SHIVAMOGGA: He scales rocky walls in a trice, his hands and feet almost skimming over the surface with a sure grip, as a collective gasp goes up from the watching crowd below.
It’s a technique he learnt from monkeys, keenly observing their agile movements and aping them.
Jyothi Raj, the famed spiderman of Chitradurga, is also known as ‘Kothi Raj’ and has quite rightly earned the sobriquet of ‘Incredible Monkey Man’.
He says climbing is easy as pie. “I have a perfect grip of the wall and know where to keep my feet,” he says, as he shins up and down the rocky wall of Chitradurga Fort, about 200km from Bengaluru.
Every day, Raj (34) entertains hundreds of visitors at Chitradurga Fort with his incredible skill of wall climbing, and even mimics monkeys, making howling noises, hanging upside down and scratching his back. The audience is amused, and the children are taken up completely by his skill.
It was a skill borne out of a near-tragedy. Jyothi Raj, who wanted to end his life at the fort, discovered instead that he could climb walls, and it even gave him a new life and livelihood.
Scaling the fort wall and rocks is not his only skill. Raj is now teaching young men and women for free, to compete in wall climbing championships and wants to prepare them for the Olympics.
For this, he needs an artificial wall, which costs at least Rs 50 lakh.
A wall of international standards could cost more than Rs 1 crore, and he is struggling to raise funds for one in Chitradurga.
“Even to train students for national-level wall climbing events, I needs Rs 50 lakh,” says Raj.
He wants the district administration to lease out a piece of land where he can construct an artificial wall through crowdfunding.
“Lease the land for 20 years, it’s enough for me to train youngsters for national and Olympic events,” he says.
His skill has already hit national headlines, and sports officials want him to come over and practice in Bengaluru, where an artificial wall exists. But he is not ready to leave.
“I have been scaling fort walls for over 15 years, and I entertain people coming from different parts of the state and the country. If the wall is constructed in Chitradurga, the district will be in the limelight and youngsters can train here,” Raj said.
While many of his students have competed at national events, many others have joined the armed forces using Raj’s techniques. Arjun (19), said, “I was eight years old when I came with my father to the fort in 2008. I saw Raj sir climb the wall and wanted to do it too, and he was happy to train me. I have won five gold medals in five national events so far,” he said.
Bhoomika (17) said, “I have dreamt of climbing walls since my childhood and have been training since I was in Class 5. I have participated in three sub-junior wall climbing events and won silver medals. I want to join the military or police department.”
Pawan, a final year LLB student, started when he was in PU college. “I have participated in athletics at the district level and have been taking part in adventure sports,” he said.
Still a bachelor, he considers his students his children and helps underprivileged students by bearing the cost of their education and even food. His other social duty is fishing out bodies from lakes, rivers and even the world-famous Jog Falls.
“I don’t count how many bodies I have fished out... may be over 400, including nine bodies from Jog Falls,” he said.
This daredevilry brings along many risks. Raj suffered a major leg fracture when he slipped from the fort wall on a monsoon day in 2012. In 2018, he slipped from the Jog Falls while bringing up a body and suffered major injuries.
Then, the hospital run by Sri Murugha Mutt had treated him free of cost.
“I’m forever indebted to Sri Murugha Mutt pontiff Dr Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru,” Raj says.
It’s been a hard life for Jyothi Raj, who got lost while attending a fair in Theni district of Tamil Nadu with his family. He was only three then.
A Tamil family of sweetmeat makers, who were running a business in Bagalkot, rescued him.
He grew up in Bagalkot till he was 13, and then ran away as he was tortured. He was walking towards Chitradurga when a farmer, Mahadevappa, rescued him and took him home.
He attempted suicide at the fort when neighbours teased Mahadevappa for making ends meet with his earnings when he was working as a mason.
SHOOTING FOR BIOPIC
The Incredible Monkey Man, a biopic on Jyothi Raj, will be released worldwide soon.
The film, directed by Australian filmmaker Stanley Joseph, is almost complete, except the section where he scales Angel Falls.
It’s Raj’s dream to scale Angel Falls, the world’s highest waterfall in Venezuela. Shooting around Chitradurga is also pending.