What’s the use of a fine house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?

- Henry David Thoreau



Sep 08, 2018

The Remarkable Motorsport Team Who Swam to Save Lives During the Kerala Floods

Despite endless setbacks, this group persevered and risked their own lives by swimming up to 12km at a time, to convince people to climb into their rafts and abandon homes to the rising water.


Jahnvi Pananchikal

A pregnant woman sent out an emergency call during Kerala floods and AT Rovers, a motorsport and adventure team, were on their way – Swimming 12km at a time. AT Rovers got the call when no one else was able to reach such an isolated location. Snakes and debris were in the flood water, as they traversed submerged paddy fields and roads. The final leg of the rescue was the hardest, as the water got deeper in darker surroundings. Not knowing what they were swimming towards, unaware of the creatures that might be in the water, the team finally reached the remote village they were targeting, near Thiruvala.

“We couldn’t get on the raft since it had to be kept dry. Instead, we carried the rafts with us while swimming 12 km to reach the place. It was so scary out there,” recalls Abraham, the founder of AT Rovers, who had to keep the raft dry for the pregnant woman.

Once the team reached the location, the pregnant woman refused to be rescued, telling them that she had only called because of a high fever. Instead, she wanted to stay, hoping that the water levels would go down, but she had no idea that the water was rising and extended up to a radius of 12 km. Despite informing her of this, she still didn’t want to leave her home and the team had to give up. On their return, they did manage to rescue a few other people on their way.

Photo: Abraham Tharakkan

“The biggest challenge we faced is that people were reluctant to get into the vehicles because they were scared.”

AT Rovers were founded as motor sports company, with a focus on rallying. However, when help was needed, they stepped up and played a significant role in rescue operations during the Chennai Floods and the recent Kerala Floods. When the Chennai floods happened in 2015, they were called in for the relief operations to supply food materials. “Once we reached Chennai, we understood that our role is not in carrying relief materials. Our vehicles were more capable, so we started rescue operations there,” says Abraham.

During the recent Kerala floods, AT Rovers didn’t give it a second thought and again jumped back into their search and rescue role.

“We had 14 vehicles, and we lost a few on the way. But spirits were way too high and our entire team of 30 people (15 on the ground) were really passionate,” says Abraham.

These were not the only setbacks, and rescue operations were on the verge of closing due to logistical difficulties, but their cause was soon saved via social media. The team had started the mission with a few four-wheelers and two rafts but within a couple of days, they lost both the rafts.  The only option was to abandon the mission, since rafts became essential for the rescue operation. Their social media page was updated with the same information.

Photo: Abraham Tharakkan

“That was a positive sight, in a way. Families rarely sit together in these times of Internet, TV and cell phones.”

That’s when the Navy reached out to them and offered life rafts. The only catch was that it was in Kochi, at a time when all airports and roads were closed and the only transport option was the cargo railways. With social media support, an individual picked up the raft from the naval base, delivered it to the railway official, who then handed it over to AT Rovers in Trivandrum. Kayak Adventures also offered help through the social media page and sent one of their rafts.

With a lot of support, now they were equipped and ready to get back in the field, convincing the pregnant woman to leave her home.

“The biggest challenge we faced is that people were reluctant to get into the vehicles because they were scared. They didn’t want to leave their homes abandoned. They wanted to stay back,” says Abraham.

Photo: Abraham Tharakkan

Perhaps, it’s hard for human beings to let go even while facing severe calamity. Maybe, they thought of the future and the challenges they would face after the floods, without a home.

“Until 7 pm, the situation was still manageable. Then they opened the dams on the night of 16th August, and the water came in like the ocean.”

AT Rovers ended up saving 43 people including a 6-month old infant. They were on the mission for almost 2 weeks, and returned to Trivandrum daily from the worst affected areas, to service their vehicles. There were some other people that they weren’t able to find, but fortunately managed to survive none the less.

When rescuers from AT Rovers were driving and rafting around the flooded regions in Kerala, Abraham, the founder, noticed a family. They didn’t seem to be in any immediate danger. With a candle light, they sat on the balcony talking to each other.

“That was a positive sight, in a way. Families rarely sit together in these times of Internet, TV and cell phones,” remarks Abraham.

In a flooded home, Ramanan waited for four days on the first floor balcony, along with his wife, a 6-month old infant, and two relatives. He built it after working in UAE and saving money for over 30 years.  Living in the remote area of Thiruvala, he noticed rescuers at a distance. They were too far to hear him, and he didn’t know how to get to them, with the little baby in hand.

“Until 7 pm, the situation was still manageable. Then they opened the dams on the night of 16th August, and the water came in like the ocean. The government says that they will give us money, but we haven’t heard anything from them. The roads are all clean now and no one has come to help or enquire about us yet. I feel so happy that you called us to ask how we are,” Ramanan says.

”But who knows if they will give us anything? I wish those well who might receive some money from the government.”

Ramanan is 56 years old. He suffered losses of over 50 lakhs, and reckons that it will take at least 3 years to rebuild everything. To claim any support, he has been running around with his identity card and filling forms.”But who knows if they will give us anything? I wish those well who might receive some money from the government,” he says. As for the damage of basic amenities, the entire well, the family’s main source of drinking water, is filled with flood water. They have been buying bottled drinking water and relentlessly cleaning the house. He is trying to do everything possible to protect his family from possible diseases. Currently, there are almost 200 confirmed and suspected cases of rat fever after the floods.

Ramanan’s family was the kind of family that Abraham noticed while rafting back from the village. It’s hard to judge from a distance. Having survived the flood, Ramanan seemed more worried about rebuilding his home than feeling thankful for living. He is retired. Since he lost most things that he built from his savings, including two cars, he is counting on his children to help him live peacefully for his remaining years. His perspective shows that survival after a natural disaster isn’t always a sign of hope.

AT Rovers is now involved in assisting families in cleaning and providing relief supplies after the floods.

AT Rovers asked to say a special thanks to all who helped out during the rescue operations:

The crew: Abraham George Tharakan, Sanooj Sadanandan, Jithin Ignatius, Philip Mathew ,Harikrishnan Ns, Ajeesh Surendran, Uday Thampi, Manu Muraleedharan, Akhil Faisal, Sidharth Radhakrishnan, Bhadraj Ramachandran, Ejaz Salim, Abhilash Gopalakrishnan,
Midhun John U, Rahul Krishnankutty

Kayak AdventureWIT — Where In Trivandrum, Indian oil corporation, PTC fuels and Govind and Co, Patoor, The Indian Navy, @at_carmodz, Kerala Police, and Fire force.

Most importantly, everyone who shared information and locations which helped them reach out to people on time.

Follow AT Rovers: www.facebook.com/ATRovers/

Help Rebuild Kerala:





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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.


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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