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Apr 23, 2015

Mohit Oberoi: My History with Dhauj, Delhi’s Real Trad Area

Mohit "Mo" Oberoi, author of the Delhi rock climbing guidebook talks about his days in Dhauj, NCR Delhi's epic trad rock climbing area.

How does one even begin to write about a giant? Mohit Oberoi’s “Mo” pioneering efforts, along with a tiny clutch of other climbers, to document the climbing routes in Delhi and Dhauj in Haryana, is legendary, the culmination of which is the Guide to Rock Climbing in and around Delhi published in 2001, the first such book for Delhi and its environs.

Early days in Dhauj

As a 13-year-old, Mo started climbing under the tutelage of Rohan “Kan” Datta, Tejvir and JC Khurana, Mandip Singh Soin and other members of the then newly formed Peg & Piton Club. Not to forget Robert Chambers, the renowned development practitioner. The latter, who was then working for the Ford Foundation in India, had fallen for rock climbing during a previous posting to Kenya. The Peg & Piton members, and Chambers were hard core about their love for climbing: they were at Dhauj in Haryana every weekend, rain or shine. While Dhauj was already being climbed back in the 1970s, under the redoubtable MS Bawa of the Climbers and Explorers Club, climbing at Dhauj really took off under Chambers.
“He had a van, you know?” Mo explained. “Who had a vehicle in those days? So we would all troop along. He was there, even if it was 46 degrees Celsius.”
Being lowered down the overhang in the Prow area. At 40 feet (12 meters), the route, aptly called "Beasterly" is rated three-starred 5.9R. Members of "Delhi Rock" started climbing about five years ago, and have started again in earnest since last fall.
Being lowered down the overhang in the Prow area. At 40 feet (12 meters), the route, aptly called “Beasterly” is rated three-starred 5.9R. Members of “Delhi Rock” started climbing about five years ago, and have started again in earnest since last fall.
All his climbing mates, but especially Chambers, made an impact on the young Mo.
“One day, Chambers and the Peg & Piton members decided to take on the big wigs in the Haryana government. They witnessed the mining that was going on which was destroying the hills at Dhauj. All that blasting. So they talked to the Chief Secretary in Haryana who sent a telegram to the Faridabad District Collector, instructing that all mining activities should immediately be stopped. So it became a protected area.” Mo smiled at the memory. (Despite the court order, there are still instances of illegal quarrying in the area)

First Ascents in Dhauj

Many first ascents were made, Dhauj being virgin territory.

Once Robert left India in 1985, Tejvir Khurana affectionately known as “Teji”, and Mo became the “go to” people to get to Dhauj. Khurana owned a “Crusader” motorcycle which played a big part in getting to Dhauj quickly. Else, it took changing three buses and three kilometers walking one way to get to Dhauj. Mo also fondly recalled that Sanjay Basu’s “Yezdi” was a great help in getting to the climbing site.“We were there every weekend. Word quickly got around. The first ascents were getting done. But we had a strong ethic to only lead the routes, no top roping,” Mo reminisced. Mo also made trips to Bangalore, Badami, Chhatru, Mount Abu in Rajasthan, Nainital and Pachmarhi in Madhya Pradesh to train. But for Mo, Dhauj was also good training ground.

 Mohit "Mo" Oberoi climbing "Beckon" in the Mughals area, a 5.9 route, standing at 75 feet. Mo first did the ascent in 1987. Image © Raghav Sundar
Mohit “Mo” Oberoi climbing “Beckon” in the Mughals area, a 5.9 route, standing at 75 feet. Mo first did the ascent in 1987. Image © Raghav Sundar

“In those days, people would be surprised by us, climbing the way we did. It was because we climbed at Dhauj.” Mo hastened to add, “But there were of course ‘stories untold’. There were days when we literally could not complete a route at Dhauj. Not a single one. It was just difficult.”

Mo’s climbing mates

Mo’s contemporaries were the late Rohan “Kan” Datta, Sanjay Basu, Tejvir and Jasvir Khurana. The ‘next generation’ of climbers, as Mo called them, emerged in 1986 and were at the fore for a full decade: Annie Jacob, Deepak Jhalani, Depinder Singh, Paramjit Singh, Punit Mehta, Raghav Sundar and Shubhendu Kaushik. Mo eye’s lit up as he recalled the gear that he and his mates used: “We wore jungle or what you also call hunter boots, you know? But then we moved on to canvas shoes, at least you could feel the rock then!” Rock climbing shoes came in much later, being imports or gifts from relatives and friends visiting Europe.

Annie Jacob climbing "Short Haired Civilian", a 5.10c R and 30 feet high route in the Pantheon Rocks area. Image © Raghav Sundar
Annie Jacob climbing “Short Haired Civilian”, a 5.10c R and 30 feet high route in the Pantheon Rocks area. Image © Raghav Sundar

And what about harnesses, I asked.

“We just used to tie the rope around our waists!” Mo beamed at me. The group later acquired seat harnesses. “We’d have maybe one friend – size two or two and a half, and a couple of nuts and wires. That was it. Hip belays were the norm!”

Memorable climbs

“I was 14; it was December 1983. I followed Chambers up ‘Bharat Natyam’. The moves were interesting.” 65 feet (20 meters) high, this is a 5.7+ and two-starred route in the Pantheon Rocks area of Dhauj.

‘Hotel Palace’, a 5.10R and three-starred route at the Pantheon Rocks, also holds a certain fascination for Mo. An ‘R’ rating means that for lead climbing, protection is difficult to place, or the crux is difficult to protect. As such, a fall could lead to injuries. At 80 feet (24 meters), Mo described it as a classic test piece and “very intimidating”.

