When Fun Met Failure: Tales Of My Basic Mountaineering Course

How does failure feel? Let me reframe with specificity..how does failing to live the best experience of your life, leaving all your friends behind at a mountaineering course feel? I don’t know if I am overreacting but it was terrible for me.

You get half of the memories & half the regret of not being able to complete the journey. Memories that you’d replay and try to relive in your mind forever and so would the regret replay with it.

This blog post is my story comprising of meeting amazing people, learning new things, having the best experiences and laughs, struggling physically & mentally, facing fear, and eventually failing a basic mountaineering course at Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling. It’s a mixed bag of fun and failures, a collection of hilarious tales & fails of my BMC.

Warning: This might seem a bit cringe to you but I just wanted to stay authentic and write verbatim the truth as it was. And since it’s verbatim, I’ve written the actual talks that happened in Hindi, those sentences are also translated into English in [ ] i.e. brackets just next to every sentence. Here it goes:

Pre-Course Preparation For BMC

It was Sept 2021 when I watched a podcast about mountaineering where the mountaineer was talking about his experiences & also briefly mentioned how to pursue mountaineering in India. He told about some courses & mountaineering institutes. I started my research. There was a single reason as to why I was attracted to mountains- SPIRITUALITY. As he explained the spiritual aspect of mountains, I imagined myself on top of one. That time I was inspired by the epic ‘Mahabharata’ & he told an incident about it relating to a mountain i.e. DKD2. I did my research and found out that one of the institutes in India, NIM has a course in advance mountaineering where they take the course trainees to that peak. So my thought was I’ll do the basic at HMI Darjeeling first and go for the advance to NIM in Uttarkashi.

I enrolled for the Basic mountaineering course at the Himalayan mountaineering institute i.e. a mountaineering school in India in September 2021, for the batch of May 2022. But that was the period of my final semester exams & I thought I won’t be able to do it then so I postponed it to Sept 2022. Although later I found out, the exams were late because of COVID & the situation was kinda uncertain at the university so I could’ve gone in May. But thank god I didn’t! As it was a girl’s batch & I later realized I was better friends with guys there so it’s good to go in a mixed batch anyway.

Nevertheless, I transferred my seat to Sept 2022 batch. I hadn’t trained until that point [until May] and now even when I had 4 months ahead of me for BMC, I still didn’t train. I procrastinated.

At the end of August, when I had just 15 days remaining, I started training and even then I was lazy, made excuses & did not train properly. I knew that schedule of bmc was exhausting but I gave myself the excuse that I’d manage to complete the course somehow with struggle. I contacted some people on social media who did the course before, some said it’s easy, some said I should’ve trained & some said that I should still train. But I followed the answers I wanted.. that I’d manage somehow, so I could confirm my existing beliefs. This was maybe my confirmation bias. 

I asked so many questions to people online, they were tired of me. One person ‘Deva’ became a good friend tho. He told me to write down my thoughts when I couldn’t get over this failure during the first few months after coming back from HMI Darjeeling. Now I finally decided to write & publish it as well. [So a little credit to you uncle if you are reading this.]

Told my family just 15 days prior that I’m going for a mountaineering course, and they were happy that I was doing something different.

Packed my bag & got all the medical tests done, had a morning flight on 14th Sept. The course was starting the next day i.e. the 15th.

Day 0: Reaching Himalayan Mountaineering Institute

I woke up on the 14th, roughly around 4 am. Got ready & booked a Uber to the airport. I was excited, nervous, and maybe sad as for the first time, I was going away from home to live in a hostel for a long time. I reached Nagpur airport, ate breakfast, and had a connecting flight. Landed in Kolkata after some time, and went from there to Bagdogra which is the nearest airport to Darjeeling. So many thoughts on the way about how the course & overall journey is gonna be like were playing in my mind on the way. 

I took a shared cab to Darjeeling with a batchmate I met at the airport. On the way, it was decided that since it was noon, we had time to go sightseeing a bit. We crossed the Nepal border. Just strolled around the area for a bit. It was called Ilaam. Clicked some pictures, and now it was time to get to the institute. We reached the gate of the Himalayan zoological park (the institute is situated inside the zoo), by now it was dark, maybe 8 pm & I remember struggling to pull my bag uphill while walking to reach the institute. 

Himalayan mountaineering institute
Himalayan Mountaineering Institute

Finally, as I reached there, I looked around having so many thoughts I don’t remember now. Did all the formalities, got my room number & walked to the hostel room with my bag. Having no experience of living in a hostel alone, away from family…I thought I’d be socially awkward. I entered the room & said ‘Hi’ to people who were gonna be my roommates for supposedly the next 28 days, which eventually were 10 days but that’s the story we are getting towards.

They gave us a glass & spoon to use for the time during the course, that was funny. I emptied my bag & was setting up my cupboard while talking to my roommates, who told me about the basic instructions & rules of the institute. Then went for dinner. As I walked the route between the hostel & dining hall, I struggled right there. I thought if I’m struggling at this, I wonder what the next few days might look like.

There I met a guy ‘Ezra’ who was from Belgium, and we had a brief chat. I asked him why he came to India for a basic mountaineering course? Isn’t it there in his country? He said that it is there, but is very expensive. Then I came back to my room & talked a bit with my roommates. I saw in my bag that my cough syrup’s bottle cap had opened & it stained my clothes. Then I went to sleep. 

Day 1: HMI Campus Tour & Introduction

I woke up around 4:45 am and got ready for morning PT. It’s funny how I showered before an exercise session lol. Everyone in our batch joined at the pt area, we were told it’s called ‘fall in’ when everyone is supposed to come together for any activity, lecture, or just some instructions.

