Located in Faridabad, Haryana, Dhauj is roughly 25 kilometers away from South Delhi. It is home to the Aravali Mountains that begin in Delhi and pass through southern Haryana. The range further extends to the state of Rajasthan across the west and ends in Gujarat.
Dhauj has long been a landing place for climbers in and around Delhi. Decades of taxing work and effort by veteran climbers has been poured into the making of the “Guide to Rock Climbing in and around Delhi,” a book authored and consolidated by Mohit Oberoi. A name that comes up a lot in the Indian Climbing Scene and rightly so. The book has over 270 routes rated between 5.4 to 5.12a. The grades follow the Yosemite Decimal System.
Now, as far as “Mo” goes, who is Mo and why is it imperative to keep in mind his work around Dhauj?
Mo is quite literally the living architect of the Dhauj climbing era who continues to remain an active force even today. Not too long ago, he, along with his cohorts, kick-started an annual climbing event, “The Great Indian Trad Climbing Festival,” aka The Gritfest. The objective is to educate and foster traditional climbing: a form of climbing that requires placement of protections to arrest falls.
Although traditional climbing as a sport in India has enormous potential to grow, it suffers from the lack of limited resources. To put this into perspective, let's take the crags in Delhi as an example. Despite it being accessible within a 40 min to an hour long drive, it remains a quiet place. There’s a handful of people who occasionally go climbing in Dhauj but that’s certainly not enough. Sadly, the Indian urban outdoors, regardless of being so unsterile aren’t as friendly as you may think. And this, as glum as it sounds, is a reality that can’t be ignored.
Furthermore, there's also a dearth of skills and gear that make up a very obvious barrier to entry to this sport. But with more people getting exposed to it along with those willing to learn and visit Dhauj in particular, one can expect a bit of progress.
That said, some of the folks that Mo began climbing with included Rohan Datta, Tejvir, JC Khurrana, & Mandip Singh Soin. These were members of the then newly formed Peg and Piton Club. The guys climbed with whatever was available to them and the obsession was such that they did so even in 46C degrees of heat. All the technical gear that we have at our disposal today was a rarity. For the most part, they’d simply tie a rope around their waist in lieu of a harness and wear PT shoes for climbing.
“While Dhauj was already being climbed back in the 1970s, under the redoubtable MS Bawa of the Climbers and Explorers Club, climbing at Dhauj really took off under Chambers,” writes Erliani Abdul Rahman in a piece published in The Outdoor Journal.
The story goes that Robert Chambers had a van, which was very much a novelty back then. The climbers would flock together and hit the road to their local crag.
Aravali mountain systems are the oldest fold mountains in the world. They are over 2 billion years old, much older than the Himalayas. And run through four different states, over a 700 km long stretch. Not only do they protect the habitat from the desert of western Rajasthan, eating into it but also help replenish its depleting aquifers.
Although mined historically, the aravallis have never appeared as denuded as they do now. The rise in urban development; the never satiating appetite of industrialists, coupled with unregulated ill practices has brought an unprecedented change in its ecology. Having visited Dhauj and a few surrounding areas a number of times, I have seen it for myself. Aside from mining and the rising demand in urbanization, the region also largely suffers from the onslaught of an invasive species locally known as, Kikar; a product of British colonialism. This invasive tree has wiped out almost 30 percent of the native flora in Central Delhi Ridge.
One of the first areas that you come across from the guidebook is, “The Prow”. And it’s hard to imagine that about 3 to 4 decades ago, climbers were swimming around these rock faces. There’s also an image from the area that further reinstates this fact. But to have undergone this level of depletion over just 3 decades is alarming to say the least. The photograph down below is taken from the Vulture Sanctuary area and the crag visible is letterbox. The roof visible behind the person is part of a route called, "Comfortably Dumb".
Dhauj became a protected area back when members of the Peg and Piton Club along with Chambers took a stance against the mining giants. Having witnessed blasting of rocks, they immediately decided to approach the concerned authority, the Chief Secretary in Haryana who in turn sent a telegram to the Faridabad District Collector. But this isn’t to suggest that quarrying in Dhauj has stopped. Traces of illegal mining can still be seen in parts of the region. The Aravallis, as per a news article, have lost 40% of their total area over the last four decades.
It isn’t for no reason that Dhauj maintains a strict “no bolt policy”. The ethics to leading climbs in Dhauj were set in practice since the beginning. And top roping was never really encouraged. It’s critical to understand that climbing by itself doesn’t exist in a vacuum. And that it does pose some serious tangible risks to the environment. After all, it’s almost impossible for humans to enter an area and come out leaving zero carbon footprint. Adding to this is also the conscience of the average Indian man, who is just now starting to get comfortable with the idea of back-country exploration.
There's no doubt that there's a surge in the number of people exploring the outdoors today but as far as ethics and values go, there's plenty that needs to be done. Fundamental principles such as "leave no trace," are still largely overlooked. Lack of respect, ignorance and entitlement about areas give rise to unethical practices. And oftentimes, even cause conflicts. What we need I believe is an agency, founded on good intent. A framework that gives rise to dialogues and encourages ethical narratives.
Keeping this in mind, the veteran climbers of the Dhauj era, who made this place accessible and climbable, did their best to preserve it for generations to come. They were both sensitive and careful in understanding the fragility of this ecosystem. Today, whatever’s left of their legacy, be it climbs or sensibilities, one must carry that forward.
One can either take a cab or get in touch with the relevant climbing groups in Delhi. Please note that it’s best to visit Dhauj in groups. Sometimes, the locals can be difficult to work with and may cause trouble.
November - February
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Most active climbing groups: