Bouldering. The term is new for the general Indian masses to grasp. That one needs to be brushed up with climbing, how different it is from trekking and how polar it is from mountaineering. It could take up to a year for close friends and family to start using the correct term around you.
Bouldering took off as an offshoot from sport climbing. The focus is less on endurance and big walls. It started primarily as training grounds for bigger climbs for climbers to build on their strength and moves. Now Bouldering has evolved into a completely new universe with dedicated competitions; it has been included in the Olympics. Recently Navi Mumbai, India hosted the Bouldering World cup in 2016 and it’s scheduled to be held again in 2017. The sport has blown into a rage in the last decade with bouldering gyms coming up all over the globe. Bouldering is essentially climbing boulders of more than 8 feet in height with minimal equipment, consisting of climbing shoes and crash pads. Bouldering brings a new flair to the activity as it is a social sport. Multiple people with a milieu of advice and encouragement going in harmony. While climbing, crash pads or padding is placed below the climber to help protect the climber from a fall. The routes are called problems and solving a problem is making all the required moves and finishing on top. Problems can be solved by different styles and methods, which is suitable to each climbers math and anthropometry. Boulderers attack a boulder with all their might, exhausting all the possible problems and advance to other unconquered realms. There is no direct competition and the game begins and ends mostly within the mind. There is a natural atmosphere of celebration as climbers finish their projects in turns.
Cities are mechanisms of life to fuel a reality which is slightly warped around schedules of monotony and lethargy. To escape the mundane, people meet at artificial spaces that simulate climbing for an intense learning exercise. A climber holds on to little chunks of plastic that can be imaginatively programmed on making fresh problems that are climbed. The indoor wall makes it very accessible for the busy folk of the city, to join the bouldering party. Bouldering in India is at a nascent stage, as the bouldering gyms in the country are very few. Entrepreneurial climbers are beginning to show up and pitch in on the infinite prospects of rock climbing potential in India. The absolute transformation from the rock university to natural rocks is an all embracing experience. This is the gateway that attracts a good crowd to the outdoors especially the lure of climbing in the Indian Himalayas. The travel, the approach and a range of outdoor scenarios makes the sport more juicy.
Bouldering is the most powerful and artistic of all climbing. The whole process becomes a sentimental affair, as climbers get hooked on to problems that they need to complete. A climber revisits the boulder several times. Bouldering asks for persistent effort towards a route. The mind learns after each attempt and makes gradual progress. The sequence of moves is burned into the muscle memory, and before we know it the geography takes control of our minds. Bouldering possibly holds a cult status among all the other disciplines of rock climbing.
The Boulder festival at Suru Valley was ahead of its time. So was the Gravi-t boulder gym in Leh, the lone climbing gym in the Himalyan mountain ranges. The inception of the gym was lead by Vaibhav Mehta, one of the strongest climbers from the past generation in India. He setup the bouldering gym when bouldering was in its infancy and years later, his wall is in mint condition still. It was later adopted by Tenzing Jamyang and Suhail Kakpori who continued to explore rock climbing in India. Their pursuit involved continuously scouring the moonscape of Ladakh. Their explorations for the best climbing areas took them through untouched terrains of boulders. One of these valleys to have an extravagant boulder potential is at Suru. 250 kms from Leh, Suru near Kargil is agreeably the highest bouldering frontier on earth. A small village called Sankoo is where the idea of a festival, to assemble the climbers from India and abroad, came into being. This translated into the Suru boulder fest, 2016. The game was on.
With time, as materialism spreads, mankind is gradually heading to decadence. A group of humans set their direction far from city lights and the din. Armed with crash pads this group of climbers heads towards the most remote areas of the Earth as a pilgrimage. To escape from a world so corrupt that spiritual existence was questionable. The quest was recognizing realism inside the void, to find oneself once again.
