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Plumes of smoke rise and merge into the leaden sky / A man lies and dreams of green fields and rivers

- Pink Floyd

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News

Feb 16, 2017

Stunning Visuals and Character Driven Stories Rule IMF Mountain Film Festival

The Indian Mountaineering Foundation’s Mountain Film Festival celebrated 33 outdoor films from young adventure filmmakers as well as veteran Himalayan explorers.

WRITTEN BY

Supriya Vohra

The event marks yet another step forward in the country’s nascent but growing adventure industry.

“Nature does not differentiate between gender. When you are high up in the mountains, it does not matter if you are a man or a woman. Your level of fitness is the only thing that counts,” adventurer Vineeta Muni said to a cheering audience in New Delhi last Saturday.

The Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF) hosted the first edition of a unique mountain film festival for Indian filmmakers, on February 11 and 12 at its sylvan headquarters in New Delhi. The festival showcased 33 character-driven films on adventure and wilderness in India. Curry Pow by The Vibe was a visual treat on skiing and snowboarding the powder slopes of Gulmarg, Bawli Booch by 4play.in was a music video of mountain biking both trails and lanes in a small village near Manali in Himachal Pradesh. The video played to a well-known Bollywood soundtrack (playing equally fast and loose with legal rights as the biker did with terrain), and had mass appeal thanks to clever storytelling. There were films on BASE jumping, mountaineering, climbing, kayaking, ultra-running and exploration of remote valleys of the Himalaya, such as Sandeep Bisht’s Chasing Nanda Devi, a short, low budget film about his journey towards eastern Nanda Devi.

Still from Malabar Kayaking Festival teaser. Photo © Neil D'Souza
Still from Malabar Kayaking Festival teaser. Photo © Neil D’Souza

There were films on mountain culture, climate change and strong individuals, such as Roads Unseen, a short story by Amrit Vatsa depicting the unwavering spirit of a blind mountain biker. Eastern Himalaya – Ancient Risks and Future Threats by Felis Creations talked about the rapid pace of global warming in the eastern Himalaya through conversations with people living in the region. More than 600 people attended the two-day event. Maninder Kohli, Founder and Director of the festival, called it “a roaring success.”

Bridging the Gap Between Adventurers and their Audience

“We were pretty sceptical when they told us that a complete novice to mountaineering will be accompanying us to attempt a first ascent of a 7000er,” Vineeta Muni told The Outdoor Journal in an interview.

Vineeta and Divyesh Muni are an old-school adventure couple, who have been going on mountaineering expeditions for almost 35 years. Vineeta, also an artist, has walked the entire length of the Indian Himalaya, from Arunachal Pradesh to Jammu & Kashmir in a continuous stretch of 198 days. Divyesh, a chartered accountant, has led several Himalayan expeditions.

101 India, an Indian youth portal that creates visual stories on off-beat subjects was keen to partner with the duo on their next expedition, and weave a story around their journey. To create an interesting narrative, they decided to rope in Rosh, a newbie to mountaineering. Divyesh, Vineeta and their team were hesitant at first, because they were planning on a first ascent of a 7000er in a remote valley in Ladakh. However, seeing he was fit enough, they decided to rope him in. The whole journey resulted in an 8-episode YoutTube series called My Epic Adventure – Journey to the Himalayas, told from the point-of-view of Rosh, and according to the series producer, it received a terrific response. A 25-minute version film on the series called 200 meters was shown at the festival.

“We are catering to a generation that views everything on mobile, many-a-time without sound,” Sajeed, director of the series, explained. “They aren’t really that patient. Strong, catchy storytelling is very important.”

Abhijeet Singh is a photographer, and a self-taught ice climber. A chance meeting with Anchit Thukral, a New Delhi based filmmaker led the two to decide to work on a documentary, where Anchit’s visual team Morpheus Productions would document Abhijeet and his climbing partner Pranav Rawat’s attempt to climb two frozen waterfalls in Spiti.

For Anchit and his team, this was a venture into a completely new territory. “We did not know anything about adventure films, no idea what we were stepping into.” Anchit told The Outdoor Journal in an interview. “But we wanted to try it out, and see if this was something that we could do.”

Still from The Fall. Pranav Rawat leading on the second pitch. Shela waterfall (260 ft, WI4). Near Kaza town, Spiti, Himachal Pradesh. Jan 2016. Photo © Abhijeet Singh
Still from The Fall. Pranav Rawat leading on the second pitch. Shela waterfall (260 ft, WI4). Near Kaza town, Spiti, Himachal Pradesh. Jan 2016. Photo © Morpheus Productions

His team of eight embarked on a journey with Abhijeet and Pranav to Spiti, where in -20 degrees celsius they recorded the climbs and journey on camera. “It was crazy,” Ankur said. “We have never felt so exposed to the elements before. There were so many mishaps in between. We were not even sure if we could do it.”

What kept them going?