After some warm-up exercises for 10 mins, we went for a 5km run around Darjeeling, did some bodyweight exercises midway & came back to the institute. I struggled a lot, I was last in the run & ran out of breath often. I had no strength at all, It was difficult. We went for breakfast. After that, we were called to fall in and they divided us into ropes which basically means different groups. A group is called a rope & one of the instructors is our rope’s instructor. It’s interesting how they divide us, they call every person of each state forward & instruct us to stand in a horizontal line, so each state’s trainee is in every single line. Many lines are formed, then they just separate us vertically so simply each rope has trainees from different states. Nice method to include diversity within each group.

We were 6-7 people in each rope & one by one, each of the members was supposed to be the rope leader of their ropes for some time. I never got the chance to be the rope leader or let’s say I didn’t take the initiative to be one. We filled out the forms that were given to every rope and got done with some arrival formalities. And then the instructors took us for a campus tour. HMI is divided into a huge area, we saw:

  • Indoor & outdoor artificial rock climbing wall
  • The stupa – A Buddhist monument where one is supposed to pray before leaving for the mountains
  • Cafeteria
  • Museum
  • Souvenir shop
  • Sherpa villa [where I guess instructors stayed]
  • Medical inspection rooms
  • Cemetery of Tenzing Norgay

I remember saying to a ropemate Oliver [Australian] ‘Looks scary’ as I saw the outdoor rock climbing wall. It was huge. I took a picture of it, then we were taken to lecture halls.

 Sports climbing outdoor wall of hmi
Sports climbing outdoor wall of HMI.

They had 2 lecture halls where we’d either have lectures or watch a film on mountaineering. I don’t remember much, I guess we had lunch and then went for some lectures. We’d have some breaks between lectures when we’d stroll around the campus in that chilly weather, they called it ‘own time’. I felt kinda lonely. I was homesick, I’d talk to my Mom often. 

Then we’d have more lectures. By 5 in the evening, we’d be done with all the activities of the day & just hang out in the campus until we went for dinner at 7 pm, then a bit more hanging out if there was time left, as, by 8 pm, the rule was that we should be inside our hostel rooms. The boy’s hostel was on the left of ours [girl’s hostel], and the dining room was underneath it. We went to our rooms, maybe talked a bit & went to bed.

Day 2: Equipment Distribution

The day started with morning PT. Then during fall in, one new guy ‘venendra’ joined our rope that day, we were a total of 6 people in our rope now. After some time I was in my room when a ropemate called me to come to the equipment collection area, everyone had gathered there to collect mountaineering gear. I think I had showered again by then lol. Anyway, I rushed there with my wet hair carrying my cough syrup-stained clothes to give for laundry. 

I saw everyone gathered there, then we were all standing in lines with our groups/ropes while an instructor lectured us on being disciplined. The foreigners hated this Hindi lecture part, I later found out. I remember the instructor [Lalit sir] asking, ‘So how did man come to know about the mountains’? He was asking this in terms of origin, people made their guesses but he didn’t say any of them to be correct. Then, somehow this topic was left out & we continued to the equipment room to collect our gear. I still wanna know the answer tho, tried telling my friends when I came back to ask him the answer. They didn’t, but hopefully, I will..one day. 

As our rope collected the gears, and filled the forms of the items taken, we started dividing them individually for each member. Stupid me asked a mate if I can exchange the water bottle with his, as I liked that color better. How naive & childish I was 6 months back lol. On the way back to our hostel from the gear collection area, I talked with the new guy ‘venendra’ & we became friends since then. He laughed as I struggled with the heavy bag of equipment walking towards the hostel & I said to him ‘kitna kashta hai zindagi mei’ [There’s so much struggle in life]. He replied ‘Kashta nahi, ye toh maze hai zindagi ke’ [Not struggle, these are fun times].

I called a batchmate to help me with some of the weight. Ven later told me that he saw me while on his way to the boy’s hostel, that I called for help & laughed. I kept the gear in the room & then I don’t remember exactly what happened. I think we had a medical checkup, I seemed to have gained a lil weight or maybe it was just the heavy clothing. Then we had a lecture on mountain manners. I am feeling nostalgic as I type this, man, how badly do I miss those days. I was the only girl in our rope, probably that was the case with most of the ropes. I was the 2nd youngest but as everyone told me- looked the youngest of all, maybe because of how naive I was.

one of our lectures
One of our lectures.

Some more lectures, strolling around, more talks with venendra, he’d only talk to me till then- he was an introvert. We’d talk standing in the balconies of our own hostels, it’s a nice memory. I guess I was unwell, I lost my cough medicine of homeopathy that I’d been taking during that period so the cough started again, and the docs there gave me some meds.

At that time in life, I’d talk a lot about spirituality – did the same at HMI Darjeeling. It’s crazy how small things I’m mentioning here..what am I writing? A memoir? Haha. I talked about ‘yeti’ with Ven – a supposed 7 feet Himalayan creature. [since then he started teasing me on it that how I believe in supernatural things]

We also talked about mountains, a bit of dating, his wedding plans [he was older by just 4 years], my career, our education, family, etc. He later goes on to pull my cheeks and nose as if I was some 5-year-old during the whole course.

Then went for dinner, and maybe talked more with the time we had. I made some calls at home, my mom would say ‘Your face looks so tired’ on the video call. Below is a picture attached, do I look tired? I think I look like a kid. And everyone there treated me as one. I got a haircut for the course as short hair is convenient to manage in the mountains. But that just made me look like a kid, some even questioned if I was even 18 when my real age was 21.

