Beyond bollywood: Stairway to Heaven

Published: Oct 27, 2019, 07:00 IST | Meenakshi Shedde |

I got a ticket for the Sydney Bridge Climb as a birthday present. I was worried if I could make it, but read that the climbers included Robert De Niro and Cate Blanchett. Bas, bas, I thought, hum aaram se kar lenge.

Illustration/Uday Mohite
Illustration/Uday Mohite

Meenakshi Shedde

One of the loveliest birthday presents I've received, was a ticket to do the 'Sydney Bridge Climb' in Australia. Birthdays are a phookat mein milestone, because growing older is effortless—you just can't help it.

So, this was in the first week of October, a birthday present in advance from friends in Sydney. I flew to Sydney from Brisbane, where I already was on the Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA) Nominations Council, selecting nominees for the best Asian films from 70 nations. We were to shinny up to the very top of the landmark Sydney Harbour Bridge, and get panoramic views of the harbour, Sydney Opera House and more. I was delighted, but also anxious not to be huffing and puffing and holding up the other climbers, as this steel span bridge has a height of 440 ft and width of 1650 ft. Then on the BridgeClimb Sydney website, I read that their climbers included Robert De Niro, Cate Blanchett, Oprah Winfrey and Nicole Kidman. Bas, bas, I thought, hum aaram se kar lenge.

There are four regular ways to access Sydney Bridge, via parallel, horizontal routes—pedestrian walkway, cyclists' track, vehicular road or train—that cut across the span of the bridge. But, the BridgeClimb offered us an andar ka route to the top, and was mostly angular or vertical, a sheer drop sometimes, along narrow, internal metal stairs that the engineers used when constructing the bridge from 1922 to 1932.

We started in the evening and ended at night. We were treated to spectacular views of Sydney harbour at sunset, and the magnificent Sydney Opera House, with its distinctive architecture with 'sails' below you, and the sweeping Sydney skyline. When we reached the summit, it felt fantastic, not only the physical feat for a laptop potato like me, but the sheer pleasure of the wind in your hair, as you stood between two flapping Australian flags, as the stars peeped out -- it felt a bit nearer heaven. And, as yachts glided past in the inky waters directly below, festooned with lights, their faint music reached us on high.

They had impressive prep I've rarely seen in India. We were not allowed to carry anything. We signed a consent form and did a 'rehearsal'. We were given overalls and a harness chain with a sliding metal clamp on a wire that runs along the entire length of the climb, so you simply can't fall off. Photography was not allowed; your guide would take photos, which you could buy in the shop for a fat fee when you finished.

I had a couple of heart-stopping moments, when I was directly over the traffic, with headlights speeding below. Even scarier was when we were within inches of trains hurtling past, and you could feel their rattle in your very bones. But the breath-taking views made up for everything. It took us about four hours in all.
As you grow older, even modest physical achievements seem sweeter. By the end, we were utterly exhausted, and simply devoured pizzas before crashing out. I slept really well that night, after that glimpse of heaven.

Meenakshi Shedde is India and South Asia Delegate to the Berlin International Film Festival, National Award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at

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