Mountaineering as a sport has a history as old as the history of the evolution of human race itself. Mountaineering started when the need was felt for people who could climb difficult heights and terrains to meet people across the border, to trade, or to conquer new territories. In the course of time, man developed new modes of transportation and communication and venturing out on these difficult routes were not needed. Nevertheless, what remained was his nature to take risks and getting pleasure in conquering something totally unknown and unexplored. This inner urge to take up challenges has led man to do things that are quite daring.
In India, mountaineering as a sport came with the Europeans in the 18th century. That was a time when entire Europe was experiencing a new phase. New regions were being explored, won, and native peoples were being made to become civilized. This zeal of adventurism found its ultimate fruition in the Himalayas-lofty, extremely difficult to conquer, and challenging enough to send a man back to his mother's womb. But, being men, these challenges were accepted and there began a tussle between men's ambitions and nature's reluctance. New heights were conquered, new routes were discovered, many lives lost, but the mission was accomplished. Today, almost all the major peaks are conquered and even general people have started taking mountaineering as a serious hobby.
For starters, India offers a wide spectrum of options for mountaineering as well as other related sports. Peaks and trekking routes are classified and maps are available for the interested travelers. Many institutes provide basic and advanced level courses in mountaineering and other related sports. All the equipment is locally available and other support resources can be found here.
Mountaineering is a high-altitude sport.
There are different levels of difficulty based on altitude, geographical features, and availability of facilities. Any expedition of altitude of 3,000-5,000 m is classified as moderate; 5,000-6,500 m is difficult; and above the altitude of 6,500 m is classified as advanced. For moderate level, basic adventure courses from any mountaineering institute and some high-altitude trekking experience is all that is required. For mountaineering in the difficult and advanced level, one is required to have done advanced programs in mountaineering and a good experience of trekking and climbing at the moderate level.
Persons with high/low blood pressure and are overweight are advised not to participate in high-altitude games and sports. Some of the institutes like the Directorate of Mountaineering & Allied Sports, Himachal Pradesh do not allow people of ages below 18 and above 48 years to participate in their basic and advanced level adventure programs.
The summer months are ideal for the mountains. Trekking in the lower Himalayas and climbing in the higher ranges are possible through May to mid-October. The month of July is avoidable in Himachal and Uttar Pradesh as there is heavy rain and landslides during this month.
Some basic equipments are needed when mountaineering expeditions are organized. The equipments are the lifelines of a mountaineer in those hazardous conditions and a thorough knowledge and familiarization of these are extremely important.
All the equipments imported by the expedition teams into India are exempted from any tax, depending on the authorization given by Indian Mountaineering Foundation. All the items except the ones that are consumable or lost or left behind in the hills should be re-exported back to the country of origin.
The list of the equipments that may be required during the course of an expedition are ropes, crampon (ice-climbing spikes), gaiter, head lamp, snow goggles, chock (a metal device inserted into rock as anchor; also, nut), butane gas, twin sling, shoes, carabiners (oblong metal rings), harness seat, ice axe, ascender, descender (a device used for rappelling), hammer, tent, sleeping pad, rucksack, sleeping bag, jummar (device with handles and is used in pairs to ascend a rope), pulley, and helmet.
Most of the equipments can be hired or purchased from Indian Mountaineering Foundation in Delhi or from the departments of tourism offices of state governments. If you have hired the services of any adventure tour operator, then providing necessary equipments is the responsibility of the operator. There are more than 300 mountaineering clubs in India and you can also contact them for your requirements.
Himachal Pradesh, Garhwal and Kumaon regions of Uttar Pradesh, Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir, Northeast India, and Sikkim are the most important mountaineering destinations in India. The summits that are quite popular with the mountaineers are Num and Kun and the Zanskar range in Jammu and Kashmir. In Kishtawar, there are numerous peaks with altitudes up to 6,500 m that require technical climbing skills. In Himachal Pradesh, the areas of Lahaul and Spiti as well as the Kullu valley have several challenging peaks. The peaks in India have been classified as 'open', 'virgin', 'border', 'trekking', and 'other peaks'. Each category offers a number of choices.
