Simta Sharma (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Tohana is on the border of Haryana and Punjab.

The nearest big city is Hisar. It is typical Haryana, relatively flat and according to Wikipedia “ desert land’’ until the Bhakra Nangal sub-branch canal came along. Once irrigation water became available, Tohana developed into an agricultural hub. Simta Jhamb (now Sharma) was born here in January 1988.

Her father ran a grocery store in town; she was the eldest of three siblings, two sisters and a brother. As a child, she was prone to the occasional epileptic seizure. Her schooling was entirely in Tohana, during which time, sport wasn’t a pronounced part of day to day life. However life in general was a physically active one; she walked or cycled to school, enrolled for the National Cadet Corps (NCC) and thanks to that irrigation canal which changed the fortunes of Tohana, learnt to swim and enjoy swimming at an early age. There was also a brush with karate when she was in junior school. But there was nothing to indicate a runner latent in her. She never thought of herself as a prospective runner.

On completing her school education, Simta moved to Chandigarh to do her BSc in Computer Applications at the MCM DAV Women’s College. “ I always wanted to be in a big city,’’ she said. Following her graduation, in 2009, she traveled to Mumbai out of her own choice, to do her Masters in Computer Applications (MCA) from the city based-SNDT Women’s University. Initially, she lived at the university’s hostel near Churchgate in South Mumbai. Here, like many do an early morning in mid-January, she too stood by the roadside to see those running the annual Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM). “ There was no emotional connection to the spectacle or a tug in my heart to participate one day. I just watched it, the way I would watch anything,’’ Simta said, sipping a cup of black coffee. We were at a café in Marol, like Tohana a name on a border, in this case, the overlapping border land of central Mumbai and north Mumbai. The running season was slipping to hibernation. Outside, the summer of 2017 had suddenly made its presence felt after what had been, strangely, a pleasant January-February. Mumbai lay cloaked in a simmering heat.

(Left) The Simta of 2010; new to Mumbai she would indifferently watch that year’s SCMM (Right) Simta, 2017 (Photo: courtesy Simta Sharma)

In appearance, Simta Sharma is quite athletic. That wasn’t the case when she watched her first SCMM in 2010. She was then on the heavier side and having issues with her thyroid. After that initial phase of stay near Churchgate, Simta shifted to Juhu in the city’s western suburbs, where her college too was located. There she commenced going for morning walks in an effort to reduce weight. A week long camp conducted by the National Service Scheme (NSS), introduced her to yoga. She found it helpful and continued to practise it even afterwards. She also started jogging. In 2011, she participated in a seven kilometer-run (the event was called Mast Run) and ended up third on the podium with a three thousand rupee-cash prize to boot. That was both unexpected and motivating.

A year later, she started to work for Nautilus Software Solutions, a company based in Wadala. While working there, yet another edition of Mast Run cropped up. This time it was a 21 km-run. Relying on nothing but her trusted mix of yoga and jogging, she went ahead and ran the race. She isn’t sure how much of it she covered and so declined to name it as her first half marathon. Simta followed this up with a 10 km-run in Powai, which she completed in 53 minutes. Her boss at Nautilus Software Solutions was Vivek Sasikumar. Associated with the city based running group Striders, he took note of emergent runner in office. Vivek encouraged Simta to run regularly and as means to step up mileage, introduced her to the monthly Bandra-NCPA run organized by Mumbai Road Runners (MRR).  This training run, held on the first Sunday of every month, spans the distance of a half marathon. Over the years it has become an institution in Mumbai’s running circles. In February 2013, Simta, now a resident of King’s Circle in the city, reported for her first Bandra-NCPA run. This was her formal introduction to Mumbai’s running community. “ Vikas Mysore was the first runner I said hello to,’’ she said. She became a regular at the monthly Bandra-NCPA run and as she did so, her circle of friends in running slowly grew. Ajit Singh is a popular face on the Bandra-NCPA run. A member of MRR, he works for FDC, the company manufacturing Enerzal, the well- known energy drink. He recalled Simta’s early days. “ She came in through the Facebook group. She was into fitness and had run only events featuring short distances. She had no experience of the half marathon. So with her, we first ran at Juhu. It was three of us – my friend Purnendu and I, both of us runners who prefer to run bare-chested, with Simta in the middle. She didn’t say it then but later she admitted that she had felt embarrassed!’’ Ajit said in jest. The Bandra-NCPA run was a significant addition to Simta’s life from another angle too. On the second Bandra-NCPA run she reported for – the run of March 2013 – she met Kshitij Sharma, her future husband. They would be married less than a year later, in February 2014.

Simta with her father in law Anil Sharma (Photo: courtesy Simta Sharma)

Kshitij and Simta in Tohana (Photo: courtesy Simta Sharma)

Soon after marriage, she shifted from her King’s Circle residence in central Mumbai to Kandivali in north Mumbai. During the period from 2014 to 2015, she worked with Development Bank of Singapore (DBS) at their D.N. Road office in South Mumbai. The distance between her place of stay and place of work in a Mumbai that operates daily on a north-south tide of human and vehicular movement, limited her ability to find time for running. She couldn’t train seriously with any group of runners. “ It was difficult to spare every morning for that,’’ she said. In August 2014, she shifted to Vile Parle, a move in the southerly direction from Kandivali, which brought her tad closer to work. While living in Vile Parle, her father-in-law was diagnosed with diabetes. He was determined to control it through diet and exercise. He was already into walking and exercising but the diagnosis made him more serious in the pursuit of fitness. In some ways, her father-in-law’s decision to be serious about exercise proved synergic with Simta’s interest in running. What she had been missing until then was drive and determination. Suddenly that seemed found. The two of them started running every morning at a nearby ground. More important – Simta’s training became more focused in the process. This phase was a turning point in her life as runner.

Every year, Total Sports (a chain of shops selling sports goods in Mumbai) and Run India Run organize a 10 kilometer-race in Borivali, northern Mumbai. In 2014, Simta won this event in her category; she won it again in 2015 and was placed third in 2016. Notwithstanding her given place on the podium, her timing was steadily improving – it was 52 minutes, 48 minutes and 44 minutes respectively in those three years at that event. “ It was a good feeling’’ she said of her first win in 2014, her first major podium finish. Meanwhile in the run up to that podium finish, she had completed her first major half marathon in Thane. She completed it in 2:01. Through all this, a new runner was also born in the Sharma family – Anil Sharma, Simta’s father-in-law. Now 59 years old and a Chief Manager with Central Bank of India, he graduated through running seven kilometer-races to 10 km and 21 km and eventually, a full marathon.

