Saturday, April 11

Basic Mountaineering Course, HMI (Himalayan Mountaineering Institute)

Himalayan Moutaineering Institute is one of the premier institutes in the field of
mountaineering in India. This is also the first mountaineering institute established in India. It was setup in 1954 by the first prime minister Pandit Jawahar Lal Neharu on proposal of Tenjing Norgay ( One of the First Everest Summiteer with Sir Edmund Hillary on 29th May 1953.) After the successful summit of the peak he wished to establish an institute to train the budding mountaineers which was accepted by the prime minister.The institute is located on Jawahar Parbat, Darjeeling, West Bengal.

Apart from this there are also other institutes which are famous which includes Nehru Institute of mountaineering, Uttar Kashi, Uttarakhand and Atal Bihari Vajpayee institute Of Mountaineering and Allied Sports , Manali, Himachal Pradesh.

H.M.I. offers Basic, Advance and Methods Of Instruction Course in the field of Mountaineering. These courses are held in the month of October, November, December, March, April and May. Being heavily subsidized, the fee charged is very nominal INR 4000 for Indian citizens and 
SAARC countries. It is USD 700 for foreign nationals. The fees includes the accommodation, fooding. Institute also provides you the equipments and the warm clothes for all courses. Duration for this basic course is 4 weeks.

Basic Mountaineering Course

I did my BMC in March '09. The course was divided into four phases :
(a) Acclimatisation & theoretical training in around Darjeeling -05days
(b) Trekking (approach to the base camp (14,600ft) and return) - 07days
(c) Field Training(above Base Camp) -14 days
(d) Administration and Graduation ceremony – 02 days.

Phase I : Acclimatisation & Theoretical Training

I arrived at HMI, Darjeeling (avg. altitude 7000 ft.) on 3rd of March '09, and was allotted a room which was constructed in the Swiss style and can accommodate 8 students. In the evening we were made aware of the rules and regulations of the institute. Our training was to be started from the next day with morning PT. We had to do the jogging in ascents and descents of Darjeeling for about 5 km and this will be our daily routine for the Phase I. After PT, students will have their breakfast and then we had classes of Rock Climbing (both practical and theory at the rock faces: Tenzing Rock, Gombu Rock, New Face) and sometimes on the artificial walls (Indoor and outdoor).

Theory classes also includes lectures on Knots, Ropes, Introduction and use of mountaineering equipments, Glaciers, Himalayas, Mountain Hazards. Equipments like harness set, carabiners, rope, warm clothes, rucksack, crampons, snow shoes, mittens, water bottle, Tiffin box etc. were allotted within few days. Students were randomly divided into different ropes(groups) of 6. Seniors(in my case military personnel) among us were made the rope leaders. My rope instructor was Kushang Sanghe Sherpa. Students were made to practice to trek for 2 -3 days with the load before going to Phase II. On the last day of Phase I, we were allowed to go outside the campus to buy some necessary things etc. like sunglasses, raincoats, etc.

Students coming to HMI : In my batch there were 66 people in which at least 25 of them were from military (Army, Navy and Air force) and most of remaining were from our North eastern part of India or Nepal. I was the only one from North. Many of the north eastern people pursue the course so as to get a job in this field.

Phase II : Trekking (approach to the base camp t 14,600ft and return)

We started to Yuksom (literal meaning: meeting place of three lamas) which is also the first capital of Sikkim, located at 5840 ft., with our Instructors by bus. Being at the head of the Khangchendzonga National Park and as the base camp for trekking to Mt. Khangchendzonga, we stayed there in tents and started our trek the next day. Entering into this region requires permission and other formalities.

Kitchen at Bakhim
 We started to trek early morning and reached Bakhim (literal meaning : home of bamboos, at 9000 ft.) at about 2 o'clock
and this was about 13 kms.  
By the time we reached Bakhim, HMI mess staff were already there and our meal was ready. After having food, we rested there in forest rest house. Next day we were taken to a small village Tsokha(about 11000 ft. ) for acclimatisation. They say that if you work at higher altitudes and sleep at lower altitude you will acclimatise well and fast. There are some small shops where you can buy something to eat like chips, biscuits, cold drink, tea etc. 
After staying there for a while, we returned back to Bakhim and next morning we moved to Dzongari (literal meaning: meeting place of man and mountain gods, at 13220 ft.) via Phedang which was about 11 kms.

We pitched our tents to stay there in the night while our female course mates were made to stay in the trekking huts. From here we started feeling the effect of high altitudes. Trees are now converted to bushes and some people started getting headaches including me, first sign of AMS (acute mountain sickness). The only remedy was to drink more and more water since we dehydrate much at high altitudes. In the evening we went for acclimatisation in surrounding hills ropewise with our rope instructors where we were introduced to surrounding peaks and places. There was a frozen stream of water nearby which gets covered with ice at night so we didn't have water problems. The mess crew always reaches in advance to provide meal and tea at time. Next day we started our final trek of 13 kms. via Dzongari Pass to Chaurikhang (grazing place of Yaks, 14600 ft.), HMI Base Camp. In between we were provided tea at Beak Bari (a place 3 kms before Base Camp) which is all the way down (more than 1000 ft.) from Dzongari pass which is itself at 14600ft. Here one can feel the effect of low atmospheric pressure. Another trek route shoots from Dzongari pass which goes to Goecha La (more 17000 ft.) near the feet of Kanchendzonga.

