Is rock climbing picking up as a fitness option in India?

On the first trip to a bouldering gym, apprehension takes over. As you step into your shoes and warm up for your first climb, the feeling persists. But once you conquer your first boulder, the feeling of accomplishment leaves you wanting more.

Indoor bouldering, which is beginner-friendly and easily accessible, is finding more takers as climbing gyms become more common in the country.

“A lot of people are getting into fitness post-COVID and there is an interesting trend of many moving towards movement training including climbing in addition to regular gyms. Bouldering is a fun way to stay fit and it is attracting a lot of climbers,” says Shyamsundar Manoharan, the founder of Chennai’s first climbing gym, Fit Rock Arena.

Some professionals start climbing as a way to stay fit but end up falling in love with it, says Delhi-based climber Keith Peter. A regular in the city’s climbing scene now, Keith says that the accessibility of the sport is alluring. When he started climbing in early 2018, his only option was the climbing wall at Delhi’s Indian Mountaineering Foundation. However, over the last five years, Delhi-NCR has seen a burgeoning of climbing gyms.

Outdoor bouldering significantly differs from the indoor version
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Special Arrangement

Unlike top–rope (where the climber is securely attached to a rope that runs through a fixed anchor at the top of the climbing route) or trad climbing (climbing that involves removable gear) , bouldering requires minimal equipment and can be attempted even by beginners with no climbing experience. Top rope and other climbing sports require larger climbing space than for bouldering which makes boulder gyms perfect for Indian cities that already struggle with space.

Once you are all geared up — stepping into your soft bouldering shoes (which enable you to feel the terrain better) and smearing dusting chalk on your palms to improve your grip — you are ready to climb. Bouldering routes, the various path markings on the wall, are of grades generally ranging from four to nine, where, as a beginner, you start at four or five — climbers who take up routes marked around nine need to undergo rigorous training.

There are no ropes or harnesses though there is a crash pad to break your fall and prevent injuries. Instructors train your fall so that you do not stress your body while you climb back to land safely.

Stepping stones

Indoor climbing made a debut at the 2020 Olympics (held in 2021). Bouldering is one of the three formats of sport climbing that was introduced..

In India, there is a growing clientele for bouldering as a as a team-building exercise as well. This is because bouldering also requires you to think as you need to navigate the routes to reach the top to finish the boulder problem.  Changing routes keeps it engaging for regular climbers who range from kids to professionals.

All major cities in India have boulder gyms that are on par with international standards.  They conduct monthly and weekly events to encourage friendly competition. Fit Rock for instance had routes marked with locations in Chennai, as part of their Madras Week celebrations. Delhi’s Boulderbox, on the other hand, organises SheClimb for women with top athletes from the country. Apart from the sport and fitness aspect of bouldering, climbing spots also host birthdays and corporate events. They also set up walls in schools and multinational companies for events.

Climbers attempting bouldering outdoors

Climbers attempting bouldering outdoors
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Special Arrangement

Keith says that it is through these introductions to climbing, that begin as a venture to try something new, that some individuals take bouldering as a part of their lives. “It begins as a way to tune out from the day-to-day grunge and there is a steady conversation [with self] while they try to answer what climbing means for them.”

Into the thick of it

India’s diverse topography offers experienced climbers the opportunity to take their expertise outdoors as well. Shashank Sreeram, an IT professional from Chennai, has been climbing for around six months. Within the six months of his training, he ventured twice into the outdoors — to Mahabalipuram and Avathi near Bengaluru.

An indoor wall at Fit Rock Arena

An indoor wall at Fit Rock Arena
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Special Arrangement

Gaurav J, who leads climbing workshops in Avathi says that more climbers are coming to enjoy the outdoors. “Many of us started with climbing outdoors, though it helps for some to be accustomed to the basics of bouldering.”

Hampi, in Karnataka, is one of the largest bouldering sites in the world and is a favourite for legendary climbers like Chris Sharma who went on to make the movie Pilgrimage about bouldering in Hampi.

Outdoor bouldering significantly differs from the indoor version. There are few fixed routes and holds. New trends in bouldering encourage bigger holds rather than smaller crimps usually found in locations like Mamallapuram. If you fall, you fall onto a crash pad to avoid serious injuries and you have spotters to assist you through your climb. For Shashank, his first outdoor experience was “thrilling” — He says, “There is the element of fear and adventure, which makes it exhilarating”.

Scrapes and minor injuries are more likely while bouldering outdoors, but such concerns do not stop enthusiasts like Shashank. His dream location to boulder in India is Sethan near Manali.

Bouldering spots in and around Chennai





M Sanjay , an instructor at Fit Rock, says he has tried bouldering in Mahabalipuram. But Shyam says that getting opportunities to climb at some parts of Mamallapuram is hard as there is a need to negotiate with the authorities for access, considering it is a heritage site. 

However, growing popularity paves way to accessibilty as well. Add to it the versatility of the sport and more takers come into the picture.

A steady climb, as they say.

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