During the first week of the course, we stayed in Darjiling itself. The daily schedule was such that we hardly had any free time. We were not supposed to leave the campus at all and nobody did. Except when we were taken out to learn and practice rock-climbing. For fixed hours on few days.
Our mornings began with 4 km runs at six. That I absolutely didn’t mind. In fact, I usually ran in the top ten pack. But the runs were never continuous. The instructors would make us pause for several times in between. To do stretching exercises. Or push-up on fingers. And other painful things like that. Many a times, the stretching that they made us do was really something beyond what I had ever done (especially that fuck-max boat position). I often screamed. One of the days, a Bangladeshi even fainted. His name was Rocky and he had just completed his masters in film and media from Dhaka – where he lived. ‘People who do mountaineering, their minds become like mountains’, he would later tell us.
When running resumed after such breaks, and if I passed MRP, I usually cheered her up. ‘Come on MRP – good speed’. ‘Keep running’. Lovely mornings they were. Except when we were stretching.
Followed by the runs, were hour long yoga classes every alternate day. And that meant some more stretching. The only part that I liked and loved and enjoyed about the yoga classes were the laughing sessions in the end. I would literally laugh the way characters laugh in a Bankelal comic. Bu hu hu ha ha ha ha ha.
It was only on the third day of the course, that we had our first rock climbing session. The place was called Tenzing Hill and was about 15 minutes walk away from the campus. And guess what, I didn’t carry my climbing shoes with me that day. The very shoes on which I had spent 5k just so that I could learn how to use them. LOL. It’s not that I had forgotten to bring them from my hostel room to this Tenzing rock. It’s just I had assumed that on first day of rock-climbing, we would only be shown demo and stuff by the instructors. But no – after the demo was over, we were supposed to climb ourselves. I see. Hmm. Awesome. So I climbed anyway. Dressed in jeans and in my uncomfortable, heavy and grip-fuck Woodland trekking shoes. And after a while, I forgot about my climbing shoes. Until next day that is.
We did high celing rappelling and shoulder rapelling the next day. And then some more rock-climbing. I was so glad I had my climbing shoes with me finally. I always carried them from then on. Until we left for the base-camp that is.
One of the instructors who taught us how to tie various kinds of knots, saw my shoes and asked me if I was into rock-climbing and stuff. ‘No, I bought these just for this course. I didn’t know how to use them before.’ I confessed to Knotty sir.
‘But you don’t need them at this stage. Look at others. If they can climb these rocks using the regular canvas and trekking boots, why do you need climbing shoes to do the same? The problem with climbing shoes is that, if you get used to them, you would not be able to climb in heavier shoes. And remember that you do need to do rock-climbing and stuff even at high altitude. In low temperatures. When there is absolutely no scope for putting on these climbing shoes. How would you climb then?’
This was a good piece of advice. Except that it further depressed me. I had spent so much over a pair of shoes that I didn’t really need. Wow. 5k. LOL. May be Knotty sir sensed my dejection. He threw few words of consolation as well.
‘You can always use these shoes to ‘enhance’ your climbing performance. More so in sports-climbing. But use them only after you can do the same climb in regular shoes as well. Then you would feel the difference. You would feel the edge. These are very good shoes.’
MRP and I had a little chit-chat with Rocky (the Bangladeshi who had fainted the previous day) as we returned from the Tenzing Rock to our campus. I told him I knew three things about Bangladesh (all courtesy Sadhu) – 1. The roads there are full of Toyotas. 2. The city is over populated. 3. Government is extremely corrupt.
He told us about this amazing Bengali movie that he totally kickassly loved. It was called Moner Manush and a guy called Lolon was the main character.
‘What does Moner Manush mean?’ I asked him.
‘It means that one thing that will complete you one day – the soul that’s out there – the man-soul. That one thing worth waiting for. Worth living for. Even if you don’t get it till the end. Just like Lolan didn’t.’ Rocky answered.
I looked at MRP and winked. ‘Ah, so you mean she is my Moner Manush’, I asked him. She blushed. ‘Yes, you can say that’, he replied with a smile. And we reached the campus.
Whenever free, I often sat under the sun over a favourite set of staircase (near the Quarter Master’s office) that I had settled on since day one. I could see MRP’s room from there. And anyone out in the hostel wing could see me sitting there, if they came out to the corridor. She would often see me and then come down and join me. Sometimes we read books. Sometimes we just chatted. And sometimes we changed the stairs.
In the evenings, we often had various lecture classes. I found them cute and made it a point to sit besides her as much as I could. These lectures were on topics such as avalanches, mountain manners, high altitude sickness and things like that. There was this local kid (from Darjiling that is) who had just written his Xth. He always had a royal blue coloured North Face woolen cap over his head and had been named Psycho by one and all. He soon became very famous in these classes, on account of the most hilarious questions that he almost always managed to ask. In the most innocent voice that one can. For example, following were some of Psycho’s questions to the doctor (an Army Major) who once took a lecture on Snow Injury:
• If the finger is cut after frost bite, would the finger regrow?
• Can we eat body of fellow-climber if he is about to die?
• Is human flesh good for health?
Back there in Darjiling, we often talked about how the upcoming days in base-camp were going to be. The place where we were supposed to go for learning ice and snow craft. In Sikkim. We had been asked to forget about taking a bath there – it was so bloody cold. The idea of not being able to take bath for over two weeks was bloody repulsive. And everyone was preparing for that.
Those days in Darjiling were about having food in a mess all over again (never had to, after graduating from IIT). About rushing to quadrangle to fall-in every time a whistle blew. About endless conversations during tea-time. The 100 ft climb (for which I took full 13 minutes). The losing track of day and date. The chilling cold water bath that I took on few days. The realization that my climbing shoes were way too tight (5k over tight shoes that I was not supposed to use. LOL.). The dummy-trekking with full rucksacks so that we could prepare ourselves for the real trek to base-camp. The eating of chocolates during the trek. The rains that sometimes didn’t allow us to climb rocks. And the black tea with MRP at Tenzing rock when it rained. The watching of mountaineering movies in Jayal Hall. Together with her. The holding of hands in the darkness of the movie-room and letting her head rest on my shoulder. The lack of sufficient number of mugs in the bog. The disgust at those who sometimes left their shit in the toilets without draining it off. The Bodyshop showergel that I lost (and felt tragic about the loss for several days). The red coloured snow-boots and the funny way I walked in them, while checking if they fit me fine. And the first outing.
Since were were never let free, the outing was something that each one of us was so eagerly looking forward to. After five days of a fultoo disciplined life. An outing meant we were allowed to go out to the city for few hours and we could do all that we wanted. More than anything else, MRP and I wanted to take a refreshing hot shower. And may be a little bit of sex thereafter. It’s another matter that we never could find enough time to do that. The sex that is.
On the day day of the outing, we had only about five to six hours with us and most of that went to shopping. There was a lot that needed to be bought. And we pretty much bought everything that we wrote down in our to-buy list. A rucksack cover. Extra underwears. Waterproof gloves. Gore-tex gloves. A plastic spoon and a plastic mug. Blue mug for me, pink for her. Trak pant. Extra tshirt. Socks. Dettol. Medicinal anti fungal powder. Liquid soap. I even had a super-short hair cut. And after getting all of this done, we just had enough time to take a quick hot shower in a hotel and rush back to the campus.
That night, everyone slept happy. And everyone wondered how the journey to the base-camp, beginning the next day, was going to be like.