Monday, 4 June 2012

Baptism of Fire on a Table Top!

The year : 1985. The month : February. The place : Mumbra - near Thane, Maharashtra, India.
The Cliff : Dudha Slabs.

Like most life-changing events, this too happened in the blink of an eye. One moment I was tentatively but confidently putting my entire body weight onto a tenuous hold on the face of the cliff and the next instant I was hurtling down the almost vertical rock as the dubious hold gave way. There was a sickening thud as my unprotected head came in contact with the black rock and then there was oblivion. When I regained consciousness a strange vision appeared before my eye:  the sun baked hill across the little valley appeared to be upside down.  It then dawned on me that I was seeing it upside down for the simple reason that my head was below my torso and this was because I was dangling from a blue 9 mm climbing rope. The rope was taut and stretched upwards and disappeared amongst the tufts of yellowing grass and blocks of rock that formed the skyline. There was also a slimy wetness around the top of my head and this extended down my left shoulder…when I thought about it a little more I realized that it was blood : my blood !
I spun like a rag doll at the end of the rope for some time before I heard voices. The voices were loud and seemed to come from above. “Aloke ! Aloke !” the voices seemed to say. And then, “Are you all right?” I shouted back a weak “Yeah, I think so” before thinking that the question put to me was rather odd. Well, yes I was hanging on a rope and if that rope failed to hold me I was going to fall down a hundred and fifty feet to the bottom of the route named “Table Top” by Ravi Kamath whose voice was still calling out to me from above. “Can you lower me down a couple of feet? I can see a ledge where I can stand,” I yelled out into the space above. When the slack came onto the rope I knew that they had heard me. I maneuvered myself so I could be right side up and stood on a sloping ledge not more than 12 inches in width.
“Can you stand and wait for me wherever you are?” was the next question, to which I bellowed “Yes” and waited. I took stock of the situation: I did not seem to have any limbs broken, in spite of having swung in a pendulum to bodily hit the cliff. I was lucky.
I heard a rapid rustling above and to the right of me and there appeared Ravi, confidently rappelling down on another rope, his signature golf cap on his head and a look of concern on his face. We had met at the base of the Mumbra cliffs perhaps an hour ago as he and Harsha prepared to climb another route. Satish Patki had introduced me to them as we proceeded to the base of our climb. Now Satish was the one holding my rope at the top end: my life depended on him and his belays…fortunately both were good. He would later recount how he had been in the process of showing Harsha and Ravi his " bomb proof " Nuts -in- Opposition belay when the rope went screaming between the palms of his hands as I came off the route.
“Are you all right?” Ravi repeated again as he came to a stop a couple of feet away. I said I was and he asked me if I wanted to continue climbing. I said no, I’d rather rappel down to the base. My confidence had been badly shaken on the third pitch of Table Top, my introduction to the rock climbs of Mumbra. I needed to retreat and lick my wounds and take stock. Ravi swung over and made sure that my abseil device was properly fed through the ropes before I began to go down.

Ravi Kamath on Table Top route
The sun was beginning to heat up on this February day in 1985 as I regained terra firma and unbuckled from the ropes. It did not take me long to locate my brown Karrimor daypack amongst the boulders below – it had been snatched from my back with the force of the impact and had sailed through the air and landed at the base of the cliff. I walked back along the trail to rendezvous with the rest of the guys. I could feel the blood oozing from the gash on my head so I pressed my handkerchief to it to stem the flow.
Ravi, Satish, Harsha and I walked down from the cliffs and stopped briefly at the little dargah with its scraggly trees where they assessed the damage to my head and pronounced me fit to walk down the half hour to the road and onwards to the railway station. We exchanged addresses and telephone numbers. Thus began lifelong friendships which led to further accidents and misadventures  in the mountains which of course translated into unforgettable experiences! I shall be sharing these in subsequent stay tuned!


  1. That's a great article. My dad never told me this incident.

  2. That's a brilliant story Aloke - didn't realise you had a baptism of fire, rock climbing, never stopped you though! Look forward to hearing more about your interesting sojourns.... next one please


    1. Thank you Suzy....will be publishing my next post soon!