On a training run with Vijayaraghavan Venugopal, good friend and one of the core team members of FastandUp India, Simta’s nutrition partner (Photo: courtesy Simta Sharma)

Simta too progressed to the full marathon. Her first major full marathon was the 2015 Bengaluru Marathon, which she completed in four hours to place second in her category. An interesting aspect about Simta is her apparent lack of long term focus on any particular distance category and adoption instead of short term focus on whatever is the distance of the event she is training for. Thus, she says she has no problem shuttling between 10 km, 21 km and 42 km; moving from one to the other, forward or backward. On the other hand, she said, “ the greater mileage I had to put in while training for the full marathon had a beneficial impact on my shorter runs as well. It is possible to improve timing across distances.’’ One discipline she has had mixed fortunes with is the ultramarathon. She attempted the ultramarathon in Vadodara, twice. The first time, she went off course and ran longer than needed. The second time she had to call it quits at 33 km, resulting in a Did Not Finish (DNF).

For her first major full marathon at Bengaluru, she trained for about two months. As said, thanks to her work schedule, Simta was never in a position to formally train with any runners’ groups or have a dedicated coach. Post marriage her husband, Kshitij, who is a Senior Network Analyst with FIS Global Business Solutions in the city, became her coach.  He draws up her training schedules. “ I never miss my work-outs,’’ Simta said. She appeared content training under her husband who is an amateur runner. We asked Kshitij why he had taken on the role of Simta’s coach. “ I know her lifestyle well, her diet, sleeping pattern – these details matter. If she trains under a coach, these details may not get articulated or may get overlooked. As a runner, I had trained under coaches and know what they offer and what they don’t notice. In Simta’s case, she was also epileptic and I did much research to find out the best approach she can have,’’ Kshitij said. According to him, Simta has fine endurance. “ I have noticed how she runs three to four hours in the morning, comes home, prepares food and leaves for office without any strain,’’ he said. He thinks she has reserves she can tap into before the duo – runner and coach – enter the more challenging realm of extracting incremental improvement. Simta puts a lot into her training runs. The events she chooses to race at are few and handpicked. It is a different matter that she won some events, which she treated as training runs. “ You become stronger when you are running, not when you are burning out,’’ Kshitij said explaining the conservative approach. Amid all this, Simta also moved to a new job at Turtlemint (via another job in between at Purple Squirrel), which has its office in Andheri East, not far from her home in Vile Parle. Work place being closer to home meant better attention for training. On a regular day, she rises early and cycles to her chosen location for training (usually Juhu). It was a Simta shaped so by her life experiences, who geared up for the 2016 edition of The Wipro Chennai Marathon (TWCM) in January 2017.

Some time with the physio ahead of a stadium run in Bengaluru (Photo: courtesy Simta Sharma)

Simta with Dr Phil Maffetone after she secured first place in the half marathon for women at the Hyderabad Marathon (Photo: courtesy Simta Sharma)

TWCM is the brainchild of the Chennai based runners’ group, Chennai Runners. Indian IT major Wipro Ltd has been the main sponsor of this event since 2012. The company has a strong association with running through its annual Spirit of Wipro run and its in-house running club (Wipro Running Club, begun in 2012), which boasts a membership of 150-200 people. The 2016 edition of TWCM was to be the event’s fifth edition; 20,000 runners were expected to participate. TWCM includes a full marathon, a half marathon, a 10 km-run and a fun run for differently abled children. The event usually falls in December. The 2016 edition was however postponed following the hospitalization of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, J. Jayalalithaa. She eventually passed away. As it turned out, the postponement appeared wise not just from the perspective of avoiding any political turbulence; in December 2016 Chennai was also lashed by Cyclone Vardah, one of the most powerful cyclones to strike India’s eastern sea shore. Originally set for December 11, 2016, the 2016 edition of the marathon was rescheduled to January 8, 2017. As was routine, Simta had trained ahead for the Chennai marathon. Her approach was diligent; Ajit recalled some training runs they were on together in the run up to TWCM. Simta’s family had made plans to holiday in Goa after TWCM. When the event got postponed it put a question mark on the holiday, for Simta now had to stay in practice longer. They found a creative solution. Why not practise in Goa? The 2016 Goa River Marathon was due on December 11. Simta managed a late entry. As it turned out she ran the half marathon in 1:38 finishing first in the open category for women. Both running and holiday in Goa were salvaged!

With the winner’s cheque at TWCM (Photo: courtesy Simta Sharma)

Chennai, January 8, 2017: it was for Simta, a humid day. “ Humidity was the biggest challenge for me while running TWCM,’’ she said. There were also two other issues, according to her – there was a festival that day and it occasionally brought people on to her path for a couple of kilometers; second, as measured by her GPS, the whole route appeared to be tad longer than usual (by about 800m or so), which given the competitive circumstances of a race made its impact felt towards the finish. “ I couldn’t stand up after finishing,’’ Simta said. On the brighter side, she loved the fact that the pilot vehicles kept her company three to five kilometres from the start itself. “ They were cyclists and not motorcyclists. They gave me water and snacks on the go. It meant I did not have to stop at any aid station along the way and could keep moving,’’ she said. This was a major difference from many other races where the pilots appear only towards the finishing stage of a marathon. “ I love running with the pilots,’’ she said. Simta finished the full marathon in 3:34:27 placing first in the open category. The win at Chennai was an important victory for the runner from Tohana, TWCM being a major race in the national calendar for marathons.

Less than a month after the full marathon in Chennai, on February 5, 2017, she ran a full marathon at Rajkot in Gujarat winning it in 3:28. Rajkot’s is not as high profile an event as Mumbai’s SCMM or Chennai’s TWCM. Why deign to run Rajkot, when you are on a high after victory in Chennai? For Simta, the common thread running through her choice of events is that her timing is improving – she clocked 3:34 in Chennai; that was down to 3:28 in Rajkot. Should anything else matter? A critical observer may question otherwise – if you run at smaller events aren’t your chances of podium finish that much higher?  Runners obsessed with podium finish are known to harbour that streak; strike gold where competition is less. Simta argues that is an incorrect view. As example, she points to her participation in the half marathon at Rajkot in 2016. She had finished the distance in 1:40. “ Yet I was placed tenth. There were people running the distance in 1:23,’’ she said. Aside from the fact that she likes running in Rajkot, Simta said that smaller events bring forth a category of local talent that is genuinely competent but rarely makes it to the big events in India’s large cities for want of resources. These are good Indian runners and they shine at the smaller events they participate in, returning timings that would be the envy of city based-runners. “ I enjoy participating in these smaller events,’’ Simta said.

