Friday, April 23, 2010

At Nehru Institute of Mountaineering - N I M

(in continuation to preparation for the mountaineering course)
( )

After bidding good bye, Karan dropped me at the Uttarkashi bus stand from where a bus from NIM was supposed to pick me up at 5 pm. There I happened to meet Chandra Bhaai who had come as a guide with us to Tapovan trek. He is simply awesome. He is like a mountain goat I would say. Very experienced climber and a very kind and caring person. He was very happy to know that I was going for this course. He told” Aapto bahoth fit hei Madame. Phikar mathkijiye.Aap aasaanise karpaavogi”( you are very fit madam.Dont worry. You will do this course very easily). So, with all their wishes, I boarded the bus that was military green in color and on which it was written- Nehru Institute of Mountaineering ( N I M).There were lots of other students in the bus from various parts of India. We reached NIM at 5.25pm. We were the first batch to arrive. We stood in a line in the hostel. We got registered ourselves. Each one of us was allotted rooms in the hostel. There are 3 levels in the hostel. A ground level where our rooms were there and then 2 levels below us has hostel rooms and a Dining hall. I was allotted room no: 5 – named Monal! There were 6 trainees in one room. 3 bunk beds, 3 cub boards, one bath room and a toilet. After dumping bags in the room, I came out and took a short walk in the campus. There I met Avni, Dallas, and Nima, who were also exploring the campus.

The Nehru Institute of Mountaineering was established at Uttarkashi in the Ladari Reserve forest area on 14 Nov 1965 to honor the great desire of Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, who was an ardent mountain lover. The aim of the Institute is to introduce and initiate young men, women and school children to the mountains and nature through its various Mountaineering and Adventure training courses.

Few more batches of people arrived and all were busy with registration and other stuff. In my room, there were 5 other girls. Avni, Prarthana and Mallika are from Bangalore; Anshu is from Arunachal Pradesh and Bharathi belongs to Vishakapattinam.

Avni sanghvi, a Gujarathi settled in Banglore is a food scientist. She seemed to be quiet friendly. Ask her what on earth she has not eaten!. Right from snails, squids, octopus, and you name it - everything has a place in her stomach.. lol...Well.. That’s her job she says! But at home, she says she is a pure vegetarian! Mallika, very quiet and fair looking girl is half Swiss and half Indian. It took a while for me to understand that her name was Mallika!. She just finished her 12th grade. Her mother who was a mountaineer I heard. Anshu, 28 yr young, is married and has two kids. She has her own adventure organization Himalayan Holidays, which she runs along with her husband. She seemed to be a woman of few words. Prarthana, 30 year young girl had worn an interesting T shirt “I took out L from LOVER and now it is all OVER”. Bharati is 37 yr old and has a son who is in 8th grade now. She is beautician by profession. She is quiet calm and poised. She has done sky diving I heard! Well, this is a small introduction about my room mates.

After everyone got enrolled, we were called to attend an introductory lecture for Basic course 210.This was the first time a mixed gender batch was being conducted. Lecture was in Hindi and was mainly on how we should keep our rooms clean; how we should address the instructors as Sir and Maam; how we should be on time for all the sessions; how we have to maintain discipline and cleanliness on and off campus; …Lt. Ashish Bhandari was selected as our course leader. He is a Marcos – Marine commando specialized in maritime operations. I heard that only about 20 - 25% of the Marco trainees finally get to wear the Marco badge due to high intensity training. Instructor asked if any two were interested in becoming quarter masters. Anil and I volunteered to be quarter masters. I thought by taking up responsibility, I would learn a lot. Our role was to prepare menu for everyday breakfast, lunch and dinner. Note down issues regarding food and hostel facilities and address it to the higher level authorities.

It was already 9pm and we were all very hungry. Dinner was served in Dining hall that accommodates 100 people easily. Tables and chairs were laid out. Plates and cups were kept in one corner. I heard the system is similar to any other Hostel dining room. Dinner was simple. Roti - sabzi, Dhal and Chawal(Rice). Around 10.15pm, we all slept. It was very cold. I had only one blanket. I could not sleep whole night.

