"Mountaineers were needed in Uttarakhand"

1. How did you get involved in the rescue and relief operations in Uttarakhand?
We were emotionally attached to the place and the locals as they would come with us on treks. Also, we had the equipment needed for the rescue work. We are all trained mountaineers and we conducted a lot of meetings before finalising volunteers who were physically and mentally fit to handle the situation. When we reached Uttarakhand, we found that the situation was quite bad. While most of the efforts were directed at rescuing the travellers, the locals were still in trouble and needed help. A lot of villages located near Nepal had lost complete communication with other places.

The Giripremi team working at building a bridge at Uttarakhand

We built bridges from whatever we would get — telephone poles, trees, etc. This was not easy as boulders were falling on us and the land below our feet could just skid off at any time. It was a difficult situation but we managed to build a long bridge that helped the villagers to access help. The bridge can also be extended if needed later by the locals.

It will take more than three years, at least, for this place to go back to its original condition. More than 50 villages have been destroyed by the river floods, roads have vanished and connectivity to the remote villages has been broken. There is no electricity, shelter or food. More than 50,000 people are believed to be dead. Mountaineers were needed in the area as we knew the terrain well and we knew what to do in such situations.

2. What is the present state of mountaineering?
Mountaineering is not a hobby; it is akin to an adventure sport and anyone can learn it. It helps you physically as well as mentally. There needs to be proper training; there are courses for it in foreign countries and some in North India as well. It needs to be promoted by the government. It should be recognised as a sport and supported. Children should be encouraged to take part in it. We need Indian icons so that more people are attracted to it.

3. Are there any initiatives that you are doing to encourage youngsters to join you?
Giripremi has been instrumental in shaping and nurturing young minds who are keen towards mountaineering. We have been working to increase awareness towards nature and adventure sports like trekking and mountaineering. Through various programmes, we ensure that proper training is imparted to people in the age group of 10-18 years. The programme is designed to ensure that mountaineering is practised like other routine sports, throughout the year. They are guided and are given a chance to get trained in the mountain ranges of Northern India. We want parents to understand that this is an adventure sport and that their child can build a career through mountaineering.

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