Photo: courtesy Simta Sharma

Tohana to Bengaluru, TWCM and Rajkot – it has been a journey of transformation. “ Simta’s improvement has been dramatic – from someone with very little experience in running, she has become a podium finisher in the sport. The thing about her is that she is dedicated and trains hard. She is also very focused on the event she is planning to participate in. She doesn’t let that focus be upset by any other event advertising itself as potential distraction,’’ Ajit said.  Noteworthy performance has fetched Simta sponsors. After her podium finish in Bengaluru, Adidias elected to support her. Later FastandUp and TomTom joined in. Concerned more about training than participating in events, Simta hadn’t yet figured out her calendar for 2017 when we met her in late March. “ I am looking at the Airtel Delhi half marathon. As regards a full marathon for the year, I haven’t decided yet,’’ she said. She was however clear about one thing – she is now focused on running.

Simta Sharma – Personal Bests (as of end March 2017)

10 K – 00:44:29

21 K – 1:35:17

42 K – 3:28:13

(The authors, Latha Venkatraman and Shyam G Menon, are independent journalists based in Mumbai. The timings at races are as provided by the interviewee.)


Illustration: Shyam G Menon

The Mumbai Metropolitan Region is among the most populous metropolitan regions of the world. It was, until some decades ago, India’s industrial capital. Now that title is unclear. As industrialization gathers currency elsewhere too, the ingredients of being industrial capital lay scattered across several large Indian cities. Mumbai survives though as India’s financial capital.

The metropolitan region includes among others, Mumbai city, Thane and Navi Mumbai – all well-known urban entities with municipal corporations that are by no means poor. On paper for instance, Navi Mumbai – its growth anchored by the City and Industrial Development Corporation of Maharashtra Ltd (CIDCO) – is one of the largest planned townships in the country. Despite Mumbai featuring sharply contrasting images of super wealth and daily economic struggle with a huge chunk of its residents living in slums, Mumbai’s municipal corporation is among Asia’s wealthiest. Wikipedia’s page on the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) states that its annual budget is bigger than the budget of some of India’s small states. Further, a clutch of India’s biggest private sector companies are headquartered in Mumbai.

Juxtapose on this a few facts from the outdoors. The first civilian expedition from Maharashtra to successfully climb a peak in the Himalaya was from Mumbai – a Girivihar expedition, years ago. Girivihar is Mumbai’s oldest mountaineering club. In 1988, the club staged an expedition to climb Kanchenjunga – the world’s third highest peak. It was the first Indian civilian expedition to an 8000m-peak and saw two climbers reach above 8000m. Ten years later in 1998, it was a Tata-sponsored Everest expedition that put Surendra Chavan on the roof of the world. He was the first person from Maharashtra to gain that summit. There is a tradition of hiking and climbing in the Western Ghats, in Mumbai. The city is home to dozens of outdoor clubs. Among clubs with a Mumbai address is the venerable Himalayan Club, reputed as a repository of information on India’s biggest mountain chain, particularly exploration and climbing in the Himalaya.

Mumbai is home to a community of rock climbers coping with crags under threat or progressive loss of access to crags. In some cases, the crags are being encroached upon by real estate players, slum dwellers and religious institutions; in other cases, government agencies doing their best to guard depleting forests and green belts have clubbed climbers with the forces to be checked. Amid this, regular climbing has managed to survive in the crags of Belapur in Navi Mumbai, Names like Manori and Mumbra, crags elsewhere in the Mumbai region, are still heard in climbing’s grapevine. Belapur went on to host an annual sport climbing competition (initially on rock and then on artificial bouldering walls) for over a decade, the learning from which eventually led to the  IFSC World Cup in Bouldering held in Vashi, Navi Mumbai in 2016. Several years ago, plans for an adventure academy (with emphasis on climbing) were shared with CIDCO by a bunch of climbers from Girivihar. It envisaged in the main, a climbing gym.

Till date, despite the cumulative monetary wealth of the Mumbai-Thane-Navi Mumbai region, the plethora of outdoor clubs around, the giant companies headquartered in the region and a World Cup held in 2016 – despite all that, there is not one world class lead climbing wall or a complex of such walls in the region. Thanks to the World Cup, one international caliber bouldering wall is now available. Post World Cup, that wall emerged from storage to host an open climbing competition in early 2017. But as of March 2017, a permanent home for the wall was still to be found. Just as in the case of people, a home for a bouldering wall is tough to find in region notorious for blistering real estate price. One solution is to house it in the city’s outskirts. But the economics of urban sport is also fueled by incidental fancy; people drawn to try because they could easily see it, easily access it. Where is the scope for incidental fancy if climbing is showcased in the city’s periphery?

As far as this writer knows, there hasn’t been a meeting of the city’s outdoor clubs (at least in recent times) to investigate why the Mumbai region lacks climbing infrastructure like a world class lead climbing wall, how to develop consensus on the matter or what it would take to get a world class lead climbing wall up and functioning in the region, ideally in Navi Mumbai. One says Navi Mumbai because comprehensive plans to develop climbing were submitted here earlier. It is home to a respected climbing competition which the local administrative agencies have been good enough to support. The agencies are thus empathetic to climbing. Navi Mumbai has a well-developed yet slowly disappearing natural crag in Belapur (the crag is a victim of encroachment) and was host to a World Cup. It is connected by suburban rail to Mumbai and Thane, it is close to India’s biggest container port (critical when it comes to importing infrastructure for sport) and it is due to get a new airport (relevant for visitors in sport) – all of which add to this location as ideal address for a world class climbing gym / complex. Yet compared to the urge to have more competitions including more World Cups and such, focus on establishing climbing infrastructure and training facilities languish.

Unlike Mumbai, other cities have moved ahead in this department, however small their achievements in climbing infrastructure may be. Some of them have proper lead climbing walls and bouldering gyms. Delhi, Pune and Bengaluru – they all have it; they are also the cities from where the bulk of India’s best sport climbers now hail. None of them have Mumbai’s population, municipal corporations as rich as Mumbai’s or private companies (potential sponsors) as big as those headquartered here. So what’s holding back the Mumbai region? There’s something puzzling about an ecosystem that succeeds at hosting a World Cup but can’t roll out a reliable blue print for world class climbing infrastructure with equal, if not more, urgency.