It is 18th October, 1st day of our course. I was very excited. I woke up at 5am. After having morning tea at 5.30am, we all assembled outside the hostel at 6.30am for physical training. We jogged a little and did few stretches. Breakfast was served at 8.30am. Training sessions started at 9.30am and went up to 12.30 in the noon. Whole of morning was packed with introductory sessions on mountaineering and equipments. I will talk about those in detail later. In the noon, we had to undergo medical check up. I weighed about 56 kilos and blood pressure was normal. Later, we had a lecture on mountain manners and customs. I like to share few things about this lecture here.

Mountain manners: Do not use polythene bags; No littering; Speak with low voice. Greet every people whom you meet on your way; Follow hut manners; Always walk. don’t run; Do not overtake other group without permission; Halt only at scheduled stops; Ascend in zig-zag manner; Drink water regularly; Maintain low profile, Respect others and nature too; Watch while you make statements; Assume responsibility for yourself and your actions; Learn to judge distance; ….

Environmental protection: Do not bath and wash in the river. Discourage porters from throwing cigar buds; Do not make any new trail; Get educated about environment fragility; Conserve flora and fauna; Develop conversationalist attitude; Educate fellow country men in conserving nature; Reduce noise pollution; Report poaching; ..

Lunch time was at 1pm. We had to collect our backpack and other equipments and had to assemble at Pine ground for a demonstration on how to pack our backpacks after the noon tea. Pine ground is to the left of the hostel. There is a nice stadium like seating arrangements all around. A 15.5 mtr high sport-climbing wall is erected in the middle of the ground. The wall, which is an international climbing wall, is the first of its design in India and the first ASIA Cup, organized in India by IMF in November 2004, was held on this wall.

Adjacent to the pine ground, there is a Gyan Hall, which is equipped with Gymnasium equipment and a 10 meter high indoor artificial climbing wall. The wall has changeable holds which makes it interesting and challenging for the climbers. Next to that is administrative block which has the offices of Principal, Vice Principal, Registrar, Accounts Branch, Training Wing, and Chief Instructor, Instructor's room, Training room, Radio room, Dispatch room and the Duty room. Opposite to the hostel is playing field, Basket ball court, Volleyball court, Handball ground, an Obstacle course and the historic Graduation Ground, a focal point of all courses. Orchards and a mini Nursery are also there. To the right of the hostel is the auditorium, which is beautiful with good seating arrangements and well equipped with latest technology. Next to that is the Library, Medical Section, Equipment hiring and Repairing Unit, Laundry, and last but not the least Hair saloon. Diagonally opposite to the hostel are Cafeteria and Internet centre, souvenir shop and residential complex for the instructors and their families. Well.. This is about the campus.

I forgot to mention that the total number of trainees were 91 approximately. We were 16 girls and rest were boys from Army, Navy and few civilians in the age group of 18 to 35. I was the oldest in the group. Whole group was split into 14 teams called Ropes. Each rope had 6 to 7 trainees and had a rope leader and a rope instructor, under whom we get trained for the next one month!. I was the Rope leader for my group and Susan from USA was our Rope Instructor. 32 yr young Suzanne is tall built – 6’2”.She is like a nomad. A full time mountaineer, she travels widely all over the world training young and old aspirants like us. Our rope had Kamakshi from Delhi, Avni from Bangalore, Vijji from Kanchipuram, Neethu from Lucknow, Jothi from Mumbai and me from Chennai!

Kamakshi sahai – soft looking, soft spoken, very jovial, and friendly and caring too. She is working for an adventure company in Delhi. Looking for Mr. Right to fill her life now!
Vijji is 18 year old studying 2nd year degree and is in NCC. Petite; looks frail; she comes from a very poor back ground. Mom is a gardener. Father is no more. She speaks only Tamil. Neethu is in her late twenty’s or early thirties. She is doing her MA. She fought with her parents and come to do this course. She speaks Hindi. Understands English. Jothi, a Malyali settled in Mumbai has come to do the basic course for the second time! Hats off to her!. She is friendly too, very organized.

