THE Tourist Reception Centre, Srinagar, is an imposing place —a fitting vault to a fabled valley. Inside the much-cabined Centre are lost, in a crowd of Press and Ministerial company, the forty odd mountaineers who have come for the rock climbing Camp. We pack in well-sprung tourist buses and set off for Pahalgam. On the way Col. Kumar and I stop off for a wayside chat with Gaston Rebuff at and his wife who have enjoyed a 'tranquil morning' about Pahalgam and are now on their way to Gulmarg. Gaston is hurrying back to board a plane for France and we shall miss him.
After a night at a hotel at Pahalgam, 'La Petite Caravan' straggles out like the start of an expedition. Light rucksacks on our back and sunshine and mountain breeze on our faces and we amble along the Liddar River. Dorje Lhatoo has thoughtfully carried some beer: it makes for great company and Jean and I join him with out tiffin! Before sun-down we roll into a hutch of gay coloured tents sitting happily on an airy alp. An immense white banner proclaims this to be the International Mountaineers Meet, Rock Climbing Camp, Liddarwat, Kashmir. The banner is backed by a row of vigorous Tricolours (French and Indian) , Union Jack and the Austrian Flag. A mound of tape, ice & rock pi tons, Bong Bongs, nuts, karabiners, hammers and rope bought and brought for the Foundation by Chris Bonington, is demolished between Fritz Morave, Karl Olmuller, Chris, Maurice Gicquel and Jean Coudray. Thus armed they and their ropes set out in search of boulders and rocks. Fritz does rather well and claims the nearest boulder. The rest of us wander further a field. A quick lunch and we are back on the rock face. It is the use of knots and ropes and gear, the first day. Later it will be exciting free climbing with an occasional artificial pitch between ropes of two to three and a merry-go-round for Jean keeping a hawk-eye on seven of us on his rope.
We miss our tea often, perhaps, a French predeliction and return late, tired, happy and full of French names for British made climbing equipment. A hearty supper and it is a dreamless night in my red Mead. Satish Ahuja of the organization shares my tent. He stocks the camp canteen in a little bag and I occasionally help putting off his clients wanting stamps and such trifles at odd hours.
Back on the rock it is thrilling. Improvise a seat harness with one inch nylon tape and makes spare loops. Gather karabiners, loops, pitons, a hammer and some nuts and move off along and up a crack in the rock. The accent is on sure fast movement, up and up. A piton here, a nut there—like this, and a Bong Bong further up and the leader is up on a good stance—'a good Holle'. Movement with the Whillans seat harness or the seat- cum-chest harness that Jean uses, is free and the harness is a blessing when you come off.
'Ice work Tomorrow', says the cabinet—the Principals of HMI, Darjeeling, NIM, Uttar Kashi and Winter Sports Institute, Gul- marg. Chris and a huddle of us sit late putting together the glove-fit Chouinard crampons. Chris and his rope are going up the hill to above 13,000 ft. to look at the horizon beyond. The rest of us go to the Kolahoi glacier. Front pointing up a steep slope with a short ice axe and pick hammer, Jean and Neema are up. Soon the rest of us are doing, as Fritz would say, 'the ice ballet' up a pitch rearing at an angle of 55°. We return late.
It is a tent-day. And it is our last at Liddarwat. Fritz and Karl take a class in the log hut on mountain rescue. This is followed by airing of views on topics like rock engineering v/s free climbing, environment preservation and authentication of ascents2. An aimless rain shrouds the camp.
Campfire in the evening sets the pitch for the remaining two days to be spent in Srinagar: a date with the State Governor and Minister of Tourism and a silver replica of the medal we all got at Darjeeling. A top Kashmiri dinner, shake-down in a House-boat on the Dal Lake and it is au revoir to the staff of the Winter Sports Institute and the valley. Another feather in the cap of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation.