Climbing diversity in the culturally diverse India
Where are the best climbing destinations in India? Do you remember watching Chris Sharma cruise through intricate lines in the sweltering weather, travelling in auto-rickshaws, meandering around the stone-carved temples? “Pilgrimage” movie in 2009 with Chris and his two friends, was a breakthrough for India as a climbing nation in Asia. The most populated nation suddenly became every climber’s dreamland.
The natural outcome of megadiverse geography and having the biggest democracy is manifold rock climbing opportunities. East, west, north, or south wherever you go, you will discover tonnes of crags for bouldering, sport routes, big-wall climbing, trad climbing, and ice climbing. Over the decade climbers from all over the world have established spectacular realms of every style. If you are wondering where to start, here is a list of diversified scrambling locations in India.
UIAA supported climbing hub of India, the revolutionary Suru valley lies in the farthest north near Kargil in Jammu & Kashmir state. The barren and brown mountains of Trans-Himalayas have a swath of granite and mixed type rock to climb on. With perfect temperatures, soft rock, from highballs to sky-touching spires, broad slabs to tiny cracks and top rope to trad routes, Suru is a gem for all climbers.
Since the inception of Suru Fest in 2016, the valley has become every adventurer’s most-sought place. In 2015, Pirmin Bertle sent India’s hardest boulder problem Bacteria (8b+) in the upper Suru Valley (Rangdum) at 4,500 meters elevation.
Every year, the area greets around 300 climbers during the festival. Hence, if you are looking for an exceptional climbing escapade far from civilization, concealed by the tallest mountains, Suru is your saviour. As the tagline of the festival is to come and find your problem!
The best way to get to Suru boulders is through Suru Fest which happens mostly in the August-September months. On other days there are no amenities for accommodation and food. I would recommend registering for the festival for outstanding climbing at Suru with enthusiasts from all over the earth!
Imagine pinching and crimping in the shadows of the dense alpine trees. Hidden behind the lush slopes of Sethan 20 km from Manali is a reserve of pristine boulders. It is a summer-perfect place to escape the heat of cities.
A bouldering solitaire with diamond-cut lines is good for technical climbing. The problems grade up to 8a+ with a wide range of climbing styles. Slabs, mantles, thin crevices, overhangs, high boulders, etc. Be prepared for plodding up and down. As most of the problems are scattered on inclines a few meters from each other. Don’t worry, every small hike is treated with an epic problem.
The best time to climb is summer and early monsoon season. It is advisable to make a visit to Manali. And then hiring a vehicle to Sethan is the optimal way to get there. Manali can be reached from Delhi through buses or flights from major cities.
Chatru is located at an intriguing location, it conjoins the verdant Kully valley and arid Spiti valley. The landscapes are like a younger sibling of Suru – barren on the contrary to Sethan. Therefore sending besides gushing river surrounded by brown towers at 11,000 feet is an incredible experience. Frequently you can see climbers of the nearest mountaineering institute (ABVIMAS) scrambling here and there in Chatru.
Most of the boulders were discovered by Phil Lockey in the early 2000s. Chatru can be accessed from Manali traversing through the famous Rohtang pass. Due to its remoteness, there are fewer visitors compared to other Himalayan sites. But, with increased road connectivity the place is not far from becoming a bouldering hotspot.
It is the same as Sethan. Summer and early monsoon are good for climbing here. From Manali there are vehicles or you can do off-roading cycling or biking to reach Chatru.
Other climbing places in Himachal
The abode of snow is the abode of granite in Himachal Pradesh. From rampant meadows to parched slopes. The valleys are loaded with an abundance of blocs equally regarded for hard, technical climbing. Some of the explored areas are Kareri village, Spiti valley, Miyar Valley, Dhauladhar range and Kinnaur. All of these crags are accessible from Manali or Dharamshala through regular buses from Delhi.
The capital city, Delhi
Talking about the northern region, how can we forget the capital, Delhi. Who could have imagined that the most-crowded city of India has concentrated outdoor climbing too? In recent years, various forest areas were explored for bouldering and lead routes. For weekend cragging Delhi outskirts have an abundance of options like Dhauj, Lado Sarai, Sanjay Van boulders, and Zion. Many 1-2 days climbing trips and festivals are frequently held to attract people and promote the sites.
Climbing around Delhi is possible all year round except in peak monsoon. All the spots are within an hour’s travel through cabs.
In central India are woodlands of Pachmarhi and Bhimbetka with tonnes of boulders guarded by leopards. Being a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, the area is mostly restricted for climbing. However, with permissions and local guides many times few climbers try their hands on the protected rock. Pachmarhi is also a well-known hill station, therefore, has good connectivity with other cities.
The best time for climbing is in the winter and summer months. There has good connectivity of trains and buses to these spots from Bhopal and Jabalpur. They are also the nearest airports to Pachmarhi and Bhimbetka
In the eastern part is the recently explored highland called Purulia of West Bengal. Beru is common for climbing workshops, courses, and kids’ adventure activities. Bansa hills are also rising in popularity. This sector is least explored but has immense potential for great granite climbing.
