Vijay was revisiting his homeland of Tanzania on a family holiday when daughter Roshnee posed the question that ultimately led him to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Her father had grown up in Moshi in the shadow of the highest mountain in Africa, the highest free-standing mountain in the world, but had not returned since emigrating to the UK in 1975. Scaling the great mountain had never occurred to him.
“My daughter said, ‘Dad, you grew up here, why have you never climbed the mountain?’ Look, I said, I was young. To me the mountain wasn’t a destination. We saw it every day. We were concentrating on playing, fun and games, going to school, study, study, study. It never crossed my mind. It wasn’t like it is now: people could just go and climb. It wasn’t organised back in those days.
“Anyway, I laughed it off and said, ‘OK, we’ll do it’. And she kept on and on about it.”
The only drawback to the proposed expedition, and a big one at that, was that Vijay was profoundly unfit. His job in IT was desk-bound. “I used to leave my house, it was literally a five-minute walk to the bus stop, bus to the Tube station, then another bus, so I hardly did any walking at all. I was looking at a computer screen all day. I used to eat lunch at my desk, and in the evening same thing, eat dinner, watch television, no exercise of any kind.”
The wake-up call came on a pilgrimage with wife Indu to Kailash in Tibet, considered a sacred place by Hindus. He was diagnosed with high-blood pressure there and had to complete the journey by pony. Upon his return he started walking and joined a group of ramblers and took on challenges to Snowdonia and four peaks in Brecon Beacons, as well as 10-12-mile walks every weekend, and trekking in Scafell Pike in Cumbria and Ben Nevis in Scotland, He has recently done a charity challenge of trekking four days in Shropshire walking 15 miles each day
“Even my family were surprised when I started doing this,” he admits. “Once, when we went to Ben Nevis, years ago, we went up by cable car!”
Today he waxes lyrical about the joys of walking. “When you are walking, whether in a forest or farmland or by a river, you see farm animals, birds chirping away, for half-an-hour nobody talks, you just listen to the wind and the birds, the noise of water cascading down, yes, it is very relaxing and gives time for reflection.”
Roshnee and her 67-year-old father finally made it to Kilimanjaro in 2022. The daughter succumbed to a chest infection that prevented her making the final ascent but insisted that he completed the climb. He did – thanks to the help of the wonderful guides and porters.
“The head guide was very, very experienced, calm and cheerful. On the last day he held my hand almost all the way up. But walking 10 miles, 12 miles, every weekend, up and down, definitely helped me a lot. I couldn’t have done it without that training and preparation.
“When we came down, we had a meal together so we could thank the porters and guides. And they produced a cake for me as a surprise for being the oldest member they had taken on the trip in their group. I’m not the oldest person who’s ever done it, I know that. But they made a big thing of it. It is a very proud achievement.”
Vijay won’t be stopping there. “There is a guy who’s invited me who’s planning a 20 days trek to Nepal next year,” he says, “and people are talking about going to Everest base camp, so, yes, I would like to do something like that. Others are going to Peru to Machu Picchu. Then another friend is talking about the mountains down in Morocco, so there are lots of different treks on the cards. As long as my health is good, and I can do it, I will continue.”
Written by Journalist Martin Smith – thank you.
Vijay on Stepping Out:
I have been a carer for my elderly parents for a few years jointly with my two brothers and had registered with Enfield Carers Centre for advice, support, wellbeing sessions and various other activities for carers. I received an email from ECC in October 2020 on behalf of “Stepping Out” organisation inviting carers to join a Rejuvenating Walk in the Fresh Air and Lunch, Free of Charge. The walk was taking place at Forty Hall in Enfield which was open to all carers with or without the people they care for. I registered for the walk although I couldn’t get my parents to join as my father aged 95 was bed bound and needed my Mum to be with him. I arranged for my brother to look after the parents and joined the walk in Forty Hall.
Everyone received warm welcome from the organisers and volunteers on arrival. It was quite wonderful to meet other carers and people they look after and really enjoyed the relaxing walk and great lunch after the walk. I have joined quite a few other walks and walking football sessions since then at different locations and find that every event is planned for all different capabilities and even transport is provided for people who are unable to otherwise make it. I find that all the events make me feel relaxed and distraction from the daily routines.