Off Season Tourist - India Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta
Two weeks in India, 2003 Notes from the Off Season Tourist
Dimna Lake
The IIMC Adventure Club's First Outing
Hiking with Wild Elephants

8 pm on the IIMC campus in Calcutta- Thursday June 26, 2003. Most students were having dinner when a group of 21 gathered to head out on the new Adventure Club's first weekend trip. As an exchange student, I was granted membership into the club for the summer and had not needed to participate in the club's initiating 5k run around campus (a courtesy for which I was indeed grateful!).

On the bus ride to Haora train station there was a burst of Hindi song from the eager students in the back of the bus. They were excited - after all, we were all looking forward to a weekend of rappelling, rafting, kayaking, swimming and hiking. Marcus and I would soon discover that these activities are not common in India and that most of the 22-29 year old students would be doing many of these activities for the very first time.

After the train tickets to Jamshedpur had been bought, we bundled bags and bodies onto a sleeper carriage and found bunks that were unclaimed by other travelers. We had heard and read many things about the Indian rail system - largest single railroad system in the world, built by the British; overcrowded; "watch your bags or they'll get stolen", etc. Given that this was a sleeper train on a Thursday night, it was not overly crowded and we had no problem finding bunks.

As the coolish evening swept past, those who could sleep did so until about 2:30 am. I had finally settled into sleep and was jolted awake by "Get up! We're here!". Not knowing for how long the train would be in the station, I grabbed my bags and shoes and jumped down from the top bunk. I was outside before I was even really awake. I was glad to see that good traveling instincts never die!

Once everyone was off the train, we walked en masse to the exit. Marcus and I have both done a lot of traveling in our lives and have been in train stations around the world. At 2:30 a.m. you will always be able to find people sleeping at any given station. However, we were astonished by the sheer quantity of people, young and old, sleeping on the ground all over the station. Many had just spread out a thin piece of material, maybe part of a sari or a plastic dropcloth, and just lain down on the concrete floor. Outside, the rows of sleeping locals continued, with the ever-present thin, mangy-looking dogs roaming around as well. Walking towards the bus, we had to step over the largest dead rat I've ever seen; quite a statement, coming from a New York City girl.

The "Water Sports Course" weekend was organized by the president of the Adventure Club, Malli Mastan Babu, through the Tata Steel Adventure Foundation (TSAF). In the parking lot of the train station in Jamshedpur, we had our first meeting with the Foundation's bus; an old, rackety, diesel exhaust-spitting behemoth that nevertheless would get us where we needed to go. After a quick ride, we found ourselves at the Steel City's sports complex.

Jog through the park
5 a.m. PT for the Adventure Club
We were granted two brief and rough hours of sleep in the dormitory beds (thin foam mat on top of plywood) and were awoken at 5 am to prepare for PT - Physical Training. Julie and Marcus' reaction: "Jogging? Ha, I don't think so." I don't like to job because of the impact it puts on my knee, and Marcus just doesn't like to jog. Period. However, we didn't see why we should be exempt if everyone else had to do it, so we joined everyone for an hour-long jog around the perfectly tended gardens and lake of Jubilee Park. I didn't quite jog the entire time, but still made it back to the arena, where we were led in a calisthenics routine straight out of the 70's. We did exercises that fitness pundits in the U.S. would have deemed too dangerous for your knees or your back.

After a hearty breakfast, we were briefed by the Director of the TSAF. He explained that the emphasis on fitness for the Adventure Club is important, as a small group of them will be selected to go in December to the Mount Everest Base Camp. The TSAF also helps the group reach this goal, through their team-building courses and activities. By bringing people together over a period of time and presenting them with challenges to solve together, the TSAF intends to help participants look at issues with fresh perspectives. The hope for this weekend is that the students will become closer, learn to trust each other, and realize the importance of teamwork.

We did two group activities with the director. The first group activity was a typical icebreaker, involving passing a pillow and learning people's names. The interesting factor for me was that not all of the students knew each other. I assumed that because they were all living on the IIMC campus and most were in their second year of the MBA program, that they would all know each other. Marcus and I instantly felt a comfort in the realization that we weren't the only people who didn't know everyone.

