Himalayan Journal vol.18
The Himalayan Journal

Publication year:

H. W. Tobin
  1. EVEREST - 1953 1
    (Charles Wylie)
    (H. R. A. STREATHER)
    (J. B. TYSON)
    (J. T. M. GIBSON)
    (T. H. TILLY)
  8. DHAULAGIRI, 1953
    (T. H. BRAHAM)




No sooner had the last Great War ended, than Henning Haslund- Christensen, the well-known Danish explorer and writer, began at once to thirst after further enterprise and adventure, and to organize in consequence the Third Danish Expedition to Central Asia.

An enthusiast of Mongolia, he had already been in Hailar and Chahar in 1936-7 as leader of the First Danish Expedition to Central Asia, and visited the Oret farther west during the course of the Second Danish Expedition to Central Asia in 1938-9. But this was by no means his first experience of these little-known areas; it was, on the contrary, rather the culmination of many years spent in the Far East with other Scandinavian expeditions such as those, for instance, of the late Sven Hedin. Henning Haslund spoke and understood Mongolian perfectly.

The knowledge acquired during these scientific undertakings had convinced him of two things. First that further exploration to the west of where he had left off at the outbreak of war was necessary in order fully to grasp the nature of the country and peoples that inhabit it; and secondly, that unless this exploration took place very soon, in his own words 'Asia may close up to Europe again as it has so often done before in history, and the old cultures will then completely disappear, never to rise again' (from the project of a Danish Expedition to Central Asia: The 3rd Danish Expedition to Central Asia, H. Haslund-Christensen, Copenhagen, 18 June, 1946).

The idea which he put forward was that the vast, practically unknown space lying in Upper Asia between Alashan and the Pamirs and stretching over north Tibet and the Hindu Kush should be thoroughly investigated by Danish scientists of all branches. He organized his expedition in the following manner:

1. A first team, consisting of anthropologists, botanists, geographers, and zoologists would work during 1948 and 1949 in Afghanistan, from Nuristan in the east to Herat in the west, under his own leadership. This would enable Denmark to extend its scientific knowledge to the south-east of the Pamirs and Iran explored respectively by Ole Olufsen in 1896-7 and C. G. Feilberg in 1936.

2. A second team, consisting of anthropologists, archaeoiogists, geographers, meteorologists, and of scholars specializing in the comparative history of religions, starting from Sikkim in the south, would work itself up across the Tibetan plateau to Wang-yeh-fu in Alashan, where he would meet it, after having travelled by ship from Karachi to Tientsin and from there overland to the city beyond the Great Wall on the edge of the Gobi. In a letter dated 3 March 1948, Henning Haslund-Christensen asked me to lead this team, because of my knowledge of Tibet and Tibetans acquired in 1938 during an expedition to western Tibet, and because I was considerably younger he believed I would stand the high altitude of the Roof of the World better than he would. From Wang-yeh-fu we were to go on together in the direction of the Nan Shan and of the area west of the Etsin Goi where tasks of great anthropological and archaeological interest awaited us, such as, for instance, a study of the 'Yellow Uigurs', still in residence in these parts. This phase of the Expedition, Operation 2 as he called it, would last from 1950 to 1952.

3. 'At the same time', wrote Henning Haslund, 'I shall start Operation 3, the setting-out point of which will be NW. China. The working field of this operation will be SW. Mongolia, where I intend completing some ethnological work which I began there earlier.' The journey home, once these tasks had been terminated, was to take place in separate teams. One of these was to return along the Kwen Lun Shan to Chitral and India, while the other would go by way of south Mongolia and China. I was to have accompanied the western branch, while Henning Haslund would have taken the south-eastern one. By the end of 1953, or during 1954, the Third Danish Expedition to Central Asia would have been wound up.

This was a well-conceived plan. It received enthusiastic support in leading Danish circles, and its financing proved to be of no difficulty at all. (It would, perhaps, be well to mention here that since the end of the Second World War, Denmark has led the field in foreign exploration, having organized to date over twenty scientific expeditions to little-known parts of the world.) With the gracious approval of H.M. The King of Denmark, the Third Danish Expedition to Central Asia was placed under royal patronage.

In the autumn of 1947 Henning Haslund, accompanied by a number of Danish scientists,[1] set out for Afghanistan. He arrived in the capital, Kabul, on 14th December and immediately set up his headquarters in that city. The winter was spent in getting organized and in obtaining the necessary permits to travel from the Royal Afghan Government.

