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Rock Climbing in India
Rock climbing in India can be a culturally enriching experience quite apart from the exhilarating experience of climbing on virgin solid granite.
The climber moves up, the run out is now ten metres, pinching tiny quartz crystal while the belayer pays out the rope. Nearby a shepherd passes by with his sheep. The climber is now almost near the top. A few more hard moves and then its all over as another new route is completed.
Rock climbing in India, as in the other parts the world, started off as training for mountaineering. As a sport it took off only about 15 years ago. As the climbing standards reached greater heights in the rest of the world.
India too was introduced to sticky rubber, chalk, lycra modern protection and redpointing and higher climbing standards and development of many superb climbing areas by local climbers. Some of the areas are superb and can easily be compared to some world class climbing areas. The climbing areas usually being close to interesting historical sites and unique monuments can provide a pleasant distraction.
Bangalore is situated in South India. Within a radius of 60 Kilometres there is possibly the biggest concentration of granite in the country. The rocks range from two kilometre long boulder fields to rock domes rising 300 metres.
The bigger domes are similar to the slab climbs of Tuolomne meadows, steep slab climbs with sparse protection. There are smaller towers 60 metres to 100 metres which perfect cracklines from finger to offwidth. The granite can at times have loose flakes and cleaning the rock on new routes becomes essential.
Savandurga is the biggest dome near Bangalore which has been developed. The main dome is 300 metres high and has eight routes on it. The routes generally follow cracklines with some long run out slab sections. The most exciting classic climb is "Bangalore Bill" which sports a 90 metre crux pitch on thin protection but the moves never get harder than French 5c (5.70).
There have been some exciting climbs added recently which are primarily face climbs with protection from bolts plced while leading. Double ropes are highly recommended while attempting these routes. The descent is usually made down the less steep side of the dome. Apart from the main dome there are numerous smaller pillars ranging from 60 metres to 90 metres with good crack and face routes on them and are ideal for dodging the sun on a hot day.
Ramanagram is another very popular climbing area situated 50 kilometres from Bangalore on the road to the historical city of Mysore. The concentration of rock here is amazing. There are two main climbing areas here, the Ibraham farm area and the Ramgiri pillar area. The Ibrahim farm area lies on the west side of the railway station and is very extensive. The farmhouse canbe a useful and convenient base to climb from. The climbs range four pitch French 4b (504) to French 7a (5.11).
The massive face of Handi Gundi (Elephant's head) is still unclimbed though the first pitch has eight bolts and is a popular climb. The Ramgiri pillar area has seven 100 metre high pillars leaning against each other, seven routes exists to the top of the pillar. The climbs follow cracklines some of which are horrendous offwidths. There are two good face climbs protected by bolts at 6b (French grade) 5.10-5.11 The main attraction of climbing in Bangalore, apart from the big domes, is the excellent boulders. The awesome boulder fields are two kilometres to three kilometres long, with boulders ranging from five to 20 metres in height and requiring a lot of time to explore. Turalli, 10 kilometres south of Bangalore, and Raogudlu - 20 kilometres on the same road - are good places to work on problems. The granite is perfect though the rock can be rough and the skin doen not last more than a couple of hours. The problems usually involve hard crystal pinching and balancing moves on sharp flakes.
Hampi "City of Rocks" 350 kilometres north of Bangalore is another very interesting place. The capital of the 14th Century Vijayanagar empire it is now a paradise for climbers. There are an endless number of boulders strewn ranging from four metres to 60 metres as far as the eye can see. The interesting ruins of this ancient capital city are spread over an area of 14 sq. km. One can spend days exploring this labyrinth of rocks. Amazing boulder problems can be attempted, on sharp aretes and thin crimping horros seem to be the hall mark of a true problem in Hampi. The landings can be difficult and lot of the interesting problems are top roped. There are some good crack lines which have been done and also bolt protected hard overhanging face climbs at french 6a to 8a + (5.8 to 5.13b). The flakes are sharp and positive on very steep faces. There is an endless potential for new routes at all grades.
There are some other interesting areas to climb in India such as Dhauj, situated 50 kilometres South west of Delhi. The rock is steep quartzite with 250 routes from 4a (French grade) 5.3 to 7b 5.12). It's a worthwhile stop for visiting climbers. The Climbs at Dhauj are generally one pitch and take good protection. Few of the climbs have fixed protection apart from a few pegs on the harder routes. This is strictly a traditional climbing area with the no bolt ethics strictly adhered to.
Other areas with great climbs are at Mt. Abu (Rajasthan), Pachmarhi in Central India. Th Gangotri Gorge 400 km. north of Delhi has immense possiblilities of big wall climbing on walls ranging from 200 metres to 1,000 metres in a mountian environment. The town of Badami and its environs north of Hampi is another beautiful area with potential for new routing on the overhanging sandstone.
The climbing ethics are very traditional in some areas such as Dhauj, but in one sense are not very rigid. While using bolts especially, this should be kept in mind. There are no access restrictions nor any restrictions on the use of bolts (apart from Dhauj) other than that they should not be placed on existing climbs (please consult locals whenever possible).
Indiscriminate use of bolts might create a problem in the future. It will be appreciated that the bolts are placed in a proper manner and should be reasonably safe and long lasting. There is no problem regarding the access to the rock in the proximity to temples and buildings but it is recomended that climbers keep a low profile in the proximity of the temples. It is advisable to carry all technical climbing equipment with you, as the quality of the gear available in India is not up to the established U.I.A.A. standards. Travel guides such as lonely planet are very helpful in travelling around and finding places.
Bangalore and the climbing areas in the south can be aproached by air, bus or train from the nearest international airports which are located at Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai. The distance from Mumbai to Bangalore is 1,000 kilometres and involves a full days travel. It is advisable to stay longer periods of time at each crag before travelling to next area; though the distance of 60 kilometres especially in the Bangalore area. The best time to visit the Bangalore area is from September to January and June can also be a pleasant month. The ideal time to visit areas in the rest of the country is between October and February the temperature can go down to 3 degrees Celsius at night in the winter months. Normally there are only short spells of rain during the winter months. It must be noted that it still can be very warm during the day time, and dodging the sun on the climbs will have to be perfected ot an art to avoid sunburns and heat strokes!!
Food and Accommodation
The food is generally cheap and good. Most of the climbing areas have a chai (tea) shop which provides snacks and tea. The small restaurants in the villages closest to the rocks have good South Indian dishes. Arrack (local liquor) is strong and cheap and can destroy the mind faster that you think. In case you want to cook yourself, most things are available at the shop in town. The accommodation is generally in the village nearest to the rocks or at abungalow in the nearest town. Camping is another good possibility. There are a wide range of hotels in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, in addition to Youth Hostels.
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