Treacherous glaciers, vertical rock faces, steep ice walls and the sheer thrill of climbing…think mountain adventure and you think India? Unfortunately not. In fact, though India has the longest stretch of the Himalayas, we have lost out to neighbours Nepal, Pakistan and China when it comes to the eight-thousanders (8,000-ers) – or the world’s 14 tallest independent mountains.
Only Kangchenjunga (8,586 m) is located in India. But that too cannot be climbed from here because it has been declared a sacred peak by the Sikkim government. But it’s not only the absence of the star 8,000-ers that is keeping the serious mountaineers and adventure tourists away from India.
There are bureaucratic issues such as permits and the special X visas which are required for mountaineering expeditions to peaks which are not classified as open. In fact, excessive red tape is often a far bigger reason for keeping the global mountaineering community away from India rather than the absence of the challenging terrain.
Hurdles on the Way Up
India has a wealth of unclimbed peaks in the 6,000-m range – Nanda Devi East, Kamet, Abi Gamin, Satopanth, Saser Kangri, Thalay Sagar and Shivling – with roads pushed further into the Himalayas than other countries, making them accessible to mountaineers on short breaks, says British mountaineer Mick Fowler, who plans an expedition here later this year. He and his teammates have started applying for permits, making 11 copies of bio-data forms, route plans and lists of all equipment that they will bring to India.
“India still has the maximum number of unclimbed and technically challenging peaks in the world in east Karakoram and Garhwal regions. International climbers find these very exciting but often shy away because of the amount of paperwork,” says Yangdu Gombu, who runs Rimo Expeditions.
The extra royalties that these states have levied have hit the number of mountaineering expeditions in a big way. According to figures from IMF, the number of expeditions to Uttarakhand dropped from 73 in 2002 to just 36 in 2011. In Sikkim, the drop has been nearly 50% over the past 10 years. -Agencies