A point to remember is that sport holds much promise in India by quirk of demographics alone. More than 50 per cent of this country is now young and young people need room for activity. Conversely, restrict such room and you may be staring at frustrated youngsters. In at least a few countries, climbing on artificial walls received state support for exactly this reason.

That elusive world class lead climbing wall – for now, it is a case of Mumbai mirage.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. This essay reflects his personal opinion on the subject and has been written with a view to get readers thinking on why the predicament mentioned in the article prevails.)    


Kaustubh Khade and Shanjali Shahi (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Kaustubh Khade hasn’t rested on his laurels.

In February-March 2015, he had successfully paddled his kayak from Mumbai to Goa. A journey of modest proportions, that trip was actually stepping stone to a larger plan he had in mind.

India ranks twentieth worldwide in terms of total length of coastline. At almost 7500 kilometers, the Indian sea coast – spanning Gujarat to West Bengal – is longer than the Himalaya up north, which nevertheless grabs more attention as home to snow and ice, mountaineering and military strategy. Despite the long coastline, water sports are yet in their infancy in India. In the lead up to Kaustubh’s Mumbai-Goa sea kayak expedition, he had read Joe Glickman’s book `Fearless,’ about paddling around the coastline of Australia. Something similar hadn’t been done in India. If it is to be done, isn’t it best done by an Indian? – Kaustubh reasoned. That was the thought with which he embarked on planning the smaller Mumbai-Goa expedition, which served both as an accomplishment by itself and also a laboratory to perfect measures for a bigger trip. He commenced the Mumbai-Goa trip on February 14, 2014 and completed the 413 km-journey by sea in 14 days of paddling (excluding rest days). The details of the trip can be accessed on this link:

Casting off from Vengurla, Maharashtra (Photo: courtesy Kaustubh Khade)

Kaustubh returned from the Mumbai-Goa kayak expedition in early March 2015. A year later in March 2016, he quit his job signaling commencement of preparations for the bigger project – kayaking down the coast of India from west to east. For two reasons, this project was split into two separate phases – the west coast and the east coast with the west, spanning Gujarat to Kanyakumari (Cape Comorin) being taken up initially. The first reason was that the ideal seasons for paddling on both these coasts are different and not contiguous. It is difficult to stitch together a seamless journey from one end to the other. Second, as he found out and the event organizer entrusted with the project, Meraki, advised him: sponsors who would anyway have a tough time warming up to a kayak project may be even more reluctant if they found the overall journey to exceed 7000 kilometers. It isn’t just water sport that is in its infancy in India; so is, sponsorship for adventure sports. You can’t confront hesitant sponsors with a major project they can neither fathom nor connect in turn to India’s predominantly sedentary market. It appeared better to divide the large project into two and seek support for the first half – the west coast bit. From March 2015 onward Kaustubh started training for the project, which entails a significantly greater amount of paddling compared to Mumbai-Goa. The new expedition also acquired a shape, different from the earlier trip.

Among those who had worked on planning the details of the Mumbai-Goa expedition was Kaustubh’s girlfriend, Shanjali Shahi. They met as colleagues at AppsDaily, one of the companies Kaustubh worked at. Shanjali is interested in cycling. Together they floated the idea of Kaustubh paddling along the coast by sea and Shanjali shadowing his journey on land on her bicycle. It isn’t as simple as it seems – left alone, a cycle is faster than a kayak. An expedition featuring both would need patience and coordination. Although she knew cycling and was interested in it, Shanjali didn’t have much experience doing extended trips. Not long after Kaustubh resigned his job, Shanjali followed suit. Soon thereafter, the two cycled to Goa via the coastal route, avoiding the main highway. It gave Shanjali an idea of multi-day trip and what lay in store. Not one to stay content with a Mumbai-Goa bicycle trip, she enlisted for a supported cycling trip from Manali to Leh in the Himalaya and completed it. Another element of difference in the new expedition was in terms of accompanying support crew. On the Mumbai-Goa trip, Kaustubh had engaged a motor boat to follow his kayak at a distance. His mother travelled in the boat, while his father tracked their progress on land in his car. All three teams met every evening. It was done so to keep the first expedition a family affair as well. Needless to say that whole expedition was funded by Kaustubh and family. This time, there would be no parents. There would be Kaustubh kayaking at sea, Shanjali on a bicycle on land and with her, a support vehicle bearing essentials for her trip and Kaustubh’s. A key player in this altered arrangement would be the driver of the support vehicle. They needed somebody to drive Kaustubh’s car who wouldn’t just be driver but someone who buys into the expedition and anticipates its unfolding needs, risks and urgencies. The driver had to be an enterprising, sensitive individual. They interviewed a few candidates and finally settled on Nitin Kotawadekar.

Shanjali at Harihareshwar, Maharashtra, one of the team’s rendezvous points (Photo: courtesy Kaustubh Khade)

With window for the west coast expedition identified as the period from November 2016 to February 2017, cast off was scheduled for November 2016. But as late as October 2016 no sponsor had come aboard. Sponsorship was critical. Kayaking the entire coastline costs a lot of money and Kaustubh’s rough estimate was that the whole west to east journey would cost around thirteen lakh rupees (Rs 1.3 million). That’s a lot of money. Eventually SF Watches, a line of watches made for adventure enthusiasts by the well-known Indian watch maker Titan, came aboard as main sponsor, picking up almost 80 per cent of project cost for the west coast. What worked was that SF was no stranger to kayaking. They knew the sport and knew how to leverage the sport for advertising mileage. The last major hurdle to cross was approval from security agencies. According to Kaustubh and as per the advice he obtained from those well placed in seafaring, a recreational kayaker out for sport does not need clearances from anyone to put his craft to sea. “ You don’t seek official approval to cycle from one place in India to another – do you?’’ Kaustubh asked. However, in practice, approval from security agencies dominating the coast helps given contemporary India’s growing obsession with security. With this in mind, before leaving Mumbai he ensured that word about the expedition was reached to state maritime boards and marine police down the coast. He also obtained a letter from the chief of the Marine Police in Mumbai.

