Feature
Sai Teja went on an extreme adventure last month, when he visited the Dukono volcano in Indonesia.
All images by arrangement.

"Did you know more people have walked on the moon that inside a volcano situated in the island nation of Vanuatu? The conditions are so extreme. That's why I want to do it," says Sai Teja Peddineni.

This may seem like a very bold claim to make, but the 25-year-old Hyderabad resident means business.

Sai Teja went on an extreme adventure last month, when he visited the Dukono volcano in Indonesia.

Speaking to TNM, Sai says, "Dukono is an extremely active volcano that shoots lava bombs constantly. There's not much scientific data on Dukono, because it is in a very remote part of Indonesia."

Scaling Dukono is no easy feat.

"Unlike other volcanoes, you don't have a lot of solid ground while climbing Dukono. You are mostly walking on volcanic ash that may sink in when you step on it. We had to constantly check for sinkholes, and vents that would shoot steam," says Sai.

Born in Guntur in Andhra Pradesh, Sai was raised in Kothagudem in Telangana and shifted to Hyderabad when he was in Class 8.

"I started programming at the age of 11, and was really into ethical hacking. I began my B Tech, but dropped out, because I wanted to do other things. I even worked as a tech analyst for a while, and set up an entrepreneurial company," he says.  

Sai even received a cheque of Rs 1 lakh from Andhra Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu in 2015, for his contribution to Information Technology.

In December 2015, Sai says that he underwent a personal crisis.

"I was frustrated that I wasn't doing anything new. I wanted a 'kick' out of life in a way. For a little while, I travelled around Telangana, Andhra, Karnataka and other states, but it wasn't enough," he says.

"I even took up endurance biking, but then realised that I was searching for an extreme adventure. I wanted to do something that hadn't been done before," he adds.

Sai says he had a fear of lava from his childhood, and decided that the time had come for him to face it.

Sai adds that volcano exploration is similar to an extreme adventure like skydiving or scuba diving, only a little more dangerous. He also points out that no one from India had tried it, so it was all the more appealing.

In July 2016, when Sai was searching the internet for volcanoes, he came across Ambrym.

"Ambrym is one of the deadliest volcanoes in the world, and even has its own lava lake. However, before exploring that one, I wanted to scale another volcano first, and I wanted to choose one with a challenge. That's how I settled on Dukono," says Sai.

Sai took two locals along with him from a hamlet nearby, to accompany him to Dukono.

"It was outright dangerous at one point. Dukono can spew lava bombs as far as 400 to 600 metres. The night when we were camping nearby, we were at a distance of 800 metres from the volcano, and a lava bomb fell barely 100 metres away from us," says Sai.

Sai also narrates another time, when they were hiking through a thick forest to get to the volcano, and he fell into a deep pit.

"It was probably dug by hunters. I was stuck for one hour, till another local got me a vine and pulled me out. The pit was at least 8 to 10 metres deep," he says.

Despite all this, Sai managed to scale the volcano.

"No matter what it seems like, I didn't do it to conquer a mountain or satisfy my ego. I will admit that there was a patriotic moment when I held the Indian flag on top, but at the end of the day, I was searching for myself," Sai says.

Sai then scaled another volcano, Kawah Ijen, located in East Java.

"Kawah Ijen was much more commercial and less dangerous. Even Sulphur mining goes on nearby. The specialty of this volcano is that it has vents that spew blue lava," Sai said.

Unfortunately, Sai wasn't allowed to stray too far.

"Right before I arrived, some causalities occurred, so authorities sealed the area. However, I still saw the blue flame from a distance, and it was beautiful," he says.

So how has the experience changed him?

"I have faced financial hardships and emotional difficulties in my life, but this goes beyond all that. When it becomes a question of your survival itself, then things change," says Sai.

Sai now plans to scale Ambrym within the next three months.

"That's a different kind of challenge. The temperature near the lava lake will be fluctuating between 800 and 1,000 degrees Celsius. I'll have to wear four layers of fire suits and several extra layer of protections. I'll also need heat shields for any cameras that I'll be carrying," he says.

While he self-funded his trip to Dukono, Sai is looking for sponsors to scale Ambrym, as he will need to hire a crew.

"As of now, that's my main challenge. However, after this, I have my eyes set on Mount Erebus in Antarctica, which is the southernmost active volcano on the planet, and Mount Kilauea in Hawaii," Sai says.

As of now, though, Sai is still taking it one step at a time.