Before I even got to Bombay I started researching the climbing community. I found a climbing wall that is set just off of a school grounds in an area called Goregaon. The community at the wall is very active and dedicated, immediately accepting me and inviting me to join them regularly on their real rock adventures. Three weeks ago I went climbing in the Sanjay Ghandi National Park, which sits inside the limits of Mumbai Municipalities. It is an impressive park with large forests topping several ‘mountains’ that roll through it.
My friend Vinay invited me out to top rope some climbs with his friend Sharad, another photographer. It was good to be on real rock again, but I was terribly out of shape, having not really trained for climbing in over 5 months.
Photo credit: Sharad Chandra Khiyali
bouldering in Sanjay Ghandi National Park
Don’t stop here! More Photos and more of the story! –>
The last two weekends I have spent in an area called Belapur in New Bombay, inland a ways from Mumbai. Vinay introduced me to the group of guys that spend seemingly every weekend climbing somewhere in these mountains. They come from all over – from Lower Parel in Central Mumbai to Pune, hours further to the East. Everyone meets at the house of ‘Bong’, a man probably in his 50’s or 60’s that is somewhat of a legend in Indian climbing. He provides the climbers with anything they need, harnesses, crash pads, ropes, or even chalk (I asked if he had any hand chalk and he pulled out a huge plastic bag and tossed it at me). Some of the climbs are within walking distance of his house, others are just a short drive up the other side of the mountain. Bong and his crew have been busy bolting sport routes and finding bouldering krags throughout these neighboring mountains.
On Saturday, after an hour and some bus ride, I meet Shree in front of Bong’s house who led me up past a slum and several Hindu temples that line the sides of seemingly endless amount of steps. My thigh’s screams remind me how out of shape I am. Ducking off the main path and following a foot trail into the woods along the cliff line we meet a guy waiting for us with all the equipment. There are five short but bolted sport routes, probably 25-30 feet (I’ve had falls that were longer), waiting to be climbed. The rock is dark and sucks up the heat of the sun quickly, amplifying the heat of the humid day. The rock has a nice feel to it, angled but not too sharp, but tends to be somewhat weak, breaking off too often for my liking. The first three climbs are a breeze, but it’s fun sport climbing again after 5 months. (in sport climbing there is no rope above you. You take the rope up with you along with carabiners to secure the rope into the bolts already in the rock. It is more challenging and a lot more fun than top roping). The furthest climb to the left has an extremely difficult start with poor hand holds and almost no feet while trying to clear an overhang. I fully wear myself out in futile attempts to get above the crux of the problem. Sundeep, despite claiming he was out of shape and not ready to try it, showed up both Shree and I in our attempts making the problem look easy.
The climbers congregate back at Bong’s house, laying around on crash pads and ratty lawn chairs, and plates of chicken curry and rice soon make their way to everyone’s laps. Most of the spirited conversation is a mix between Hindi and Marati, unless someone is asking me or answering a question in English. Sometimes I don’t mind not knowing what’s going on, only picking out the few words I know, but it also encourages me to continue my learning of Hindi so I can actively participate in these conversations. Some take off with promises of coming back tomorrow, other plan on spending the night at Bongs in the loft or scattered about on empty crash pads.
Bong wakes me up around 7:30am despite having slept at only 1:30. Climbers slowly appear from different hiding places, and some new faces show up. We start off to the climbs around 9:30, some on motorcycles and myself crammed into a small car carrying multiple crash pads up to the bouldering area. Hiking a short ways over boulders, dry grass and cacti careful not to step in the cow manure scattered about, we get to a bouldering crag that Bong had recently found. I start taking some pictures as the guys start going full out without so much as a warm up. I try the first route, but my weak left grip kills me about half way up and I relent.
Gaurang cleaning a hold before committing to it.
Vivek stretching for the final hold. He is a lot higher than I like to be without ropes.
A quick little ad for Evolve rock shoes.
*all names’ spellings are my interpretation of how I think their spelled.
I continue taking pictures down below until the early afternoon. I move up on top of the cliff and secure a rope to some large boulders. Using a Grigri autolocking belaying device I lower myself over the edge of the cliff, positioned above the climbers. I had secured my flash on my tripod under some rocks a few meters to my right.
The guy resting between attempts.
Sham in a moment of intense pain that comes from securing your weight from tiny pieces or rock
It’s high. They just drop down to the crash pads and kept off the rocks by those spotting below.
And they fall. That part’s not fun.
After the sun clears the cliff and spoils my shot I return down below and try some more climbs. Just as everyone is leaving I complete one that I had been working without success for sometime. Sadly, having only climbed a couple of routes, I am worn out. My fingers hurt, and my feet are killing me. I have an infection on my right foot below my pinky toe that has been bothering me for some three weeks, a cut on my heal and a splinter in the ball of my left foot. (That night I perform surgery on the infection, draining it of cappuccino colored liquid and cutting back ‘dead’ skin’ revealing a hole void of tissue or blood. I’m not sure what that means. I really need to get into the habit of going to the doctor here. Coming from the US where I do not have good health insurance and a doctor’s bill costs too much, I avoid them at all cost.)
Bong greets us at his house with plates of Kheema and bread, and we spread out on crash pads about his house relaxing after a tiring day. I am very glad I found this community. I’m excited to spend my new years in Hampi climbing with them.