It has been a month and a half since I returned from Darjeeling and the cry “Why are you not writing about the mountaineering course?” has become too loud and too shrill to be ignored anymore. It’s flattering ; and the reason why my coursemates want me to write about the course is that my blogposts on the skydiving course were such a hit (those posts also probably made sure that my skydiving career with the Indian Navy was short lived, given some of the too - candid observations I made, but that’s another story. One lives and learns.)
In many ways,writing about mountaineering is nothing like writing about skydiving.
For one, you cannot post every day. Even if I had the energy to write at the end of an eight hour long climb, how would I post it when I’m 17000 feet above sea level in a place, where the nearest road head is a three day trek away? The World Wide Web cannot reach where only people addicted to adventure( and of course, yaks) go - where things like running water, electricity and phone networks feel like strange, distant memories. For another, mountaineering as a sport has less glamour and more bone hurting drudgery and one has to be truly in love with it to understand why people would go through so much pain with so much eagerness. What I mean is that the audience for these posts is not as readily available as it was for the skydiving posts.
But my friends are right – somebody has to write about the soul changing experience that course was and it’s touching to be the chosen writer. I’ve been reading an amazing book about how the brain constantly modifies and compresses our memories to store them in the most efficient of ways (Stumbling on Happiness, Daniel Gilbert(Not Craig).Note to self: Must write a post about the book some day, it’s one of the best I’ve ever read). So, if I do not document these stories soon, they will dissipate and change in unrecognizable ways in the heads of the people who experienced them.Thirty women, thirty memories, thirty versions.
I do have scraps of paper I wrote in the days I was feeling overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of the Himalayas and the camaraderie we shared (as opposed to the days I was feeling overwhelmed by sheer exhaustion). I’m going to dig them up and post them. Not only will they serve as the receptacles of our memories, they will serve other crazy dreamers who plan to do the Basic Mountaineering Course at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute Darjeeling - Know what you’re getting into before you apply. And here’s what I need from you – the Basic Mountaineering Course No.272 - the 29 crazy women who lived into each others’ lives and mine for one whole month – keep sending your versions. I promise to put them in.
Here we go.
The Himalayan Mountaineering Institute is one of the three establishments in the country that initiate you into the mad world of mountaineering. I tend to agree with the view that it’s the best of the three. They have an official website, where you can get all the details about the courses and their achievements. I plan to give the insider’s view here, the scraps out my diary, so to speak.
MOUNTAINEERING MAGIC, Day 01
09 May 09
I can’t believe I’m here! It has taken unending argument, struggle and persistence; I have had to use every inch of my persuasiveness, but I’m here. The All Woman Basic Mountaineering Course (BMC) at HMI, Darjeeling.
I’m one of 31 girls in this BMC No. 272 - 31 girls who have almost nothing in common. The age ranges from 17 to 39; the language in my room swings from rapid-fire Marathi to rolling Haryanvi – it’s hilarious to watch how difficult communication gets sometimes. There is a girl who has just finished class ten, a law student on a sabbatical, an engineer who has just shifted from a 15 year long career in programming and helped in the birth of an NGO for rural entrepreneurship. But there is one very noticeable common thread that runs through this eclectic group - every single one of them is addicted to adrenaline. Never again will I believe that I’m weird, that my enduring desire to do something new every now and then needs to be tamed. Never again will I worry about fitting in.
We have accommodation in a ‘hostel’. For the four faujis (one naval, one air force and two army officers) used to being treated like kings, it will take some serious getting used to. NO HOT WATER?? BUNK BEDS?? EIGHT IN A ROOM? Oh yes. I introduce myself as “Surg Lt Cdr Manjot Kaur” until I see people looking far more impressed than I can deal with, and at least one smirking ( I know you’re smiling, Pre). Ok, I get that I’m going to be spending the next month with 27 civilians and instantly shed my fauji skin, fond as I am of it. From now on, it's, "Hey, I'm Manjot".
Its Tenzing Norgay’s death anniversary today, so we’re taken to the memorial built in his honor where we get to be part of a short prayer session by the course instructors. I find myself moved, in spite of myself, by the serious passion these guys have, for the sport, and for the man who made the sport a religion, at least in this part of the country.
Classes of the day –
1. Lecture on Equipment in Mountaineering – the clothing, and the technical gear.
2. Lecture on the rucksack packing
3. Lecture on Mountain Manners and Customs