Archana..Archana...Short, slim, strong girl from Mumbai:).Not my room mate.. not my Rope mate..but a very dear friend.She belongs to the family of mountaineers..ha ha ! Most of her cousins and uncles have gone through these courses i believe!.wow..kewl .isn't it?!..well..She is an expert in Spanish language and trains students to speak and write Spanish:)She has also trained our hero Hrithik Roshan!!yes..proof??..there is a photo of her with him!

Well.. Late in the evening we had a film on training so that we will get an idea how it would be and what we can look forward to. After that, we had dinner at 8 pm and got back to our rooms, packed our backpacks with the Snow boots, crampons, wind proof - jacket and trousers, rope, helmet, short-sling … It weighed around 10 kilos I guess. After talking to Ram and writing my diary for the day, I hit the bed at ten. Lights had to be switched off by 10pm sharp.

The next day, we all left with our backpack for a short 3 hour trek behind the campus. Lunch was packed. It was steep climb with lovely pine trees all round. It was to see how many are fit and fine to do the course I guess. Most of us made it to the top in our own pace. Few girls could not carry the weight; one or two could not climb at all;. Few made it falling now and then. On our way to the top, we saw the snow capped Bandhar Poonch range spread out majestically in front of Ladari reserve forest. I had to share with my friends that I was there in the month of May!! That was a lovely nine day trek with family and friends. And not to forget the lovely black dog Shaggy which accompanied us through out the trek. Steep climbs, hail storm, severe thunder storm, playing cricket in that heights, long stretches of trekking on the ridge, playing in the snow, terrible cold nights, eating hot soups, fresh paneer, rasam, potato poriyal, dhal – roti – sabzi, wa waa waaa!… then, trekking down the steep hill, scenic Gujjar hut, Singing along with Ram listening to the flowing of the cold streams, camp fire on the last day, … unforgettable moments!!

Well, the next four days from 20th to 23rd, we had to get set for our practical sessions.1st week was allotted for Rock craft, which were held in Tekhla. Few more loads were added to our backpack. Ropes which weighed 4 ½ kilos had to be carried in turns. So, now with 15 – 16 kilos of weight we had to trek everyday early in the morning at 6.30 to Tekhla, which was 11 kms away from NIM. Walk was simple and straight on the curvy roads. But weight was the only issue. Had to get used to it slowly. We had to walk along side the river Asi Ganga. Early morning sunrays used to peep through the trees and smile on us. Sound of the Ganges and temple bells, vehicles passing and Sadhus (saints) walking was a common sight. We had a rest point in between for fifteen minutes to have some water and relax our backs. Then we used to march towards Tekhla.

NIM has been conducting the Rock craft at Tekhla for past so many years. Tekhla has plenty of Rocks of different sizes, shapes, different gradients, etc., so, it is lovely to explore our skills there. Day used to start with instructor’s lecture in the open air amidst rocks followed by demonstration and then we learn the technique. Let me talk about Rock Craft now.

Rock-Craft’s boulders offer many ways to climb up each boulder challenging each climber’s skills, sense of adventure and creativity. First of all, one should learn different types of Rope knots and Rope coils. Rope coiling is very interesting. Rope is coiled differently for different purposes - Climbing coil; Rappelling coil; Butterfly coil; Causality coil. We learnt different types of climbing rocks – free hand climb, climbing with ropes, chimney climbing, wriggling, etc., Skills of anchoring, rappelling, belaying, and lowering were also taught. There is lot of varieties of hand holds and foot holds that we learn while climbing rocks – Pressure hold; Pinch hand hold; Over hand hold; Pencil hand hold; Jam hold; Friction foot hold; Jam foot hold; …One needs lot of arm strength to do free hand climbing. Climbing on a long pitch rock -175 ft rock was challenging. My arms went for a toss. But I managed well. But rappelling down that rock was simply awesome. I thoroughly enjoyed Chimney climbing and rappelling a lot. I even tried the difficult one: Shoulder rappelling. Here, Rope can cut through the skin if we are not careful enough. I had a light cut near my neck. It was slightly bruised. No pain. No fun!.

