I was 30 years old when it dawned on me that I’d never left the United States. A six year relationship had just spoiled under the pressure of rock climbing. I wasn’t present and the girl figured that it’s better to be single than to chip away at the patina that a selfish climber erects around a romantic partnership. My dead-end job was a bummer. I found myself in a buyer/manager role for six years at a local gear shop. Only the owner ranked above me and so upward mobility stalled. I was a single 30 year old climber with no significant strings attached, spinning my wheels at work. Let me tell you, there is no better time in life to jettison the arm floaties and leap into the deep end.
I called some climbing buddies after spending a year living and working in South Korea. My teaching contract was up and a year overseas had split the world wide open. I was desperate to see India.
We met on the bustling streets of Hampi, little pockets of traveling friends, and spent over a month crisscrossing its granite strewn plains. In tow was a professional photographer, a good friend named Kyler, and together we hatched a plan to do a story on Hampi bouldering.
One night, maybe three weeks into our trip, I sidled up to Kyler at the cushioned restaurant where we spent our nights nibbling malai kofta and sipping Kingfishers. I didn’t have a story, I worried. Although he’d snapped enough photos for a lengthy and good book I had done nothing more than jot notes in my journal. The trip was pleasant, which is not the best thing for a trip to be when you’re hunting for a tasty angle. We happily wafted through our days, devoid of the large dramas editors so often look for. No one had been mugged. No one had sent V10, let alone a glamorous V13. No one had run over a holy cow on a rented scooter. Kyler told me to relax.
Three days later, still fretting over the piece, I broke a hold high off the deck and smashed into a granite plateau, splitting my tibia like a turkey wishbone. Roiling in agony, the broken pinch still clutched in my hand, something deep inside my brain snapped to life. I just found my story.
In retrospect, I’ve learned that it isn’t always the bombshell that makes the biggest craters. Our travels are interspersed with a thousand tiny vignettes which, when carefully strung together, create a collage of our passages. From India I recall very little of the daily climbing. Instead I’m left pondering flashes and incongruences, like sonar blips over a topography I’m sure I could recall if only I could see it again. Leaping over a king cobra as dusk enveloped our reedy trail. A steaming dinner served by a six year old in a new friend’s one room hut. Topping out a highball to a gaggle of chittering monkeys and praying to Vishnu that they wouldn’t launch a turd at me as I turned the lip.
This week I’d like to share some vignettes from a month spent in Hampi, India. Thank You For Flying Air India (Tuesday) finds us flying the friendly skies with major sinus congestion. Certain the stop-over descent into Hong Kong would cause my eardrums to explode all over my seat mate, that flight from Seoul to Mumbai was the most excruciating I’ve ever endured. But, if you can’t find humor in a blood-spackled salesman from Dubai, what can you laugh at?
Sometimes, the best laid plans go terribly awry. The Wallet (Wednesday) finds us renting motorbikes and puttering to a nearby city to find an ATM that doesn’t charge astronomical commission rates. It goes some way in saying that renting Indian mopeds and traveling all that way actually saved us some money. Of course, things go wrong.
Perhaps the most vivid vignettes resonating across the years involve the locals you befriend. Fresh off a broken tibia, fiddling with a paper-mache cast and wondering if my foot is actually just going to fall off, I meet Ram (Thursday), a man seemingly summoned from the ether to still my shivering nerves.
And what about all that broken leg drama? Well, the editors liked it. In 2007 I landed my first published feature in Rock and Ice, A Passage Out of India (Friday). I’m reprinting it here for the first time.
I’m lucky enough to have some friends helping me. The amazing Lynn Suyeko Mandziuk offered to illustrate Thank You For Flying Air India and Ram. Kyler Deutmeyer, a photographer I greatly admire, threw down some photos for The Wallet and A Passage Out of India and of course this little introduction.
Welcome to India Week at Thundercling!