Find Your Style
The brief given to me tells me these are just regular guys like you and me. With regular jobs like you and me. But. With an irregular pursuit. The mountains. I am intrigued.
Just off a crowded street, I make my way to a small restaurant called Chhaya, around the corner of Tamarind Lane. Red-clad waiters bustle around serving tea to the members of the Explorers and Adventurers Club of Mumbai who meet here every Wednesday to discuss their next course.
I expected to find a cluster of deeply tanned men of the rough terrain. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they were as regular as regular can get, greeting each other enthusiastically while taking their seats around the square tables. The place is filled with animated conversations, discussions, more tea, peering through each other’s albums, plans for future treks and expeditions.
At the meeting of this non-profit organisation, we meet K Vishwanath, committee member and seasoned mountain trekker. He tells us of the club beginnings. They started out in 1974 as a group of students from Elphinstone College. “We started with around nine to 10 members who enjoyed trekking and hiking. We charged a nominal fee so that the group could function. First we did Kanheri caves and other treks nearby. Gradually, we started exploring other areas as well.”
Hearing laughter emanating from nearby tables, we are introduced to other members who tell us stories of their travels with great excitement. It is not just treks in and around Mumbai that interest them. Quite a few take their interest a step further to plan serious expeditions into the Himalayas.
Greg Lobo, editor of their quarterly newsletter and veteran trekker, says, “There is a lot of planning that goes into an expedition. First we have to decide on the range of the Himalayan mountains to cover, which peak to climb, what approach to take, which face of the peak to attempt, and finally which route to go by. In spite of this elaborate planning, we remain very vulnerable to weather and other factors such as porters. We also have to pre-decide the quantity of food to take which should suffice for a specific number of days, since we will be far away from civilisation.”
Three of the club’s members, K Vishwanath, Anosh Elavia and Pankaj Parekh have just returned from a high altitude trek from Gangotri to Kedarnath via Auden’s Col. They spent 25 days trekking in and around that region. While exchanging stories it is hard not to miss the strong relationship visible between members, especially those who have been on treks together.
“It is definitely bonding,” says Lobo, “particularly if you have been through life and death situations together. Like once we were hiking upward to a summit when we were suddenly enveloped by a snowstorm. We immediately set up our bivouac (emergency shelter), which in this case was a small makeshift tent. We had to keep our hands up to prevent the tent from falling down on us because of the weight of the snow. We ended up being stuck there for three days, with no food.”
Another time, despite having charted a route they had to find a new one because a whole chunk of the mountainside had fallen away in an avalanche, changing the course of the river Bhagirathi.
These expeditions are all about team work, they stress. “While climbing we work in groups called Ropes,” explains Lobo. “The first Rope goes up, surveys the place for the day, finds enough place to pitch our tents. Other Ropes follow.” The Ropes themselves are actually connected with ropes tied around their waists. This is particularly important when crossing deep crevasses in the snow or walking around a steep mountainside.
There is no well-trodden path for them to follow. It’s all about setting out on your own, and taking the one that you think is the best. They also have to take care that they travel up slowly to let the body get acclimatised to the altitude.
“Altitude sickness is very common. The journey must therefore be gradual,” says Vishwanath. This is seconded by Lobo who elaborates, “When we climb up to a certain level on one day, we come down to a lower altitude to sleep for the night. That way, our bodies get adjusted to the height.”
Symptoms of altitude sickness are loss of appetite, swollen feet and hands, headaches and nausea because of the low oxygen levels and air pressure. Insufficient acclimatisation can lead to pulmonary odeama, the collection of fluid in the lungs, in which case the group recommends that the person retreat back. The reasoning is simple. “Nature will always be there to make that trek again. But it’s better that you don’t push yourself upwards, or you might be pushed upwards permanently,” says Vishwanath with a grin.
As one starts to descend, the lungs start clearing and you usually start feeling better. Gangrene and frostbite are the most common aliments they face on the mountains. The best way to prevent these is to go armed with woollens and not expose the skin directly to the cold. Prompt attention, care and treatment is essential and prevention is always better than cure. Which translates into keeping your hands and feet warm and dry all the time.
There is serious delegation for tasks on an expedition. A quartermaster is assigned charge of the food arrangements. There is an overall leader of the team, a deputy leader and a liaison officer who is in charge of making the travel arrangements. Team members grow sufficiently to be able to lead their own treks the next time round. Working in teams in the harshest of situations can bring out the best and worst in an individual as this club has time and time again found out. “We have conflicts, but it’s about resolving them and working together, because after all we need each other,” says Fulton Nazareth, another long-time club member and honorary general secretary.
Club members are unable to describe their feelings once they reach a summit – the awesomeness of it all, the grandeur and the magnificence. “You become aware of how small you really are and it really brings out the humility in you,” says Lobo. “We’re not here to battle nature or conquer a summit or triumph over a peak, it’s just us enjoying nature,” he adds.
Despite having this innate love for the wild, they are always happy to come back to civilisation and take things easy for a while. After weeks of roughing it out in the wilderness, a good cuppa in the busy Chhaya Restaurant with the assurance of the BEST bus sputtering nearby, is always welcome.
Those interested can join the club for their meetings on Wednesdays between 6:30 pm and 8 pm at Chayya Restaurant, Fountain.
Correspondence address 2nd Floor, Dutt Niwas,
27 Labarnum Raod, Gamdevi, Grant Road (E), Mumbai – 400007
With the objective of popularising mountaineering among youth, the Explorers and Adventurers Club conducts an adventure camp every year for those between the ages of 11 to 17 years. The curriculum involves jungle craft, camping, rock climbing, trekking, map reading, conservation, rescue, first aid, star gazing, photography, etc.