There are 3 main principles in rock climbing a) Planning; b) Conservation of energy; c) Balancing. It is a game of technique and physical fitness. Ropes, carabineers, Rock pitons, Helmet, short sling, Seat harness, PA shoes and other accessories are a must in RC. All these equipments should be certified by UIAA-Union of International Alpine Association. The breaking strength of some of these equipments are anywhere between 1800 to 2200 kilos!! Apart from being well equipped, one should have a good knowledge on weather too. Hmm.. There are different types of commands used while climbing rocks. For example: take the slack, belay tight, I am there, I am climbing, and so on. My instructor Suzanne was very particular as to how and when we used these commands. Then we had 2 Indoor wall climbing and 2 outdoor artificial wall climbing too with different levels of difficulty – Hard climb, speed climb… I should say these are way tougher than natural ones that we did. Workout that I did to strengthen my arms and shoulders were not at all enough. I could do only 75% justice to this. It was physically demanding. Most of the girls except one or two couldn’t do it. It was quite exhausting too!. I really need to work on my shoulder strengthening. I slowly became tougher and tougher under Suzanne’s guidance. Suzanne is a very good trainer. Very meticulous, patient, encouraging, motivating and very cool. Under her, safety was given the utmost priority. This was her first experience in Indian mountaineering institute. It is nice to read her blog...

Hmm.. Coming back to my experience, we six girls and Susanne had built a good cordial relationship. On our way to Tekhla, we used to talk a lot about our personnel life, our hobbies and passions, parents -kith and kins, movies, food, weather… So, except carrying loads, everything else was interesting and lots of fun too. Whole day was packed with practical sessions, lectures; movies … Lectures were on Tent pitching(ok), on Himalayan Ranges(good), Rock craft(interesting), History of Indian mountaineering(boring), Map reading(not bad), First Aid(important)… Lectures were quite humorous too. Instructor’s deliveries of the dialogues during lectures are just simply superb. Great fun! We saw the movie Vertical Limit, a documentary movie on Everest and Quest for K2, a documentary by NGC. All the movies were quite scary. None had good ending. They all spoke only about hazards in mountains and mountain climbing. So many deadly issues.. So many deaths!! After every movie session, we all used to think of putting an end to mountaineering after this basic course.. LOLJ

Well.. In these four days, I have been able to build good friendship. I took every opportunity at lunch, tea and dinner time to meet new people and know them. It was interesting to see the diversity in their jobs. Many trainees were from Army, Navy, Indo Tibet Border Patrol, and very few civilians like me. I was also like a PR person there trying to get people introduced to one another. The cooks were quite sweet too. They were all smiles when they used to serve me with Rotis and Sabzis. They always took out hot rotis out especially for me! And not to forget extra Soup at dinner time! Just talking to them nicely, wishing them and appreciating them every time made them to have a special care for me. After dinner, we all used to make calls home, chat, read, bathe.. But in those 7 days, I had a shower only on one day at NIM. That too exactly in three mugs of cold water! Ha ha!.. Way to go and reduce usage of water!. I can really give great tips on this – How to bathe in three mugs of water !; How to have head wash and bathe too in 5 mugs of water; … lol ... Hmm.. Weather was pretty cold. Water was colder! I was always covered, nice and warm in a sweater, a jacket and a scarf.

Forgot to mention. A day before we planned to go for Base camp, Chandra Didi came to see me and check if I have kept all necessary things that I needed for base camp. So kind of her... ……….

Bye for now.. Preparation to head towards Base camp has to be done. Heyyyyyyyy !

Finally, Abba!.. No more trekking towards Tekhla with those heavy backpacks!. But I will certainly miss Rock craft… dancing on and around the rocks!

At Base camp continues.........


  1. Great piece of article.. I am going to NIM next moth ie.. may i am excited :)

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  2. hello there. im planning to go for the adventure course in October this year. is it in any way as punishing as the basic mountaineering course?

  3. may i know how many months in advance should you enroll for the BMC?

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