Two shoulder surgeries and over twelve dislocations were not enough to stop former SM Shetty Student, Devmitra Pandey from becoming a mountaineer. Speaking exclusively to ‘The Watchdog News’ about his time at the renowned Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM), he said, “I have always been one with nature, being a former scout and an avid backpacker.
I had first heard about NIM over two years ago, when I told a friend of mine that I want to take up mountaineering and scale the Everest. “After multiple forms and medical documents, I was however granted admission for a 2019 course, as there are a limited number of seats, with applications from around the world. However, in a cruel twist of fate, I suffered a shoulder dislocation while performing an acrobatic routine, which I had done thousand times over.
This was followed by a series of dislocations which even impeded everyday routines!” Prohibited all physical activity for the first four months, he also had over five months of intense physiotherapy. Nine months later, he enrolled himself in a gym – a decision he regrets. “I went on to have a grand total of ten more dislocations throughout my graduation, earning me the nicknames, ‘Tunda’ and ‘dislocater’!” he said.
The two major surgical procedures involved was an arthroscopic surgery, while the second was a Letharjet, commonly known as a bone blocker surgery, which was exactly six months before his course. He was required to wear a shoulder sling for two months before moving to another round of physiotherapy. Speaking about the resistance he faced from his family and friends he said, “My parents, friends and even my own good judgement had advised me to let go of this madness, in fact, I had only managed to convince myself just three weeks before the commencement of the course!”
What spurred his final decision to go ahead? “I was trapped in a dead-end job, with no clue on what I wanted to do. After a lot of soul searching, I realised that this was the only thing I was truly passionate about and had invested a lot of mental hours into. I simply could not get myself to let it go, now that I was so close to the course. So, I left my job, I had only three weeks to prepare. It was purely a gamble, but then again, what isn’t? Looking back in hindsight I’ll tell you it was the right call!”
Describing his feelings during the day of departure, he says, “By now I had come to terms with the fear of suffering another dislocation in the mountains, but was otherwise really excited.” “We had coordinated with each other (course mates) through our course’s WhatsApp group, so most of us had picked partners to carpool with. So upon landing, I called my fellow travel companions to ask them whether they had landed yet, while on the phone, I saw a massively built man waving towards me.
I walked up to him and introduced myself, he smiled and introduced himself as a Naval officer. The Navy man was built like a warship! The sheer size of his arms made me contemplate my decision, and I was staring at his majestic frame throughout our entire car ride!” At the institute, he was star struck by the breath taking architectural masterpiece, nestled at 4,000 feet in the Himalayan foothills of Garhwal in Uttarakhand!
Sharing an anecdote about the initial culture shock as a civilian training under army men he said, “Being an advertising professional and an amateur filmmaker, it is safe to say, I am a bit of a hippie! My carefree, happy go lucky attitude did not sit well with the army men! While taking up an issue with his leg with one of the instructors, he did not expected to be asked to stand in attention, after he casually sat next to him – but he grew to love all of that.
The course is trifurcated into ‘rock craft’, ‘ice craft’ and ‘snow craft’ modules, with lectures and outdoor training, ending with a 100-mark MCQ paper. The first day involved routine physical training for minimal body conditioning, followed by lectures on the course’s structure. The second day involved scaling two basic artificial rock faces, known as the Pine Wall and the Speed Wall, with another lecture on basic first aid, reading, navigation, types of clouds, snow, ice, safety and survival in avalanches/hazards and cold weather medical complications.
The students were then asked to trek till Tekla, a natural rock face with the right topography required for mountaineering. The trek was gruelling, with their misery accentuated by the 33 kg rucksack and special footwear. “At Tekla we were trained in fundamental mountaineering skills like how to ascend and descend using a ‘Jumar’ (ascender), anchoring and belaying, identifying cracks, fissures, edges, crevices on the rock face to aid climbing. We were then moved to forward base camp at DKD-2, which stands for Draupadi Ka Danda-2!” he said. ‘Danda’ in Garhwali means mountain.
Camping at a glacier near DKD-2, which locals called Dokrani Bamak, where Bamak is the local term for a glacier.” Here too the students had a tight schedule with over ten days of ice craft, training to climb glaciers and moraines. “Our training began with an hour of lectures followed by practice. We rigorously practiced ascending and descending on ice using ice axes, to the point it became an extension of our bodies. It is here that I found out that there is more to ice than I knew. White ice is fresh, blue is when it has been formed for a while, whereas black ice is a residue of sand and mud,” he said.
Students to around 13,500 feet for the final leg of our training – snow craft. They were taught various anchoring techniques, crevice crossing using ropes and ladders, probing for crevices using the axe. “Mountaineering is far more endurance driven and needs otherworldly cardiovascular conditioning and muscular endurance. More than anything else, it’s a game of sheer will,” recounts Devmitra.
The group could not bathe for weeks, as the water froze near-instantly, which poses a risk of hypothermia and frostbite. Even brushing was a hassle as the bristle froze into a popsicles! His most memorable experience was also the most embarrassing. “It was the constant need to attend the nature’s call for which there was a set routine to follow: First you needed to unzip your sleeping bag, get yourself out of the cover, freeze, inform a fellow mountaineer as you can only go out to pee in buddy pairs for safety from wild animals.
It is a task for the two people to try and unzip the tents which get frozen every five minutes. You then need to trek and find a suitable spot, if you have to defecate then you must dig a hole and fill it. You go back to the tent, unzip the frozen tent zip, get back into your sleeping bag only to repeat the process an hour later!”The group had a military band perform during their graduation ceremony, with several senior army officers and renowned mountaineers in attendance. “As a Brigadier-rank officer pinned my NIM badge on my chest, I felt like I took my first step towards Everest,” he recalled proudly.