In the spring Nuristan was entered, while Mag. H. Siiger went to the Kaffir borderland in Chitral (Pakistan). Henning Haslund remained in Kabul and later joined up with the groups working in the south-east and central regions. But he soon returned to Kabul, where, during August he sickened gradually, and was soon so tired that he had to remain indoors. His condition worsened during the first days of September and, after having been unconscious for some time, to everyone's consternation and grief he passed away during the night of I2th-i3th September 1948. He was laid to rest in the Christian cemetery of the Afghan capital, next to the tomb of Sir Aurel Stein, another great figure in the pioneering exploration of Central Asia.

Needless to say this was a stunning blow for the whole project of the Expedition. On instructions from the Board in Copenhagen, however, the members left leaderless in Asia carried on with their allotted tasks. During the remaining months of 1948 and the whole of 1949, they accomplished everything that had been asked of them in a quite exemplary manner. They then all travelled back home except Mag. H. Siiger who, after visiting Sikkim and Assam where he did original anthropological research work on the Lepchas and the Boros, arrived in Kalimpong in west Bengal, at the beginning of 1950. I was to join up with him here, having come from Ceylon and south India.

The tragic news of Henning Haslund's untimely death had reached me in New York, U.S.A., where I went, partly on a lecture tour and partly in order to equip myself before setting off for the task awaiting me.

I immediately wrote to Copenhagen, stressing my intention of carrying on with the plans as if nothing had happened. In reply I received a letter from the Board of the Expedition, signed by its Chairman, H.R.H. Prince Axel, encouraging me to do so, and asking me to contact Mag. H. Siiger when I arrived in India.

Accompanied by my wife, I then went to Ceylon and south India during 1949, during which year I completed some anthropological research work which I had started in 1939 and which had been interrupted by the outbreak of war. In January 1950 we travelled up to Kalimpong, in west Bengal, and there met Mag. H. Siiger, with whom I had been in correspondence already for some time.

In the frontier area of Himalayan West Bengal it was immediately evident that some degree of nervousness existed. There was talk of the new Government of China militarily occuping Tibet, and officials on both sides of the border seemed to be in a state of tension. Judging that, under the circumstances, it would be inopportune and probably useless to request permission to carry on with the Expedition to cross Tibet as planned, after consultation with my colleague in Kalimpong, I decided to apply only for a permit to visit Gyantse at the end of the trade route in Tibet.

A request for permission to do so was handed to the Political Officer in Sikkim in April 1950 after a research scholar of the London School of Oriental and African Studies, Mr. R. K. Sprigg, had sought and obtained permission to proceed there. The precedent seemed encouraging, and I had no reason to doubt that we also would be granted permission.

Unfortunately this did not prove to be the case. After interminable delays during which reminders were continually sent to the Political Officer a telegram was dispatched direct by me to the Tibetan Foreign Bureau in Lhasa, requesting that they reply to the application forwarded to them through Indian intermediary. Within three days an answer was received, on 3rd August 1950, saying that no application had reached them. When then asked directly if they would allow a visit to Gyantse, I was courteously asked a few days later to 'kindly postpone my voyage’ because of the present circumstances.

There thus seemed no alternative but for us to remain in Kalimpong, in the hope that something could be accomplished there. There was also the forlorn hope, in those days, that we should, all the same, perhaps be able to get into Tibet should events turn out otherwise than they were expected to.

And so we resigned ourselves to remaining where we were, and set to work in our immediate surroundings. Mag. H. Siiger left for Denmark during the spring of 1950, and a new leader of the Expedition, Dr. Carl Krebs, was appointed from Copenhagen. The latter arrived in India in March, together with three companions.1 He wrote to me from New Delhi inquiring if I thought there was any possibility of us carrying out Operation 2 as planned, in which case he would join me immediately in Kalimpong. But on my answering that I believed there to be very little chance of this being possible, he departed for the Siwalik range in the Punjab, and later crossed over into Lahul, Spiti, Rupshu, and Ladak. During the autumn, after a brief stay in Rajastan for further study, he and his companions went back to Denmark, leaving me with whatever funds they had still with them, and in sole charge of any further tasks lying ahead for the Expedition.

1 Dr. Eigil Nielsen, K. M. Jensen, and A. Berthelsen.

The Third Danish Expedition to Central Asia

In November 1950 the awaited Chinese military occupation of Tibet began. Very soon after, the Dalai Lama, in order to be in a stronger position to negotiate with the invaders, transferred his seat of Government from Lhasa to Yatung in the Chumbi valley. At the same time, many Tibetan officials and their families, more free to move as they liked than the highest authority, came over the border into India, and settled temporarily in Kalimpong. Among them were His Holiness's mother, and Gyal-Yum Chen-mo and all her other six children. The few Europeans living in Tibet, such as Heinrich Harrer, Peter Aufschnaiter, the White Russian engineer, Niedbylov and Reginald Fox, head of the Tibetan Government's radio service, also came out on 'six months' leave', never, however, to return. And a stream of refugees, arriving from China via Tibet, also came this way: a Torgut Mongol prince with his family and retainers, twenty- three Russian Old Believers including a woman and a little girl of thirteen, and the Californian Fullbright student Bessac with the remains of the party with which he had started from Sinkiang and which had been decimated on the way.

