Trails of Passion

Thurahalli rock climbing

by Avinash B M, with contributions from (1) Venkatesh M aka Neefa (2) Sangeetha Kadur and (3) Gaurav aka Gujju Razzak

This post was originally written by students and alumnus of Mountaineering club, BMS College of Engineering for SUMMIT Magazine. Illustration and Graphics are copyright of their respective owners.

“The first sight of this place brought out my curiosity. A panting hike through the dusty trails led to my first encounter with boulders. It took two and half hours of determined attempts to make my first ever ascent on a boulder, the PhD! The shouts for cheers, falls and wounds of the first visit are still alive in memory. Hidden from my eyes, the spirit of this place slowly climbed upon me as I climbed upon the boulders. In here I discovered my passion for rock climbing. It all happened in THURAHALLI.”

Located south of Bengaluru, off Kanakapura road, nearly 8km from Banashankari temple, Thurahalli is one of the only biologically diverse patch of forest within the urban city of Bangalore. It is spread over an area of about 1100 acres and is demarked into state and minor forest zones. This dry-deciduous forest harbors incredibly rich flora and fauna.

What led to its discovery?

Rock Climbing started in Namma Bengaluru during the ‘80s. A group of Trad Climbers, ad–“ventured” around the city looking for a niche to develop their skill and the sport.

Around 1985, they finally discovered a paradise in the lap of Mother Nature, covered with precious hard granite boulders of beautiful shapes and sizes. That was the birth of Bouldering in Thurahalli!!

What’s in store for you?

Thurahalli is one of the best bouldering destinations in India, after Hampi and Badami. It boasts of being a veritable bouldering paradise with over 300 existing routes (and more in the making!). Each of these boulders has a name, just like people! Just that their names are much cooler, funnier and smarter!! “Ass Hole”, “Bum Scraper”, “Telegraph”, “Chocolate Omelette”, “Nursery”, “PhD”, etc. Surprised? Well, these boulders were christened by those who had the privilege of making the first ascent on them. The dictionary of climbers in Thurahalli has an interesting collection of many such words that will surely leave a smile on your face.

Climbing is the ultimate form of mountaineering sport and like any other adventure sports it demands mental and physical fitness, dedication, passion and strict safety protocols, which can be mastered only with regular practice. Budding climbers can learn the basics of rock climbing here and thereafter sharpen their skills like footwork, balance, crimping, and above all the mental aspect of committing to harder moves.

Thurahalli boulders

Some of the challenging climbs here are Flash, Super flash, Bonsai, Philip boulder, Ballet, Lemon tree, etc. Over the years the grades of difficulty have gone up, with many new routes being opened. Since ‘85 Thurahalli has served as a home for passionate climbers diversified in geography, culture and style from across the globe.

The first ascent of the Ultra Flash, graded V8 (currently the hardest among all routes here) by Arnaud Petit of France is a standing testimony to this fact. This inflow of climbers from other regions has in turn contributed significantly to nurturing a healthy climbing community in Namma Bengaluru.

When asked about the popularity of the sport of rock climbing among women, Venkatesh a.k.a “Neefa” a very well known trad climber says, “As for women climbers, they seem to be more of an endangered species than climbers themselves! But with the changing tides in terms of women empowerment, they have better opportunities to take up climbing as a lifestyle!” He also adds that a lot of work is being done to come out with a guide book for Thurahalli, which would be a first of a kind bouldering library with grading and information.

Gujju Razzak aka Gaurav, another well known personality in the field of adventure has a special place for Thurahalli in his heart. He says,

“It’s a place that grows into you, so soothing and calm. It’s not only for bouldering that people go out there, but I feel it is to get peace of mind too.”

Machi!! Aa hakki nodo! For all those who are good at “bird watching” in college, here’s your chance to spot some real nice birds for once. Thurahalli has it in store for you. Over the years, birdwatchers have flocked the place adding to a checklist of over 120 species of birds and 50 species of butterflies. Some of the special bird sightings in here include the Great-horned Owl, Sirkeer Malkoha, Black-winged Kite, Brown Shrike, Small minivets, Peacock, Schimitar Babbler and Blue-rock Thrush.

The not-so-large forest patch has provided a decent habitat for the other forest inhabitants, both big and small. The rarest of sightings has been Asian palm Civet, Leopard and Jackal. Occasionally we could spot Chital, Black-naped Hare and Mongoose. It provides an excellent habitat for Snakes, Scorpions, Millipedes, Spiders and a whole lot of critters. Not even a decade back, there have been chance sightings of Elephants in Thurahalli while migrating from Bannerghatta to Savandurga.

Sangeetha Kadur, a prominent wildlife artist and an avid bird watcher says – “The birdlife has thrived through the years mainly because Thurahalli has provided for a good feeding ground with many fruitbearing trees, nectar-rich flowers, seeds, grains, insects and rodents. It has also bestowed a safe haven for the nesting and roosting birds. Our best chance to safeguard such wild spots is by ensuring a proficient and better forest management, along with passionate stewards. Also it is crucial to create awareness amongst the residents around the reserve forest”.

What’s going wrong?

Thurahalli Forest Fire - Feb 2014
Forest fire at Thurahalli

Just when you were thinking that all is well at this place! There’s a huge problem brewing. It’s not the wild that we need to worry about, but our own kind. Climbers have seen few “responsible citizens” laying snares in the forest to trap the black naped Hare, for its meat and fur. The ever growing greed of humans has had its eyes on this lung space. The real estate lobby is putting all its efforts to privatise this forest. Over the years a lot of degradation of Thurahalli has happened due to encroachment by builders and wildlife poaching. In fact, the recent forest fires can also be linked to these miscreants. Also, illicit activities like mugging and drinking have become very rampant.

The road to save Thurahalli!

After dedicated efforts of few visitors of Thurahalli, On Oct 13th of 2012, an Urban Forest Committee (the very first of its kind in India) concept was initiated by the Karnataka forest department to manage Thurahalli minor forest. This is a very encouraging move as it enables citizens to have a say in managing the forest. Also there is an NGO called ‘Save Thurahalli’ which works towards preserving this haven in its true form. In an initiative to protect this habitat, Around 30 volunteers from The BMSCE Mountaineering Club recently held a cleanup drive in Thurahalli forest. Many such initiatives by the visitors are the need of the hour, to preserve the forest in its true essence.

Thurahalli Climbing Festival!

It was initiated by the climbers 4 years back to celebrate the existence of Thurahalli. Other than the passionate climbers, this annual event attracts the communities of bird watchers, photographers, cyclists and nature lovers. People flock in for this celebration from other regions too, like Chennai,Pune, etc. The curiosity and energy here is still alive and growing. The very sight of these majestic boulders instils passion in a person. Each climber leaves behind a part of themselves on these dusty Trails of Passion. If there is a desire in you to experience adventure, then Experience Thurahalli!

Thurahalli bouldering
Thurahalli bouldering

(For more on Thurahalli and the adventure community in Bengaluru visit the Facebook page – “Climbing Bangalore India” and follow youtube channel https://www.youtube.com/user/gujjurazak/videos.)

This post was originally written by students and alumnus of Mountaineering club, BMS College of Engineering for SUMMIT Magazine. Illustration and Graphics are copyright of their respective owners.

Corrections and additions to the original article:

1) Though exact dates are unknown, climbing at Thurahalli began most likely in 1970s

2) Thurahalli day is celebrated every year since 2007 to celebrate Bangalore’s last remaining patch of forest

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