Between a rock and a hard climb
An adventure camp made me embark on a journey of self-discovery, which taught me more about life than any textbook could do
The alarm rang at 4.30 am. I was reluctant to get out of the cosy blanket but I had to do it anyway. At 5.30 am, braving the biting cold, I stood there in the queue, along with all my teammates, wearing my mountaineering uniform. And at 6 am, I was having breakfast after the physical training session. I thought to myself, ‘Imagine, the day has just begun!’
I was in the second year of college when I attended my first ever adventure camp. Organised by the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF — East Zone), the camp was held in Sikkim. It was a one-week mountaineering course, which included rock climbing, trekking, rope walking and various other activities — all conducted under the guidance of skilled trainers.
At first, I was not sure about it. My parents were completely against the idea. ‘You can go, but no rock climbing!’ they warned me. But rock climbing was the main attraction of the course! So, I couldn’t have missed it. And that was an experience that changed my life.
The first day of the camp was the toughest. After almost an 18-hour-long journey by train and then by bus, we were taken to our first trek — with only a small 30 minute-break in between. After the trek, we had our ‘knots’ class — where we learnt how to tie knots for a harness. I still remember how tired I was during the class and kept thinking that I made a wrong decision as it was much more challenging than I had thought.
I had a breakdown, the moment I came out of the class. I wanted to go back home. One of my teachers convinced me to stay and talked me through it. The journey afterwards was something different. I not only got used to this tedious routine — the 5 am classes, the long treks, the injuries and everything that came along, but I also enjoyed every moment of this hell of a journey!
We had no wi-fi, no TV or newspaper – so at times, it felt like we were in some other world. Moreover, the IMF hostel, where we were stayed, was in a remote location, which was beautiful, yet daunting at times. We were not allowed to use our phones —except when we used to be in our room. So, we hardly spoke to our family. And we had to wash our own clothes and dishes, keep our rooms tidy and many other chores as well. Doing all this for the first time, made me understand the value of being self-sufficient.
During the PT sessions, I realised how I had neglected my physical well-being. I never exercised and my diet included a lot of junk food – so it was an eye-opener and a wakeup call for me to bring a change in my lifestyle. Also, the treks were one of the most interesting parts of the camp. I remember how one trainer took us to an orchid farm – the way to which was a steep and a rocky one. It was scary, but at the same time thrilling. He (the trainer) made us stop on our way, which was more like in the middle of a forest. He told us to close our eyes and just listen to the sounds of nature intently. We did so, and it was wonderful. I could hear the chirping of birds, sounds of various insects and the rustling of leaves.
Then came the day of rock climbing. After practicing on an artificial rock, we were taken to the real location. And it was really scary. Though they assured us that the harness will not let us fall, some girls panicked and some backed off. I kept thinking how my parents had instructed me not to, ‘but then this course will have no meaning if I do not take part in it’, I decided to go for it.
It was, surprisingly, one of the best experiences of my life. For the first time in my life, I felt I have achieved something — that too, after having conquered my fears. Words fall short to explain how I felt once I reached the top and looked at the view below the steep rock. That moment made me realise that maybe I am not weak, unlike what I used to think earlier. It felt like I gave an answer to all those who used to say, ‘You are not strong enough to do this or that.’
Well, apart from the tiring sessions and activities, we had some fun too — we had campfires, late night gossip sessions and what not. One of our classmates, apparently saw a ghost one day in the garden. Later, someone pointed that it might have been the maid who works in the hostel. And I would like to believe so.
We had no idea what was happening in the outer world and we used to spend our free time talking to each other, taking walks in the garden — and surprisingly, not using our phones. Also, stargazing was something we thoroughly enjoyed. We would sit under the open sky for hours — it was a dreamlike experience. During the treks, we used to collect colourful pebbles or stones as a souvenir from the journey.
To a millennial, all these activities might sound utterly surreal. Well, those days at camp were totally different from life in the city. I had never felt this close to nature. I discovered myself in a way, conquered many of my fears and stepped out of my comfort zone. And I must say, our trainers were really helpful, supportive and made this journey way more delightful. They motivated us and guided us at every instance. It was not just a mountaineering course — it was something that empowered me and made me believe in myself.
I had no idea that something like a camp could help me in such a big way. And I realised it only after coming back to the mundane, daily routine. Those few days were challenging and thrilling, but also inspiring. And thus, to experience this all over again, I attended another camp in Darjeeling the next year. This time, I was well-equipped with all the pros and cons from my earlier experience. And I did not lie to my parents about rock climbing.