Speedskating - Country histories

A sketch of the skating history of India
Main sources information provided by Marnix Koolhaas og Robert Korneef, including several articles from the India Tribune.

India is not a country that you normally associate with winter and ice and snow, but in the north, it borders on the Himalayas, where these materials abound. There seems to be also a healthy interest in winter sports, and meets are arranged including short-track skating on indoor tracks, even in the capital Delhi, where a National Winter Games Federation has arranged races in national winter games since 2002. In 2003, India became a provisional member of the ISU.

At Shimla in the Himachal province, 230 kms east of Amritsar, at 2204 meters altitude and a latitude of 31° north, the sport has a longer history. An Englishman, Mr. Blessington, formed the Shimla Ice Skating Club in 1920, after finding to his surprise that a bucket of water would freeze solid if left outside in the night. At first, the club was only for colonialists. Misri Chand and Dr Sat Pal were among the first Indians to be accepted, and for many years they were the heart and soul of the club management. Blessington founded a rink at Cart Road, under a hill covered with a thick pine forest, keeping the rink in shade during the afternoon. The Englishmen taught the art of icemaking to a tribe of Sikh highlanders, the Garhwalis, and ever since then, the Garhwalis have come down from the mountains every winter to make the ice for the city dwellers. Shimla is a popular winter resort and the club annals feature photos of several visiting celebrities, including Indira Gandhi and President Tito of Yugoslavia. Numerous Bollywood films are shot in Shimla, and some of them include skating scenes. The sport however has little competitive element and is mostly considered a merry-making activity. The people eagerly await the annual fancy dress carnival around Christmas and the gymkhana where the best skaters are selected. Exhibition ice-hockey matches are held between Christmas and New Year. Occasionally, however, skaters have been sent abroad to represent the country. Madan Sharma, a professor of mathematics, was one of the best skaters for many years, excelling in figure and speedskating as well as ice hockey. Beena Braig was his preferred pairs mate for many seasons. Indian national ski and ice sports championships have been held since 1986, the first one with the ski events at Gulmarg, Kas-Them, and the ice events at Shimla. Two SISC members, Peter Ta-Tung and Anjali Sood were sent to the short-track races at the Asian winter games in Sapporo 1986, where Ta-Tung clocked 69.63 on the 500 m in the men's races and Ms. Sood achieved 63.76 in the women's.

Often, 15 weeks of skating have been available on the Shimla rink, but in recent years, extensive deforestation has depleted the pine forest and caused the Sun to reach the ice in the afternoons in the early and late parts of the season so that nowadays 8 to 9 weeks is commonplace. It is said that the India Winter Sports Federation plans to provide refrigeration for the whole or part of the track. Today, the club has several hundred members. The activity nowadays is complemented with indoor activities such as billiards, cards and table tennis, but it's still primarily a skating club.

In Leh, the capital of Ladakh in eastern Kashmir 300 kms further north, on 34° of latitude, there is a Winter Sporting Club and two natural ice rinks: Gophuks, the army rink, and Karzu, which is open to the public. Apparently they also flood a polo ground in the middle of the town when there is frost. Plans to build a major winter sports centre are said to exist. The club arranged national winter games in 1998.

There are also reported to exist skating rinks for the Indo-Tibetan border police in the Himalaya region of the Uttar Pradesh province, at Auli, which I can't locate on the map, and at Mussoorie or Mansuri near Dehradun at approx. 30°30'N and 2000 masl.