In 1982, Dr BS Ajaikumar was backpacking through Rocky Mountains, thousands of feet high, when a scream rented the air. His friend in the group had lost his footing and rolled down a few hundred feet. The rest quickly retraced their steps and carried the fallen trekker through a snow-filled trail, with ice picks. “It was dangerous, but we made it. Now I think it was one of the most exciting and interesting memories, because that was the first time my wife had joined me on a trek,” says the founder, chairman and CEO of Healthcare Global, laughing.
The 68-year-old medical veteran still does not shy away from arduous treks and marathons, and takes every challenge — inside the operating theatre and out in the wild — in graceful stride.
After living a ‘bookish’ childhood and reading everything he could get his hands on, be it mythology, history or medicine, Dr Ajaikumar moved to the US in 1975 to further his career. That’s where he really started his outdoorsy life. From learning taekwondo and skiing to playing tennis professionally, he was making up for the 21 years that he had spent indoors. “I would play till the wee hours of the night. After I found a great partner, we won many doubles championships in Chicago,” he recalls. Even though his love for tennis was great, he got hooked to skiing. But a hard fall in 2000 compelled him to stop pursuing it at a professional level.
He was on the lookout for his next hobby and backpacking could not have come at a better point in his life. It wasn’t as demanding as skiing or tennis, but it still gave him an adrenaline rush and he could do it at his own speed. Dr Ajaikumar says that trekking and backpacking are quite different, and that he enjoys the latter more. “When you are trekking, you have a lot of help and you don’t carry all your stuff. But for backpacking, you have to get a permit, carry your own food, tent and other supplies all weighing up to 70-80 kilograms. You also have to cook your own food in the wild,” he explains. Today, he has successfully backpacked across several ranges in North America including the Western Rockies and in the Alaskan terrain. Back home, he has conquered Kanchenjunga, which was a three-month long trek. “That was the longest and most exhausting trek of my life, which spanned from Darjeeling to Pokhara in Nepal,” he says. During the trip, he adds that they once had to trek from 1,000 metres to 4,000 metres all in one day, before nightfall.
Despite the physical strain, Dr Ajaikumar says that he has built his strength by running, even participating in full marathons, pursuing various sports. He has even completed his altitude training in Ooty. One of his biggest achievements, he believes, is completing his fifth marathon in three hours and 40 minutes.
His recent trips include those to Annapoorna in Nepal, besides the occasional backpacking trip every year to the Rockies. He has passed on his passion to his children and a few friends and relatives. Ajaikumar says even though he loves the hobby because it allows one to experience solitude in all its glory, it is also an absolute joy to drive off in a camper with the family and camp for a few days. The next one on his schedule is set for July, again in the Western Rockies. “When you are spending 11 months in the concrete jungle, it is great to get away,” he says. The only big feat he hasn’t achieved, he jokes, is “climbing Mount Everest.” But for someone who does not even take a lunch break to utilise his time better and juggles everything from looking after patients, authoring a book and spending time with family to keeping in touch with Nature, Everest could very well take a hike.