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“Mountaineering is the mother of all adventure sports.”
Mountaineering is a team sport for most of its part but the real competition is with no one but oneself. One may not become a hardcore mountaineer, but whatever amount of time one dedicates to mountaineering, one comes out as a stronger person, with many good skills and values which are key to excelling in day-to-day life. It indeed is a great way to live life!
I wasn’t a staunch advocate of these facts/thoughts until I did the Basic and Advance Mountaineering Courses. I was just another fresher in IIT Bombay who was confused between going for BMC (Basic Mountaineering Course) and spending the summer in insti doing ITSP (Institute Technical Summer Project) after the 2nd semester. Having always been more inclined towards sports, BMC was always more likely going to be my decision, in addition, I had gotten a lot of positive reviews for BMC from seniors too.
The levels of excitement were high, I had started picturing myself in some imaginary snow-capped mountains. I had never been to such places before, I didn’t have any idea of what mountaineering was. There was only this belief that they were probably going to be the best 26 days of my life.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports (ABVIMAS), Manali was the destination when I left my place at Nagpur with a friend. En route, I realised the diversity of India, going all the way from the central to the northern part of the country. The beauty of Himachal Pradesh, ‘the devbhoomi’ was breathtaking. The air was different, probably the purest I inhaled as our bus took a halt near Mandi, on our way to Manali.
The 26 days of the Basic Mountaineering Course have made for an unforgettable experience. I had thought I was going as a tourist, just to roam around for sightseeing. It was partly true, not as a tourist but rather as a mountaineer. We were 55 of us from IIT and 50 others who accompanied us from different parts of the country, predominantly from Maharashtra and Himachal. On Day 2, all the trainees were divided into 11 ‘Ropes’ i.e. groups, but it turned out that around 20 from the group quit the course in 2-3 days and hence, 1 rope was reduced.
We were on a tight and strict schedule. Morning tea, everyday, was scheduled at 05:00 hrs. Waking up at 4:30 am was a major change from the late nights that come with insti life. We had to report at 06:00 hrs for the morning physical training, which most of us loathed, but if one turned up late he/she had to make-up for it by doing push-ups! This was especially hard for insti people accustomed to being late for lectures at 8:30. But there were a bunch of non IIT people who were already prepared for this.
In the institute, you spend around 11 days learning rock climbing, knots and river crossing. During the whole course, the team of 10 instructors did a great job taking us through all the activities. Rock climbing was one such art that we learnt during our time there. It was definitely a cakewalk for the instructors, but many of us thought of it as an impossible task! We were taught about all the safety conducts during mountaineering. Being well prepared and keeping safety on the top of one’s mind is the distinguishing factor between Adventure and Madness.
Next, we headed to Bakarthach at the foot of the Beas Kund glacier at 10,500 ft above sea-level. It’s a 3 day trek from Manali, with a halt at Solang valley. Manali to Bakarthach was a soar journey for the shoulders; carrying 22-23 kgs for 13 kms and gaining approx 1000 ft. It was one of the most tiring and boring journeys of the course. During the so called rest day at Solang, we headed towards Patalsu Peak for the sake of acclimatization. It was a wonderful trek. Probably for the first time during the course, we were trekking without any load. The final destination was the end of the tree line, a vast grass field with amazingly breath-taking views. We could see many of the nearby snow-capped mountains, their heads touching the sky, glowing in the golden sunlight. One thing should be mentioned about feeding your tummy: the food gets better and better as you gain more altitude.
The real test was yet to come! The Solang to Bakarthach trek was even more difficult, especially due to the heavy load. But, there is definitely no match for the feeling when you touch the snow for the first time with your feet. We were finally out of human territory and were going deeper into the hands of nature. Here, in the high mountains, everything was different. Sheer cliffs of rock and ice rising up make you realize how small and simple we are as compared to these nature’s creation.
And the feeling when you finally reach the base camp, the heavenly place, where you are surrounded by mountains, clouds, and cool air, away from the rest of the world, it is hard to resist the temptation to stay there forever. For the first time, we were going to stay in the tents! Probably the best place in the world for talks about the world and playing cards. On the next day itself, we went to the Beas Kund Glacier. At that altitude, walking on even flat terrain was difficult, but the ambience of the place was just unmatched. When you are near a glacier, nature presents you with its most beautiful painting!
Snow and Ice crafts made up the next part of the training. There were many interesting techniques involved in the simple act of walking on snow. The instructors were so calm and polite while teaching, that we didn’t have to worry about not being able to learn it. If you were willing to learn, it was a piece of cake!
Ice training was slightly more physical. It involved kicking the toe into a vertical ice wall with blunt crampons. Crampons are the metal spikes to be attached on your snow boots while climbing on ice. Although it was tiring, reaching the top was very satisfying. In the evenings at Bakarthach, we would play volleyball. Oh yes! Volleyball tournaments at 10,500 ft.
The last two activities were the best of the bunch – Altitude-Gaining and Survival-Night. Prior to Altitude-Gaining day, we were given a horde of eatables. Cashew nuts, almonds, candies, energy bars, etc. One has to reach an altitude of 15700 ft. to pass this test. We left early morning, 5 AM from the base camp. It was raining badly. Mountain weather can be cruel and fatal. The instructors had predicted that it would clear up till 9 AM, and it did. But the rain and wind thrashed at us for three hours. To enjoy such a course or mountaineering for that matter, one needs to be physically and mentally tough. Just after the sun showed up, at 13500 ft., we took a halt. The summit wasn’t visible but the view behind my back was breathtaking. All the peaks in the Beas Kund region were visible, the Beas Kund glacier below still had a blanket of clouds over it. There were no words to describe the view and the feeling. At 11:00 AM, I made it to the summit, Camp-1 of Mt. Shetidar 15700 ft above sea-level, surprisingly among the first ten to reach there. Everyone was delighted to make it on the top, all the fatigue due to the 5000 ft. climb just washed away. We soon began the descent, which turned out to be a lot of fun, sliding down 3000 ft. till the Beas Kund glacier.
With our course effectively over, we descended, bidding farewell to our base camp and heading back towards our institute in Manali. After a couple of days, at the graduation ceremony down in ABVIMAS, Manali with the Basic Mountaineering Course completion badge in our hands, I felt more proud at that moment than when I had cracked JEE, it was the first time in my studious life, that I had done something so out of my comfort zone which turned out to be a truly incredible and indelible experience.