Kayaking off the coast of Goa (Photo: courtesy Kaustubh Khade)

The Indian state with the longest coastline is Gujarat. On the map, this length is deceptively hidden by the layout of the Gujarat coast which is curved in many places. As coastline for kayaking, Gujarat is tricky. This portion of the coast is strongly tidal creating powerful ingress and egress of water. In some parts, currents can drag a kayak off course. Winds can also be powerful, blowing a small boat off track. Further, some daily battling is inevitable because although you can cast off aided by the egress of a receding tide there is no guarantee that you will reach your destination riding the ingress of an advancing tide. If you reached in the middle of a receding tide, you have to battle your way against the current to access land and evening’s rest. On the average, Kaustubh kayaks at a speed of about 6.5 kilometers per hour. A thumb rule to follow would be that he shouldn’t be tackling any currents exceeding this speed. With all this factored in, including suggestions that he had best not cross some of the current ridden-gulfs in the area, Dwaraka was chosen as cast off point for the expedition. It seemed to add a touch of history too to the trip, steeped as the town is in ancient Indian mythology, not to mention its prominence in marine archaeology.

On November 14, 2016, Kaustubh cast off from Dwaraka. Two minutes later he was back ashore; he had been stopped by the Gujarat Police who couldn’t wrap their heads around a kayaker venturing into the sea. Familiar questions about permission – whether he has it, who gave it, why he is indulging in this madness – all returned to haunt. To convince local officials, Kaustubh looked around for an apt person to meet, finding him a drive away in Okha. Enter Harish More, Commanding Officer in Okha for the Indian Coast Guard. He saved Kaustubh’s expedition. More informed all his officers in Gujarat of the paddler on kayak making his way down the coast. Armed with More’s support, Kaustubh cast off from Dwaraka on November 17. Keeping him company in these parts was the occasional dugong. A medium sized marine mammal, the dugong is the only strictly herbivorous marine mammal; it is largely dependent on seagrass and is found in coastal habitats that support seagrass meadows. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified the dugong as a vulnerable species. According to Wikipedia a highly isolated population of dugongs exists in the waters of the Marine National Park in the Gulf of Kutch. These animals are 1500 kilometers and 1700 kilometers distant from their nearest brethren in the Persian Gulf and the sea around southern India, respectively. “ I freaked out seeing them,’’ Kaustubh said of his encounter with dugongs in the waters off western Gujarat. That was in the early days of the voyage. Ahead lay some 3300 kilometers of the Indian west coast.

Shanjali helps Kaustubh get his kayak ashore near Kapu lighthouse in Karnataka (Photo: courtesy Kaustubh Khade)

From a technical point of view, the Gujarat coast was the toughest portion of the voyage for Kaustubh. To tackle the water current problem and to find the best points to cut landward for his daily rendezvous with Shanjali and Nitin, he used to keep an eye on fishing boats. “ Fishermen know the coastline well because they regularly go out to sea and come back,’’ Kaustubh said. On one instance, a fishing boat that passed him by and proceeded landward, returned to make sure that he was alright and able to find the right passage amid swirling currents. While Shanjali and Nitin traveled as a team of bicycle and car on land, their evening meet-up with Kaustubh required not only micro-mapping of roads along the coast but also some bit of mutual tracking of their respective positions in real time using the app `Life 360’ aka Friend Finder. Despite this, Gujarat was tricky because the coastline is rocky and beaches are few. Where there is no rock, a given beach may be steep implying undercurrents. You can hope for a landing spot based on data and arrive to find something quite different. Three to four times in Gujarat, Kaustubh crash-landed. He usually had two cell phones on the kayak – a smart phone with capacity for GPS and for reliable communication with his team on land, a life saver of an old world, sturdy Nokia cellphone. To set direction at sea, he used the compass on his watch, which had a GPS. He also had a couple of GoPro cameras aboard. Interestingly, although on this trip he was by himself at sea without anyone at hand for assistance, Kaustubh’s emergency response plan appears to have been frugal. Should the kayak capsize, he had decided that he wouldn’t try a roll to bring it back up; a roll being done with kayaker still seated in the vessel. Instead, he would get out of the kayak, flip it back into position and get back in. Should the kayak hit rocks and be damaged or something similar happen, his plan was to use that sturdy old world phone and call up the nearest Coast Guard office. For this, he carried with him the phone numbers of the nearest Coast Guard office for each segment he was paddling. Aside from this he had no emergency equipment; no emergency beacon for example.

Once the two teams met up and a place to stay for the night was found, sponsorship related work took over. A bunch of photos and write-ups had to be dispatched to keep websites focused on the expedition, going. Sponsored expedition comes with its accompanying baggage of media responsibilities and media instincts. The daily photo dispatches is one. The other is, knowing that you have to dispatch photos by evening you look around for good pictures while kayaking, something a committed kayaker doesn’t always like to do. Quite frankly, media is a distraction. But then: no media, no sponsorship and no money, no expedition. Such is the modern paradigm for adventure. Amid the paddling, Kaustubh lost two smart phones at sea and had to replace them with new smart phones bought from wherever he landed. It added to expedition expense.

Kaushiq Kodithodi (left) with Kaustubh, just before their cast off from Payyoli in north Kerala. Kaushiq who owns Jellyfish, a water sports facility near Kozhikode, paddled for two days with Kaustubh (Photo: courtesy Kaustubh Khade)

The Gujarat coast took a long time to get past. Unlike the peninsular portion of India which converges to Kanyakumari, the Gujarat coast is intensely folded. When you are a kayaker tracking coastal undulations, you go in and come out multiple times gaining little lateral distance on the map but quite a bit on the water. “ Gujarat took almost a month to get past,’’ Kaustubh said. One positive about these parts was that the water was sparkling blue. At Rajpara, Gujarat’s fishing villages abruptly ended. Here the sea was pronouncedly rough making him fear that capsize was imminent. But he managed. Kaustubh also remembered a day in southern Gujarat when soon after early morning cast off he saw a beautiful sunrise followed by a sharp change in the colour of water from clear to murky. The Maharashtra coastline was a repeat of what he had done on his previous trip. During that earlier Mumbai-Goa trip, he had covered the distance in 17 days overall; this time that stretch of the coast went by in 13 days. For Shanjali however, the Maharashtra stretch took more time to cover. This was one part of the whole journey where the coast was hilly introducing uphill and downhill segments to the roads she was cycling on.  Unlike in the other states, where it was routine for Shanjali to reach ahead of Kaustubh at their daily rendezvous point, on the Maharashtra stretch, it was largely a case of Kaustubh arriving first. At the beginning of the Karnataka coastline, Kaustubh’s oar broke. Luckily the kayak manufacturer – EPIC – on hearing of his planned expedition had supplied him a set of spare oars. He switched to using that. The remaining portion of the trip was relatively smooth save a bout of heavy winds in north Kerala and three occasions for concern, the first two of which dealt with problems on land for Shanjali.

