Published: 09th March 2018
Hyderabad's Sai Teja Peddineni has climbed the world's deadliest volcanoes. And he is not done yet!
It began when he got in touch with a group going for a volcano trek. That's it — next thing he does is pack his bags for a trek at Volcano Dukono in Indonesia. Talk about an explosive personality!
By definition, an adventure is an exciting experience that is typically bold, sometimes risky. But Sai Teja Peddineni has taken 'adventure' to a whole new level! He is doing something that is unheard of, at least in India, and it is dangerous, like commando-level dangerous. We are talking about volcano hunting — a term that only a few have heard of and one that was introduced by Sai. That's probably why he is called the Volcano Man of India.
It all started in 2011 when Sai was just looking for more excitement in life. Pretty natural for a 23-year-old we'd say, but he took it way too seriously! Why else would he want to climb an active, smoky, lava-spewing volcano? "It was in December 2015, I had everything in my life, but the excitement factor wasn't there. I wanted that. I first took up travelling, but that wasn't enough for me. And that's when I received a mail from a friend about a few people who were going on a special trek. I didn't know what the trek was about. Then they told me that they were going to climb a volcano. When I heard that, I literally got goosebumps," Sai recalls.
My mother always spikes a fever every time I go into a volcano and gets better only after I call her or when she sees me
Sai Teja Peddinenni, commonly known as Volcano Man of India
And that experience got the ball rolling, as they say. "That's when I was introduced to the concept and it really excited me. I realised that this is what I want to do. This is exactly what I want to do," he stresses, trying to contain the thrill in his voice. So clearly, Sai is not someone who is impressed by mediocrity. That's why he chose to climb the second-most active volcano in the world — Dukono in Indonesia — on his very first attempt. Yup, that's how he rolls! "I wanted to choose something that was very challenging. So, I chose the world's second-most active volcano in Indonesia. Getting to Dukono itself is not very easy. The terrain is really difficult and let's not forget the sinking holes and ash all over it that makes it even more difficult to climb," he explains.
Since then he has climbed volcanoes at least 12 times in a span of two years, Volcano Agung in Bali being one of them. Agung is one of the most active volcanoes and its last eruption was in November 2017. It is the same volcano that killed over 1,500 people in 1963. And Sai’s story of climbing thisvolcano is as exciting as Dukono. He shares, "Agung is a prohibited place, so trying to get into the exclusion zone was extremely difficult as they were expecting an eruption. Agung's worst eruption was in 1963 and since then there have been reports of frequent eruptions. It has been gathering energy for a long time and if it erupts, it is going to be massive and deadly.”
The 'wow' factor: Sai Teja has climbed volcanoes at least 12 times in a span of two years, Volcano Agung in Bali being one of them
He continues, “In addition to this, the weather conditions were really bad. It was January and it was raining and there was a lot of fog. I was really exhausted.” But, as expected, that did not stop him from doing what he loves. "I thought to myself that even if I die, I will die climbing Agung, not descending it. I set small goals like reaching a particular point. I didn't even think about going back, that was not even an option," he narrates.
And Sai did have a close encounter with death. "The lava was emitting a lot of ash because of which I was pushed to a stream that was flooding. I thought to myself that my time had arrived, but I wasn't ready to go without a fight. I got hold of a root of a tree that was stuck in the middle of the stream. After some time, when the water flow increased, I decided to take a leap," he narrates, while we mentally bit our nails.
Why he does this: For Hyderabad's Sai Teja, it's not a good adventure until it sends shivers down your spine
But why would someone do that? Sai finally opens up about his reasons, "Everyone fears death, but I wanted to stare death in the eye. That's the reason I chose this. I wanted the ultimate rush that I couldn't possibly get even from bungee jumping. I wanted something more extreme.” Obviously, there were a lot of people who asked him the same question, but the only nod that mattered to him was his mother's. "My mother was the one who was scared the most, but she was also the one who motivated me to take this up. She encouraged me to follow my dreams and assured that she would keep her fears and emotions to herself," Sai tells us and adds, "But she always spikes a fever every time I go into a volcano and gets better only after I call her or when she sees me.” A mother's love, what can we say about it?
Understandably, anybody would be worried to send their loved one into something that is clearly so risky and also into a virgin territory. There are no schools that teach volcano climbing and one tiny mistake could mean death or a fatal injury. That was probably the biggest challenge that Sai faced while pursuing this adventure. "I don't know anybody in India who does this. That makes it really dangerous because even the government won't assist me if anything goes wrong. On the bright side, I feel the high of being one the first people to up the game of volcano adventure in India," he says, proudly.
"There is no course available that one can take. The protagonist learns from their own mistakes," Sai declares. And because there is no course, there are always problems with funding. "The government has no policy for me because they do not understand what it is. I have been recognised by the state government, but they do not have any measures to promote this adventure in the country. But it's time that the government supports the cause," says Sai.
To increase awareness, Sai is preparing to do something even more extreme — lava diving. "If it happens, I will be the first person to dive into the lava. We are trying to develop a special suit that will be needed for this expedition," he says.