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  • Writer's pictureGowri Varanashi

Climbing Back To Our Roots

It was a particularly hot day in Badami as I stood at the other end of a staircase in front of a temple on a hillock with stunning red sandstone rock walls towering on either side. I could see a few people huddled under one wall as they watched my friend Arjun Reddy, leading up a sport route. Suddenly, I heard him calmly call out, “there is a snake in this crack.” We climbers often stick our fingers, hands and feet – and on rare occasions, entire body parts like our knees and shoulders – into crevices as they make for very good holds. Most people would be scared, but my friend slowly backed off and the snake slithered away into the crevice. We identified it as a harmless racer. Although I am familiar with snake identification, I was unable to narrow it down to the exact species. Someone with snake handling experience gently picked it up and handed it over to me. I took this opportunity to educate others, including a few locals, about this beautiful reptile. Months later, I found out that it is an uncommon species called the Nagarjuna racer.

The climbing-nature connection

I have always been passionate about spending time in nature and observing wildlife. Experiencing, learning and sharing the mysteries and surprises of this planet brings me happiness. I found climbing around eight years ago and since then, I have been uncovering the connection between my climbing journey and my affinity to all things wild.

Rock climbing became a medium that pushed my limits in natural settings. Recognising this potential of climbing to empower, I, along with Lekha Rathinam, Prerna Dangi, Vrinda Bhageria and Mel Batson began CLAW (Climb Like a Woman) in 2018 to introduce Indian women to this amazing skill and adventure. I witnessed first-hand how climbing enabled women to break barriers and challenge themselves in a ‘safe space’. Scaling a rock face is a type of movement that requires the use of both mind and the entire body. It is not unusual to find us in obscure locations around our bustling cities, lugging strange gear, drawing confused looks from locals who probably wondered why we did not just walk up using an easier route from the back. This seemingly simple challenge of climbing can be difficult, both physically and mentally, and it is up to each individual to decide the degree to which they push themselves.

Rocks are Nature

“Rock climbing is a form of nature connection to me because rocks are nature. Although they are not living or breathing as such, they are an integral part of the environment because it is a natural object, made of natural minerals and crystals infused together. They play a key role in our ecosystem because they often become a home or shelter to various animals, including birds, spiders, insects, lizards, geckos or even larger animals like bears and leopards that use the caves or crevices to rest. These rocks are also a substrate for microscopic organisms such as lichen (which is made up of fungus and algae living together in symbiosis). What is amazing is that rocks were created millions of years ago and so they have been around longer than most things on this planet.”

– Gowri Varanashi

Once, I scaled up a 76 m. super vertical cliff, a route called High Exposure in the Shawangunks in the United States. As I inched closer to the top, my friend, who had gone up ahead of me, softly whispered that a Peregrine Falcon was awaiting my arrival. Treading gently so my noisy arrival at the top would not cause it to fly away, I clambered up to see the falcon a foot away from me, staring right into my eyes. It was a beautiful moment between me and the raptor as the sun set above the huge cliff. I came to realise that rock climbing itself is a form of nature connection and offered a great opportunity to teach people about animals, plants, and landscapes. After all, what can be better than scaling larger-than-life rock formations, hundreds of metres above the ground and often in fabulous natural settings!

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