safety we get. My fellow trekkers from India say it is not safe to walk alone at night back home. That way, I feel lucky to be here. We have beautiful and safe places to walk and run. I walk from our community in JBR to Dubai Marina. It’s about 15km up and down. No vehicles around. I have no fear. Also, we have a free gym in our community.”
He said he was also looking forward to receiving support from the fitness loving community in Dubai for his future expeditions. “Anita and I are also looking for an opportunity to trek together to the Everest Base Camp. If we could do it, we would be the oldest Indian couple to do that I believe,” he added.