The Rising Popularity of Rock Climbing for Fitness in India

Indoor bouldering, a beginner-friendly and easily accessible form of climbing, is gaining popularity in India as climbing gyms become more common. Shyamsundar Manoharan, the founder of Chennai’s first climbing gym, Fit Rock Arena, explains that many people are turning to fitness activities like bouldering after COVID-19, and the sport is attracting a lot of climbers. Keith Peter, a climber from Delhi, started climbing to stay fit but ended up falling in love with the sport. He emphasizes the allure of bouldering’s accessibility. Delhi-NCR has seen a rise in the number of climbing gyms over the past five years, providing more options for climbers.

In contrast to top-rope and trad climbing, bouldering requires minimal equipment and can be attempted by beginners with no climbing experience. This makes it ideal for Indian cities that already struggle with limited space for larger climbing sports. When you’re ready to boulder, you gear up by putting on soft bouldering shoes that allow you to feel the terrain better. Smearing chalk on your palms improves your grip. Bouldering routes, marked with various path markings on the wall, are graded from four to nine. Beginners typically start at grade four or five, while more experienced climbers take on higher grades after rigorous training. Unlike other climbing sports, bouldering doesn’t require ropes or harnesses. Instead, a crash pad is provided to break your fall and prevent injuries. Instructors also train climbers on falling safely.

Not only is bouldering a form of fitness, but it also serves as a team-building exercise. Many major Indian cities have bouldering gyms that meet international standards and organize monthly and weekly events to encourage friendly competition. For example, Fit Rock Arena in Chennai marked routes with locations to celebrate Madras Week, while Delhi’s Boulderbox hosts SheClimb for women with top athletes from the country. Bouldering gyms also cater to birthdays and corporate events, and they even set up climbing walls in schools and multinational companies for special occasions. Keith believes that some individuals start bouldering as a way to try something new, but end up making it an integral part of their lives, finding meaning and self-reflection in the sport.

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India’s diverse topography provides experienced climbers with opportunities to venture outdoors. Shashank Sreeram, an IT professional from Chennai, started climbing six months ago and has already experienced outdoor climbing in Mahabalipuram and Avathi near Bengaluru. Gaurav J, who leads climbing workshops in Avathi, notes that although many climbers start with outdoor climbing, it’s beneficial to have some familiarity with bouldering basics. Hampi, in Karnataka, is a renowned bouldering site and a favorite among legendary climbers like Chris Sharma, who even made a movie about bouldering in Hampi called “Pilgrimage.” Outdoor bouldering differs from indoor bouldering as there are fewer fixed routes and holds. New trends in bouldering promote using larger holds instead of smaller crimps typically found in locations like Mamallapuram. Safety precautions like crash pads and spotters are in place to assist climbers during their outdoor ascent. Although scrapes and minor injuries are more likely when bouldering outdoors, enthusiasts like Shashank are undeterred. His dream location to boulder in India is Sethan near Manali.

While some areas in Mamallapuram present challenges in terms of accessibility due to being heritage sites, the growing popularity of bouldering is leading to increased accessibility. The versatility of the sport and the varying routes keep climbers engaged, attracting more participants. The popularity of indoor bouldering also paved the way for the sport’s debut at the 2020 Olympics (held in 2021). In addition to its fitness and sport aspects, bouldering serves as a platform for team-building exercises and provides opportunities for self-discovery and reflection. With climbing gyms on the rise in major Indian cities and the availability of outdoor climbing sites, the climbing community in India continues its steady climb.

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