When John Muir said, ‘The Mountains are calling, and I must go,’ little did he anticipate a meme that would state the mountains refrain from calling anyone? While we giggled good-naturedly, we couldn’t help but ask the pertinent question. Do the mountains call? And if they do, how do you best respond to the invitation? We didn’t have to look too far for an answer.
Our founder, resident entrepreneur and adventure junkie, Yuktie had all the answers for us. Believe it or not, she’d just finished a mountaineering course from the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling, and we were all ears.
Do the mountains call you?
The mountains have always given me a sense of belonging that is tough to describe in words. My earliest memory is of snow-capped peaks in Manali during my Class VII summer vacations.
Since then, the Himalayas have intrigued me. I spent three months in Himachal Pradesh in 2016 to get away from the scorching Mumbai heat. Fortunately, with fantastic connectivity, I could work from there and did not miss the city at all. I made friends for life, and I feel like there is more profound meaning in the simple lives of the mountain dwellers. I admire how the locals run up a slope without a care, while we city folk are panting halfway through.
I love the views of the changing landscapes heightened by the sound of the flowing river. There is a sense of calm and peace, I experience in the mountains. The mountain life has taught me how little one needs and that makes me feel light. Even the name ‘Kosha’ was a gift of the mountains. So, irrespective of whether they call me or, not, I call on them, often.
Ok! You love mountains, but why a mountaineering course?
While I enjoyed being amidst the hills and mountains, I never considered Mountaineering. My fitness journey in the last eight years helped me lose 10kgs and discover strength. My work at Kosha and passion for fitness led me to do the course.
Also, my sister, Diipti Jhangiani, had pursued the Basic Mountaineering Course from Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM) in 2006. The credit for my initiation into travel and adventure goes to her.
Interesting, could you give us some more details about this course?
I pursued the course from the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling. The course had participants from the Indian Armed Forces as well. We had a Major from the Army as one of our batch-mates. In fact, the Principal of HMI is Wing Commander Devidutta Panda. Certain seats are reserved for NCC students and those who display exceptional performance in sports at the national level.
The Ministry of Defence sponsors the course, partly. Hence the entire training, lodging and boarding for 28 days is available for Rs. 7500/- only. The number of applications is high, so there is a waiting period of almost two years to do this course.
You can review the course calendar and select the course you want to pursue. Download and fill the application and medical form available on the website and send it by post, along with a Demand Draft for the fees.
If you want to pursue the advanced mountaineering course, an A Grade in the Basic Mountaineering Course is a must. You can pursue the BMC from any Government recognized institute in India.
Impressive! How did you prepare for this course?
Given the demands of the training, the high altitude, carrying a 12 to 15 kg backpack while trekking, being fit was a must. A friend rightly pointed out that Mountaineering is a way of life. The same goes for fitness.
I did a combination of different forms to challenge my body like gym training and TRX for building strength, athletic training that was a combination of running and callisthenics to build endurance and yoga for flexibility.
I practiced hill running and climbing stairs as HMI is known to make the participants run 3 to 5km on the Darjeeling slopes. A week before the course, I did a practice trek with Odati Adventures to Prabalgad.
What were the challenges that you faced?
We had a well-planned course with fantastic trainers. The first week was spent at the institute in Darjeeling at 7000 feet. Once we got acclimatised to this altitude, every height gain was gradual.
We followed the principal of reach high, sleep low, i.e. gaining height, then coming lower to sleep. During the course, I used to do calf and quad stretches every day, with basic pranayama for 10 minutes. I believe this helped me not succumb to AMS.
What essentials did you carry?
The principal of winter layering worked well. Lesser and lighter layers are the key, because every additional thing you take is excess baggage to shoulder.
- On most days, I was wearing the Kosha Merino Bamboo thermal and the Kosha Hardshell Breathable Waterproof Jacket
- Two sets of workout wear and running shoes
- 1 set of comfortable pants and two t-shirts for rock climbing
- 15 sets of socks (I prefer alternating them. You have the option to wash, but the weather was not conducive for quick drying.)
- A night suit, gloves both woolen and water-proof (especially for training on the glacier) and a fleece buff/ woolen beanie.
- The institute gives you a sleeping bag, liner, windproof pant and jacket and down feather jacket for the course.
Travelling and emergency essentials:
A torch, chocolates, dry fruits, band-aids, necessary meds (individual-specific), wet wipes (essential), sunblock and moisturiser, lip balm, glares (imperative to avoid snow blindness) and water bottle (non-metal)
Anti-fungal, anti-bacterial powder comes in very handy to sprinkle in your shoes and on your feet.
How were the food and stay arrangements?
We were well fed and taken care of. Breakfast was egg bhurji with toast or puri bhaji. At the Basecamp, they served oatmeal porridge and jam toast. Tea was given three times: 5a.m., 11a.m. and 4p.m. Lunch and dinner was rice, dal, rotis and vegetable. The non-vegetarian option was available on alternate days with panner/soya for the vegetarians on those days. At the Basecamp, we got soup in the evening and hot drinks like Bournvita/Horlicks at night. I carried chocolates and dry fruits.
There are proper restrooms on the HMI campus. The girls hostel had attached bathrooms and toilets while the boys hostel had a common restroom section for every floor. At base camp and campsites enroute, we had a closed enclosure with a pit in the ground.
How was the overall camp experience?
The 28 days were incredible with 60 people across 6 locations, more than 30 activities, carrying 15kg and walking uphill over a cup of coffee and some Blueberry Cheesecake. In fact, I treated myself at Glenary’s in Darjeeling on Graduation Day.
The camp was fantastic as it took me to another level of fitness and endurance. You go beyond what you think you can do. I realized that being a mountaineer requires much more than physical fitness. You need to be detached to a great extent, from the way you look, what you eat. I learned to be open, to not say no, to not judge anyone or anything, to accept change, that there are some good days and some not so good days. I learned that there are perfections in imperfections.
The most memorable moment was climbing the ice wall with the help of the ice axe. I was ecstatic on reaching the top and couldn’t believe myself as I kept taking one step higher after the other.
What words of wisdom do you have for first timers?
Adventure for me is a way of being fit. As much as I love walking a mountain trail, I enjoy reading a book by the lakeside or licking a softy in a marketplace. Seek experiences that delight you. Don’t go with someone else’s map. Find your trail and if it’s mountaineering, then prepare honestly.
- Ensure you start training seriously six months before the course
- Aim to run 3 to 5km uphill continuously within 45mins
- Do a couple of practice treks with an uphill incline with a 12kg backpack
- Apply sunblock every 3 to 4 hours to avoid sunburn
- Carry appropriate layers; thermals are a must + enough number of socks (smelly feet is a big no-no)
- Drink lots of water and hydrate yourself every hour.
- Be present, be participative and be passionate.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Yes, travel responsibly.
- Don’t litter. Ensure you put the wrappers (chocolate/candy) in your backpack or a small trash bag
- Avoid wasting food. Take as much as you will eat.
- Using the menstrual cup during periods reduces the environmental impact drastically. Imagine ten pads on an average X 12 months X 30 years = 3600 pads per woman, that is the amount of non-biodegradable waste we can reduce.
Our conversation with Yuktie made us realize that mountaineering is not an easy sport to attempt neither is it difficult to accomplish. What you need is to take that first step in believing that you can. Next, you enroll for the Basic Mountaineering Course and wait for the call. From the camp. It might take two years, but the mountains will call. Till then, keep climbing the peaks of preparation with faith.