A guide to mountaineering in India
Mountaineering is something which one can start believing in only after experiencing it. There are many institutes which offer courses in trekking and mountaineering and other adventure sports. Your entry into the world of mountaineering depends on the mountaineering courses you take along.
So, if you are looking to start your mountaineering journey by doing a basic training course, look no further. There is no place better than India and the Himalayas to learn the nuances of climbing a mountain.
The Indian Himalaya has six mountaineering institutes conducting different types of mountain adventure courses regularly. The institutes are located in the five Himalayan States: Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), Himachal Pradesh (H.P.), Uttarakhand (UK), West Bengal, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.
Representatives of central and state government including the Ministry of Defense manage all the five institutes. Each institute has a comprehensive set of training facilities and highly qualified staff.
A quick overview on each of the mountaineering courses conducted in India:
Basic Mountaineering Course (BMC)
As the name suggests, the Basic Mountaineering course is a primer to mountaineering. It gives both a theoretical as well as practical understanding of mountaineering techniques and use of equipment in different terrain (rock, snow and ice). The course also covers basic methods of rescue and aid, and important skills required in expeditions such as map reading. The course usually lasts 24-28 days, and is fully residential. Each person undergoing the BMC is assessed and graded. Upon completion of the BMC, one can lead commercial trekking groups in high altitude areas (above 2,000 metres). It is also the prerequisite for climbing peaks upto 7,000 meters. Moreover, an ‘A’ grade in the BMC is a prerequisite for undergoing further mountaineering courses. Advanced Mountaineering Course
Advanced Mountaineering Course (AMC) can be done only after obtaining an 'A' grade in BMC. As name suggests, this course teaches you more advanced and practical ways of climbing. This again includes everything from rope work, equipment, rock craft, ice craft, negotiating boulders and crevasses, advanced techniques like ladder launching and multiple ways of rope fixing, expedition planning, navigation and rescue etc. This training course brings you much closer to the real world climbing and expedition planning. In some institutes, there is even an actual expedition of considerable difficulty as a part of training which trainees have to plan and execute under the supervision of their instructors. This is a really good training if you want to consider doing serious mountaineering expeditions in future. The duration of this training is again generally 28 days and age limit is also same as 18-40 years.
Search and Rescue Course
Search and Rescue Course is mostly intended for already active mountaineers who participate in or lead serious climbing expeditions. This can be done only after obtaining an 'A' grade in AMC and it is good to have some climbing experience before attending this course. Not all the mountaineering institutes conduct SNR course. Rather than climbing, this training course focuses on the techniques of navigation, search and rescue in the mountains. The course has many practical drills mimicking real life situations where you need to search and rescue lost climbers or injured members of a climbing team. Emergency response and mountain medicine is a big part of this training. Trainees also learn how to rescue and bring back injured climbers over varying terrain and with different number of rescuers available. There are many interesting elements involved like river crossing, map reading, GPS navigation, navigation at night etc. The duration of this training is generally 21 days.
Methods of Instruction
This training course can also be done after obtaining an 'A' grade in AMC. As name suggests, this takes you on a path of becoming an instructor to others. So it is intended to teach the methods of instruction to mountaineers if they are interested in becoming an instructor in the field of mountaineering. This has good amount of classroom training and field training which gives you the knowledge and some experience to teach others. Duration of this course is also generally 21 days.
The Government of India has set up institutes in the country which imparts these skills. Currently, there are five mountaineering institutes, open for admission to everyone. As these institutes receive subsidies from the Government, the course fees tend to be very reasonable. However, it is important to note that seats are limited, and they fill up very fast. A potential applicant has to wait for 1-2 years before getting a slot in these institutes.
