In India, the climbing route Ganesha (8b+) in Badami, is a pilgrimage for addicts of sport climbing.
As of January 2015, its reign as the hardest sport climbing route around was continuing albeit insecurely, for two other routes had emerged and their complete ascent was all that stood between them and the crown.
En route to Ganesha (aka Ganesh), before the path winds up to the crags of the Temple Area, in a house, the last one on the left and opposite the Mallikarjun School lives the other Ganesha.
The first time I met Ganesha Waddar showcased the strange coincidence of two similar names in the neighbourhood.
It was early 2014 and I was in Badami to write about the climbing around Ganesha 8b+.
As I approached the Temple Area, a youngster said hello.
“ Are you a climber?’’ he asked.
I laughed and gave him the accurate answer: I was once climber, now a shadow of it.
He introduced himself as a climbing guide of sorts and asked where I was headed.
“ I am going to Ganesha,’’ I said.
He smiled and pointed up the hill, to the side, “ right there.’’
He seemed a good sort to talk to.
“ What’s your name?’’ I asked.
“ Ganesha,’’ he replied.
That chance encounter stuck in my mind.
It was now January 2015; time to hear the story of the other Ganesha.
We were in a small, busy restaurant in Badami.
It was noisy outside; noisier inside. Not a great place for coffee, except, the coffee was really good.
Ganesha and Shivu Waddar, both 19, sipped the piping hot brew.
Ganesha is the youngest of four brothers. His father, who Ganesha said used to be a small time contractor doing civil work, died a year and half ago. The youngster, having completed studies till the tenth standard was technically into first PUC (pre-university course). However he had been away from studies for the past two years.
Situated as his house was on the local stairway to climbing’s heaven, Ganesha grew up seeing climbers. He used to follow them and watch what they did. “ Back then, my English was very bad. I couldn’t communicate. Eventually I managed to tell them of my desire to climb,’’ he said. The first climber who indulged this wish and got him started on climbing was an American. This was over three years ago. As I learnt late in the day, for better climbers knew it earlier than me, Badami has its crop of young, home grown talent. During a conversation with Kumar Gaurav, one of India’s best upcoming climbers, he had mentioned of Ganesha and Shivu, among others, as those he had climbed with during his training trips to Badami. They belayed Gaurav while he was visiting Badami and training alone.
It was evening and the restaurant was crowded. Ganesha had been trifle fidgety as though waiting for somebody. He now relaxed. A small, light youngster approached and sat down, the third person on the restaurant bench before me. Meet Manju Waddar.
By the time I reached Badami in 2015, Jyothi Raj’s film – Jyothi Raj alias Kothi Raj – had come and gone. Some of the climbers in town had seen it too. Based in Chitradurga and a regular sight climbing the fort walls there, Jyothi Raj’s story is well known in Indian climbing circles. According to Ganesha, it was Joythi Raj who advised him to participate in the south zone climbing competition, a move that at the very least would get the youngster out of Badami and into a bigger world. He competed in the 2012 south zone competition and finished a creditable fourth, sadly just outside the selection level for the national competition. The experience was slightly different for Manju.
He had moved to a house some distance from Badami. Manju, 16, used to be Ganesha’s neighbour; that’s how he got into climbing. His father too is engaged in civil construction work. Manju studied till ninth standard; his education has been erratic owing to financial strain. To make ends meet, he works in the construction line. Apparently, Manju was also nudged into participating in the south zone competition by Jyothi Raj. Manju finished third at the south zone competition and ninth at the nationals. He has a lingering fancy for competition climbing while Ganesha prefers a non competitive format.
In 2014 Ganesha did his Basic Mountaineering Course from the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI), Darjeeling. Poonacha Madappa, a well wisher then based in Bangalore, filled in his application form and provided funds. Foreign climbers provided trekking shoes and backpack. He finished his course with an `A’ grade. He would like to do the Advanced Mountaineering Course. He and Manju now feature on a website (http://climbingbadami.in/) offering help to visitors wishing to climb in Badami. It was set up two months ago (which would mean the closing part of 2014) by a Swedish couple who are into climbing. In Badami, Ganesha had helped them. Indeed days after I first met him in 2014, I saw him climbing with a visiting group of young climbers from India and overseas, leading a route and then setting up a top rope for them. The hardest route Ganesha has led was a 7a. He felt that Manju, who is a strong climber, should be around 7b. They often work together as a team. Shivu, 19, also helps Ganesha.
Over time, foreign climbers passing through have given Ganesha a small cachet of used equipment – some ropes, quick draws, helmets, harnesses. He would like to add to it some new equipment. Money remains an issue, although Ganesha periodically works, including work away from Badami.
Shivu would like to continue his studies.
Manju wouldn’t mind more competition climbing and hopefully, a job in climbing or one linked to it.
At my question on what he wished to do, Ganesha thought a while.
“ Two years back I didn’t have money. Now it is a little better. I wish to study and also improve my climbing,’’ he said.
That’s the story of the other Ganesha.
(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai)