I remember we were in Bangalore, planning our May 2018 trip to the Himalayas. The plan was to drive down to Delhi, stay a few days with my in-laws (Vidur’s parents) and then head towards J&K and Himachal for a 2 month road-trip. Our planning was just in its initial stages as we were making a list of destinations that we needed to see. We sought some help from our friend Adhip who mentioned that J&K Tourism was organising a mountaineering camp in a place called Bhaderwah in March.
In an instant, we got in touch with Abhay Gupta, owner of The Thumping Nomad, to see if he could include our names for the one week course. Our WhatsApp chats continued for the next 3 days and our trip was confirmed from 18-26 March. I even asked my sister to join us too and she did. All though we were excited to be doing something very different from our usual trips, we were apprehensive since we had not started any preparations for our 2 month road-trip. I mean there was so much to do! Shopping, route planning, car servicing, snacks to be cooked for the trip!! But we managed everything-The next two days were full of frantic packing and shopping for me whereas Vidur was busy getting the car serviced. On 13th March, we started from Bangalore towards Delhi, from where we would head to Jammu by bus.
After spending 2 days at my in-laws’, we headed to Jammu where the entire team of 30 people from across India were supposed to meet, before we all headed to Bhaderwah together.
Bhaderwah is a small town, in Doda district located 200 kms from Jammu. The town is a valley surrounded by mountain ranges on all sides with the most famous ones being The Padri Pass and Jai Valley. Because of its natural beauty, it is often called Mini Kashmir in this region. The valley is a kaleidoscope of nature’s colours and God’s creativity. Bhaderwah has attracted people from adjoining regions due to its peaceful atmosphere, pleasant climate and very hospitable people. Apart from this Bhaderwah is also popular for their Rajmah. It is said that Bhaderwah produces the tastiest Rajmah in India!
OUR ADVENTURE COURSE
Our visit to Bhaderwah wasn’t just about exploring the place but we were here to attend a 7 day Special Adventure Course in collaboration with Jammu Tourism, Bhaderwah Development Authority and Jawahar Institute of Mountaineering & Winter Sports (JIM & WS). The Ministry had invited 100 adventure enthusiasts, including 70 students from J&K and the 30 people from across India to participate in the week-long adventure training course to learn the basic nuances of Zip-wire, Rock Climbing, Mountaineering, River crossing, Trekking and Skiing from trainers of national repute. The objective of this course was aimed to promote adventure and winter tourism in Bhaderwah, besides training locals in rescue activities during natural calamities, especially snow storms, avalanches and flood.
We reached our stay in Bhaderwah around midnight. The trip from Jammu had been long, tiring and uneventful. As we entered the facility, we were allotted our rooms, sleeping bags, mats and asked to report at 7am the next morning. Boys and girls had their separate rooms which were on sharing basis with other people. Dinner was served hot, and consisted of rice, dal and mixed vegetables. After dinner, we went to our rooms and I don’t even remember when I curled into my sleeping bag and dozed off. All I remember was waking up several times at night to wear more warm clothes as it was freezing cold!
The next morning as I saw the view from our site I was speechless. The valley was so beautiful and green, the air so pure and fresh and water absolutely cold. Our 1st day at the camp was quite relaxing. We were given our uniforms along with our glasses and spoons which we were supposed to carry with us over the coming days. Soon after lunch few of the local boys in the camp gathered together and started singing their local songs. While Sunny played the guitar and sang Bollywood numbers, his brother Anil was a Sufi expert. What voices these guys have! We enjoyed a few hours of non stop entertainment with them. This was what we would miss the most after we head back home.
Over the next 7 days, we were put through intense training to improve our physical fitness and capability to compete the adventure activities. The first activity was Zip lining and rock climbing. While zip lining is fun and doesn’t require any effort but the challenge lies in setting up the ropes. It took over 2 hours and 30 guys to set up the ropes between two massive conifers. The ropes have to have zero tension for the zip lining to take place and getting the ropes tight enough requires tremendous strength and the perfect technique. Our instructors has taught us basic skills in knots and hitches and we were all eager to see them in action.
Rock climbing on the other hand was tough. Not only does it require strength and balance, but also a lot of mental toughness and strategy. While most of the girls in the camp could not complete the activity, I along with few others managed to climb the rock and reach the top.
The next day we were taken for our river crossing training at a nearby place called Gupt Ganga. After 2 hours of setting up the ropes, the activity began. Vidur waited and watched most of the people attempt the crossing. It seemed easy at first but as the participants reached the middle they seemed to run out of steam. Hesitantly, he took his turn. The initial few seconds were easy as the rope bend downwards and the momentum did most of the work. And then he reached the middle part. His arms got tired, legs dangling in the air and he started gasping for breath. He stopped for a few minutes, probably motivating himself or gathering strength. He moved on, slowly, and we could notice him losing energy. He had nearly done 75% of the distance when he gave up. His fingers wouldn’t move as he was unable to pull himself.
Hilarity ensured as he begged the trainers to throw him a belay rope and they kept refusing, asking him to pull himself across. After about 10 minutes the instructors finally threw him the rope and it took 3 guys to pull him across!! Exhausted for the attempt, he sat under a tree and didn’t move for the next 20 minutes!
