The youngest member is a teenager, the oldest a septuagenarian. They go trekking, camping, rock-climbing, walking, cycling… all in the name of adventure. And the only pre-requisite to join the Institute of Exploration is enthusiasm.
“People go in groups, with members or friends and family, and even sometimes on their own,” says Jayanta Mukherjee, general secretary of the Institute. “As a club, we have at least five or six trips a year. And then some members get together in twos, threes or more and head out by themselves.”
Started in February 1971 from a small room by an individual, the organisation now has over 50 members and an office on Creek Row. Walking by the waters from Chandipur to Digha or Gopalpur-on-Sea, cycling to Bakkhali, trekking at Sandakphu and Sikkim and rock-climbing at Susunia and Jaychandi are just some of the activities of the intrepid explorers, trying to quench their constant thirst for adventure.
“In fact, we have a course on rock-climbing every year,” explains G.K. Datta, 75, president of the Institute. “It is a four-to-five-days’ camping trip, in Purulia or Susunia, where we teach newcomers the basics, and then issue a certificate at the end if they graduate.”
The Institute’s last Himalayan expedition was in 2001, in Himachal Pradesh. They had planned one last year, but scrapped it due to a lack of funds. “We used to get subsidies from the government,” says Datta. “This has now become a trickle, for any expedition. We have to now give more than 80 per cent of the money ourselves, often an impossible task for a lot of the youngsters. We try to put in some of the Institute’s funds, which is not enough.” Mukherjee points out that it came to more than Rs 8,000 per person for the 2001 expedition.
But that is no reason to mope. The most recent trip was rock-climbing in the first week of January, and their next plan is to cycle to Piyali, in the Sunderbans. “It is ecologically sound, a lot of fun and, most importantly, much cheaper,” smiles Mukherjee. The organisation holds a number of regular classes on map-reading, exercises to tone up the body for strenuous activities like trekking and climbing, and first-aid, among others. Datta, a geographer and former director of the Atlas Association (now ATMO), helps out in the mapping department.
Organising and conducting seminars is another aspect of the organisation. The project currently in progress, in association with the food and nutrition department of Jadavpur University, is a food guide for mountaineers. The data from the series of seminars has been collected and will be produced as a booklet, to be made available for everyone. All the Institute’s classes and courses, expeditions and trips, seminars and discussions are recorded in detail, and archived at their office, which is open to the public, twice a week.
With an annual fee of Rs 25 for associate members, Rs 50 for members and Rs 500 for life members (of which there are about eight), people come and go, but the spirit of camaraderie and the sense of common purpose is what remains, concludes Mukherjee.