Abseiling down the rock face in the Harminder area after having fixed the anchors at the top.
Abseiling down the rock face in the Harminder area after having fixed the anchors at the top.

“We were up there one day, Raghav Sundar and I. I was leading and used up the precious and only “friend” I had during the first 15 feet (4.6 meters) of the climb. But once I was close to 40 feet (12 meters), I realised that I needed that “friend”. So my belayer Sundar climbed up to the “friend” at 15 feet, deftly removed it, climbed back down to the ground and threw it up at me. I caught it on the first try! What a good throw!” Mo laughed. “Those were the days!”

And what was the hardest route at Dhauj?

“The ‘Hysteria with a Sten Gun’ in the Prow area was the hardest,” Mo replied without hesitation. This is a 5.10a and triple-starred route, standing at 50 feet (15 meters) high.

Mo remembers the climb, clear as day.” It was 1986 and we had our usual trad gear. It was to be my second ascent. We were wearing our PT (physical training) shoes and spent a good half day there. I remember being on a ledge above the crux overhang, and I spent a long time trying to figure out the problem. I could not see my belayer below anymore. But suddenly, I found myself at the top.  It took a lot of energy, you know, the energy from being young! There was no social media, nothing to shout out to the world. We were doing this purely for the love of climbing!”

Mo was coy about his probably most important outing at Dhauj. It was in Dhauj that he met his wife, Annie, in 1989.

Do you remember which route it was, I pressed.

“No!” Mo laughed. “She was climbing there as a member of the Climbers and Explorers Club.”

He was 21 years old then; they were married five years later.

Feature Image © Raghav Sundar  (Mohit “Mo” Oberoi on the “Direct Windlass” route, rated a 5.10 in the Hawa Mahal area. This photo dates back to 1986. )

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Adventure Travel

Jul 31, 2018

Kayaking’s Elite Return to India at the Malabar River Festival

During the week of July 18th to 22nd, the Malabar River Festival returned to Kerala, India with one of the biggest cash prizes in whitewater kayaking in the world.

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WRITTEN BY

Brooke Hess

A $20,000 purse attracted some of the world’s best kayakers to the region for an epic week battling it out on some of India’s best whitewater.

The kayaking events at Malabar River Festival were held on the Kuttiyadi River, Chalippuzha River, and the Iruvajippuzha River, in South India on the Malabar Coast. The festival was founded and organized by Manik Taneja and Jacopo Nordera of GoodWave Adventures, the first whitewater kayaking school in South India.

Photo: Akash Sharma

“Look out for these guys in the future because there are some future stars there”

One of the goals of the festival is to promote whitewater kayaking in the state of Kerala and encourage locals to get into the sport. One of the event organizers, Vaijayanthi Bhat, feels that the festival plays a large part in promoting the sport within the community.  “The kayak community is building up through the Malabar Festival. Quite a few people are picking up kayaking… It starts with people watching the event and getting curious.  GoodWave Adventures are teaching the locals.”

Photo: Akash Sharma

Vaijayanthi is not lying when she says the kayak community is starting to build up.  In addition to the pro category, this year’s Malabar Festival hosted an intermediate competition specifically designed for local kayakers. The intermediate competition saw a huge turnout of 22 competitors in the men’s category and 9 competitors in the women’s category. Even the professional kayakers who traveled across the world to compete at the festival were impressed with the talent shown by the local kayakers. Mike Dawson of New Zealand, and the winner of the men’s pro competition had nothing but good things to say about the local kayakers. “I have so much respect for the local kayakers. I was stoked to see huge improvements from these guys since I met them in 2015. It was cool to see them ripping up the rivers and also just trying to hang out and ask as many questions about how to improve their paddling. It was awesome to watch them racing and making it through the rounds. Look out for these guys in the future because there are some future stars there.”

Photo: Akash Sharma

 

“It was awesome because you had such a great field of racers so you had to push it and be on your game without making a mistake”

Vaijayanthi says the festival has future goals of being named a world championship.  In order to do this, they have to attract world class kayakers to the event.  With names like Dane Jackson, Nouria Newman, Nicole Mansfield, Mike Dawson, and Gerd Serrasolses coming out for the pro competition, it already seems like they are doing a good job of working toward that goal! The pro competition was composed of four different kayaking events- boatercross, freestyle, slalom, and a superfinal race down a technical rapid. “The Finals of the extreme racing held on the Malabar Express was the favourite event for me. It was an epic rapid to race down. 90 seconds of continuous whitewater with a decent flow. It was awesome because you had such a great field of racers so you had to push it and be on your game without making a mistake.” says Dawson.

Photo: Akash Sharma

The impressive amount of prize money wasn’t the only thing that lured these big name kayakers to Kerala for the festival. Many of the kayakers have stayed in South India after the event ended to explore the rivers in the region. With numerous unexplored jungle rivers, the possibilities for exploratory kayaking are seemingly endless. Dawson knows the exploratory nature of the region well.  “I’ve been to the Malabar River Fest in 2015. I loved it then, and that’s why I’ve been so keen to come back. Kerala is an amazing region for kayaking. In the rainy season there is so much water, and because the state has tons of mountains close to the sea it means that there’s a lot of exploring and sections that are around. It’s a unique kind of paddling, with the rivers taking you through some really jungly inaccessible terrain. Looking forward to coming back to Kerala and also exploring the other regions of India in the future.”

 

For more information on the festival, visit: http://www.malabarfest.com/

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