Mountaineering is self-confidence, a bit of adventurism, and a will to do something more than required. If you have all these traits, then you are ready to go places.
To start with, one needs to have proper training to participate in mountaineering and climbing. The training can be taken from any of the good mountaineering institutes, located in India or abroad. The next stage is deciding on the target destination, depending on the altitude, difficulty level, and availability of the destination during the period. After choosing the destination, you need to get all the permissions and licenses from the authorities responsible for this. Then comes one of the most important steps-making an itinerary. Give enough time for acclimatization according to the altitudes. Do not hurry up the trips; give time for any eventuality that may occur during the trip. Finally, prepare the itinerary keeping in mind the physical capacity of the group members.
After getting all these things done, you may need to acquire all the instruments. Check from a doctor whether you are fit for the trip, and take all the necessary items with you in your rucksack. At this point, remember to distribute the items equally to every member of the group. It is also taken for granted that all necessary contact addresses and telephone numbers have been distributed among the group members and they have been also counseled about what they are going to face during the course of their trip.
If all these preparations are in place, it is unlikely that you would face any problem later on. In the first place, if you are intending to climb anything above 6,500 m, make your base camp at an altitude of around 4,000 m. Give sufficient time for acclimatization with gradual increase in altitude beyond 2,500 m. Standard acclimatization period is two days for each gain of 600 m. Beyond 5,000 m, "climb high and sleep low" should be the policy.
Care should be taken not disturb the natural environment of the region. Maintain proper and standard hygiene and do not leave anything back in the mountains.
The Indian Mountaineering Foundation organizes a number of expeditions every year. Contact their office in Delhi for further information. The various state governments also organize special events to promote adventure tourism in their respective areas.
1. If you are a foreign national, register yourself with the regular authorities so that you do not get into any legal troubles. According to Indian law, climbing any peak or trekking in high altitudes without prior permission is an offence, punishable under Indian Penal Code. Send your application with all the necessary documents at least three months in advance to Indian Mountaineering Foundation for processing. Mention clearly the destination, route, the group leader's name, number of participants, number of days, and previous experience in mountaineering. This will facilitate your work faster and you can get your X Visa for mountaineering on time.
2. Contact the district magistrate/deputy commissioner or the sub-divisional officer and superintendent of police and the army's formation headquarters upon arrival at the last district or sub-division of Garhwal, Kumaon, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. You are advised not to engage porters by direct negotiations with them. The district authorities will endeavor to help in engaging porters for expedition, at the prescribed rates and the liaison officer will assist in this task.
3. All the members of the expedition group should have insurance cover for accident risks and ground/helicopter search and rescue. Hand over a copy of the insurance policy to the Indian Mountaineering Foundation. This insurance policy should state that in the event of an accident, all the charges borne in the process of air/ground search and rescue would be the responsibility of the expedition team. It should also have a special clause of letter of credit stating that US $6,000 will be paid to Indian Mountaineering Foundation immediately in the event of air/ground rescue and search mission undertaken by the Indian Air Force.
4. All the members of an expedition team should have X Mountaineering Visa endorsed on their passport by the Indian Embassy/High Commission in the country of origin. The Government of India does not entertain conversion of Entry/Tourist Visa into X Mountaineering Visa upon arrival in India. A person can get his/her passport endorsed one month before arrival into India, when the Indian Government informs the respective embassy or high commission that the expedition has been cleared.
5. Conversion of foreign currency from unrecognized moneychangers or person is illegal. There are no restrictions on the amount of foreign currency or travelers' cheques a tourist may bring into India provided he makes a declaration in the Currency Declaration Form given to him on arrival. This will enable him not only to exchange the currency brought in but also to take the unspent currency out of India on departure. Cash, bank notes and travelers' cheques up to US $10,000 or equivalent need not be declared at the time of entry. Any money in the form of travelers' cheques, drafts, bills, cheques, etc., in convertible currencies, which tourists wish to convert into Indian currency, should be exchanged only through authorized moneychangers and banks who will issue an encashment certificate that is required at the time of reconversion of any unspent money into foreign currency. Exchanging of foreign currency other than through banks or authorized moneychangers is an offence under Foreign Exchange Regulations Act, 1973. The rupee is not allowed out of India. Exchanging them before one departs is the best option. Banking facilities, for the conversion of rupees into foreign currency, are usually located in the same airport hall as the check-in counters.