“I’m not really sure,” Anchit says. “All I knew was, watching these guys attempt a frozen wall, and sticking to it for six-seven hours till it was climbed made me respect them. I felt a commitment to the task, and was just compelled to go ahead with it.”

Their film, The Fall, follows two climbers attempting first ascents of frozen waterfalls in Spiti. The fact that it is made by non-adventure filmmakers is evident in the film, but what makes it a worthy watch is the strength of the characters, catchy music and visual effects, giving it a wider appeal. For a country like India, where adventure sports is still a niche but a growing market, it is a good way to spark interest in the space. The film ended up winning the Grand prize of INR 50,000 at the film festival.

“We are bridging a gap here,” said Neil D’Souza, a Bangalore based filmmaker who’s short teaser of last year’s Malabar River Festival, called Malabar Kayaking Festival was a big hit in the audience.

“There are people doing these amazing things, and we as filmmakers are venturing into this territory, and trying to create stories that would appeal to an audience who may not be that well aware about the space.”

There were films created by veteran filmmakers—serious efforts to sensitise audience about mountain cultures. Stanzin Dorjai Gya, a Ladakhi filmmaker showed Shepherdess of the Glacier, a quiet observation into the life of Tsering, one of the last few shepherdesses in the remote Gyameru Valley, in the northern mountains of Ladakh. The camera follows her around as she looks after her flock of 300 sheep, talks to them, to herself, listens to her constant companion—the radio, and tackles the challenges of daily existence. “It shows the intimate relationship my sister shares with her animals, in the backdrop of a barren landscape, and the loneliness and struggles of existence,” Stanzin told The Outdoor Journal in an interview. The protagonist of the film is his own sister. “But she is ultimately a happy person, her soul pure and her heart full of joy.”

Still from Shepherdess of the Glacier. Photo © Stanzin Dorjai
Still from Shepherdess of the Glacier. Photo © Stanzin Dorjai

The film has won the Grand prize at Banff Mountain Film Festival 2016, and also won a prize at the IMF Mountain Film Festival, along with INR 25,000.

What’s next for the IMF Mountain Film Festival? “We are going to do a tour, where we will take it to several cities, mountaineering schools, and clubs around the country. And we are hoping to see it become a bigger and better affair next year! I’m thankful to our sponsors J&K Tourism, SAHA and Woodland for making this happen,” said Maninder Kohli.

India is witnessing a slow and steady growth of a movement, of a community of storytellers, adventurers and athletes relentlessly exploring the vast wilderness of their own backyard, the potential for an alternate lifestyle, where joy is found in living close to nature.

WINNERS AT IMF MOUNTAIN FILM FESTIVAL 2017

200 METERS by Divyesh and Vineeta Muni – BEST MOUNTAIN FILM

MALABAR KAYAKING FESTIVAL by Neil Productions – BEST WATER SPORTS FILM

ROADS UNSEEN by Amrit Vatsa – INSPIRATIONAL MOUNTAIN FILM

CURRY POW by The Vibe – BEST SNOW SPORTS FILM

EASTERN HIMALAYA-ANCIENT RISKS & FUTURE THREATS by Felis Creations – BEST MOUNTAIN FILM ON ENVIRONMENT

BAWLI BOOCH by 4play – MOST CREATIVE MOUNTAIN FILM

THE GANGA’s FIRST BORN by Ashutosh Mishra – BEST MOUNTAIN EXPLORATION FILM

SHEPHERDESS OF THE GLACIER by Stanzin Dorjai – BEST FILM ON MOUNTAIN CULTURE

THE FALL by Anchit Thukral & Abhijeet Singh – BEST CLIMBING FILM (and winner of GRAND PRIZE)

Feature Image: Still from Shepherdess of the Glacier. Photo © Stanzin Dorjai

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Events

Mar 25, 2019

GritFest 2019: The long-awaited trad climbing event returns

Fueled by a common passion, an assembly of seasoned climbers revive the traditional climbing movement just outside of Delhi, India.

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The wind coming off the rock face felt inhospitable, but the air itself gave off a sense of communal joy. After 33 years in absence, the thrill at the Great Indian Trad Festival, or Gritfest, emerged again for a new generation. 

We stood together in ceremony around Mohit Oberoi, aka Mo, the architect of the Dhauj trad climbing era, whose been climbing in the area since 1983. Mo, who continues to inspire many, briefly underlined the cause behind the Gritfest: a two-day annual trad climbing gathering that finally saw the light of day on February 23rd and 24th 2019. The gathering, although one of its kind, was not the first. The first one took place in 1985 and was put together by Tejvir Khurrana.

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

“Dhauj is huge and there exists such an amazing playground right on their doorstep”

For those of you who might be unfamiliar with the climbing scene in India, Dhauj is where some of the country’s finest climbing began. Located in Faridabad Haryana, Dhauj is roughly between 18 to 20 miles away from Delhi. The region is home to the Aravali Mountains that start in Delhi and pass through southern Haryana to the state of Rajasthan across the west, ending in Gujrat.

