From his weather-beaten, poker face one cannot tell how many lives he has saved on the icy heights of mountains like K2 and Nanga Parbat, but Qurban Muhammad has stories to tell about his daring missions.
Qurban is a mountain guide from Shimshal, the valley known for its brave mountaineers like Rajab Shah, Mehrban Shah, Shaheen Baig, Qudrat Ali and a dozen others.
Qurban?s over 12 years mountaineering record is brilliant as he has twice scaled K2 and Gasherbrum-II beside scaling Nanga Parbat, Broad Peak, Gasherbrum-I, Spantik and Kunyanchish.
This year Qurban was again on K2 but just short of 211m from the top, he fell sick which prevented him from hoisting the Pakistani flag for the third time on top of the world?s second highest peak.
Narrating his story, Qurban said he got seriously ill on K2 where he had gone with a six-member multi-national expedition team comprising Spain, France and US in June. He was brought to Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) at Islamabad on August 30. On the mountain he had eaten nothing and had been drinking fluids. Lack of nutrition gave him a bleeding ulcer that took 10 days to heal and cost him Rs20,000 in hospital charges.
He complained that no official of the Alpine Club or the Tourism Ministry came to visit him in the hospital.This is a pity as Qurban is a famous rescuer and is known not only here but also abroad.
Qurban specialises in mountain rescue. He has res cued stranded mountaineers of Spain, Japan, Germany, America and Russia on K2, Gasherbrum-I, Gasherbrum II, Broad Peak and Nanga Parbat (twice) and saved many lives by putting his own at risk.
He has not received any formal training like guides in other mountaineering countries but first hand experience has made him a seasoned rescuer. He brought down the body of a Spanish mountaineer two years ago who fell to his death from a height of 7,000 meters on Nanga Parbat, the ?killer mountain?. It was a difficult and risky mission as in late summer the weather be comes very harsh and night time is the only time to climb up.
Avalanches make day climbing hazardous. It was initially planned to airlift the body to Gilgit for a post mortem and then bring it back to Nanga Parbat base camp for burial. But it was very costly.
The Spanish embassy then decided against the post mor tem and to bury the body at the Nanga Parbat base camp.
Qurban had first rescued a Japanese on Gasherbrum-I who had fallen from camp 2 to camp 1, a fall of 700 meters and got his leg broken. Qurban carried him to the base camp which took him 12 hours. On Gasherbrum-II he rescued one trekker who had got frost bitten. Qurban climbed down from the summit to camp 3 and went to the summit again to provide the trekker with oxygen. He then brought him down to the base camp where helicopters came to take the injured to the hospital.
Another dangerous rescue was of a Slovenian man whom he rescued from camp 4 near the summit. ?It was an extremely difficult route. There was an avalanche. I remained buried under the snow for more than an hour,? says Qurban, who has working with two tour operating com panies — Adventure Tours Pakistan and Nazir Sabir Expeditions.
He gets a measly sum of Rs1,500 per day while on work, i.e., when risking his life to save another person. Neither the tourism ministry nor the companies he works for, have any plan for the welfare of experts like him on whom depends the future of mountain tourism in the country, which is already in a state of serious decline due to the security situation.
If men like Qurban Mohammad leave this profession to make a living elsewhere, who will fulfil the rescue mission which is an essential part of a hazardous sport like climbing. Accomplished and experienced rescuers like Qurban need support to stay in the profession and attract other young men to take their place when they retire.