Very little is known about rock climbing as a sport in the country, but young enthusiasts like the 22-year old Tuhin Satarkar, who became the first Indian to climb India’s toughest sport route – redpoint Ganesh (8b+) – before recently returning from a trip to Ladakh’s Suru Valley, are aspiring to blaze a trail.
“There are so many things which make Suru Valley a special destination: the distance, altitude, weather as well as the terrain; and the best part is exploring the unknown. Here, you will find nature at its purest. The Suru River starts at the foot of a melting glacier near Rangdum, which happens to be one of the coldest and most remote places in India,” he says fondly of his latest adventure.
“Despite living in the age of technology, there is not much information available on how to reach there and how to get through the puzzling routes; the weather is also very unpredictable and the terrain is quite challenging. Just the effort required to reach there and then exploring the unknown makes this a very special place. The terrain there is extremely challenging, you have to make your own way. The roads are either washed away or damaged with constant landslides,” he adds.
Satarkar calls climbing the only way of life he knows, having been born to climber parents. “I sought inspiration from my parents and a few climbers from Mumbai, including Vaibhav Mehta, to begin with. Later, when I started taking climbing seriously, I came to know about a lot of great international climbers, who truly inspired me. Three years ago, thanks to my sponsor Red Bull, I got a chance to climb with Kilian Fischhuber, who has always been an inspiration for me,” he recollects.
So why is climbing not popular in the country yet? “Climbing is still a fairly new sport. I say this despite climbing for 15 years, because of the difficulties I have faced while climbing. In India, we still lack an infrastructure, good artificial walls, international standard equipment, trainers and so on – all of these were very rare when I started out.”
Speaking adoringly about the sport, he says that climbing has instilled a sense of discipline in him and can be a way of life for others as well. “When you’re halfway up a rock face, trying to figure out your next move, the mind cannot wander. I think this has translated into everything else I do. It’s made me more open to newer challenges and experiences. Being in what is considered an extreme sport, it’s also made me value my body and treat it correctly, whether it’s working out or eating right,” he says.
To a lay person, climbing might sound like an invitation to life-threatening situations, but this is not the case, according to the Pune-based climber. “Climbing in the Sahyadri mountain range is never easy, though; there is always an element of surprise in every climb. It may be a fall, loose rocks and, of course, wildlife …it’s an experience in itself,” he says, about one of his most challenging experiences.
When asked about what lies ahead for him, he responds “There’s a lot in the pipeline. I still have tons of places I want to explore and go and climb. I’ll be heading up north again this year, so stay tuned.”