Photo essay by SHIMOGA NANDAN
Jyothi Raj once climbed up a rock to kill himself by jumping off from its peak. But what awaited him at the top was not death, but inspiration. Today, he is the most sought-after rock climber in India
For the children who visit Chitradurga Fort in Karnataka, he is the spiderman. Jyothi Raj, 42, is India’s most famous rock climber. By scaling up flat rocks in a matter of minutes and performing risky stunts on flat vertical surfaces, he is well known for leaving his audience gasping for breath. When he was a child, it would not have occurred to Jyothi Raj that one day he would make a living out of rock climbing. In fact, it all began when he was on a suicide mission.
As a child, he ran away from his home in Theni, fearing punishment. Soon afterwards, he ended up in the protective custody of an elderly man, who reportedly abused him. In despair, Jyothi Raj decided to end his life. Never scared of heights, he wanted to plunge to death. So he chose a rock and climbed to its top. The task was demanding as the rock was tall. Jyothi Raj later recalled that he learned to climb by observing monkeys.
However, what awaited him at the pinnacle was not death, but a roar of applause from the tourists who had gathered beneath to watch him, assuming that he was pulling off a stunt. For a man, who had lost all hopes and was about to submit to death, the applause, cheer and gleaming faces below offered a new lease of life. He decided to live. Today, Jyothi Raj is a celebrity rock climber. School children routinely come to the Chitradurga Fort to see him perform stunts. Recently, he even acted in a movie that was based on his life story.
There are many rock climbers in the world. People like Chris Sharma, Alain Roberts have all inspired awe by pulling off stunts that were previously deemed impossible for humans. Jyothi Raj is one among them. However, what sets him apart is his willingness to perform scary stunts without even a rudimentary protective harness. “I climb without any protective gear and there are only a few people around the world who do it this way... 10 people may be.
When I compete at events I use gears. Otherwise, it’s just my climbing shoes which cost about $200-$250,” he said. And it’s not just the walls of Chitradurga Fort. In 2013, Jyothiraj scaled up the 830-foot tall rocks at the Jog Falls without any assistance and using only rudimentary harness—a venture so dangerous that no one has so far dared to imitate.
In fact, many other professional climbers admit that they never attempted what he does on a routine basis.