It was some time after mid-year in 2009. August probably. The only client for whom I was working then was the Tourism Department of Government of Orissa. Amongst other things, they asked us to prepare for them a concept note on development of adventure tourism in the State. During my research I found out about cycling expeditions from Manali to Leh that many had undertaken. And that is how I ended up cycling that route myself – the next month. September 2009.
During the same time, I also discovered the few mountaineering institutes that our country has. All of them had courses that required at least a month to complete. Back then, I could not envisage getting that long a leave. And thus the discovery of these institutes remained just that – a discovery.
An year later, in September 2010, I was off to several cities in Canada and US for about three weeks of work. After which, I took a week off and went cycling in the Canadian Rockies. Lovely place. Yellow leaves, clean air, shining everything and blue and green lakes. During those five / six days of solo cycling starting from Jasper and ending in Calgary, there were hardly any towns in between – with the exception of Lake Lewis and Banff. What they had as accommodation units in between were these Canadian Youth Hostels set-up on the highways, where for about 30 dollars (on an average) you could get a bed in the dorm. These were specifically for night stay, developed keeping backpackers, trekkers and cyclists in mind. So you could check-in only after 5 pm and you had to check out by 10 AM. Also, since these hostels where in the middle of nowhere, you often didn’t have electricity or restaurant or food or other such things. You did have access to a common big furnished dining hall cum kitchen, where you could heat / cook food if you were carrying any. Anyway. So in one such hostel, I met Jim – the manager / care-taker.
It had drizzled a lot that day. Was kind of cold. After reaching the hostel, as I let my bike fall down on the ground, I saw Jim roasting a sausage in a wooden-fire and heating himself at the same time. I said hi to him. And then he introduced himself. He was a carpenter from Australia and loved climbing. He had been traveling since the past few years, working in several countries such as Italy and France and all that. Being the hostel care-taker in the middle of nowhere in Canada had been his latest job. Since over an year. He had climbed all the surrounding peaks. During winters, the hostels closed down because everything froze. And then Jim did ice-climbing as well.
‘I have always liked the idea of cycling’, he told me, ‘but never really done that.’
‘I have always liked the idea of climbing’, I replied, ‘but never really done that’.
We both laughed.
As we were still sitting around the fire that he had set-up, a tiny 40ish nurse from UK who worked in Vancouver also came cycling down to the hostel in her wet red jacket. Later in the evening, we were further joined by a motor-biking couple. As we were having our dinner in the dining hall (although I think I didn’t have anything to eat that night), Jim showed us all on his laptop (there was no electricity but he had enough battery left) pictures of him climbing up a frozen water-fall amongst other fascinating pictures. I wished I could do all of that. And then I went to sleep. Empty stomach. And resumed my cycling. Cycled for few more days. Captured the beauty of the Canadian Rockies on my camera. Returned to India. And went on a date with MRP.
She had worn a blue frock kind of a thing that day. I had my ‘Manali to Leh’ cycling t-shirt on. We met in a book-store. We talked about Shantaram and Osho and Reiki and my cycling. From the book-store we movied to a coffee-shop. Where I tried playing a guitar even when I knew I didn’t know how to. And then we talked about mountaineering.
It was surprising that she was as much aware about the mountaineering institutes of India as I was. She had wanted to learning climbing as well. And at that very moment, sitting in that coffee-shop, we knew we had to learn that together. We knew it for sure. Yes, all in that first date.
Not long after that, both of us did register ourselves for a 28 days basic mountaineering course at HMI Darjeeling. Her existing job-contract was going to expire just before the course start-date. So she decided to take a month’s break before starting a new contract. And for me, I decided to consume most of my accumulated leave-days in one go. That’s all I could do. And thus the two of us were set. To learn climbing. And then one day, we packed our bags and left for Darjeeling.