Tired me
Tired me

The daily talks with roommates & then I went to sleep.

Day 3: Learning Knots & Having A Breakdown

After the daily exercise and breakfast, we came for fall in at the campus area with our equipment. Wore harnesses, tied the carabiner, descender, and jumar/ascender to it, wore a helmet, and took this quick group photo. Attached below, it’s my favorite. 

Our first group selfie.
Our first group selfie.

Then we went to the outdoor rock climbing wall area to learn different knots, I was feeling kind of out of place and homesick so couldn’t pay attention. As a result, I couldn’t remember the knots. We went for lunch. Ven saw me breaking down, I cried because I couldn’t remember the knots and felt that was embarrassing. Maybe I was seen as ‘dumb’, but in reality, I don’t know what was wrong. Was the homesickness just an excuse and was I lazy to not practice and pay attention during knots training? I don’t know. It was my first experience, alone away from home. I hated how Ven said ‘Stop crying like a child’ & ‘People are looking’. I should’ve lectured him right there that crying doesn’t make one weak. But I was in my own zone.

Then some lectures, breaks, and films. Many of us would be so tired from the activities, we’d sleep in lectures. In between a lecture, I had a little argument with a Bengali guy- Anurag. I thought Hindi was our national language, he googled and showed me it’s not. He said we don’t have a national language. He got the vibe of me discriminating and not respecting the different cultures and diversity of India. But that wasn’t the case, I was just ignorant and naive. I had no idea about these things. We became good friends and had some random discussions. Him being from Bengal, I told him I’ve been a big fan of freedom fighter Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, so our talks went around those political topics as well.

Ezra -the guy from Belgium had really short hair, maybe he went bald. I told him that I shaved off my head too during the COVID lockdown period, but he didn’t seem to believe it. I said I’d prove it with a picture. 

Many of my friends would tease me when it came to food as I hated it. Foreigners seemed to have the special attention of the quartermaster [manager kinda guy], so I told them to ask him for some tasty food..they were smart, one of them- Oliver looked at me & said ‘That’s what you want, right’? That was funny. Some talks, some jokes & then we sleep.

Day 4: First-Time Rock Climbing & Principal Intro

The homesickness was disappearing. We did yoga this day after pt & moved to the real rock climbing area which was ‘Tenzing Rock’, it was at some distance from the institute. It’s named after Tenzing Norgay, the first sherpa to climb Everest. HMI was founded by him in the early 50s. Anyway, It was my first time seeing those huge rocks, I was scared AF. I couldn’t climb and kept sticking to the rock because of fear of falling when we were supposed to distance ourselves and climb with a 3-point contact technique. I didn’t really do much that day & we got back to the institute. 

After lunch, we had lectures on mountain clothing, ice axe, and crampons. I showed Ezra my picture of the shaved head time, it was funny. 

I don’t remember everything exactly so the order of things could be messed up, the course schedule was delayed but I am still referring to it to write in some accordance. According to it, we had a principal intro in the lecture hall. Well, technically it was a ‘vice principal intro’ as the main principal was on some expedition.

I was like ‘wtf’ as I had seen some other guy in a principal’s interview on youtube..I questioned if the principal was changed and thought ‘Is he the one that we were told went on an expedition, did he come back so soon’? Later found out he was the vice principal officiating since the main principal wasn’t present there. So, technically he was the vice principal and medical officer of HMI.

The main principal came back when our batch was supposed to graduate when I was at home crying with regret. So I haven’t met him.

In his intro, just like in other lectures I wasn’t paying much attention, I was kinda sleepy like always. He introduced us to a few people – staff and his medical team. And gave a brief introduction to the different facilities of the institute. 

A film, some more lectures, then we had our own time. I talked to Oliver & Jessy [foreigner batchmates] about spirituality, culture, and life. 

Day 5: Fitness Trial Trek & Chimney Climbing 

On this day we had a 10km trek. It was a trial of the physical fitness test we’d have on day 7.  I was exhausted. We stopped midway at the rock area for some practice, I did some rock climbing this day & was scared as f*** for the chimney climbing, so hesitated. But the instructor ‘Sanjok’ sir pushed me to do it, he just said to give it a try. I tried & completed it. It was easy, all I needed was self-belief. Below is that picture attached, the photo isn’t clear but the sheer fear is visible on my face haha.

Me chimney climbing
Me chimney climbing.

Then we got back to the institute. A 10 km trek with at least 12 kg of backpack exhausted me while getting back to the institute…I couldn’t walk uphill so 2 batchmates helped me for a while..like pulled me to keep walking. After a while, the other one carried my bag through the stairs. One of those guys was a TV actor, I didn’t know him tho. As they carried my bag up the stairs, I walked without the bag & rested for a while. The instructors saw, and one of them ‘Tapas’ sir said ‘This is just level 1 of difficulty, we have to go to level 10. He then asked me what was my age, and I said that I just turned 21, he pointed me to an instructor who was 22 and said this is the age when one should be active. He later goes on to be a motivator in the rest of the journey as will be revealed in the rest of the blog post.

I realized I had no strength at all. I walked towards the hostel, and as a batchmate saw me struggling, she came for help. I rested again on the stairs and as our course director saw that, he asked her what had happened. She told him I was struggling & he questioned..‘how would you pass the fitness test then?’ I didn’t have an answer. 

They gave us noodles for breakfast this day and that spoiled my mood as we are supposed to eat healthy. I jokingly said ‘Then they might as well serve manchurian in lunch who knows lol’. And that did happen. They freaking gave us manchurian & I was like ‘This can’t be real’! I hated the taste and so I gave mine to Jessey as he liked it. While he was getting his plate filled for lunch he told us, ‘I asked them for more & they just gave me more sauce..I was like seriously’? That was hilarious. The staff was kanjoos [miser]. I told my family & friends about this incident when I got back home.