Here’s a quick overview of each of these institutes :
Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI)
Institute Location: Darjeeling, West Bengal
Year Established: 1954
Base Camp Location: Chaurikhang, Sikkim
HMI website: https://hmidarjeeling.com/
Established in 1954, HMI is the oldest mountaineering institute in India. It is also one of the best. Some of the best known mountaineers in India have been a part of HMI and have also taught students here in the past. These legendary mountaineers include the stalwarts like Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, the first person to climb Mt. Everest successfully in 1953 who became the first Director of field training at HMI and Sherpa Nawang Gombu, the first person in the world to climb Mt. Everest twice who also became the Director of field training at HMI later. HMI has a really glorious and rich history of promoting mountaineering in India. The instructors here today also carry loads of climbing experience with them and it is a real opportunity to learn from them. HMI is also known for its discipline and a brutal training regime, specially for basic mountaineering course. The trek to HMI base camp is considered the toughest among all training institutes. In last 4-5 years, HMI has upgraded a lot of their training equipment and the infrastructure at the institute has also been improved. Just like NIM, for HMI too there is generally a long waiting period before joining any course. HMI conducts all of their classroom training and rock climbing training at the beautiful institute campus in Darjeeling with the views of mighty Kanchenjunga looming large. All field training happens in West Sikkim at the Chowrikhang base camp, Rathong glacier and the Kabru massif area.
Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (HMI)
Institute Location: Uttarkashi, Uttarakhand
Year Established: 1965
Base Camp Location: Draupadi Ka Danda Base Camp, Uttarakhand
NIM website: https://www.nimindia.net/
NIM is one of the most prestigious mountaineering institutes in India. Established in 1964, it offers all the 4 training courses. It has one of the best training facilities, equipment and instructors too. Many instructors here are mountaineering veterans having decades of experience in the mountains. NIM is the only mountaineering institute in India certified by the international federation for climbing and mountaineering - UIAA. True to its motto "Success lies in courage", NIM really gives the best possible training to aspiring mountaineers and teaches them to be courageous and skilled in the mountains. The level of technical skills taught, the quality of training equipment and the instructors here are undoubtedly one of the best. NIM is also known for maintaining highest standards of discipline. The rock climbing training happens at Tekhla rock climbing area near the institute and most of the field training happens in the Dokriani Bamak glacier area. Because of its reputation, NIM is also a highly sought after institute and it can have fairly long waiting periods to join any course.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports (ABVIMAS)
Institute Location: Manali, Himachal Pradesh
Year Established: 1961
Base Camp Location: BakarThach, Himachal Pradesh
ABVIMAS website: https://www.adventurehimalaya.org/
ABVIMAS is also a well known institute in Manali, Himachal Pradesh. It is not only present in Manali but it has total 9 sub centers across the state of Himachal Pradesh. Thus, it is the largest mountaineering institute in the country and has trained more than 40,000 students so far. Most of the instructors here are experienced and come from an Army background. Along with mountaineering, this institute teaches skiing and paragliding too to students. Available mountaineering courses here are BMC, AMC and Methods of Instruction course.
Jawahar Institute of Mountaineering and Winter Sports (JIM & WS)
Institute Location: Nunwan (Pahalgam), Jammu and Kashmir
Year Established: 1983
Base Camp Location: Sonmarg, Kashmir
JIM & WS website: https://www.jawaharinstitutepahalgam.com/
JIM & WS was established in 1983 at Pahalgam in Jammu & Kashmir. This institute offers training in mountaineering and skiing and all 4 mountaineering courses are available here. The institute is run from 3 different centers. Like almost every mountaineering institute in India, JIM & WS also comes under the central ministry of defence and all the instructors here come from the 3 branches of Indian armed forces and mainly from Indian Army. So you should definitely expect the highest level of discipline and dedication.
National Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports (NIMAS)
Institute Location: Dirang, Arunachal Pradesh
Year Established: 2013
Base Camp Location: Jithang, Arunachal Pradesh
NIMAS website: http://nimasdirang.com/
NIMAS at Dirang, Arunachal Pradesh is the newest mountaineering training institute in India and it is the one creating maximum buzz right now. It is a unique institute offering training to students in Land, Water and air based adventure sports activities. It has brought many adventure sports on the same platform. It was established in the year 2013. Like other institutes, most of the instructors here are from the elite regiments of Indian Army. In mountaineering training, the ice climbing wall at Meerathang glacier is considered one of the best for students to learn ice wall climbing techniques. NIMAS offers all 4 mountaineering training courses to students. NIMAS is definitely worth a visit for every adventure enthusiast.