The five members of the Delhi family I was travelling with wore rented one-piece snowsuits that they had picked up in Manali. We wouldn’t encounter any snow for at least another thirty minutes on our drive up the road toward the Hampta Pass, but that did not stop them. Nor did the twenty degree warmth. The Delhi family were not out of place, though; all the Indian tourists were dressed the same way.
However, there were others who looked much more unusual. As the father from Delhi snapped furtive photos of the group of Indians, Americans, and Europeans gathered in the miniscule village, he could only make guesses as to what they were carrying and what they were planning to do in the mountains.
“Sir, you are trekking?” the intrepid father asked. “Is this your bed you are carrying? Why so big?”
His ten-year old looked up at one of the Europeans—a wild-haired German—and pondered the large block of foam strapped to his back like a backpack. So strange. Like turtles trundling around with rectangular shells.
“We’re bouldering,” the German explained.
The family was still not satisfied.
“It’s a style of rock climbing,” he continued. “We don’t use ropes or harnesses because we don’t climb high enough. Instead, we put these crashpads on the ground and climb the boulders that you see all around. When we fall from the boulders, the crashpads cushion the landing.”
The father skeptically nodded at the foreigners and then translated this new concept to his down-puffed family. They dutifully nodded in kind, revealing only the faintest glimpse of understanding.
“Bouldering?” the father clarified.
“Bouldering,” the German confirmed.
The Manali area of Himachal Pradesh is in the incipient stages of becoming a world-class destination for bouldering, a sport still unknown in most of India. At the helm of development is a coterie of Indian nationals and foreigners that daily walk the hills and forests to test their climbing abilities on the erratic granite and gneiss blocks that have tumbled down from cliff sides.
At the center of this year’s development is an area called Sethan, a veritable mecca for rock climbers. In the beautiful alpine valley that leads to Hampta Pass, thousands of boulders lie right off the side of the road. The abundance of rock has prompted local climbers to rent rooms in the small village and go to work doing first ascents wherever there are climbable lines. By the end of May, nearly two hundred new bouldering routes were established in Sethan, and a few hundred more will be added by the end of the year.
Once word gets out about this place, it will easily become one of the premiere climbing destinations in India. For now, boulderers may continue to baffle tourists.