After lunch, everyone was chilling at the cafe area, we visited the museum, and there was a newspaper cut out of the mysterious creature ‘yeti’ in it. I later told Ven about it and how it is real but he didn’t believe me. He still continued to mock me. Below is a picture attached of that newspaper cut out from the HMI Darjeeling museum.

A newspaper cut out of yeti at HMI museum.
A newspaper cut out of Yeti at HMI museum.

I talked a bit to the actor guy there & pretended I dint know who the f*** he was. In all honestly, I had recently got to know that he was an actor when our roommates were talking about it. That’s it. 

It was Tapas sir’s birthday. They cut the cake near the cafe, I wished him & asked how old he turned, he said 34 and I couldn’t believe it as he seemed young. I told him I really liked his name, that it was unique & he smiled. I asked him the meaning & as he was acting like getting in a meditative state to answer my question, I spit out the answer before he could, asking..’Meditation’? He nodded.

Then I asked him a lame question if he had a sister named ‘Tapasya’ & he denied it. The logic here was that my mom named me Madhurika after naming my brother Madhur which I find very lame. So that was the context of my stupid question lol.

Talked a bit more to the actor, his friend revealed that he is an actor and I pretended as if I didn’t already know. I asked him what he’d choose between money and fame. He replied ‘Fame’. I said I’d rather choose money as you can create an impact with it. He replied ‘You can create an impact with fame too’ I asked him ‘How’? He dint have a reply and instead jokingly said ‘How much money do you want, I’ll give it’. I said, ‘I’ll earn myself’ lol. Spiritual me thought that until that age (he was 40ish) I’d be retired roaming in the mountains as a monk or just detached from these material things and this guy even at this age is hungry for fame..no wonder he went into big boss lol. For context, it is a general perception that people go to big boss to get famous & outdated celebs go to regain their fame.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m just putting here my raw, real thoughts, and perspectives..that my naive self had during the basic mountaineering course training. This is my truth but doesn’t have to be the absolute truth. No judgment or hate towards anyone. I’ve loved and appreciated every bit of my bmc experience at hmi darjeeling.

In evening, an instructor ‘Lalit’ sir asked me about life and random questions like ‘How do you go to college, do you drive’? I replied ‘Yes, activa’ [it’s a 2-wheeler scoooty]. I dont know why he slapped his hand on his own forehead..as if he was expecting something else. I also told him that I drive without a license, and he laughed.

Tapas sir asked me about how much I trained as I said that I didn’t do uphill running, I just ran on plains & Lalit sir mocked me saying ‘sir ye toh activa chalati hai naa’! [she drives activa scooty] This was very lame, I have no idea what sense he was trying to make or how those 2 things were even related in anyway.

Tapas sir asked then, ‘beta kya sochke aye the’?[what you thought before coming here?] I unashamedly replied.. ‘sir maine socha ab graduation hua hai..toh pahaado mein jaate hai chill maarne’! [I thought graduation is done now, so let’s chill in the mountains] He caught those last two words & said something like ‘This ‘chill maarna’ is what people think while coming & later regret’.

He then went on to give a long a** motivational talk and people would get tired of listening for so long. Some topics he spoke of were about how one should experience living in a mixed hostel, mountaineering, friendships, bonding etc. After 8 pm, when we were in our rooms, the lady instructors that stayed just next to our rooms would come & we’d talk about random shit. 

Day 6: Pretending To Take Notes

After the daily routine, when we were at Tenzing Rock for the usual rock practice, I climbed and rappelled down the rock. I was wearing the rappel jacket, it was hot and I felt tired when I came down so I removed it and went near my bag to grab my water bottle. I saw that 70% of it was empty, someone drank from it. As I looked around, Mandeep -an army guy from Haryana said he did. I said ‘Mera jhoota paani that vo’! [But I drank from it’] That idiot replied ‘Tera jhoota zeher bhi pee jaunga mein’! [I’ll even drink the venom from a bottle you have] LMAO. He looked like a vampire and I’d call him so.

I went to climb another rock which required much strength and kept slipping. I failed to complete it. The instructor said the reason was my upper body lacked strength and I should practice pushups. The below picture was taken after that.

A selfie near the rock.
A selfie near the rock.

As we were getting back to the institute, the vampire irritated me and Oliver. I translated a Hindi metaphor which is used in India when someone is annoying, just to refer to this situation for Olly which was ‘Dimag khana’. Its literal translation is ‘Eating brain’. But that is not exactly what it conveys. I said, ‘Olly, stay away from him..he’ll eat your brain’. Olly just paused for a second, and looked at me with a confused face questioning ‘Eat my brain’? Ofc he took it literally and not as a metaphor. That was so funny. Then I just referred to him as ‘The brain-eating guy’ when talking to Olly & we laughed about it.

We had a lecture on mountain illness & preventive measures. AMS and hypothermia were some of the diseases I remember the medical officer/doc telling us about. In this lecture, I don’t know why but I was kinda scared that if he caught me not paying attention, he’d scold haha. So I tried not to sleep. I would never take notes except for the starting days, it was mutually decided that one person in our rope would write & share it in the WhatsApp group. Well..honestly it was my idea but our rope leader ‘Deepak’ agreed saying ‘Haa bete’ [yeah kiddo] sarcastically taunting my laziness at the start of the course. So he would take notes.

