Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Climbing Stones in IT Heaven

The aromatic fragrance of chicken biryani wafted skywards into the cool night sky above the half complete concrete structure tucked away in one corner of Ibrahim's Farm, a short walk away from the slumbering town of Ramnagram on the Bangalore - Mysore highway. Moonlight filtered through the areca palm fronds, adequate enough to see by. We opened our dinner packets eagerly, unravelling the string that held together the delicious meal wrapped in banana leaves and old newspaper, bought a few hours earlier near the bus stand in Bangalore. Srinivas from The Climbers Club had fought his way into the crowded Kanakpura bus and we had followed in his wake. The bus was so packed that Faruk, Franklyn and I were relieved when we had to get off at Ramnagram.

As we tucked into the biryani, we could see a couple of dark animal shapes sauntering by less than fifty yards from us.

"Rather late for the cattle to be coming home", Franklyn remarked.

Srinivasan looked up from his dinner, glanced in the direction of the phantom shadows, jumped up like a jack in the box and leapt up to the flat roof of the one storey building in what rock climbers call a dynamic move.

"They are bears!" he yelled, "come on up here!"

Clutching our precious biryani, we followed suit. Fortunately for us the wind must have been blowing in the direction away from the bears and they continued on their nocturnal jaunt.

The really great thing about climbing is not the climbing itself, but the stories that one accumulates while pursuing this hobby.

The Bangalore affair was a case in point.

It had started off innocuosly enough. Harshavardhan Subbarao, whom I had accidentally met (see http://taccidental.blogspot.ca/2012/06/mayhem-at-mumbra.html ) while climbing at the Dudha slabs in Mumbra on the outskirts of Mumbai, had convinced his friends in The Climbers Club to host Faruk, Franklyn and I while we explored some of the rock climbing delights that Bangalore had to offer. Harsha's father preferred to call this pursuit "Climbing Stones" and I couldn't think of a better title for this blog post! The year was 1989 and rock climbing in India was still considered an esoteric indulgence pursued only by those who had been possessed by strange demons. Equipment and proper footwear were hard to come by and disposable incomes were meagre. These minor inconveniences were forgotten when one succeeded in making some improbable moves on tiny protuberances on some steep cliff and stood on a narrow ledge like an eagle, the sun warm on fingers frayed with the friction of granite, the wind drying off the sweat of nervousness and replacing it with a sense of euphoria appreciated only by the faithful.

We had arrived in Bangalore after a trying 24 hour bus journey from Mumbai, dozing upright throughout the night while the screeching soundtrack from B grade movies being shown on a monitor at the head of the cabin assaulted our senses.

After that journey, Ibrahim's Farm was a rural haven, with or without bears.

Faruk and I soon discovered that the holds here were rock solid as opposed to what we were used to in and around Mumbai. Franklyn, who had come along for the ride and to indulge in his hobby of bird watching, couldn't have cared less.

Bouldering at Turalli was a nice introduction to this superior quality medium that we were to find in our  little excursions.

Faruk bouldering at Turalli

A perfect crack!
From Ibrahim's Farm we made our way to Kabbal Durga, a hill sporting some attractive lines, but marred by approaches guarded by what our Bangalore friends called Tiger Thorns. The thorns did not stop us from putting up a new route on the cliff which Faruk christened DIM - an acronym for an obscene epithet! I could understand the sentiment which had gone into the christening because I had had the dubious privilege of belaying him on a protection-less runout where the rope dangled free for about 60 feet on extremely steep ground. We were so relieved to be alive after completing this line that we went back to the little tea shop where we were camped, bought a coconut and offered it to the gods in the local temple as a symbol of our gratitude.

L to R : Guruprasad, Faruk and Franklyn walk towards Kabbal Durga for another day of climbing.
The start of DIM was directly above the alphabet "a" in "Durga"

Faruk leading DIM
Rock climbing as a distinct sport was still developing slowly in India at that time. There were little groups of enthusiasts in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and Calcutta who were keeping the spirit alive in spite of a lack of decent equipment. We had heard of a multi-pitch route on the cliffs of Savandurga named Deepavali by Mandip Singh Soin of Delhi who had made its first ascent with a couple of his friends a few years earlier. We turned our focus towards this and decided to do a variation of the route. The variation went up a dihedral and this proved to be an extremely satisfying climb.

The hill of SavanDurga (photo courtesy mouthshut.com)

Faruk on Deepavali variation, Savan Durga
We spent a week climbing, then went on a trek along the Cauvery where we encountered a herd of wild elephants. This whetted our appetite, so we spent a couple of days at the Bandipur wildlife sanctuary and topped it off with a visit to the Ranganthittoo bird sanctuary as well!

In the mid nineteen nineties, on a brief visit to Bangalore, my dear friend Ajay Tambe (who was then based there) drove my wife Margaret, my son Sanal, his son Akshay and his wife Jayanti to some crag whose name I now forget and we managed to climb some line where surmounting the crux move gave me a heady, if brief sense of triumph; soon brought down to earth by the blistering hot sand on the trail we walked back barefoot in - it was the merry month of May and summer was in full swing!

A beautiful cliff with enormous hollows, near KabbalDurga

Guruprasad getting over the hump!

Guruprasad in a pensive mood as he belays Faruk on DIM

Srinivas climbing

Not surprisingly, Bangalore became the breeding ground of some of the best rock climbers India produced in the 1990s and the first decade of this century. The group of climbers which formed a cluster round K.S. Dinesh began to push the standards of Indian rock climbing quite a few notches upwards.

These guys were so into climbing that the normal way to enter Dinesh's upper floor suite was to climb on to the fence, grab a hold and vault into the open verandah of his house! On the one occasion that I visited him, I landed gasping for breath - I knew then that as far as this Stone Climbing business was concerned, I was a rank amateur!



  1. Very nice post! Any chance you recall where the beautiful crack in your second picture is from or what it's called?

  2. Very well written and insightful of an era gone by.

  3. Metazoan, the crack is called Camel Toe or the Vertical crack, located at Turahalli. Further downhill to the right from step rock. From PhD, you have to turn left, and go downhill slightly to the south.

  4. Check out, https://m.facebook.com/groups/143993078230?message_id=10153354403833231&ref=m_notif&notif_t=like&actorid=507553116

  5. really a very good experience to share. i am also eaget to share the same with all of you. plz do visit : http://www.4urviews.com/rock-climbing/

    1. Thank you Subhajit.... read you link. Great to know that you love to rock climb!