Cold winters and warm summers are a good time to scramble around. There are buses to Purulia from Kolkata. Kolkata can be reached through trains or flights from other major cities.
A treasure that is yet to rise to its power. When it does it will reign over India. Good quality granite boulders of various heights are flocked in the Aravalli range in Gujarat. Being 100 km aloof from Ahmedabad the bouldery ground is extremely remote. Climbing at Idar is unique due to its dry weather and solid rocks. It could become the next big bouldering centre with frequent exploration tours.
Since Idar lies in the rain shadow area, December to February is the preferred time. There are buses from Ahemdabad to Idar taking 2 hours to reach.
The largest and western state, Maharashtra is not far behind in the list of climbing. It features an array of basalt formations for an extraordinary experience. The rock is criticized for being loose and brittle. However, new sites with limited solid scarps are being developed. Amongst which Belapur is known for its easy to hard routes. The area is strategically established with two divisions. The left section has hard, longer, multi-pitch climbs while the right section is for beginners.
Not many people know that the celebrated alpine climber Doug Scott had bolted a few traverses in the Western Ghats. And one of these routes is the popular crack-line Scottish Kada. Other local sites like Khopoli, Tailbaila, etc. are around Pune and Mumbai
Climbing in Maharashtra is accessible from Pune, Mumbai, and Nashik. Since most of the locations are hidden in valleys and forests, I would recommend contacting local climbers to get proper directions.
A climbing celebrity, this is the only place that needs no introduction. As highlighted in the “Pilgrimage”, the island has a broad strip of boulders. Climbers will witness a labyrinth of fine problems in Hampi. Despite the cruel and sharp rock type, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is the favourite of every boulderer.
Due to tourism, Hampi has become an adventurers haven. Hampi always sees a huge surge in visitors during the New Year’s holiday. I would recommend keeping 2-3 days extra in your travel itinerary so that your fingers get used to the harsh rock.
The government demolished all the hotels on the island in January 2020. Although the area is still climbable it will be wise to confirm the accommodation before you make plans.
December and January are the crowded months for bouldering in Hampi. Because Hampi is a well-known climbing and backpacking destination and it is easy to get to. Hospet Junction is the nearest railway station and Hubli is the closest airport. From here there are buses to Hampi.
Hampi and Badami are famous for climbing when comes to South India. As the main sport climbing utopia in India, the orange-brown formations have some of the hardest and finest lines. Ganesha (8b+) in Badami is India’s hardest route. Apart from bouldering, there are also numerous world-class lines bolted by international climbers. And one of these climbers is Killian Fischhuber the famous Austrian climber, who had bolted some amazing lines.
Known as an international climbing location. Climbers travel from all around to test their climbing skills in Badami. This is because Badami has a spectrum of easy to advanced level routes. Thus it is suitable for all types of climbers. Climbing routes at Badami are short consisting of reachy moves with power-packed transitions. However, the rock is finger-friendly unlike Hampi.
Badami has cool temperatures although rain is scarce. However, try to avoid the sultry summers. It is easy to travel to Badami. This is because there are frequent daily trains from major cities and buses from Pune and Mumbai. From the nearest train/bus station climbing is a 2-3 km distance away.
Areas around Karnataka
Bangalore the IT hub is a climbers’ paradise. Not as famous as Hampi and Badami. But the tiny habitats around Bangalore have excellent quality granite faces best for novice and advanced climbers. Varlakonda, Savandurga, Ramanagar, etc are noteworthy. These places have a varied range of bouldering, lead, and trad ventures along with slab and crack climbing.
Ramanagar is renowned for its stunning views that are frequently seen in movies. Savandurga is an amazing monolith of 1200 feet carved for 7-8 pitches long routes. The great thing is the Bangalore Climbing Initiative. A local community has maintained the routes and has documented topos. It is a good idea to reach them before heading to Bangalore Rockies.
Climbers can access the crag anytime except during the wet season. They are all just a few hours drives from Bangalore.
A newly rising bouldering spot is Khajaguda hilltop in Hyderabad. Lanco Hills is the site to access the crag. This famous tourist site is well-known by climbers for its blocks of knife-like holds and difficult climbs.
Khajaguda is accessible from Lanco hills through cabs or private vehicles. A point to note is Winter and summer are the preferred periods to visit.
Rock Climbing Festivals in Asia
While these are the known climbing destinations, I am sure many more are secretly grooming somewhere. Sky’s the limit for rock climbing in India. Why don’t you come and heed the vastness of climbing in India?
Praveen Jayakaran: https://www.instagram.com/praveenjayakaran
Shwetan Kumar: https://www.instagram.com/shwetankkumar/
Tuhin Satarkar: https://www.instagram.com/tuhinsatarkar/
Deepak Pawar: https://www.instagram.com/climber_deepak/
Sharad Chandra: https://www.instagram.com/khiyalisharad/