The Himalayan Club’s inaugural meeting was held at the General Headquarters of the Army in Delhi on the 17th of February 1928 under the chairmanship of Field-Marshall Sir William Birdwood, the Club’s first President. There were one hundred and twenty-seven Founder Members, among whom were Sir Martin Conway, Douglas Freshfield, Thomas Longstaff, E. F. Norton, Norman Collie and many other seasoned Himalayan travellers of their generation. It is not widely known that a Himalayan Club was proposed, as early as 1866, by W. H. Johnson, of the Survey of India, and F. Drew of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, both Calcutta-based. Nothing came of it then, but in 1884 Douglas Freshfield writing in the Alpine Journal, suggested that knowledge of the Himalaya might be extended by the establishment of a club prepared to publish narratives of science and adventure.
In 2008, Trevor Braham addressed THC members on the occasion of the eightieth year. “My advice today to all who love the mountains is, don’t hesitate to apply for membership of the Club; your love could grow into a passion. Clubs are meeting points for diverse groups of people possessing similar ideals and interests, enabling them to widen their acquaintances, their knowledge, and their ambitions. As a member of the Himalayan Club, keeping in close touch with it is very worthwhile, and even more so by rendering whatever service one feels able to contribute. It should be borne in mind that the Club’s objectives are not confined exclusively to mountain climbing, but to a much wider range of interests and activities relating to the mountain world and its environment, yielding rewards and demanding responsibilities.”
The Himalayan Club publishes The Himalayan Journal annually. The 75th Volume is being published in 2020.
First published in 1928 THJ has achieved a world-wide recognition as the most authoritative source of reference on the Himalaya, Karakoram and Hindu Kush. Except for the war years it was continually published covering all the major expeditions. Over the years many expeditions are forgotten except those recorded in the literature and journals.
It had a string of great editors. Maj. Kenneth Mason of Survey of India was the first editor who produced THJ for 14 years. He set very high standards and when expeditions were few he gave a scholarly outlook to the publication. Mason set up a tradition that others continued. C.W.F. Noyce H.W. Tobin, T.H. Braham and Dr. K. Biswas were some editors who followed. Soli S. Mehta who took over editorship in 1967 brought fresh ideas and energies. He gave THJ a face lift and introduced many changes. Soli Mehta produced 11 issues before his untimely death in 1989. R. E. Hawkins was responsible for strengthening of THJ. As the Hon. Asst. Editor he set up editorial traditions and brought THJ in line with the other modern publications. Harish Kapadia then continued the THJ tradition and became its longest serving editor for 35 long years. He is Editor Emeritus. THJ is now edited by Nandini Purandare.
The Himalayan Club Newsletter was started in 1951 to give brief information about events in the mountaineering world to HC members. Over the years and under Soli S. Mehta in particular it gathered strength and became a major reference work. It had a face lift in 1985 under Harish Kapadia and 55 issues are published till 2002. To keep up with the times, an E Letter began to be published on a quarterly basis with news and views on all things Himalayan. The E letter No 39 was published in April 2020.
The Himalayan Club library is also an institution by itself. With more than 2000 books, handwritten manuscripts and many Journals and maps, it is a major store-house of knowledge. After being shifted from Shimla to Calcutta and to Delhi, it now has space in the India International Centre at New Delhi, in its headquarters in Mumbai and Pune and Kolkata.
The Himalayan Club has published several books over the years.
Over the years, various gifts have been made to The Himalayan Club in memory of those who loved the mountains. Some of the donations have been to the library and others to institute awards or scholarships or memorial lectures.
Kaivan Mistry was a passionate mountaineer from Mumbai who drowned tragically while crossing the torrential Shyok river on September 25, 2000. Four of the team slipped in the water and three managed to swim across while Kaivan hit his head on a rock and died instantly. His family donated funds in his name to start the Kaivan Mistry Memorial Lecture to be held annually.
The Arun Samant Memorial Lectures are held to honour a climber committed to the cause of climbing in India. An active member of the Club, Arun served at various times as Treasurer and then Secretary. On May 31, 1999, he died tragically on the Gya Expedition after having ascended Gyasumpa. In his memory, this series was initiated and over the years, the audience has been delighted with illustrated talks, presentations and film screenings on a host of topics ranging from treks and expeditions to mountain communities and conservation.
The Himalayan Club Kekoo Naoroji Book Award is an annual prize for the best book on the Himalaya. Kekoo was an active member of The Himalayan Club who had served as Hon. Secretary (1971), Vice President (1983-85), and President (1986-92). He was a keen environmentalist, lover of the outdoors, sportsman and an enlightened photographer. His 11-week trek in 1952 to central Garhwal and a trek to Sikkim in 1958 were highlighted in his book Himalayan Vignettes, released years later at a special function in Bombay at the hands of the President of the World Mountaineering Federation. The award was instituted with the proceeds of the sale of the book and with assistance from the Godrej family.
The Nawang Kapadia Trust was instituted in memory of Lt. Nawang Kapadia, who died while fighting terrorists on 11th November, 2000. Donated by his father, Harish Kapadia in 2006, the Trust consists of a map library (consisting of nearly 300 maps of the Himalaya of various categories and scales) – one of the largest Himalayan Map Libraries of its kind in India – and a visual library (consisting of CD and DVD films related to mountains and mountaineering).