Shanjali and Kaustubh; location – backwaters slightly north of Kochi in Kerala (Photo: courtesy Kaustubh Khade)

Kannur in north Kerala is notorious for its political clashes. The day the expedition reached Kannur, an incident of political violence occurred in the district. Next morning while Kaustubh paddled out to a sea free of politics, Shanjali cycled out to roads observing hartal (shut down) to protest against the incident. For Mumbaikar (resident of Mumbai) generally used to city that doesn’t sleep, the tension and uncertainty of Kerala’s hartal were unnerving. She said she was stopped by activists but allowed to proceed when they heard of the expedition. The second instance was in the union territory of Mahe, famous as a watering hole. Part of the larger union territory of Pondicherry on the Indian east coast, Mahe on the west coast is surrounded by Kerala’s Kannur and Kozhikode districts. For young woman on bicycle, the sight of drunken people on the road was scary. There was also an incident of pestering (Nitin had to sternly warn off the culprit) following which, Shanjali loaded her bicycle on the support car and resumed her cycling only after Mahe was done and over with. The third occasion for anxiety was on the southern Tamil Nadu coast past Kerala, where measures taken to prevent coastal erosion made the waters in that area turbulent with resultant insecurity for man on kayak.

On February 7, 2017, the expedition reached Kanyakumari. Kaustubh had paddled approximately 2700 kilometers out of the total length of India’s west coast. His fingers were swollen from all that paddling. It took him almost three weeks to recover from the toll the expedition had taken. Both Kaustubh and Shanjali are already speaking of the expedition’s second half – the Indian east coast. On her part, Shanjali would like to do a complete outline of India on her bicycle, including the mountainous terrain up north and the desert and marshland to the west. Kaustubh is also eying a trip by kayak to Lakshadweep from north Kerala, which if he attempts, would be the first time he is cutting across the sea as opposed to tracking a coastline.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. This article is based on a conversation with Kaustubh Khade and Shanjali Shahi as well as a formal press briefing they did later in mid-March.)


Alex Honnold is notorious for quietly doing what he wishes to and then, underplaying what he accomplished. In sharp contrast to the media savviness that characterizes much of sport today, the world woke up to some of his riveting climbs with a lag. Like – done, then word gets around and people are startled. Honnold is the world’s leading practitioner of the art of free solo in climbing; a branch of climbing in which, the climber uses no rope for protection. It’s just person, rock shoes, a chalk bag and big rock walls – if you take Yosemite, Alex’s favorite playground – walls that rise up to almost 3000 feet. While there have been others who free soloed, what set him apart are a few things. Free soloing appears to be the bulk of what he does and within that discipline he has to his credit records straddling both speed and endurance. That’s an unusual mix.

I picked up the book Alone on the Wall less because of Honnold and more because of co-author David Roberts. The latter is one of the finest writers on the outdoors. The book didn’t disappoint. Its idiom suits narrative about an intense, young talent in our midst. The story focuses on Honnold with research in the near vicinity of story. Done so, except for its portions explaining specific climbs in great detail, the book moves fast. You get a ringside view of the life of a free soloist and what it is like to climb rope-less on a big wall. Friends and observers think Honnold has the ability to switch off fear. Not true, he says; he lives with fear, just that he handles it and panic, better than the rest of us. From the book, you learn much about Yosemite and names associated with climbing in Yosemite. You get an idea of how the climbing routes there developed, how the speed and endurance records set on those walls evolved and how Honnold’s accomplishments compare. Away from Yosemite and the US you get a taste of climbing in Chad and Patagonia. You are also introduced to the Honnold Foundation. In its own words: the Honnold Foundation seeks simple, sustainable ways to improve lives worldwide. Simplicity is the key; low impact, better living is the goal. These days, private foundations are usually the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) end of big companies or the philanthropic pursuit of jet setting billionaires. Against that, you imagine Honnold and his life in a van, harassed by security personnel at parking lots he tries to camp at and being shoed away. If climbing is what matters, then the nomad’s life makes sense. One of the interesting twists in the book is its delving into the link between Honnold, media and sponsors. All these are part of forces shaping contemporary climber’s professional ecosystem. Perceptions matter because mileage through media is what attracts sponsors in the modern paradigm of sustainable sport. It creates distortions and tussles. There are also sponsors who back off should the extreme trajectory of an extreme sport be too extreme for brand’s own good.

Honnold didn’t become a free soloist because that’s what he wanted to do. A reserved person, he couldn’t easily find company when he wished to climb. So he started to climb alone. Slowly, as the pages turn, profile of individual takes shape in reader’s mind. Intrigued, you search the Internet for a video or two on Honnold and you see lone man sans rope on challenging rock face, his face – smiling when it meets the camera – hardly betraying the immense risk all around. Just one regret – free soloing being one of the most stunning accomplishments in climbing, I missed seeing in the book a chapter or two on the art form, its history and evolution. Whatever was provided so was in measured dose such that it does not overshadow immediate narrative.

This is a good book, worth reading.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)  


Dr Abhijeet Ghosh, Head (Health Administration Team), Bajaj Allianz General Insurance Co Ltd (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

A small step has been made with regard to meaningful insurance cover for those engaged in adventure sports.

Since the middle of 2016, Bajaj Allianz General Insurance Co Ltd, among leading private insurance companies in the domestic market, has piloted a Personal Accident (PA) insurance product that includes cover for adventure sports as one of the options. As yet the company is the only private insurer in the space. What makes the cover particularly relevant is that once availed, the cover – offered as an additional option under its PA product: Global Personal Guard (GPG) – meets the cost of evacuation in the event of medical emergency, as well. This is an improvement from the earlier prevailing situation in the Indian market.

Previously, in a scenario of insurance for adventure sports shunned by most Indian insurers, one public sector insurance company was sole exception, acknowledging its necessity. However that insurance policy (Indian mountaineers are familiar with it), while meeting medical expenses to an extent, did not include evacuation cost. The product from Bajaj Allianz is claimed by the company to be the first in the domestic market that meets evacuation cost for those into adventure sports. The evacuation cost will be met only if accidental injury resulted in a medical emergency.

Why should inclusion of evacuation cost matter?