Ven noticed in this lecture that I seemed scared & to make things worse by scaring the s**t out of me, he snatched my pen as I was pretending to write when in reality, I wasn’t. So I panicked as sir kept strolling in the hall, I thought he’d notice me pretending. And ven intentionally wanted me to get into trouble so he wouldn’t return the pen. Panicking, I took someone else’s pen & continued my act of pretence lol.

Later ven would mock me on that as well.

Sir told us about many things that I don’t remember now as I was lost in my pretence & he was kinda cute haha.

I was irritated by the actor asking so many questions in this class as I was tired and wanted a chill environment. He asked so many questions that the doc thought if he had some medical experience, many might’ve thought he was flexing his knowledge. Okay, I thought so to be honest.

I had cough again, they took me to a homeopathy doc outside institute, and he prescribed some meds. We shopped a few things and were coming back to the institute with the trainees of advance course, they were randomly chatting and asked me where i was from. I replied ‘Mars’. They started calling me alien since then.

When we got back to the institute, I had missed the lecture on ‘map reading’. I told Tapas sir about it & he said he’ll teach it to me at base camp. I am waiting for that day as well as I couldn’t go to base camp for further training.

I think we did indoor rock climbing that day, that was fun and my favorite of all. I am considering doing a course solely on sports climbing now. After that, Lectures on tents, and first aid was done. Then own time. That evening, Sumit -an army guy, joked that I was cute and that he’d make me his girlfriend if I was older…I was like ‘wtf bro what do you mean by ‘making me gf’? no thought for my consideration? WTF’!

I guess I fell sick again and had a fever..lady instructors took me to the medical inspection room & they prescribed some meds again.

Day 7: Curing My Chronic Cough

While everyone was at Tenzing Rock, I and an instructor were waiting to meet the medical officer/ doc as the homeopathy one we met outside had told me to do some medical tests. So the instructors wanted to take the medical officer’s opinion on that.

Before that when the nursing assistant ‘Babloo’ sir was asking if food, water, sleep, and basic things were good or not, I said I don’t drink that much warm water as in the chilly weather of Darjeeling my water bottle would turn cold quickly. He laughed & said ‘choti bacchi hai kya? yahape aapko mummy paani garam krke dega’? [Are you a kid? Will your mom provide you warm water here’?] He then told the doc ‘sir inka ek problem hai ki ye paani nhi peeti hai’ [Her one problem is that she doesn’t drink enough water]. As the doc looked at me asking ‘why’? I just looked down, embarrassed AF of my stupid answer.

I told him I lost my meds & about my cough history. ‘Babloo’ sir also told him that I had chronic cough & allopathic medicines don’t work for me. He took a look at the name of those meds in my phone & said ‘Ye apna language nhi hai’ [This isn’t our language] He said there was no need to go through those tests & prescribed the typical cough syrup that cured my cough. It usually doesn’t, I’ve always had cough issues and so I had no expectations it would help but it did. I didn’t have cough problems till now since then..seems like magic. 

Then I got back to the rock. Unfortunately, missed the long rappelling that was done on the largest & scariest rock. Then lectures and the usual routine. ‘Amit’ was a guy I became friends with, I’d joke that he was Pakistani. Below is a picture of us.

With a friend - Amit
  With a friend – Amit

We hung out and talked about random shit like always.

Day 8: Jumar Practice & Stretcher Training

During pt, our rope instructor ‘Sonam’ sir asked me where I was from and I replied ‘Nagpur’. Our talks went around that topic and he asked me that just like tea is the specialty of Darjeeling, what’s the specialty of Nagpur? I said ‘Oranges’. It’s called ‘Orange City’ for a reason. He smiled and asked ‘Why didn’t you bring us some’? I said, ‘This isn’t the season’. He also asked what training I did before coming for bmc, I just told him about my usual yoga routine. He said it doesn’t add to the strength & isn’t enough for bmc training. I took it to my ego and said it depends on how advance you practice & that I’ll explain more about it some other time as we were running back to the institute.

Our talks also went around the topic of how difficult the trek & further training would be for me at base camp and on the way there. I said to him ‘Aaap dekhlena, mein krlungi’ [You see, I’m gonna complete the course] Wish I had stayed mentally strong enough for it to become my reality. 

Then back to the rock to learn new techniques. Jumar or ascender is the equipment used to climb a rock or mountain. I did that one twice, it required strength. As you push it upwards, you are supposed to pull the rope down i.e. towards yourself, and push your body upwards. Very tiring. I’d rest in the air midway when getting tired, it’d hurt my hands too. I took longer than the average person but climbed twice and rappelled down. Below is a photo attached of me rappelling down.

Me rappelling down at Tenzing Rock

Then I guess we went back to the institute. After lunch, a lecture on stretcher training was done near the cafeteria. Each rope practiced making a stretcher. One of the rope mates would be laid on the mat and the rest of the rope members tied him for practice.

A ropemate on the stretcher.
Our ropemate on the stretcher.

After stretcher practice was done, our rope instructor ‘Sonam’ sir asked me again ‘You were gonna explain about yoga right? I did say that practicing more [50-60] of Surya namaskars [sun salutations] adds to the strength. He had some argument, I tried to justify saying ‘You don’t know the power of yoga’. He said, ‘You aren’t understanding…I am not underestimating it, I just feel it’s not enough for mountaineering’. But as that’s the form of exercise I’ve done most of my life, I was egotistical about the fact I practice it, or how it was superior to other forms of exercises.

I didn’t think at that time that each form of exercise works & affects us in their own way so they all have their uniqueness & that nothing is inferior or superior.

I was realizing that the training for a basic mountaineering course is no joke but the time was gone now. All I could do was give my best.

