Gurkha Company (Sittang) conducted a week-long adventurous training (Exercise SITTANG WARRIOR 2019) in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy with the aim to develop leadership skills, teamwork, physical courage and most importantly to improve the retention of the Army by allowing personnel to "see the world".
The activities included summer mountaineering and mountain biking. The exercise was planned and led by Sergeant Bhishma, Gurkha Staff and Personnel Support.
We arrived at International Camping Olympia, in Cortina d’Ampezzo early morning of 16th September 2019 after almost 24 hours of road travel through the heart of Europe. But our spirit was not dampened by fatigue and we were able to view the awe-inspiring beauty of the Dolomites. The landscape and the traditional alpine houses with flowers on the balcony reminded us of Nepal.
Day one was dedicated for campsite occupation and admin while our instructors conducted recces for the activities for the week ahead. The exercising team was divided into two groups and took part in activities in a round robin for the next four days.
First on the list for summer mountaineering was Tre Cime di Lavaredo (Three Peaks of Lavaredo), one of the best-known mountains in the Alps. The peaks distinct shape and dramatic beauty has always attracted tourists and nature lovers alike and that day was no different. The place was flooded with visitors even early in the morning. The beauty of the Dolomites was in full glory, we could only admire and appreciate the breath-taking landscape.
The second item on our menu was to hike up to Lake Sorapiss. The lake is a crystal blue, glacially fed alpine lake which is an iconic photo stop. The trail went through pine forests and undulating rock traverses where we had to hold on to cables to stay on the track. Narrow paths in some sections of the trail tested the nerves of those afraid of heights. Fortified bunkers were clearly visible on the side of the paths reminding us of its past. These areas were front line for Austrian-Italian forces during World War One. After several staircases and rocky outcrops, in around 2 hours we finally arrived at the lake where we we able to eat our lunch before we returned using the same trail.
Lago di Braies also known as Instagram Lake was the last on our list. When we arrived early in the morning, the lake was already crowded with travel vloggers and photographers. The water was so calm that the surrounding peaks were perfectly mirrored in the lake. A 5km long trail circumnavigates the lake, it was a short and perfect recovery hike before we headed back to the UK.
Day one started with safety brief, basic skills practice and familiarisation ride on a trail near Cortina. It was necessary to build up confidence as we in the group had varied biking skill levels. The higher we rode; the more the scenery of Cortina was reveales. Mesmerising views made the ride a fun and at the end, it was time to go downhill. It was scary at first but fun and thrilling afterwards.
The second day we were to go even higher using ski lifts and ride all the way down. We were delighted to be joined by Commanding Officer saheb who had flown in the night before. Unfortunately, the day’s plan did not go smoothly as the second ski lift on the mountain was closed but that didn’t stop us from getting to the top. There is a saying “where there is a will, there is a way”. We rode/carried our bikes all the way to the top even though some of us exceeded our physical thresholds and had to take forced breaks. Our reward at the end was a stunning view from the top and thrill filled downhill ride to the bottom.
The week passed by in a blink of an eye and it was time for another long drive back to the UK. We had a delicious BBQ in the campsite on the last day. It was a fitting end to the special week.
To sum it all up, it was a fruitful week for all. Operating in unknown environment presented unique challenges. The team were exposed to controlled risk to develop leadership skills, teamwork and physical courage which are Army’s Core Values and Standards. These ultimately lead to operational effectiveness of the Army.