The camps were soon over, and the Mumbai gang was gone, leaving me behind in this new place of my choosing. I planned to do my basic mountaineering course. The girls batch is in June, so it kind of connected in terms of timing as well. I left most of my luggage with the local family Nitin used to live with, and went for my mountaineering course.
I don’t know what I had expected. Some glorious climbing, no doubt. What transpired, was something so simple, I still don’t know what I learnt from it. The course takes place over a duration of 28 days. With all the participants female and most of them from cities with little, if any experience in the outdoors, the physical challenge levels of the course were something that didn’t really register on me.
We were issued equipment and spent the first 10 days learning the basics of rock climbing near Manali. This was really basic climbing, and after teaching for a couple of years before I thought of this course, there wasn’t really any challenge in it. I did it, because it was syllabus, and got into trouble with instructors for my restless demands, which usually meant that I had stones put into my sack for the morning jogging sessions.
Now, I’ve never really liked running in any form, so jogging, while not particularly difficult was something I disliked intensely. But well, it couldn’t last long, and I used to attack the food with added enthusiasm on my return. This became a pattern over those 10 days. Morning jog, food, easy climbing, food, easy climbing, food and some nice lectures/films in the evening about mountaineering and food again. I put on 3 kilos on this course. That should say a lot on how demanding it was.
The next phase of the course was more interesting, where we reached our familiar Solang Nallah and then proceeded to Dhundi and Bakhartaj – all places I was well acquainted with, thanks to the previous stint as an instructor in the summer. It felt like coming home. The training here was also something I enjoyed. Not because it was difficult, but snow and ice craft is exotic for someone who comes from Mumbai – where the lowest the mercury falls is still above 20 degrees celcius. I had a blast.
There were some nice memories from here. one night, we had a storm, and one side of the tent collapsed, and the girls inside were terrified. I went out and did what damage control I could, and went in, only to have it collapse again. The ground was too soggy to hold the pegs. I’d need to make it more secure, but that was tough for a single person, and no one in our tent was willing to come out into the storm. I am a picky person when it comes to personal comfort, and the last thing I was planning on allowing was for my sleeping bag and clothes to get wet, so out I went again.
This time, I saw that the tent next to mine had collapsed from one side as well, and there was another sole girl struggling against it. I had company. I helped her secure her tent, and then she helped me, and we crashed back into our tents and dry sleeping bags at the end of this escapade. After this, the two of us became some kind of heroes, though what we did hadn’t particularly been brave or selfless.
The other interesting incident is from something called the survival night. At the end of the high altitude stay, when we all have put our luggage on the ponies, we are taken for a session for some instruction or the other until very late, and told to fend for ourselves over night, with all camp and our personal luggage gone back to Solang Nallah already.
That was fun. I took along the girls who were with me and went to a local shepherd’s shop I knew and had a lovely time eating drinking and making merry, until the instructors landed there. They had come for the same reason, and we were kicked out and told to survive, not sit in a shop in luxury. I wonder why survival means that we should be in discomfort. Isn’t it my capability for survival if I can use my local knowledge to my advantage in an emergency? I guess not.
Anyway, we simply moved to a cave and lit a nice fire and slept on a scratcy pile of pine needles until the morning, when we were told to return to Solang Nallah. That was good fun.
After returning, life was good for the rest of the course, right until it was time for the final ceremony. So much for a tough mountaineering course. To date, when people ask me about what to expect on the course, I have no answer that seems suitably thrilling to give.