Mountaineering in Turbulent Kashmir

Arrival in Sringar : With all the tension brewing in the valley, many found it really dangerous travelling to the most beautiful place on this earth, but not with the few of us who defied everything and had a heart to face the situation and start our course i.e Basic mountaineering courses in JIM & WS.

Excited and little scared we started arriving at the airport. Flight from Delhi was an enjoyable one as Air Vistara provided a sumptuous breakfast.

With all the negativity and hate crimes in the valley, an interesting thing happened at the airport, one kind lady approached and informed us about the current situation and advised us to take due precautions in our forward journey as the areas were badly effected. After the conversation,  all by herself she brought tea and some biscuits which she purchased. Only earning member of the family and a mother of two didn’t even took the money, I was a little persistent but she kept on refusing and in the end she told me that when I come to your place you can return the favour. Being humbled by a complete stranger, her concerns regarding our safety, I gave her two chocolates for her sons which she accepted gleefully.

After couple of hours we decided to move out to the open ground, where couple of our soon to be tent mates were already waiting. Slowly everyone else arrived. The situation outside Srinagar was really tense as nobody was getting ready to take us to Sonamarg. Amidst lot of  discussion and confusion, we came to an agreement that we all will travel together. One of our batch mate made arrangement for 3 Tavera’s but the only problem was that they would ply only during night. We then moved to the TRC area which was relatively safer and took refuge in the tourist centre. Believe me it looked like a refugee camp.wp-1474462289211.jpg While waiting at the TRC we enjoyed some delicious Parathas, Omlettes and Mawa Cake.

Night Journey to Sonamarg : Finally Tavera came and we started our journey at around midnight. It was pitch dark outside not even a single street light was operational, all that we can see was pelted stone on the road and the size of those stones was enormous. Little afraid, little excited our caravan took off. Hats off to the drivers who drove meticulously for almost 3 hours, avoiding the stones, curvy turns and most of all one group of miscreants who were ready to throw stone at us.Finally  after a tense drive we arrived at our base camp.

Life@Base Camp : The very first morning was really bright and sunny. The induction process to the course started with  morning fall in/roll call with familiarisation 

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Tent Accomodation

to the surrounding area. Set on the backdrop of the mountain, the camp site offered some majestic views. There was no proper facilities for the male counterparts but none of us complained as we were given a task to observe the nature closely and make the land more fertile. The JIM & WS track suit which was our uniform were handed to us and the entire course was divided into 4 groups. The people with whom i started my journey shared the same tent and we were fortunate enough to get into the same group.

A plate, a glass and a spoon  was provided to us to have our food. These 3 things became sort of a treasure as most of us kept on misplacing it and there were small fights on who took whose things. A pipe was running from uphill which provided water rather icy cold water and was the source of all our chores, be it be washing clothes and utensils, bathing or drinking. Few of us only dared to have bath daily as just one mug of water would send a cold shiver down the spine.

There was a proper mess to provide us with some ordinary food. Breakfast, Lunch and dinner was served with tea/coffee twice a day. Only Wedensday and Saturdays are worth mentioning as they provided non veg to us and we always looked forward to these days. The one thing that is worth mentioning is the sweet dish that they gave us on each night otherwise everyone had issues with the food all along the duration. But one should learn to compromise as “Mountain does not give you enough options”.

Training : This was the most exciting part. We had our morning PT from 7 o’clock and went on for 1 hour. It was really a hard one as it involved running uphill and downhill with push-ups, crawls, squats and many difficult exercises. As usual there were some people who found excuses to bunk these sessions and the reasons given by them were not only pathetic but also hilarious. Come on how can a person suffering from a diarrhoea in the morning would end up eating fully loaded lunch.

The training was divided into two parts rock craft and the snow craft. Two groups

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HAWS

 each were assigned to the training. Rock craft training was to be held at High Altitude Warfare School (HAWS) training ground, it was a proud moment for all of us as only the most elite of the entire nation got opportunity to train. The demonstration which began by rounds firing and an underwater explosion ended with the  “White Devils” spectacular show. Ice craft training took place on Thajiwas glacier.

During Rock craft we were trained in Base making, Rappeling, Pitch climbing, Jumaring, Rock Climbing. We also familiarised our self with different mountaineering equipment. The rock training was little exhaustive as after a strenuous PT session in the morning, we only had 45 min to have our breakfast and pack our things. The route to the HAWS training area involved approx 1 hr of trekking.

Ice craft was more tougher and tested our endurance as the walk to the glacier took more than 1 hr, but it was certainly lot more fun. The best part of the training was when we were trained on glacier march. In ice craft also we gained knowledge on ice equipments such as ice axe, crampons, ice pitons, base making, crevasse rescue. Both Rock and Ice craft training were followed by test in each category.

In between we also had training on river crossing, casualty rescue and survival camp.

During evening the one hour lectures were scheduled. More than the lectures, the surrounding nature interested us. Pic below will show how difficult was it to focus on the lectures.wp-1474885793980.jpg

After the lectures we had some free time in which people indulged in sports such as Football, Cricket and Volleyball. Few among us were fitness enthusiast who stuck to increasing their endurance level followed up by an elaborate stretching sessions (Special thanks to Mr. Abhishek Singh alias Babaji).

Treks : There were two treks organised by the Institute : The Green top trek and the Happy Valley trek. Green top trek was relatively easier and was done in roughly 5-6 hrs. For happy Valley it was said that people who go on this trek leaves all the happiness behind due to the difficult and physically challenging terrain, hence the name Happy Valley. Living up to its expectation, in return, this trek gave us sore feet, blisters, sprains and yes by the end of the trek everyone was completely drained of energy. During this trek we reached altitude of approx. 12000 ft, the highest during the entire course

Maggi Point : A small eatery for the tourist which was popularly known as the Maggi Point became a popular joint. From Maggi to sumptuous egg omelette to refreshing coffee to kahwa (Kashmiri tea), the joint served it all. In addition it also helped in replenishing our supplies with the chips chocolates and biscuit. It became a go to point in the evening for allof us. Later during our course we also found out that they also provide chicken dish, so we treated ourself with one such meal and let me tell you that the strongest of food critic would have been kept quiet. The Kashmiri Naan went amazingly well with the gravy.

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Maggi Point

Graduation Ceremony : After all the training and test, the day for our graduation ceremony came. The chief guest for the occasion was none other than Brigadier Ashok Abbey the commander in chief for the HAWS training. With some performances by the students, badge pinning ceremony was concluded and individual awards were given off, a nostalgic moment for all of us.

28 days from being totally isolated from our loved ones, cellular networks, social media and pollution, we lived a life where new friendship was forged (we call it “Brotherhood of the Rope”). It taught us to compromise, take hard decision and above all “Repect the Mountains.”

Few memories of this course are captured in some beautiful pics.

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