The second challenge required the students to be split into three groups of 7 people. The teams carried six beams of wood, each with a rope strung along the length of the wood, down to the grass next to a hockey pitch. The challenge was to have all 7 people stand on two lengths of the wood and walk in unison to the other end of the pitch. If any group member's foot slipped off the wood and touched the grass, the entire group had to return to the starting point. With much synchronized lifting and straining and more than a few rope blisters, Group 1 passed the finish line first with Group 3 just a few steps behind. The keys to success, as we discussed afterwards in the debriefing, were the preplanning, clear communication and a capacity to rethink leadership or enhance process in the midpoint.

We would maintain these three groups for the rest of the weekend. Over the next three days we would learn about each other and develop trust in the team members. Often times, we would lean on each other for support, whether on the way up a mountain or in the middle of a lake, when the current would get too strong and the stronger swimmers would help the others back to the raft.

Abseiling
Julie rappelling down the stadium wall
The next challenge for the day (and it wasn't yet noon!) was abseiling. Each group had been assigned a very experienced mountaineer/instructor, all of whom have climbed in the Himalayas for many years. The instructors gave a quick lesson on how to keep one's body perpendicular to the wall while walking, or bouncing, down the side of the 50-foot high stadium wall. Then one-by-one, each member of each group was strapped into a harness, connected to the belay rope and was on their way down the side of the stadium. Of the 21 total students, only the three foreign students had previous experience with mountain climbing and abseiling. However, everyone equally enjoyed the experience and many students wished for a second opportunity to climb down the wall.

After lunch, the group headed out to Dimna Lake where we took our first look at the peak of Dahma Hill, the goal for the weekend's ascent. We pitched tents, donned lifejackets, and headed out to the lake as the sun set. Swimming in the breezeless evening the sound of the warm water around us was very relaxing and we soon found ourselves asleep under the canvas tents that looked like they had been well used by numerous adventure weekend groups in the years before us.

Our sleep was abruptly broken by another 5 am call for morning exercises and once again the wonders of breakfast. With seven kayaks at our disposal, each group took turns kayaking, rafting or swimming in the lake. There was a brisk wind and the rain started up, but the future managers from IIMC took to these challenges like amphibians, thriving in the water on and off land. The rain did not abate and the wind grew stronger, but still people enjoyed the activities. As the afternoon progressed we made preparations for our 2.5 hour hike to the top of Dimna Hill where, instead of sleeping in tents, we would build shelters for our groups and cook with the limited supplies we had been provided.

Stuck in the mud
Teamwork to get the bus out of the monsoon mud
The rain refused to let up and as we prepared to leave, the bus that was to take us to the starting point of the hike, was stuck in the fresh mud. This sticky issue introduced the group to a vital understanding of teamwork: when teams work together, they do not succeed only because those within the group are strong, they require the support of others outside the team. The sheer strength of the IIMC students pushing the bus could not budge the struggling vehicle. Success came only when their combined strength joined with the resources of a team of men, who leapt as one from a passing truck, pulling tools and wood from the truck bed. The combination of all teams pushing, pulling, rearranging resources and sharing a common goal dragged the bus behemoth onto the road.

Group 1
Top of the mountain: Sadha, Chhina, Malli, Sethu, Julie, Marcus and Komet
With the stubborn rain and the instructors' knowledge of the slippy nature of the hill path, it was decided to postpone the climb until the next morning. We returned to the stadium where we cooked together on field stoves, took the opportunity to hang our clothes to dry and watched a video on an ascent of Everest. There was no 5 am call to exercise on Sunday. Instead there was a 4 am call to get ready for the ascent of Dimna Hill. The path to the top is well maintained by wild elephants and at the midpoint of the hike, we were shown the area in which a solitary male elephant had slipped in the rain, driving his tusks into the soft earth. Taking time to look at the plants, animals and views through the trees, each group made it to the top together. We stood in the clouds when we arrived but after a visit to the two temples on the hill's top, the cloud pulled away revealing a lovely view of the land below.

The descent was steep but we all made it back within the anticipated timeframe and headed back to the stadium for a quick lunch, a photograph with the local press, and a repacking of our bags for the 3:30 train back to Kolkata. There was a brief struggle for space on the sitter, but with our newly discovered teamwork we were able to get seats for everyone and the IIMC group settled down to some snacks, conversation and well earned rest on the journey home.

Kalyani trying to catch the goats Tired after a long weekend Marcus playing charades Pumping water at top of hill

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