Arrival for the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute’s basic mountaineering course was set at 2pm on March 1st. I travelled through Darjeeling asking locals for directions and located the Institute inside the walls of a Himalayan zoological park.
As I walked through the gate, the security staff told me to head straight. Following the hill up to the Institute I was welcomed by several indigenous mountain species including the black bear, mountain wolf and blue sheep (all separated from me by fences, of course). Huffing and puffing at the top of the hill, it was time to check in and find out what the course was really all about.
I registered with the administration, visited the quartermaster to be issued the standard bed sheet, pillowcase, tea cup and spoon, and was then shown to my bunk. After choosing my bed, making myself comfortable, and introducing myself to my fellow trainees, a roll call was called.
Standing in our ropes (the name of the training group to which each individual was assigned), we were given an hour-long talk in Hindi where we had to stand at attention several times and were given the morning schedule: 5am wake-up, 5:45 run, 7am breakfast. As I was soon to find out, this was just the beginning.