The Buddhist Texts describe a mystical land that is a forbidden pure land. A land home to the living Gods, of milky waters and mystical spirits. According to Hindu texts its called the “AryaVartha” – The land of the worthy ones. It’s best known throughout Asia by its Sanskrit name, Shambala or Shangrila. Kalachakra or the wheel of time(Hindu and Buddhist belief about the passage of time in cyclic ages) prophesies concepts of time when there is nothing left to conquer. Modern Buddhist scholars conclude that Shambala is in the higher reaches of the Himalayas. The mists will lift to reveal the mountains of Shambala. Such scenarios played in the heads of all the climbers as we made our way slowly through the alien topography to reach this paradise.
We arrive at our aptly named ‘paradise’ a flat land between slopes of broken rocks. Beyond the massive slopes of boulders and scree, rocky peaks shoot to the sky towering over the valley. The mountains shed their skin with huge boulders scattered all over the valley. The river cuts through the dry and lifeless land, bringing in some flora and sustenance. The camp is situated high where the stream turns into a huge bend in a deep gorge. A cluster of boulders dotted the backdrop of the living room of the camp, an impressive location for a campsite.
Every morning the air called to us. The previous night, the weather systems had brought a fresh layer of snow on the higher reaches of the majestic mountains. It gets surreal as the sun peeks over the adjacent range, washing lofty strokes of vermilion over the misty peaks in the horizon.
The early warmth of sun seeped through the sleepy village of strange climbing folk from distant lands, stirring them out of their tents. The early risers move to the playground to a session of yoga by a warm lady from London, Hui. The participants followed her voice and, worked their body and mind into a yogic transcendence.
Encompassed in between the moorlands in a shape of a lotus, the view heightens the feeling of being at the very center of the confluence of various streams of life; the bountiful river, the landscape of mountains, the starry transits and mind-streams of beings from different places of the world.
Suru is the testing grounds for the city folk. Some climbers were stepping out for the first time. Suru had everything to offer.
A step away from Paradise is the Quantum area. Quantum area is a cluster of boulders that has problems for each kind of climber. The main boulder is a landmark boulder that can be noticed from a mile away. A crack that becomes a chimney, is intimidating. Warm up boulders are strewn around the main boulder. The boulder is somehow chiseled with overhangs, that excites even an indoor climber for some crazy combinations of setting up a route.
The rock type is a mix of different types, and it did bite. But humans did fight back with all their might to make their first ascents. Ananta a.k.a. Baba started up on a beautiful boulder – a green granite stone, which has some good powerful moves. The deal breaker being that the holds were too sharp, the crux being a flesh cutter. He appropriately named it the ‘The Green Mamba’.
The quantum area belongs to the cave nestled between two main boulders. It rained the first day and everybody huddled into the cave. India’s strongest climber Sandeep Kumar Maity got to business opening a route. The route is like a wormhole that connects different points in space and time. The start is a dark void and the route follows a crack that leads to the light. The start is a tough move forcing one to be inside the cave, a dark insomnia inducing place. Time dilates here in the space. The senses amplify to finish the problem but, the focus is invaded with questions like whether it is tomorrow or yesterday. The moves required are a mix of heel hooks and jams in the crack between the boulders, to exit the darkness. One completely loses his grasp of the passage of time. These sentient pockets were most sought after havens in ancient disciplines.
Deep rooted in the Buddhist lore are Beyuls which are earthly lands that will be discovered when the universe is nearing destruction. Reaching these Beyuls is an arduous journey. The path to reach such places were kept away in ancient scrolls hidden in caves, under rocks, inside monasteries and stupas.
To reach this land of ancient treasures the path takes an inwardly route . The Kalachakra prophesies a war against the acts of corruption. The war takes place in the mind and emotions. Mostly the battle against inner demonic tendencies. It’s rightly said that those who force their way in, may encounter failure and death.
A possible connotation can be drawn here, about the journeying climbers to foreign territories. Like winged monks. Seeking, navigating and gravitating over problems. Climbing is considerably a safe affair but, sometimes negligence in practices may invite death.
