We recently came across a short video of Ganesha 8b+ - India's hardest sport route at Badami, Karnataka in the south of the country. The line was bolted in 2010 by top French climber Alex Chabot. Projecting the climb in the film is 22 year-old Abhishek Mehta - one of India's top speed climbers, who was also keen to push his sport grade outdoors.
Abhishek lives in Delhi and is originally from Himachal Pradesh, a mountainous area in Northern India. We sent him some questions to find out more about climbing in India and his aspirations in the sport...
How and when did you discover climbing?
When I was in Primary 7, there was an artificial climbing wall built in my school playground. I used to sit near the wall on a daily basis and that was the time when I thought about giving it a try and entered the world of climbing. I used to practise for about one hour daily and then went to play cricket with my friends. After some time I lost interest in cricket and spent more time on the climbing wall. For three years, I didn't even get past the semifinal round in competitions. In my fourth year, I joined the Indian Mountaineering Foundation and for two years in 2013 and 2014, I didn't even get past state-level competitions. (In India, to participate in Nationals you have to qualify from the state competition). I practised a lot and in 2015, I won the gold medal in speed. This was the turning point in my career to date.
You are a speed climbing champion, but how much do you climb on rock?
I get out on rock quite a lot, mostly after finishing national competitions, in the months of December through to February.
What was the motivation for trying Ganesha?
Ganesha is India's hardest route and since I have never been to any other country outside of India, it was on top of my to do list to finish this route. I am essentially a speed climber, but I have equal ability in bouldering and lead too. In bouldering I had climbed 8A and my best time in speed is 7.91 seconds on the international wall, so in lead I wanted to achieve a good level in India. This was the motivation for trying Ganesha. The climb has only seen seven ascents in total, of which the first three were made by climbers from other countries and four including me are from India.
Tell us a bit about working the route - there was one move which took you a while, it seems?
On the very first day when I saw Ganesha, I thought I could finish it on my first attempt, but when I saw that the distance of the second move was almost equal to my height I got into trouble and said to myself, no - this is something hard! Being short in height, I struggled a lot on this second move. I tried it in different ways, sometimes I tried a dynamic move but my fingers didn't even touch the crimp, sometimes I tried to go static but again it didn't help. I tried to find even a small crimp so that I could take that crimp and finish the move, but no! Finally I went dynamic using a toe hook and it worked. It took me four days to get the second move. Other moves were also difficult because they were so reachy and after the 6th clip I was getting pumped all the time. Then I thought to divide the route in two parts and did endurance training. Every day I used to come and do 5-6 attempts before and after the 6th clip. I went dynamically for almost all of the moves, even after the crux move.
Are there a lot of climbers and a good climbing 'scene' in India at the moment?
Yes, there are many excellent climbers in India, but the lack of good training facilities plus poor financial conditions means that we still have limited opportunities.
Where would you recommend for sport climbing and bouldering in India?
In Southern India, Hampi is best for bouldering and Badami is very famous for rock climbing and is the best place for sport. In Northern India, Manali is also a good place for climbing.
You've never climbed in another country. Where would you like to visit most?
I would love to visit Rocklands in South Africa and Fontainebleau in France. I wish to climb in every part of the world and on the rocks which are meant to be climbed on! I am not a sponsored athlete and so am not in a good financial condition to do so. This is the main limitation. Last year I was chosen to participate in the World Championships held in Paris by the IFSC, but for personal reasons I did not go.
What's your next goal?
My goal is to get a good World Ranking. I want to compete in every international competition, and especially to participate in the 2020 Olympics and represent India.
Watch Abhishek's film below. He gave us an amusing anecdote about making the film:
'The filmmaker is Kopal Goyal. When doing Ganesha, it was just the two of us. No one else was there to belay me. So she handled both belaying me and shooting the film at the same time. She was running all the time to place the camera at different angles. At the crag, we struggled with monkeys too while shooting. Most of the areas were their places to sit and play. So sometimes Kopal placed her camera in a good angle and from the moment she put herself back on belay, a monkey would come over. Of course, she couldn't take the risk of losing camera equipment, so she used to run to save it and I would anchor myself and yell at the monkeys to divert them! She had very limited equipment too, one camera, one battery, one tripod, and two basic lenses: 18-55mm, 55-250mm.'