Among fundamentals they teach you in a wilderness first aid course, is that in the event of serious mishap with potential for loss of life or limb, once relevant first aid has been administered at accident site, the focus is on enabling formal medical intervention at the earliest. The quicker a seriously injured individual is reached to hospital, the better the chances of survival. If you are backed by insurance cover, the confidence to call in a chopper (should the circumstance be such that a helicopter is genuinely required) is more. According to Dr Abhijeet Ghosh, Head (Health Administration Team), Bajaj Allianz General Insurance Co Ltd, adventure sports is one of twelve additional options that a customer can choose to avail cover for, when purchasing GPG. In the case of adventure sport, the maximum cover offered is up to one crore rupees (ten million rupees). It comes with a condition attached – the client’s adventure must have been a supervised one; there should be an expert / supervisor in the frame (Dr Ghosh said that in the case of experienced adventurers going out by themselves, proof of expertise / training can be considered as alternative for supervisor). Should a GPG customer not have availed cover for adventure sports initially but is beset with an opportunity for adventure sport and wants the cover, then he should be able to activate it through his agent in two to three hours, Dr Ghosh said.

GPG is a global product and therefore the cover is effective in India and overseas. The company covers a basket of adventure sports. Within that, it treats the risk across sports as the same; in other words, the premium paid is related to the sum insured and not the sport covered. Compared to the company’s other insurance policies, premium for GPG with adventure sports included, is on the higher side; it can be two to four times higher. However depending on the cover size, the premium maybe as affordable as Rs 1200, Dr Ghosh said.

According to him, Bajaj Allianz decided to test the waters due to a combination of factors. There is 40-50 per cent growth in the outdoor activity segment and even online booking for such trips are happening, he said. Many people traveling abroad also sample adventure sports, providing scope for the adventure option to be tagged along with travel insurance. Interestingly, India’s changed demographic profile now very partial towards youth hasn’t been a pronounced driver in the company cosying up to adventure sports.  As Dr Ghosh pointed out, interest in the active life appears to be more in a slightly older lot; not the young saddled with responsibilities like EMI payments. He maintained that these are very early days for the product covering adventure sports as the overall market (pool of customers) is still small. There is an encouraging volume of inquiries but conversions into actual deals lag. “ Out of 100 GPG policies sold, maybe three percent opt for adventure sports as additional option,’’ he said. It is therefore too early to speculate about a stand-alone product solely meant to cover risk in adventure sports. “ I don’t see a stand-alone product materializing in the next three to four years. For now, this is a bridge to build the data and understand the risk in a better way,’’ he said.

Although it is as yet the only private insurer in the adventure sports space, Bajaj Allianz hasn’t been vocal about its product. Dr Ghosh says that is not the company’s style. “ We would rather be efficient in dealing with claims than advertise. Word of mouth publicity for work done well is more effective,’’he said. According to him the company has been in touch with outdoor clubs and adventure tour operators. Prima facie there are challenges for acceptance like the seasonality of adventure tourism versus the twelve month-cycle of the policy or the need for single trip-insurance versus a year-long policy. It makes people working in the adventure space and clients wonder why they should seek cover. Dr Ghosh felt that given low awareness about the benefits of risk cover, the ideal scenario would be a top-down dissemination of information about the positives of insurance by the management / leadership of clubs to its members. One example in this regard was on display at the recent annual seminar of The Himalayan Club in Mumbai. Office bearers, speaking ahead of the seminar (which was open to the public) said that the club was attempting a multi-tiered membership with select benefits accruing to each level of membership. The highest category proposed, which seemed oriented towards whatever support may be required for expeditions, had among options under consideration – insurance. “ If insurance cover can be blended in with a club’s membership fee, that would be a step forward,’’ Dr Ghosh said.

Panchchuli, seen from near Munsyari. This picture was taken from the ridge above Balatigad (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Asked for his opinion, a leading adventure tour operator pointed out that while forays into the risk-cover segment by insurers are welcome, the real lacuna in emergency response in India continues to be bureaucratic hassles in the actual evacuation process and consequent delay. Cut to 1992 and one of the most iconic photos of a rescue underway in the Indian Himalaya: it showed an Indian Air Force (IAF) helicopter, its rotors inches away from a steep, snow clad-mountain face and a crumpled human being on the chopper’s skis. “With no space to land, the pilot could only bring the helicopter close and hold it steady. Stephen had to be on the ski,’’ Harish Kapadia, veteran mountaineer and among India’s best-known explorers of the Himalaya, had said in 2012, pointing to the photograph. We had met for a chat on search and rescue. The picture in question was clicked by Dick Renshaw at around 21,000ft on Panchchuli-V — a 21,242ft-high peak rated the toughest in Kumaun’s Panchchuli group. The rescue was spectacular and despite severe injury, Stephen Venables, one of Britain’s best climbers, survived. Also surviving was a footnote: two persons had to rush all the way to Munsyari, normally a four day-trek, to report the accident and have the authorities dispatch a helicopter. Many years before this, Kapadia fell into a crevasse on the 22,400ft-high Devtoli, damaging his hip. He was brought to Base Camp at 12,000ft where he waited nine days for a helicopter.

Much has changed in the Indian Himalaya since. Climbing gear, road and telecom network – all have improved. But rescue can still entail waiting. On the other hand, the number of people heading to the mountains has steadily risen – it means the need for quick response and dedicated infrastructure is all the more indispensable. If you are in a place where mobile phones don’t work, you have to run to the nearest village or military/paramilitary outpost to report the incident and get the word out. In other countries, this problem is overcome by using satellite phones. However, that communications life-saver was banned in India after misuse by anti-national elements and reported refusal by an international service provider to comply with security norms. India has treks where local rules stipulate that an expedition carry a satellite phone. In such cases, the phone can be hired from an approved source like the local mountaineering institute. But phones for hire are few. Satellite phones make a difference. In August 2011, after a successful first ascent of the 24,809ft-high Saser Kangri-II in Ladakh, Steven Swenson, president of the American Alpine Club, developed respiratory problems. In his case – details were available on his blog — a satellite phone helped in medical diagnosis and timely evacuation by chopper. The actual evacuation though could begin only after some “bureaucratic wrangling”. Courtesy security concerns, detailed maps of the Himalaya, Global Positioning System (GPS) and emergency beacons – all risk being viewed with an element of suspicion.