The Grindlays Bank Mountain Scholarships and Kesar Kilachand Mountain Scholarships have assisted scores of youngsters by sponsoring their training at various mountaineering institutes around India. In 2013, the setting up of the Barun Ghosh Mountain Scholarship Fund by his brother Arun Chandra Ghosh has ensured that many more youngsters will get the mountain training they deserve.
The Vrinda Chinchwadkar Memorial Lecture began in 2015. Dr. Chinchwadkar was a popular and active member of the Pune section who died in a tragic roadway accident while returning to Pune from Mumbai. The donation made by her husband Gajanan Chinchwadkar is for a memorial lecture to be held in April every year.
There have been many other gifts of books, equipment and maps. Nanabhoy Davar and Mrs Hilla N. Davar generously gifted their collection of about 200 books in memory of their late son, Dr Edulji N. Davar to the Mumbai library. The valuable and extensive Soli Mehta collection of books which were housed in cupboards in the BNHS Library was brought home to The Himalayan Club Centre in 2016. Mountaineering books from the collection of Malatiben Jhaveri were donated by her daughter Parul Jhaveri, in 2016 again in Mumbai.
The late Gerard Emerson, O.B.E., also donated 20 maps and 73 books to the Club which were kept in the London section for use by members there. Mrs G. E. D. Waller very generously donated £1500 to the Club in memory of her husband the late G. E. D. Waller. The interest income from this amount is utilized equally for providing scholarships for mountaineering training in India and for the purchase of equipment suitably inscribed in memory of Bob Waller. To date, dozens of deserving young candidates have benefited from the Bob Waller scholarships and much needed equipment has been continuously added to the Club’s stock to cater to the increasing requirements of members.
Harish Kapadia was awarded the Patron’s Medal of the Royal Geographic Society “For contributions to geographical discovery and mountaineering in the Himalayas”. He was only the second Indian recipient of this award after Pundit Nain Singh who was awarded the medal in 1877 “for his great journeys and surveys in Tibet and along the Upper Brahmaputra, during which he determined the position of Lhasa and added largely to our knowledge of the map of Asia”. Mr Kapadia’s medal came 125 years after the one given to Pundit Nain Singh.
Harish Kapadia was also awarded the King Albert Memorial Award in St. Moritz, Switzerland, 2006. Recently he was awarded Asia’s Piolet D’Or for Lifetime Achievement as a mountaineer and explorer.
Nawang Gombu received Tenzing Norgay Adventure Award for lifetime achievement in Mountaineering from the President of India. 2006.
In 2006, Jagdish Nanavati received the Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to the field of mountaineering from the Girimitra Sammelan, an association of various mountaineering clubs in Maharashtra. Arun Samant was also awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award posthumously in the same year.
Capt M. S. Kohli received the Tenzing Norgay award for Lifetime Achievement in mountaineering in August 2008.
Aamir Ali mentions in his article that although sponsoring expeditions would seem a natural activity for the Club, it was not until its Golden Jubilee in 1978 that the first expedition was sponsored to Kabru Dome. Since then though, many climbers have taken advantage of this facility and in the last ten years both the Kolkata and Mumbai sections have been very active with a string of successes to their credit.
In two smaller initiatives, The Himalayan Club started the Nawang Topgay Fund and the Anand Ram Fund. Nawang Topgay, TIGER medallist and respected Sherpa instructor at NIM, known fondly to his students as ‘Guruji’, was living in penurious circumstances in Darjeeling. When the Club was apprised of his situation a small monthly amount was assigned to pay for his medicines and welfare. The assistance continued till his death in 2012. Similarly, when Anand Ram a Kumaoni porter died on a Club sponsored Ladakh expedition due to altitude sickness, the Club took up the responsibility of supporting his family and his children’s education. His wife Indra Devi now works as a school assistant in the local school. The two older children, Laxman and Anjali, live in hostel and study away from home supported by the Club while the youngest child Saurabh still attends the local school.
The Himalayan Club is also the institutional sponsor of The Sherpa Project, an on-going initiative to document oral histories of the Sherpas of Darjeeling. Several hundred hours of interviews, in audio and video form have been collected and now these stories are being woven into a book that will be shortly published.
Visiting mountaineers, writers and other experts have also been interviewed over the years; this collection gives a unique dimension to the knowledge base of THC.
To keep pace with the times, THC has been working hard to improve its e-base on platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and YouTube. Technology makes information widely available and various websites and e-groups including the Club’s own provide forums for exchange of information and sharing of experiences. The Pune section, recognising that youngsters were attracted to outdoor activities rather than indoor talks and programmes decided upon the strategy of conducting regular treks and hikes in the nearby Sahyadri region along with one expedition to the Himalaya every year. The annual Banff film festival is also a big draw and the Club currently organises shows in ten cities in India.
Members of the Club include some of the most famous and decorated mountaineers and explorers in the world. There is much to celebrate about an organisation that has withstood the test of time and continues to be one of the foremost mountaineering Clubs in the world. The next ten years will demonstrate the Club’s relevance in changing times and it is hoped that members actively work towards establishing the organisation as one that lives up to the spirit and objectives it was created with.