On the 5th day, when the weather was conducive, we were finally on our bus journey towards Padri Pass where we were scheduled for skiing lessons. It was my first experience with skiing and there were butterflies in my tummy. As my turn came, I geared up pretending to be confident. But in less than a second, the valley echoed with my screams because I was just not able to balance in the skiing shoes. I guess I fell down not less than 7 times and of course everyone recorded these funny moments and had a hearty laugh later on watching those videos. Guess I ended up becoming popular for my screams.
On the last day of our training, the tourism department and BDA had organised for a small cultural event for everyone at Tilli Ghar. Along with live ghazals, the local boys also indulged in some singing. Suparna and myself got a chance to draw a customised mandala which the Department of tourism would put up as an exhibit in Tilli Ghar.
JAWAHAR INSTITUTE OF MOUNTAINEERING & WINTER SPORTS
Established in Aru, J&K in 1982, JIM & WS is one of the best government-run mountaineering institutes in India. The Institute is administered through an Executive Council, the members of which are drawn from the state as well as the centre. At present Jt. Secretary (G/Air) of the Ministry of Defence and the Commisssioner/Secretary Tourism, J&K are looking after the affairs of the Institute. The Hon’ble De- fence Minister and the Hon’ble Chief Minister of the J&K State are the President and Vice President of the Institute respectively. The Institute is headed by an officer from the Armed forces, of the rank of Colonel or equivalent. The Instructors (JCOs/NCOs) are drawn from the three services.
Their facilities are located in Aru (J&K), Nalthi in Bhaderwah (J&K), Sanasar-Patnitop (J&K), Shey (Leh), and Gulmarg (J&K). Each centre specialises in activities such as Skiing, River Crossing, Rafting, Rock Climbing, Rappelling, Trekking, Survival Camps, High Altitude Trekking and Mountaineering. Being government-run, their prices are at a fraction of what private institutes charge with Adventure Course at INR 4,100 and Skiing at INR 10,000 only. You can read more about them here.
They train the army, they are tough, in peak physical condition and take no bullshit during training. Their only objective for the 7 day course was to give us a taste of how mountaineers train, pushing the limits of their bodies. We were put through 5-10 kms of runs, jogs, walks, push ups, Pilates, trail runs, hikes, sit ups and what not. The timings were strictly adhered to and we would be punished for even a slightest mistake. High on discipline and low on tolerance, we thought these Terminators were out to break us or kill us. But as we spent more time we got to their own stories, their journey and why they do what they do.
Mahfooz Ilahi – The first thing that you will notice about him is the positive energy he carries with him. The smile never leaves his face, even if he is running behind you pushing you to climb the hill. Highly qualified with Skiing, paragliding, avalanche rescue and River rescue, he comes with tons of experience in training candidates. We miss his “Dus Kadam peeche chal” and “Sab thik hai? Koi problem toh nahi?”.
Tsering Ladol – She is a female Alpinist from Leh, who conquered Everest at the age of 14 and became the youngest female to do so at that time. We were highly impressed by her fitness levels, her motivation and her personality. At the time we were there, she took part in the National Skiing competition.
Laxman Singh – A powerhouse of energy, and positive attitude! We saw a display of his stamina when he completed the river crossing, pulling himself across in a matter of seconds, when most of us took 15 minutes on an average. He is the go to guy if you want to learn how to get fit, how to eat right and how to be a mountaineer! And then he was also the heart-throb of a lot of female participants including me and my sister of course!! We even nicknamed him “Lucky “! And see how happy we look in the pic below!
We are highly grateful to CEO Bhaderwah, Dr. Rajinder Kumar Khajuria and Ms. Shazia Rahman, Assistant Director from Directorate of Jammu Tourism for giving us this opportunity to attend the Special Adventure Course. As the training programs came to an end, we felt so depressed. This trip was totally different from what we usually do but definitely one of the bests one till date. The training taught us to be strong both mentally and physically. It gave us a chance to discover another side of us which is the adventurous side, and we have decided to go back to JIM&WS to join their basic and advanced course soon.
MUST VISIT PLACES AROUND BHADERWAH
- Padri – Not many people know but this is a great ski destination in Jammu region. Located on the Chamba road, Padri is at an altitude of 10500 feet. The region receives one of the heaviest snowfalls in the area, with the snow depth going up to 5 metres and staying around till May. It caters to many adventure activities like skiing during the winters and paragliding in the summer months
- Jai – Situated 32 kilometres away from Bhaderwah, lies Jai Valley. The rivulet Jai Nallah bisects the picturesque valley before merging into Kalgoni Nallah which has some ferocious waterfalls, providing opportunities for adventure enthusiasts who wish to test their rock climbing abilities
- Chinta – Chinta Valley is at 6500 feet above the sea level and is formed by the flow of the Chenab river, surrounded by thick coniferous forests. With the Chinta river flowing through it, the region has many scenic places like Thuba, which is located just across the Chinta Nallah and is the highest point separating Chinta Nallah from Bhaderwah. Horse riding facilities are offered from Baggan to Thuba providing a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The meandering hills and lush green landscapes make it a magical sight.