The Great Indian Trad Fest was long overdue and brought together by Ashwin Shah, who is the figurative sentinel guard of the Dhauj territory. In addition to being the guy with more gear than you’d ever expect one man to own, he is also often caught headhunting belayers, sometimes even climbers. His never-aging obsession with Dhauj is also very contagious. I’m grateful to start my own climbing journey with Ashwin. In my first attempts at belaying, my simple mistake caused him to drop on a 5-meter whipper. It could have been more.

Rajesh, on the left, getting ready to belay, Ashwin in the middle and Prerna on the right

That whipper, in hindsight, transmuted into a defining moment for me. The primal squeal Ashwin let out while falling made me realize the danger of this new passion I couldn’t help but fall for myself. That being said, had it not been for Ashwin’s impressionable optimism to entrust me with his life, Dhauj wouldn’t have held the same allure that it does for me now. Ashwin started contemplating the Gritfest after his return from Ramanagara Romp in Bangalore: a three-day event that gauged the possibility of climbs undertaken during a two-day window.

Read Next: Why the Aravalli Forest Range is the Most Degraded Zone in India

The idea behind the Gritfest is to celebrate a legacy built over the last four to five decades. A legacy that should be preserved for posterity as it has been thus far. “The objective is to think about the future,” said Mo, as he jogged his memory from back in the days. Furthermore, the fest also aims to encourage and educate aspiring climbers on traditional climbing: a form of climbing that requires climbers to place gear to protect against falls, and remove it when a pitch is complete.

Mo leading Aries at the Prow.

Sadly, the fest also takes place at a time when the government of Haryana seeks to amend an age-old act,  the Punjab Land Preservation Act, 1900 (PLPA), that would put thousands of acres of land in the Aravalli range under threat. India’s Supreme Court, however, has reigned in and we will likely know the outcome in the days to come.

The know-how around trad climbing rests with a handful of members in the community. This also makes the Gritfest ideal for supporting a trad-exploration pivot in the country. Dhauj, also home to the oldest fold mountains in India, has been scoped out with lines that go over 100 feet. The guidebook compiled by Mohit Oberoi documents some fine world-class routes since the early stages of climbing in and around Delhi. With grades ranging between 5.4 to 5.12a, Dhauj has more than 270 promising routes.

The fest kicked off with Mo leading the first pitch on Aries, a 5.6 rating, 60 feet high face at the prow, while the community followed. Seeing Mo repeat some of the climbs he’s been doing for over 30 years was exhilarating to say the least. Amongst the fellow climbers, we also had some professional athletes, including Sandeep Maity, Bharat Bhusan, and Prerna Dangi. The fest also saw participation from the founders of Suru Fest and BoulderBox.

Kira rappelling down from the top of Hysteria with a stengun, 5.10a.

“Trad climbing can be a humbling experience”

While the Gritfest finally came to fruition, I wondered as to why it took so long for it to happen. One of the questions that I particularly had in mind was regarding the popularity of places such as Badami and Hampi over Dhauj. Although the style of climbing varies across all regions, the scope and thrill of climbing in Dhauj remains underestimated. For one reason, I knew that there is a serious dearth of trad climbing skills which makes it partly inaccessible. Whereas the red sandstone crags bolted with possibly the best sports routes in India make the approach to Badami relatively easier.

I reached out to Mo, and asked him to share his perspective on the fest as well as some of the questions I had in mind.

1) Tell us a little about your thoughts on theGritfest?

It’s a great way for climbers to get together and climb, form new partnerships, share information and also solidify the ethic part of climbing, especially in Dhauj, which is purely a trad climbing area.

2) What is it that the current community can learn from Gritfest?

The possibility of climbing in Dhauj is huge and there exists such an amazing playground right on their doorstep, also Dhauj is an amazing place to learn “trad climbing”.

3) Since it was the first installment, where do you see it heading in the future?

I think it will grow to a large number of climbers congregating here as long as we KEEP IT SIMPLE, and climb as much as possible. We should keep the learning workshops “How to climb” type of courses out of this. This should be one event where we just climb at whatever level we feel comfortable with.

4) Why is it that Dhauj isn’t nearly as popular as Badami or Hampi?

I’m not sure why, really. It’s possible that the grades are not “bragging” grades and climbers don’t feel comfortable starting to lead or climb on “trad” at a lower range of grades. “Trad” climbing can be a humbling experience as one has to work up from the lower grades upwards. It is both a mental and physical challenge unlike climbing on bolts. Despite the guidebook, there is a reluctance to going out to Dhauj which surprises me, that Delhi / NCR locals would rather have travelled more times to Badami / Hampi than take a short ride to their local crag.

Perhaps it is about bragging rights. Perhaps it’s about the lack of skills. Whatever the reason might be, Dhauj will continue to inspire generations to come and fests like Gritfest will serve to strengthen our community. Whether you are new to climbing or have been at it for years, there is always something to learn.

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