The main bouldering area is named ‘Beyul’. Beyul is a dense expanse of boulders that will doubtlessly be the origins of climbing in Suru. Boulders here are high and massive covering the entire field of vision. All problems within a shout away from each other. The whole idea was to develop this region of the Himalayas as a Bouldering phenomenon in the high mountains where only the worthy can reach.
The areas can only earn its significance through the practice of climbing.
The entrance is amazing to the Beyul (main bouldering area) through a forest with nuances of Fontainebleau. The forest resonates this vibe throughout the way. Shambala is the name given to this area. This was perhaps the most scenic episode of Suru. Short trees make for an animated ceiling to the space. The road runs adjacent to the linear stretch of land, the stream lazily flows beneath the battleground of Shambala.
The ancient ideologies of war are nearly extinct but, today the battle rages on between man and boulder. The mental and physical battle lasted for almost a week and rest days ensued. The act concluded with wins from both sides. The troops pledged their skin to the rock, to conquer boulders. The boulders have an advantage of a formidable scale, standing unscaled, humbling the climbing folk. Battle plans included sharing betas and devising new strategies to unknown routes spearheaded by Sandeep and Jamyang. The elite units didn’t show any signs of fatigue and, their fervour never faded.
Most climbing days transcended with climbing into the night. The night was a total spectacle in Suru. The stars pulsating in a dark velvety fabric with the clear Milky way completing the artwork. The night sky was absolute madness, while below, climbers were fighting gravity with friction. Their headlamps bathing the stone in the pitch dark, was trance inducing.
A few mentionable boulders are in the oasis area where verdure meets a considerably high boulder for a pleasant picnic setup.
The main area had this fascinating boulder which is crimpy and hard (7a), called the Smiling Moon; where it all started, as it can be seen from the road below. A notable ascent was by Lokesh Rajan. Lokesh grew slightly agitated for not being able to stick the moves. He went away to meditate on a secluded rock and, had a brief exchange with the cosmos. He hurried back to the boulder and ran up the route. It was quite a sight.
Ashish opened an appealing problem called the Amaavas. It took him quite a number of attempts, after Jerry broke the very first hold.
Phillip finished a quantum 7a problem in his 6 months of bouldering career.
Mudball is one very frustrating line, opened by Sandeep. With satisfying moves at the start and at the finale it is a solid throw to an annoying sloper (hand hold that works on your trust with friction). It took my entire evening, and a pulled muscle. Sadiq, Ashish and Maity finished the problem gallantly while Jamyang, Jack and Phillip might have wanted to trade their soul for finishing it.
Right across the campsite, climbing to a bonfire lit boulder at two in the morning was a memorable experience.
Kumar and Jerry fought together to finish a problem dubbed ‘A beautiful mind’ opened by Sandeep; which could be the hardest problem in the Beyul area.
Rest days included a mix of Slackline and Hackey. It evolved into a new game, with a participation peaking at 10 players. Basically a game like football, where the only objective is to not let the footbag drop to the ground. The locals owned the show.
Reflecting on the Suru retreat, without cellular networks and no walled existence, was a subliminal solution to the emptiness of society. This was a solution to the mental turmoil, since according to the Kālachakra the outer conditions depend on the inner condition of the mind-streams of beings. Viewed that way, the prophesied war takes place in the mind and emotions. The result is sublime moral power, insight and spiritual wisdom.
The process of self-transformation to attain higher goals. An ethereal state or, nirvana is best achieved at this mystical valley, to be liberated from the limits of Samsara.
Author: Soumya Sahoo
A self-proclaimed artist. Messenger of the Hindu God of creativity Saraswati. He works to improve the aesthetics of the 4play space. Half Baked illustrator, climber, architect, entrepreneur, cook, writer also suffers from Attention Deficit Hyper-inactive Disorder. Soumya lives to observe, learn and preach through his art.