As the moon rises over Badami, a few men make their way up to the red rocks still warm from the day’s sun. They are a rare breed of athletes, who find sport in climbing steep rocks, scaling treacherous routes and pushing further on after every scary fall.
This is rock climbing in Badami, the ancient capital of the Chalukya Empire, now forgotten and forsaken even by tourists for its famous cousin, Hampi. Except, it is now gaining a cult-like popularity with the best climbers of the world, thanks to its beautiful red sandstone and bulging rock face.
Badami has had a clandestine affair with Indian climbers for a little over three decades now. The first generation of Indian sport climbers had been training here since 1984. But it was the French who first bolted a route here, popularly known as the Badami Deluxe. And it was only after the 1990s that the secrets of this beautiful location started to spill out into the international climbing circuit. Today, Badami offers 200 routes including the Ganesha, which is the country’s toughest climbing route graded at 8b+.
Even though the town gets its fair share of pilgrims every year, Badami still maintains its austere beauty, perhaps due to the very fact that it does not offer the infrastructure that one would expect of a tourist destination. Standing amid these magnificent monoliths, it is not difficult to imagine yourself as an explorer.
This year, as I clambered through a path riddled with thorns and rolling stones in the dark with a bunch of elite climbers, I was making a discovery of another kind – exploring a sport that teaches you to be strong and persistent until you reach the top, and then, asks you to simply let go.
The climbers in the photos below are doing free climbing: they hold on to the rock face, latch the rope in for safety, and then move higher; setting records based on factors like speed and the difficulty of the route.
Badami is 464km from Bengaluru in Karnataka. Catch a flight to the Hubli Airport or the Belgaum Airport, or a train to the Badami railway station, and then take a taxi into town. You can also take a bus to Badami from Belgaum, Bengaluru, Hubli and Bijapur.
is a multimedia journalist who loves all things adventure. She posts on instagram as @jyothykarat.
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