Many of our instructors were Nepali & I found their Hindi which they spoke in a Nepali accent, cute as they couldn’t speak so fluently.

Anyway, after some lectures, we were told to pack our bags with weights of at least 15 kg for the fitness test the next day. I did it at last, and had less weight..so added a rock to it the next day. We had our usual own time, and some were playing cards. There an army guy said to me ‘Teko dekhke lgta hai ki tu pehli baar ghar se nikli hai’ [you look like the person who stepped out of home alone for the first time] I guess he sensed my naiveness. We talked about some military and political things.

I became good friends with Ankit, he’d preach a lot of things and I’d get bored. Although he’s the only one I talk to like every week now since then. 

Anyway after that, at dinner, I was with all the foreigners and as I saw eggs in Oliver’s plate, I questioned him ‘But aren’t you vegetarian’? He said egg is vegetarian which sounded very stupid to me. Our discussion went around that topic and all of those 3 foreign guys were explaining how it doesn’t contain life so it is vegetarian, olly said ‘It’s just like a period’. Ryan [Britisher] said ‘Well you are talking about veganism then’. I argued ‘Naah there you don’t consume dairy, while in vegetarianism you can’. Olly concluded by saying that ‘Okay so in India, egg is non-veg. Fine’. I still argued that egg in its nature is non-veg. Then some more talks before we sleep.

Day 9: When I Failed BMC

After breakfast, we were supposed to go on the trek. I reached for fall in late because somebody had unintentionally locked the hostel room when I was in the washroom. When the door was opened, I rushed at the fall in area and when the trek started, I was lagging behind. Gradually everyone went ahead & I was far away walking with the instructors. As I was struggling to walk uphill, here is where ‘Tapas’ sir became a motivator. He told me to take small steps, not remove the bag and sit for rest, but rest while standing. That technique worked. I had chest pain and breathing difficulty. But it seemed to have gone as I followed what he told me. I cried as well, so had a runny nose haha. He told me to clear it first. I was embarrassed.

Tapas sir saw all sides of my personality- the jokey me, the naive me, the dumb me, the struggling/crying me, and the embarrassed as well. On that trek, we talked about life..mostly he asked me about my life, career, etc. He asked about my hobbies & as I said reading, dance he said you gotta dance on the day of the graduation ceremony. I told him I had stage fear and that I never pursued it officially. He said ‘You aren’t gonna get a stage’. Huh..if I could only tell him I wasn’t gonna be there till graduation. I saw a few others struggle too, he kept motivating me saying how I was doing better than them as one guy had fainted on the trek and I was still walking.

Nevertheless, I was the last to reach back to the institute. It took me 4.5 hours to complete the 15 km trek with a 16 kg backpack. We were supposed to complete it within 3, tho they relaxed it until 3.5. But I had still failed. They’d check the weight when we came back, I weighed & went straight to my room. Took a shower, and was so tired.. didn’t eat lunch but rather took a nap.

Woke up, went to the cafeteria where everyone was hanging out, and ate some food. I noticed the breathing difficulty was still there. I told Ezra that I won’t be taken to the base camp, and he said to me ‘Man, I wish they let you come’. We watched a film, had our usual own time & dinner.

Then I told a lady instructor about my breathing issue, she took me to the medical inspection room, blood pressure & oxygen levels were checked. They informed the medical officer, and he asked us to come to his quarter where he stayed. These instructors knew my condition so they were discussing how I’d struggle to walk & come back from his quarter.

Anyway, we went there in the dark. He smiled & asked ‘kya hua, theek he nhi ho rhe ho’? [what’s wrong, you aren’t getting back to normal?] I think I had a sad face. He examined me & concluded that my tonsils had swelled up which caused the breathing difficulty. His remark ‘You have a very small throat’ was funny. Almost every small detail of those 10 days is etched in my memory. He prescribed some medicines & I walked to the hostel again.

Day 10: Saying Goodbye To HMI 

I didn’t go for the morning pt, stayed in bed instead after taking meds as I knew they’d send me back. As I went for fall in that day, an instructor came & told us who had failed the test to meet the course director. He told us that since we couldn’t complete this trek in time, we have to return home and can’t be taken to the mountains i.e. to the base camp for glacier and further training. He said ‘this trek was a child walk compared to what we’d face in the mountains’. We were supposed to trek in the leech-infested alpine forests which is exhausting AF. We were crying, and some requested to stay. I dint utter a word and went to the room. I cried there. 

The course director called us to meet the medical officer/ vice principal. He asked us for feedback. No one had any criticism, they said it was all good. We were getting back to our rooms, I stopped midway & went back to his office again as I thought I should give some feedback on the food haha. I told him that I think the food served should be healthy, and he asked me to specify. I said Manchurian & noodles were given, stale daal was served that smelled bad. He accepted it & said that I should write it in the feedback diary in the dining hall. But I forgot anyway. 

None of us failures went to the next lectures, I did tho. I went and sat on the last bench. Sumit saw my sad face and rested his hand on my cheek as a way of consoling.

During lunch & the whole day, I cried in between. Went to the museum again with Deepak, and he took a selfie there with my crying face. Below it’s attached.

a selfie with my crying face.
A selfie with my crying face.

Then our rope mates were at the cafe, I cried there. In the evening I was meeting friends and cried there too. 

Tapas sir tried to motivate me a lot as we got back to the hostel area. I told him I booked the next day’s flight, he said what was the rush…I should’ve stayed & traveled a bit in Darjeeling. But I honestly didn’t have the courage to. The longer I stayed, the lower I’d feel, wanted to go as I couldn’t bear that feeling of failure.. so I booked the flight for the next day. I told sir ‘rukungi toh aur dukh hoga’ [if i stay, i’ll be more sad] He asked ‘kis baat ka dukh hai’? [feeling sad for what?] He said I should come back prepared. I said I feel like everything is wasted. He questioned, ‘What’s wasted? You learned a lot, your fear of rocks was gone & you completed the activities’. He tried to make me feel better & said that during the trek I felt like I wouldn’t be able to complete it but I did. So what if it was 4.5 hours? At least I did it myself, didn’t require any help or an ambulance that is available in emergency cases. Other instructors also tried to make me feel better. But I was sad, full of regret that I’d miss the rest of the journey with these guys who had become my really good friends. 

I was standing at the hostel balcony when I noticed in the boys hostel that a few guys were gathered. There was a snake, they were trying to get it out of the hostel area. I was sad thinking I was gonna miss the rest of such many fun incidents.

That night at the dining hall, Jessey held out his hand. I grabbed it as i thought it was a handshake, but he pulled me towards himself & started rubbing my back as a way of consoling. With hugs from him and Oliver, I cried. Tapas sir tried to joke if I was venting my anger on food as he didn’t see the sweet dish in my plate. ‘I just don’t like sweets’, I replied.

Then I contacted a few cab drivers for the next day’s pickup & couldn’t stop feeling sad. Venendra came near the hostel to talk to me, I wasn’t talking to him because he ignored me for those last few days and was with his other friends. [Later he did make more friends & we didn’t spend as much time together]. So I was angry as I was gonna leave & he ignored me. But then he said sorry and we talked a bit. He said that as I get back home, I should work on my career and not feel sad thinking of bmc.

Went to my room, it was a girl’s birthday so we celebrated with a cake, other girls from the next room came & so did the lady instructors. The cake was cut, pictures taken, and videos were made as they were all dancing, on the other hand, I was sitting feeling sad because I was leaving.

Selfie with roommates.
Selfie with roommates.

I remember I thought to myself that this day won’t come back…I might as well enjoy it. But I didn’t dance, I just sat there staring. Also, I think it was because I made 0 friends with the girls of the course. If I had to name even 1 person, I won’t be able to. Because all my friends were the boys. Lmao some girls might be jealous of me, as i got all the attention. Everyone treated me like a kid & it wasn’t some “girly” attention, but still, attention is attention lol.

When the instructors were leaving after the lil celebration, one of them ‘Sulu’ came & picked me up. She said something like ‘Ye toh meri bacchi hai’ [she’s my kid]. I wonder why she avoided the ‘failure talk’ unlike other instructors who addressed the situation [Maybe it was because she felt no point of it as she had previously said, before our fitness test that ‘If you fail, you gotta go’ & stuff] Then they left and I went to sleep.

Day 11: Leaving HMI

I woke up at around 4 am, my flight was around 2 pm from Bagdogra but the person I was gonna share a taxi with had an early flight. My rope mates said they’ll come to say bye but no one did. They were supposed to leave for the mountains/ base camp that day. ‘Amit’ later told me he came to meet me in the morning near the girl’s hostel but went back as he didn’t see me, that idiot should’ve made a phone call.. but he just went back to his hostel. 

I had my stuff packed the night earlier, cleaned my bag..found the homeopathic medicine I had lost in a section of the cupboard, and did what ‘Lalit’ sir had done after my ‘activa’ reply..slapped my hand on my forehead as a way of thinking how dumb I was. I left in the dark in the early morning saying bye to the lady instructors and roommates feeling a sense of emptiness within, very sad..wondering if I could ever come back here. I remember that lonely feeling as I was pulling my bag near the zoo’s main gate. I was so sad, I don’t wanna be in that state ever again. It broke me. As I reached the airport, after some time I was chatting with ‘Ankit’, and texted him I only have tears in my eyes. He tried to make me feel better while they were on their way to Yuksum..from there all batch was supposed to trek to the base camp.

At Bagdogra airport, I met a northeastern guy. His name was Tenzin Ludu, we chatted for a while about each other’s life, Buddhism, and Dalai Lama. He was going to Banglore and said I should give BMC a second try. I said I wasn’t sure if I truly like mountaineering. Crazy how you get to meet so many people & learn about things just by stepping out. Now I wish we had kept in touch. I just get attached to random places and people often.

I had a connecting flight, Bagdogra -Kolkata- Nagpur. I cried through the airport. Reached home at night around 11-12pm & I had thought before that since I’m tired because of all the heavy physical activities in the past week, I’ll finally get a restful sleep. But I dint, nor that night and neither for the next few months. 

The Aftermath

I waited for the course guys to come back from base camp so they’d have network and I could talk to them. Got to know about an avalanche incident that recently occurred at DKD2 peak in Uttrakhand where the batch of advance mountaineering course of Nehru Institute Of Mountaineering had been for their training. Many lost their lives. It was a very sad incident. As mentioned in the start of this post, DKD2 peak has spiritual importance as there’s an incident about it in the epic ‘Mahabharata’. Solely that inspired me to go for bmc as I thought I’ll do advance course in that institute where they take us to DKD2.

I talked to Ankit on a video call while he was trekking his way back to yuksum. [from there they were supposed to go back to the institute via car] We talked while he had that load on his back, I had no idea about this before calling him. I told him to take the phone towards Lalit sir who was ahead trekking of him. He did and I told sir I cried, and he asked why. I told him I missed everyone. He said then you should just call like now you did. We talked for a bit then hung up.

I texted Oliver to give me a call in free time, he video-called & while they were all gathered near his phone looking and talking to me, I just wished I was there. Later they started celebrating their completed journey with a dance keeping the phone to a side, while I just watched.

