Piti Dharr 2020: The Definitive Ice Climbing Festival in Kaza

It was 8.30 on the morning of 18 January 2017, and I was at Sakya Homestay in Kaza with The Mountain Walker team.  We had reached Kaza at 1.30 am and out of habit, I was up foraging the morning chai. I found the chai, along with a calm young man who was in the sitting room, sipping his chai quietly.

That was the first time I met Bharat Bhushan. Lean, lithe, and sure of himself, Bharat is a mountaineer and rock climber based in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh. In 2017 when we met in Kaza, he (along with friends Karan Kowshik and Nishit) was exploring Frozen Waterfalls for ice climbing. Their team also comprised Argos, Karan’s year-and-some-months-old German Shepherd, who was being trained as a Search and Rescue working animal. Over the next few days, we met Bharat and his team early mornings for chai or late night over dinner, and learnt about the climbs they were doing, the routes they were exploring. There was a steely determination in his intent and it was obvious Bharat had set a goal that was bigger than the personal.

Bharat Bhushan at Sakya Homestay in Kaza in January 2017

Bharat is an accomplished professional mountaineer and certified instructor, who went on to found the Piti Dharr International Ice Climbing Festival, and his team successfully held and conducted the inaugural event last year in Kaza in January 2019.

The second edition of the Festival is coming in January 2020. Seemed like an appropriate moment to circle back, reconnect with Bharat and the following interview is the result.

Ice Climbing is a relatively new adventure sport and Piti Dharr International Festival is a pioneering effort in popularising the sport in India; Photo courtesy Bharat Bhushan
Piti Dharr 2020 is expected to attract around 25 climbers; Photo courtesy Bharat Bhushan

When is the Piti Dharr International Ice Climbing Festival 2020 scheduled to be held?

It will be happening in the month of January 2020, from January 5th to 10th.

What inspired you to start this festival? 

Climbers like Prerna, Shekhar, Tony da and many others helped me a lot and encouraged me to do this, as also Sakya Abode owner, Tsering Bodh, who provides every logistics support for the Festival. I always strongly felt the need for an event wherein all of India’s good ice-climbers and ice-enthusiasts could come, learn and share.

What is the name of your outfit?

It is called Himalayan Outdoor Development, and it’s not a commercial company but an initiative where we will teach hardcore technical skills to enthusiastic outdoors explorers and climbers as well.

Would it be right to call you the pioneer of Ice Climbing in India?  Please tell us about the various qualifications and years of experience climbing.

I have done all my mountaineering, and Search and Rescue courses from India. I have also done the NOLS Mountaineering Instructor course from Alaska. Overall, I have 110 weeks of field-teaching experience with NOLS, while my personal climbing experience spans locations in India and abroad. I am not a pioneer but you can call me one of the early explorers of the Frozen Waterfall in India – I started exploring in Spiti ice from 2015 onwards.

Who are your inspirations?

There are many people who inspired me as also the books that I read. Mostly, my inspirations come from the old, village people who share their stories with us – that inspires and drives me a lot. In the climbing world, Fred Beckey, a famous rock climber from the USA, is an inspiration. The books which influenced and inspired me include Born to Run by Christopher McDougall and Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales among many others.

Who are the organisers and supporters of the festival?

The Piti Dharr 2020 team comprises: Prerna Dangi (Festival Coordinator), Anil Belwal (Mountain Guide), Tsering Bodh (Head of Operations), Ishani Sawant (Event Manager), Praveen Jayakaran (Photographer), Saiyami Takale (Writer), Tenzin Saldon (Field Coordinator), Sonam Norbu (Field Coordinator), and Upslope Productions who are our Content Partners.

Our sponsors include Sakya Abode, Nourish Organics, Indian Mountaineering Foundation, QUROST, and Himalayan Roads.

What was the turnout last year? How many climbers do you expect this year?

At the inaugural Piti Dharr International Ice Climbing Festival in 2019,  we had more than 20 people including Four international climbers. This year we are expecting 25 people including the organising team. We aim to expand this slowly and we want everyone should enjoy the climbing in a safe way at all times, and that they should come again and again.

Which are the rock climbing and ice climbing destinations in the Himalayas that you are building and plan to promote?

For rock climbing, Shaali Tibba and Sangla are our next destinations. For ice climbing, we are focusing only on Spiti right now, maybe in the future we will go to the Lahaul Valley as well.

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