1. It will facilitate processing of a proposal in time if applications along with required documents are sent to the Indian Mountaineering Foundation at least six months before the proposed date of the expedition. Applications for climbing peaks in the restricted areas in the states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh are to be referred by the Indian Mountaineering Foundation to the state government concerned and the Ministry of Defence for clearance. If the application, complete in all respects, is not received at least three months in advance, there is the possibility of the permission being delayed.
2. It is essential that the expedition does not move unless permission of the government, where necessary, has been obtained and communicated to the climbers.
3. Members of the expedition are advised to get themselves medically examined, insured for an adequate sum to cover accidents/risks, and to ensure that all members of the expedition have experience of high-altitude climbing in the Himalayas.
4. The leader of the expedition to peaks in Uttar Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh should inform the district magistrate/deputy commissioner and the mountaineering institute of the area concerned of the proposed expedition at least two weeks prior to the departure of the expedition.
5. Leaders and deputy leaders should have advance mountaineering course with "A" grading from a recognized mountaineering institute and experience of participation in or at least two well-organized expeditions to peaks of above 6,500 m, with climbs to a height of at least 6000 m.
6. All members should have done at least basic mountaineering course, one-third of the members should have done advance mountaineering course, and one-fourth of the participants should have done at least one well-organized expedition to a peak of and above 6,000 m.
7. The leader should ensure that each member of the expedition obtains and carries a certificate of Indian nationality from a district magistrate.
8. No foreigner should be included in the team at any stage of the journey unless prior permission of the Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs, through the Indian Mountaineering Foundation has been obtained.
9. If any film is exposed in areas beyond the inner line, the caption for each exposure should be recorded for making security clearance easier.
10. It is essential that the expedition adheres to the approved program and does not deviate from it.
11. If arrangement is made for evacuation of a casualty by helicopter to the nearest hospital in the event of any accident, charges of the order of Rs. 35,000 or above for each helicopter sortie (including the abortive ones due to inclement weather) have to be paid to the Indian Mountaineering Foundation. The charges are to be borne by the team. It is, therefore, advisable that the insurance of the members includes accident risks.
Mountaineering is fun if all the precautions are taken care of and a hazard if not. Some of these are listed below.
1. Decide what you want to participate in, is it climbing a peak or high-altitude trekking only. Look for the level of difficulty involved in the program and whether your physical fitness is up to the level of competence required.
2. Consult the doctor to determine your physical condition and take proper medical precautions as per the doctor's advice.
3. Do not go for unrealistic programs. When chalking out your program, give sufficient time for altitude acclimatization. During the program never try to be too hurried. It can be dangerous. Give sufficient time at every stage of altitude increase.
4. All the medicines that one may require and other basic surgical equipments should accompany the group.
5. Divide all the responsibilities to the group members. Each member of the group should have proper training and experience of handling mountaineering equipments.
6. Sufficient ration should be there to take care of any eventuality.
7. Important addresses, phone numbers, and email ID should be there with the organizers, coordinators, and all the group members.
8. High-altitude sickness or high-altitude madness is a common phenomenon among the trekkers and mountaineers. If you are participating in these programs for the first time make yourself aware of the symptoms and methods to deal with them. It is necessary for the members of the expedition to known how to deal with snow blindness, frostbiting, and sunburning.
9. Proper mountaineering guidelines, high-altitude survival techniques, and first-aid techniques should be known to most of the members.
10. Sensitivity to environment and respect of the local culture are some of the social issues for which all the members of an expedition group should be counseled properly. Go away from the campsite for the morning chores. Do not attend to nature's call within a range of 300 feet from the water source. Dig a hole of 6¢¢ and cover it up after the job is done. If you are using toilet papers, remember to bury them in the ground. Do not leave anything back in the hills.