MI Room @ HMI Base Camp
At base camp we stayed in the hut which was gifted to HMI by TISCO. MOI (method of instruction) students were staying in the tents. There was a separate hut for girls. We found our allotted space in the hut and laid down our mats for the next 15 days training.

Phase III : Field Training(above Base Camp) -14 days

When we reached Base Camp, the weather was clear and there was no sign of snowfall but it started snowing just after an hour. We were enjoying the snow and meal was ready by 1600 hrs. We were intimated about the rules and regulations at the base camp same day and told to rest since we were going to have busy and tough schedule starting from tomorrow.

Trainees at Rathong glacier
Training area
Next day we have to go to Rathong glacier which was approx 4 km from the base camp for our training on ice.

 We started at 0800 hrs. On the first day we were introduced to the surroundings and nearby peaks etc. and how to walk with crampons by our rope instructors. It started snowing heavily while we were practicing. This kind of weather pattern continued for next 15 days. Snowing starts around 1000 hrs and continued till late night. For the next 15 days, all we can see was the whiteness everywhere and inches of snow. Weather was clear only in the early morning and it was fascinating to see the golden sunrise in those snow covered mountains. Snow when pressed between ground and shoes (Koflach snow boots) becomes very slippery making walking very difficult. You have to be very careful while walking on snow especially on the glacier moraine (mass of staggered rocks and boulders)  
Training at ice wall
We were provided with tea biscuit after the training on the glacier (thanks to the mess crew). We returned to the base camp in that heavy snow fall. It was hazy everywhere. Many people were frightened to see such a view as there was a long slippery way to go. We were told that such are the conditions one might face during any expedition, so have to get acquainted with it and so we did. Red flags were used to mark the way for the trainees to the base camp which were picked back while returning. After return to the camp, we had our meal and after a little rest we had a theory class about the equipments used. These were few new equipments which are used in snow and ice craft. Live demos of usage of these equipments were given by our instructors in some of the theory classes.  This was our routine for the next 15 days.

The water there was ice cold and was stored in tanks for washing purposes which freeze in the nights. You have to break the thick layer of ice to get the water from tank. We were provided with 3 ltrs. of hot drinking water every day apart from several other hot drinks to prevent the dehydration.

For the next days we were trained in Ice climbing with the help of crampons and ice axe, Rescue techniques( self-arrest with ice axe, rescue with pulleys), Knots, use of equipments, rappelling, Jumaring, and many more. There were theory classes on Mountain hazards and prevention (by the Institute doctor ). During the course many of our course mates caught AMS, some injured their ankles and were sent back.

Our Rope at the summit of Mt. Renok
 On the second last day of the base camp we went for the altitude gain to a nearby peak (Mt. Renok) which was about 15, 500 ft... This was an amazing and thrilling experience. We didn't stay there much because there was not much space on the peak and we have to leave the way for other ropes.
On this day we also had our special meal (which is also called badakhana, a military ritual which I've seen being observed in NCC camps before) .

Some slow walkers were told to start back a day before since they may take 3 days to cover the return trek. We were told that they will join us in Yuksom. Trekking back also was not easy as the route was very slippery and we were falling all the way. But we were very happy like we were being freed from jail. The snow ended after Phedang (a place between Dzongari and Bakhim ) The people were filled with energy and they were moving very fast. After being at the altitude of base camp for so many days the return trek felt so easy that some of us were literally running. We covered the return trek in 2 days. On the first day we trekked till Bakhim which was of 2 days while coming. Next day early morning we joined them in Yoksum. We returned to HMI by bus from Yoksum.

Phase IV :
Administration and Graduation ceremony – 02 days

After returning to the campus we had our written examination which was very easy for literates. There were few people who were not well versed with reading and writing, though very good at climbing. The written examination was followed by the rope wise interview with the principal. We were asked about the experience we had and our feedback and suggestions we wanted to offer about the course and the facilities provided. Also, there were individual competitions like sports climbing(on an artificial wall ) and cross country.

Coursemates graduated from HMI
Graduation ceremony was held on the last day and we were awarded HMI batches by the Nawang Gombu Sherpa ( several times Everest summiteer ) for the successful completion of our course. We were told that our certificates will be sent within few months along with our grades. It is important to have A grade to get recommended for Advance Mountaineering Course. For gallery of pictures of the 270th BMC.

Update: In 2014, I got chance to go for AMC (Advance Mountaineering Course) from NIM, Uttarkashi. Here is what I experienced.

 Comments are invited to help me improve this blog and share some more information ...

HMI Contact Info:


Himalayan Mountaineering Institute
Jawahar Parvat
Darjeeling-734 101 (WB), India

TRAINING OFFICE: 0354 2254087/2254299
PRINCIPAL : 91 354 2254083
FAX No:91 354 2253760

Update: HMI website doesn't work sometimes. Below are the links to download application forms .

HMI Application Form 

Medical Certificate

and here is the details of application process 

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