Jayasekera, the first Sri Lankan to have taken schoolboy teams to
the base camp of Mount Everest, has been showing the way to many
for over two decades
He did stand tall
By Randima Attygalle
Lord Baden Powell chose a citadel in Kandy to found the first scout
troop in Sri Lanka little knowing that local boys would secure the
Commonwealth Flag for the best scout troop for three consecutive
years. Many years later, a young scout from this very citadel of
Dharmaraja College, Kandy with a thirst for adventure and love for
nature, studied every shrub, made friends with porcupines, squirrels
on the mountain ranges of Knuckles, Hunnasgiriya, Hantana, Alagalla,
Badulla and Nuwara Eliya along the banks of the Mahaweli.
the age of 20, young Ajith Jayasekera knew Kirigalpotta, Thotupala,
Namunukala and Pidurutalagala like the back of his hand. In 1983
at the age of 22, he explored the Himalayas climbing the Tiger mountain
and in 1985, he led the first Sri Lankan school team of mountaineers
- a group of 12 scouts from Dharmaraja to the Annapur mountain of
gave me immense pride to wear the scout's uniform for the first
time in 1969 as a schoolboy of Dharmaraja College which is considered
the birthplace of scouting in Sri Lanka," said Mr. Jayasekera,
who believes he is the first Sri Lankan to have reached the base
camp of Mount Everest.
Jayasekera is presently Warden of Lake View Park International Scouting
Centre housed in the premises of Dharmaraja College, Kandy. Having
won the President's Scout Award in 1975- the most prestigious award
for a scout, he was appointed an assistant scout leader of his alma
mater. "Mountaineering is an important component in scouting
and I excelled in this, proving that it's not the person's height
which matters in reaching heights but the inner strength to endure
the worst," laughed Mr. Jayasekera- a man of small build himself.
at the memory of his maiden Himalayan expedition in 1983, Mr. Jayasekera
said that the foundation was laid when he represented Sri Lanka
at the Ninth All India National Jamboree in Gaya as a scout leader.
" I was one of the 37 participants from Sri Lanka at this summit
and this is where I met the leader from Bangaladsh- Hari Prasad,"
he returned to Sri Lanka, he was bombarded with questions about
the Himalayas from fellow scouts and friends. So in 1983, with Rs.
2000 in hand he set off for the land of gods and the Yeti!
that time under the Sirima-Shastri Pact, ferry services were operating
from Talaimannar to Rameshwaran, South India and the ticket cost
Rs. 400. I arrived in Madras and then boarded the train to Calcutta,"
explained Mr. Jayasekera.
arrived at the India- Bangladesh border, he then proceeded to Peshore
in search of Hari Prasad's home, only to find he was away. But as
luck would have it, Hari Prasad's uncle was the Director of the
Himalayan Mountain Institute. " I was ecstatic when he offered
me training free of charge as it cost a fortune even at that time
and today would be around US $ 1000," said Mr. Jayasekera.
this two-week training programme, the team was led to the south
side of Mount Everest where he got the opportunity of exploring
Tiger Mount and Pandian. "Despite obstacles like dense forest,
glaciers and the cold which creeps through the fingernails like
needles, it was a dream come true to see snow-capped Everest with
my own eyes."
Jayasekera returned to Sri Lanka determined to share his wealth
of experience with fellow scouts. In 1985, he selected 12 scouts
for the maiden school expedition to Himalayas from Sri Lanka. Ability
to endure both mentally and physically, optimism, planning and strategic
skills, ability to overcome both nature's and man-made obstacles
and team spirit were vital ingredients in the selection process
according to Mr. Jayasekera.
team went through a vigorous training period of six months climbing
Thotapola, Kirigalpotta, Knuckles, Namunukula, Alagalla (for rock
climbing) Dolosbage etc. Creating headlines at that time, Mr. Jayasekera
and his team reached Annapur mountain.
1987 the second expedition team from Dharmaraja College explored
Lantang Luring glacier and in 1989 I took the third team up the
Everest Base Camp which was another victory," said Mr. Jayasekera.
I am very thankful to Mr. A.P. Gooneratne, former Principal of Dharmaraja
College and later at Ananda College during whose time, I led several
expedition teams. He placed utmost faith in me, well aware of the
risks involved yet remained a pillar of strength throughout,"
said Mr. Jayasekera who also expressed his gratitude to the Old
Rajans Scout Association and present Principal of Dharmaraja College,
Jayasekera led the first team of Anandians in 1991 to Lantang Luring
glacier and in 1993 to the Everest base camp. Since then he had
taken many teams at district level, national level and in 1997,
a team representing 12 schools.
height each team can reach depends on its ability and resources.
Although there are students who possess the physical and mental
strength to reach the summit of Everest the obstacle lies in financing
such an expensive expedition. "To reach the summit of Everest
from the base camp, it requires many years of planning, extra climbers
(apart from the main expedition team) and a large number of porters
to carry about 24 tons of gear and equipment. All of this requires
a lot of money which is difficult for a school team to obtain. We
have to be proud of our boys who reached the base camp of Everest
raising funds on their own and carrying equipment all by themselves
which is otherwise done by porters," said Mr. Jayasekera.
Jayasekera recalled the avalanche which engulfed his team of Anandians
in 1991. "We stopped on a 'moraine' (a layer of stones on top
of an ice layer) for refreshments and while walking across it after
the break, suddenly we saw an explosion of ice and chunks of ice
falling down. Had we been right below, we would have all died on
the spot," said Mr. Jayasekera.
the need to promote adventure activities among school children,
Mr. Jayasekera pointed out the need for a national body to monitor
them. "With the development of information technology, youngsters
are exposed to adventure and naturally crave to achieve something
exceptional. It is important to encourage them," said Mr. Jayasekera
who strongly believes that the challenges and risks involved in
this gruelling journey, have shaped the personalities of the 'youngsters'
whom he once took under his wing. "I am proud of all the students
whom I guided who are now well established in their chosen professions.
The secret behind their sense of independence, responsibility and
unshakable determination lies in every cent they raised, every meal
they cooked and every night they spent in a sleeping bag with the
belief that nothing is impossible," said Mr. Jayasekera with
a smile of humble pride.
happy and contented man who has dedicated his entire life to moulding
youngsters not only into competent mountaineers, but men of integrity,
is a strong advocate of nature. "A true explorer and a lover
of nature adapts to its circumstances. One should eat what the locals
eat, one should be part of their customs. Most people believe that
travelling means spending weeks and months in luxurious hotels.
Parents should encourage children to live close to nature and make
them young 'researchers'. A child who sees the beauty of a wild
flower and enjoys the humming of a bee, will be a happy and a balanced
child who will see beauty in the simple things life offers,"