I irritated Amit a lot through texts & calls while he was there at the institute, he knew how much I missed everyone so he was bearing my irritation.

I couldn’t get to the part of real training which was supposed to be at base camp, I couldn’t use the ice axe, crampons, and snow boots. I just kept thinking things like how would ice climbing be like? How would it be being outside the network zone at 15,000 feet height away from everything with a bunch of strangers that turned out to be good friends? I missed out on all the fun at base camp. I have never seen snow in my life, this at HMI base camp was supposed to be my first one. I had been thinking about it since I enrolled.

To be in a ‘what if’ kinda scenario pisses the s**t out of you. Thinking about the ‘what could’ve been if’ possibility just makes the regret worse.

The next few days I kept talking to friends, but only Ankit stayed consistent and became a close friend. Unfortunately, we don’t have a picture together. I’ll click one & add it here when we meet again.

Update: I met Ankit & Amit in Delhi in June 2023. Ankit is the one on my right.
Update: I met Ankit & Amit in Delhi in June 2023. Ankit is the one on my right.

I’ve been very transparent in this blog post but some things I can’t risk writing here are some gossips & conversations we had – like how I got a crush on someone in that short period of time haha.

Hint: It can be guessed by reading this blog post carefully.

Final Thoughts

Just when I got comfortable there, I was told to leave. Worst feeling ever. I missed out on all the fun that happened at base camp.

Apart from not training, what I regret is that I accepted my weakness, I did not even fight a little to stay strong or request them to let me stay and go to the mountains. I guess I was scared of how difficult the trek ahead could be, I could die and I felt that god saved me from further struggle by failing me. But I should’ve stayed mentally strong & avoided these 5 mistakes.

If I had just simply followed the instructions during each and every activity & stayed mentally strong, maybe I would’ve made most of my time there. Failure teaches you a lot and success lies on the other side of fear.

Had I avoided these 2, my story would’ve been different. 

When I came back, I could not stop thinking about it. It did get reduced over time, but it’s still there. Regret, anger & memories were all coming as mixed emotions & sometimes it was overwhelming. Regret is the worst, accepting that you can’t go back and change a single thing is difficult but that’s the painful reality.

The thought of ‘what could’ve been’ is such a painful one. What if I had courage, what if I had trained…my reality today could’ve been different, and I wouldn’t have this regret. But life doesn’t give you the chance to go back in time..you only get to learn through such experiences.

Being lazy to not train for the mountains will be the worst mistake of my life I felt and it was. Isn’t it common sense to physically train before going for something extreme? I knew it but I was lazy, I overestimated that I’d manage somehow. 

But after I went there, I paid the price for my mistakes. Had to leave my friends on what could’ve been the best journey of something adventurous in my life until that point. My first-ever hostel, adventure experience was spoiled because of my own mistake. I had nobody else, but myself to blame. The fact that I didn’t reach the graduation ceremony, that I couldn’t graduate with these people that became my good friends hurt a lot. But what could be done now? It’s all gone and done. I can’t reverse it.

The best part of my journey was the people I met during the whole journey, I guess because it was my first experience stepping out myself..it was special, and hence I got so attached.

Everyone there -our batchmates, and instructors called me ‘Madhu’, my name is Madhurika & no one ever called me Madhu in life. So, the name of this blog is inspired by that. I have no idea if I’ll ever meet those people again, but I hope I do. Maybe I didn’t mean as much to them as they did to me..but who cares? Attachment is my weakness. 

As of now I am questioning if I truly like mountaineering to go for the course again..like so much of physical activity is my thing or not..I’m not sure. My reason to go for bmc was different than anyone else. I don’t think anyone would go for an exhausting course looking at the spiritual aspect of it. Maybe I was childish. What I now understand is, one should seek spirituality within and not outside.

Tapas sir gave his own example & said that there are many people in the course but only some or just one will become your close one. And Ankit became that one for me. Haha, we still talk if I should go for bmc again or not, and at HMI Darjeeling or somewhere else. I keep telling him that going for the course just to satisfy my ego because I failed isn’t the right approach. I thought that the world will see me as a failure but who & why do I have to prove anything to the world? I need to be interested in mountaineering to go for it.

But if it is for me, will I be able to go and complete the course there again or will I have to go to some other institute? Only time will tell. I really hope to go back soon and complete the things I missed out on and make the most of it. The fact that those batchmates and friends won’t be there hurts but if life gives me a second chance, I’ll make sure to make the most of it.

Wish I meet the same people i.e. staff and instructors. Also, get answers to some unanswered questions. I somewhere do feel this failure has a deeper meaning which might be revealed in the near future. Like things happen based on previous experiences, so this bmc failure might lead me somewhere.

I wish I had written this before, but I was numb and weak. I honestly didn’t have the courage to go down that memory lane. It broke me. As I’m completing writing this, I do feel the same emotions again but with less intensity.

This blog post itself is of around 9k words, and it keeps getting longer as I keep adding things as I remember. If I can write this much with just 10 days there.. just imagine how much I could write about the whole 28 days, so that’s the fun I lost.

The point of writing this blog post is just that I wanted to document my thoughts, the journey that’s been replaying in my mind since September 2022. Some things in this blog post seem a bit cringe to me and might as well to people reading but I just wanted to stay authentic and write the raw truth as it was. Because that’s what happened.

I completed writing today i.e. 30th March 2023. Some edits to do & then I publish this.

I’ll keep adding things as I remember to this blog post. I have no idea if anyone will read this or if it’ll rank on Google, but if anyone does, I hope they learn something.

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