Spectrum: The spirit of adventure

The trend of rock climbing in the State and how it offers adventure enthusiasts a different perspective of tourist places

Among the many adventure travel activities, one that has steadily picked up in popularity over the decades is outdoor rock climbing. In fact, a recent study by an experiential travel booking platform reveals that there is a 178% increase in demand for adventure and active travel in the past three years. Karnataka, in particular, has several places where people can do outdoor rock climbing. “The State has been a hub of rock climbing not just because it has the perfect geography and climate, but also because it has been hosting the national championship contest,” says Mahanya Shreedhar of Bengaluru-based Equilibrium Climbing Station.

For everyone

Some of the places where tourists and professionals often go for rock climbing in Karnataka include Hampi, Badami, Savandurga, Ramanagara, Chitradurga, Yadagiri and Turahalli. With every climb that they do, they get to explore each place a bit differently. Some popular rock climbing styles are traditional rock climbing, sport climbing and bouldering. For the benefit of adventure enthusiasts, various routes have been marked with the efforts of a few ardent climbers. The routes are of varying difficulties and climbers can choose the ones suitable for them. Badami offers 200 routes including the Ganesha, which is considered to be the country’s toughest climbing route.

One of the myths about rock climbing is that it is only for people who are extremely fit and do it on a regular basis. However, rock climbing can be done by beginners, provided they follow the advice of a professional and take necessary precautions. Nevertheless, Venkatesh Madhusudan, a frequent rock climber, believes that rock climbing needs a certain level of mental and physical fitness. What does this mean? “Mentally, one will need some level of curiosity and willingness to get out of the comfort zone and do the unusual or challenging in an outdoor setting. Physically, one will need to have some level of agility, strength and mental focus to climb on rock,” he elaborates. Hence, it is imperative to start with smaller rocks so that they can assess their comfort levels.

“I did rock climbing for the first time a few weeks ago. It was initially a bit daunting due to the size of the rock. However, I was able to enjoy it thoroughly with the able guidance of an instructor,” shares Meena Prakash. For some, rock climbing has become a part of their life after the initial brush with the activity. “Rock climbing was a big adventure when I was a child. As I began doing it regularly over a period of time, it has become a part of me and has enabled me to learn many valuable skills,” says Lokesh Rajan Chandra, a rock climber.

While some have taken up rock climbing to add a bit of adventure to their holiday, there are some who have taken it up for another reason: fitness. “Personally, I have noticed that more people are climbing now than before, recreationally and competitively. Still, it remains to be a niche field. However, I find that many are taking up rock climbing as a way to stay fit,” shares Dhillan Chandramouli, an avid rock climber. Rock climbing allows such travellers to combine two of their passions — fitness and travel.

With tourists now taking up rock climbing enthusiastically, it is of little wonder then that several companies have established themselves in the State. One such company is Sport Climbing India, founded by Praveen C M. Having won the national championship multiple times, Praveen has seen the potential for rock climbing increase over the past few decades. Through his company, Praveen takes the sport to rural youngsters in places like Badami and Chitradurga. “For many children, climbing the rocks is like a game and comes very naturally,” he says. Many of the children he has trained come from economically weaker sections of society. Those who earlier worked as manual labourers have become government-certified climbing instructors after the training. 

The government is not far behind the private initiatives. General Thimayya National Academy of Adventure (GETHNAA) was formed in 1989 with the sole intention of encouraging youngsters to take up adventure sports, of which rock climbing is a major activity. “Many of the national champions have come from the academy,” says Keerthi Pais, advisor, GETHNAA.

With the country now catching up to the international standards of rock climbing, Keerthi believes that it is important to train interested youngsters so that they can become aware of the standard and adhere to it. To ensure this, GETHNAA organises various courses and competitions, including a 10-day rock climbing course which is recognised across the country. During the course, students learn how to use the equipment, how to climb, and safety measures, among others. The training admits youngsters from rural areas for free. “Those who have taken the basic and advanced training with us are now employed in the tourism sector as instructors, across the country. The course opens up a variety of opportunities. It all depends on how they use the skills that they have learned,” says Keerthi.

One rural rock climber who has seized the opportunity in the sector is Ganesha. As someone who grew up seeing many climbers, it comes as no surprise that he started young. He used to follow them and watch what they did. Ganesha says that it was Jyothi Raj, a well-known rock climber based in Chitradurga, who advised him to participate in the south zone climbing competition.

This move propelled him out of Badami and into a bigger world. He competed in the 2012 south zone competition and finished fourth. This experience solidified Ganesha’s desire to do rock climbing. To gain more experience, Ganesha did his Basic Mountaineering Course from the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling. Soon, he began his own rock climbing company, Climbing Badami. Through his company, he offers help to visitors wishing to climb in Badami. Several people have come to do it and he sees that there is an increase in the number of tourists exploring the rocky terrains of Badami.

Jyothi Raj is well known for leaving his audience gasping for breath with his unique rock climbing style. When he was young, it never occurred to him that he would one day be able to eke a living out of rock climbing. His journey began on a rather sad note as he wanted to end his life by taking a plunge. So, he chose a rock and climbed to its top. The task was demanding as the rock was tall. What awaited him at the pinnacle was not the end of the world, but a roar of applause from the tourists who had gathered beneath to watch him, assuming that he was pulling off a stunt. For a man, who had lost all hopes, the applause, cheer and gleaming faces below offered a new lease of life. He decided to live. Today, Jyothi is a celebrity climber.

With a purpose

Unlike other rock climbers, his method of climbing is quite distinct. “I learned climbing by observing how monkeys do it. I practised by climbing trees and small boulders. As my confidence grew, I started climbing steep rocks and tall structures,” shares Jyothi. He does not use any support or safety equipment to climb these rocks. Hence, he ensures that he practises in a diligent manner. Despite a few slips in his past climbs and a lack of support, he still persists and is passing the skill on to the next generation. His unique climbing skills have also made him lead various rescue operations such as the ones at Jog Falls. “It does not feel right when I don’t use my skills to help others,” says Jyothi.

As alternative forms of travels begin to gain popularity, tourists are seeing historically well-known places in a new light. They are now recognised as popular climbing destinations and attract adventure enthusiasts as well. So, what are you waiting for? Pack your bags and get ready for a climb!

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