The accident reporting process is layered. Typically, the first person alerted somehow is the concerned tour operator. In the case of a foreigner, the tour operator informs the client’s insurance company as evacuation by chopper is expensive (increasingly the IAF flies two choppers for the purpose). Then the embassy concerned and the external affairs ministry are contacted, which in turn alert the defence ministry. From there, word reaches the air force or army headquarters in Delhi, which alert the air force or army chopper base nearest to the accident site and get a bird in the air. The chopper may succeed in the first sortie if weather is good; if not, another sortie or more as required. This roundabout process takes time; not to mention the added risk of the accident getting reported on a holiday when government offices are shut. Yet, on the request of a district magistrate, Indian trekkers and mountaineers get evacuated and the armed forces have to be thanked for responding with their helicopters. Given the absence of comprehensive insurance cover until last year, what the armed forces did for Indians qualified to be social service.

Some countries including Nepal have private players participating in search and rescue. The tour operator this blog spoke to said that he had tried to obtain clearance for a private search and rescue apparatus using helicopters he was willing to invest in. “ I wasn’t motivated by profit. My thinking was – such a facility has a positive impact on the overall adventure tourism space,’’ he said. But his suggestion was discouraged because parts of the Himalaya are deemed strategic and the defence forces prefer to keep the skies there restricted. A silver lining, according to him, is that the government has acted on the satellite phone issue but as expected, clarity down the chain of command and into the trade is still awaited. In the meantime as recent as August-September 2015, a rock climber from Mumbai, who was seriously injured in a mishap in the Himalaya, could be reached only after several days from the time of accident, by when he was no more. So while insurance can enable action, quick response at ground level is a separate issue altogether. If insurance is complemented by a responsive, efficient evacuation infrastructure in the mountains, the impact will be more.

For now, an insurance policy with evacuation cost covered, is a beginning in the right direction.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. This article is a composite of a March 2017 conversation with Dr Abhijeet Ghosh in Pune, a February 2017 conversation with the tour operator mentioned, a January 2012 article by the author in The Telegraph newspaper and relevant updates. The primary intention of the article is to provoke thought on how India can have an affordable, easily accessed and efficient search and rescue apparatus, useful for adventurers.)


doug-scott-1One of the wonderful spin offs of the 1994 film Forrest Gump was the album containing its sound track. Director Robert Zemeckis used popular songs to indicate the passage of time and social context. The result was a film about an individual that was more than the individual and felt the sum of its parts. Climbing – indeed anything we do – is similar. Everything has its ecosystem. George Mallory was a gifted climber. But you won’t understand why he was what he meant to the British, unless you understand the First World War and its impact on Britain. That understanding is what Wade Davis offered in his book, Into the Silence.

For some time into reading Doug Scott’s autobiographical work: Up And About, The Hard Road to Everest, I wondered how I – an Indian – would relate to the meticulous detailing of his growing up years, ranging from incidents and persons to hills, rivers – indeed the geography – of those parts of Britain and Europe, he moved through. It felt alien. Among most accomplished mountaineers of the twentieth century, Scott has strong roots in rock climbing. Rock climbs, unlike the panoramic scale of mountaineering, is less universe and more specifics. Scott writes those initial chapters like a rock climber who traded piton for pen. You meet every crack and chimney. Such is the recall and detailing of life. About a quarter of the way, the book opens up to a chapter of exploratory climbing in Chad (Africa) and slowly but steadily, in a pattern that reminded me of Forrest Gump’s soundtrack, all those details about his life and times alluded to, provided context.

Scott was born in 1941, roughly two years after the Second World War commenced; his childhood included the years Britain was bombed by Germany. Nineteen years later, The Beatles was formed in Liverpool and by the late 1960s and the 1970s when Scott was in the thick of climbing, the post war world had journeyed into Cold War, Vietnam war, Prague Spring, student movements, civil rights movements and Woodstock. Youth was experimenting; established conventions were being questioned, cultures were blending at their edges, freedom was valued. Curiosity for wider world births the urge to travel, including to remoteness.  Adding flair is the fact that some expeditions featured road trips bridging continents. The expedition to the Tibesti Mountains of northern Chad for instance, has Scott – a person interested in geography and history – and his friends, driving through the Sahara to access their chosen climbs. At other times, to get around affordably in Europe, he becomes adept at hitch hiking. Commitment to one’s passion soon forces that response from employer: maybe you should choose between work and climbing? The teacher who also climbed becomes full time climber. That transition and the changing times take their toll on marriage, wife and family life. The book takes you through all this and more to Scott’s successful ascent of the South West face of Everest with Dougal Haston in 1975.

The book’s finest hour is arguably the narrative of Scott in Yosemite, the cradle of big wall climbing – a chapter in climbing’s history that was intermingled with the social trends influencing young people then. Unlike today when much of sport (including climbing) has devolved to a furtherance of the same competitive urges one sees at work places and therefore harks of conformism, big wall climbing in Yosemite was alternative lifestyle and imagery in the days of its pioneers. While the extent of Scott’s willful embrace of counterculture is a matter of conjecture (at its strongest, it is only obliquely indicated as in others describing him as a hippie), he does transform in the book’s photos from bespectacled clean shaven look to bespectacled, long haired and bearded, with at times, a head band; a sort of Bjorn Borg of the climbing world. Scott mentions that he hasn’t written everything about his life but there is anyway much poured into the book.

This is one of those rare books on climbing being published in recent times that bears a classical stamp. By that I mean the survival of research and reflection despite the popular association of climbing with action, often action for action sake. In the late 1990s, when I got into climbing and was eagerly sampling rock climbing videos, the bulk of them had a dull ring to it. You said “wow!’’ seeing the movement but little else intrigued. In subsequent years, the visuals improved dramatically with technology but the question remained – is being aware and reflective, a baggage in climbing? Scott may not be young anymore; he is in his mid-seventies, but the restoration of reflection to a narrative on climbing is welcome reminder of what a life in climbing can actually be – it’s all about evolving. And, that glance backward becoming richer by the evolution. The classical feel is also in part thanks to the other climbers mentioned or profiled in the book – names like Don Whillans, Joe Brown, John Hunt, Peter Habeler, Dougal Haston, Royal Robbins, Tom Frost, Warren Harding and Chris Bonington; all names from an era when climbing still meant exploration of terrain and technique.

In contemporary world where fame and not necessarily life lived, qualifies people to write autobiographies, a book that traces the evolution of a life lived, world in which life was set and one’s chosen sport, is definitely worth reading. Don’t expect it to be a breeze. Like any climb, this is a book you have to be patient with, moving from hold to hold with struggles in between before you see it all in retrospect. Up And About, The Hard Road to Everest, the first part of Doug Scott’s autobiography, won The Himalayan Club’s Kekoo Naoroji Book Award for 2016. Scott received the award at the club’s annual seminar in Mumbai recently.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)