News, Sport | 31 May 2024

Exercise ANTIM BOAST 24 – Infantry Squash Tour to Nepal 2024

2024 has had a watershed moment for Infantry Squash. For the first time since 1992 a touring squad has travelled abroad to play squash. Historically Infantry Squash has had varying degrees of engagement, support, management, and competitive success. This has often been aligned with operational tempo and the general pace of life within the Infantry.

Our sights had been set upon a tour for a couple of years but the bandwidth of those on the formal committee has been limited to maintaining the fundamental functions of keeping the sport alive and engagement in the cadence of annual Squash events. That was until WO2 Keshbahadur Magar Thapa (2 RGR/4 RANGER), a long-standing Corps player, raised his hand and volunteered to organise a tour to Nepal.

Day three was our first opportunity to get on the courts, and we could not wait! We were met at the venue with the warmest of welcomes by the National Squash Rackets Association (NRSA) Squash Committee and were given a tour of the impressive five glass back courts and one complete glass court. After introductions and warmups, we took to the courts and spent the day conducting drills, training games, and team strategy, punctuated by plenty of stretching.

The touring party consisted of the following nine players: Lt Col Kit Philp (Coldm Gds), Maj Simon Hamilton (1 R ANGLIAN), WO1 Paul Searle (PWRR), WO2 Keshbahadur Thapa Magar (2RGR / 4 RANGERS), WO2 Krishna Yonghang (2 RGR/Sldr Academy), Sgt Mitchell Popman (4 PWRR), Sgt Niran Rai (2 RGR), LSgt Lalhruaisanga  Vanchhawng (1 Irish Gds), LCpl Oscar Robinson-Murray (1 Irish Gds).

The deployment of Ex ANTIM BOAST 24 (Ex AB24) begun with a taster of the flexibility that would be required for the tour, with notification the day before departure of a delay to the flight by 12 hours.

The 12-hour flight, via Delhi, arrived in to a hot and humid Kathmandu, with a time difference of four and a half hours ahead of the UK. It was quickly off to the British Gurkha Nepal camp for administration, acclimatisation, and rest. We were based there for our time in the city, and we were hosted exceptionally by British Gurkhas Nepal. The next day was the continuation of our acclimatisation and our cultural education. It began with a brief from Maj Dhir Pun (Assistant Military Attaché, Nepal) on the culture, geography, and responsibility of our team to promote the reputation of the British Army in Nepal, and to do all we can to encourage squash participation in the country. The group then visited Bhaktapur under the guidance of our resident Kathmandu team member, WO2 Keshar. A cultural feast; visiting temples, a traditional Buddhist art workshop, and learning about the fascinating history of Nepal, and how a king from Gorkha conquered Kathmandu and brought all the districts under one rule.

An early start at the NRSA for the opening ceremony of the 2nd NRSA International Inter-Club Squash Championship 2024., 10 teams from countries including Nepal, Bangladesh, UK, USA, Pakistan, and India were welcomed with motivating speeches from VIPs and cultural dances. Over the next three days the impact of playing squash from 0800 – 2000 took its toll, and the limbs became more sore and the bodies more fatigued. The heat and altitude bore down upon us, challenging even the fittest and youngest members of the team. We ended up playing over 100 highly competitive games within a 48-hour period, which by any standard is challenging, despite this, the smiles remained and the enthusiasm never diminished. The sauna and massage therapy services at the venue were certainly well used to keep our players in top form.

With national level players eventually battling it out for the medals, it was by the slightest of margins that the British teams were beaten and therefore not in the semi-finals.

With the competition behind us, but still a desire to spend time on court and despite needing to catch a flight at midday, the team went back to the club in the morning of the 6th day to spend time coaching children. A fulfilling experience and one which left us confident we will see some of these children, many orphans, in the future if we are privileged enough to make this tour a regular occurrence.

After the coaching, we quickly returned to camp to grab our kit and then to battle the Kathmandu traffic to the airport. We arrived to find the next OPTAG serial awaiting us! All flights to Pokhara had been cancelled and were due to remain cancelled for the next four days due to a wildfire preventing flights being able to land. So, in true infantry style we immediately jumped into action. Lt Col Philp started liaising with the British Embassy for advice and alternative options, our Gurkha team members started gathering quotes from mini bus drivers for a road move, and WO2 Keshar liaised with the airline about cancellations and refunds. All this was being done whilst the rest CONPLANed how we could make our time in Kathmandu productive if we couldn’t get to Pokhara. There was talk of organising another squash competition and conducting a training clinic with the local players.  After an hour of concurrent planning, which the DS at Brecon would award a ‘Highly Competent’ grade for, the decision was made that we would cancel the tickets and road move to Pokhara. Just as we packed up and mentally prepared ourselves for the nine-hour journey ahead, the airline decided they were going to fly and would be taking off in 30 minutes! This was followed by a ‘move with purpose’ through ticketing, bag drop, security and onto a waiting bus to take us to the plane. 25 mins after take-off on one of only two out of 18 scheduled flights that would fly, we arrived in a very smoky Pokhara relieved we didn’t have to drive.

Infantry Squash Tour to Nepal 2024
Infantry Squash Tour to Nepal 2024

The next two days were early starts playing with Squash Kaski. On the courts by 0700, we coached and played with them till 1300 every day. Unfortunately, this  amazing club, that does so much to provide opportunity for children and young people in the district, is poorly resourced and funded. Many of the players borrow shoes and rackets to play, but their love of their game is obvious. Hours were spent coaching and it was phenomenal how quickly they improved with a few tips. Again, the British team were filled with motivation to return in the future to help in changing lives and positively reinforcing the good the British Army do for the local Nepali communities.

Infantry Squash Tour to Nepal 2024

The second day, post-training, we visited the Gurkha Memorial Museum. An extraordinary opportunity to learn about the history of this strong culture and the links the UK and Nepal share. We were also treated to a blow by blow explanation of the legendary Doko race, part of Gurkha selection, by CSgt Niran Rai, from the cable suspension bridge that overlooks the start. No better guide than one who came first in his Doko race. It was a humbling experience for all, and a good opportunity to appreciate how far the soldiers have come from their modest beginnings.

The ninth day was the beginning of the end. Our flight back to Kathmandu was approaching, however, there is always an opportunity for a surprise in Nepal! WO2 Keshar had the wisdom to phone the airline to check the flight status. Our flight had been cancelled with no replacement planned. So, again, the infantry CONPLANing kicked in. Within 30 minutes the team had organised a minibus, agreed a price, loaded up our luggage and were embarking on the 200km drive back to Kathmandu, scheduled to take nine hours!

Ex AB24 set out to develop the standard of squash in the Infantry, whilst using the platform of cultural education to improve cohesion in the squad and grow as individuals. In a time where Infantry Sport is being challenged due to limited time and workforce, this amazing experience has made us all better people, and has given Infantry Squash an exciting future to build on.

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