All this made the place we had perforce settled in a most interesting and lively one. Apart from the excitement of meeting all these strange and fascinating people, there were enormous possibilities of work. Very soon we had got down to interviewing them, purchasing clothes and valuables from them which we dispatched to the National Museum in Copenhagen and, after the Indian Government had made registration of all Tibetans with the police compulsory, measuring and describing them in order the better to find out what their physical, racial characteristics were. We had been denied entry into Tibet, but Tibet had come to us, and under circumstances of stress which made it perhaps easier for us to obtain the results we wanted than if we had been working in the country under settled conditions.

During February 1951 I made one more attempt to enter Tibet. My cousin, King Paul 1st of the Hellenes, very kindly sent me his photograph and an introductory letter for the Dalai Lama. I wrote to the court in Yatung, asking for permission to deliver these things personally to His Holiness. I should record here how very helpful the late Reginald Fox proved to be in this case. He had not yet left Tibet and was in attendance on the Tibetan Government in the Chumbi valley.

When he came to Kalimpong on a brief visit, I asked him to sound official circles with which he was in contact, and to let me know what their reaction was to my application. As was perhaps to be expected the latter was again negative. Very politely I was asked to hand over the photograph and the letter from my cousin to the Tibetan Trade Representative in Kalimpong, something which I naturally declined to do.

Some time later, both Tibetan Joint Secretaries of Foreign Affairs, Dzasa Surkhang Surpa and Dzasa (monk official) Liu-shar, also came to Kalimpong. In an interview which I had with them, they expressed regret that they had not been able to allow me to deliver the Royal Message, adding that they had found it difficult to agree to this taking place, because of the 'unusual interest which the U.S.A. had taken in Greek affairs with the Truman Aid to Greece and Turkey and which would certainly make my presence in Yatung with a message from H.M. the King of Greece appear as a provocation to the Chinese'. I was not a little surprised at this preoccupation with international politics, and I was, furthermore, astonished at the knowledge which these two Tibetan officials showed of world politics. I have since, however, become familiar with this sort of thing, and have come to learn that international politics are the real obstacle to scientific research in these areas. The height of the Himalayan barrier, the barrenness of the Tibetan high plateau, and the difficulties of supply and transport pale into insignificance when compared with this, the main impediment.

From Kalimpong we were able to obtain successfully from Tibet, through the friends whom we had made among those who had come from Lhasa and elsewhere, the medical statistics for which the Anthropological Laboratory of the University of Copenhagen had asked us, as well as the great majority of the books which had been ordered from us by the Royal Library of Denmark.

For my own personal research work into the curious organization of Tibetan society, with particular emphasis on the custom of polyandry, I was fortunate in finding and studying cases of cha-ma-dung (Cha-ma-gDung) marriages, in which fathers and sons share a single wife, the latter being either a step-mother of the boys or the daughter-in-law of the elder men. This was one of the principal purposes of my anthropological interest in Tibet, and it was thus fulfilled after fourteen years of waiting-ever since my trip to western Tibet in 1938, when I first heard of this extraordinary matrimonial arrangement.

Permission to travel in Sikkim and Nepal was regularly sought from the Indian and Nepalese governments. It seemed a sound idea to spread out laterally from where we were in Kalimpong, since we could not conduct exploration northwards. Only once, however, in either case, were we allowed to travel in those regions: once to

Kathmandu and the valley of Nepal during November 1951 and to the Jelep and Nathu passes into Tibet from Sikkim in May 1952. Other requests to visit north Sikkim and eastern Nepal (Shingsa Walung) were declined on the grounds that the first was a 'closed area’ (presumably to foreigners as Indians were free to go there) and that the other was in the throes of civil troubles which did not allow the Nepalese Government to 'assume the responsibility5 of us going there.

An interest in the legendary Abominable Snowman was gradually acquired during our stay in Kalimpong, and we very soon gathered the impression that some sort of unknown animal really does inhabit the higher reaches of the giant Himalayas. During the visit to the Jelep-la, at Kapup bungalow, just below the pass, a number of highly entertaining stories about the fabulous beast were collected. All requests really to set out and search for the strange animal were, however, turned down by the Indian authorities, their attitude towards our activities becoming, on the whole, more and more frustrating as time went by.

Today, in 1954, at the close of the Expedition, we have been denied permission to go on measuring Tibetans during registration, all our requests for permission to travel in and around the Sikkimese and Nepalese Himalayas have been refused, and it is even with difficulty that we are able to remain in friendly contact with the Tibetan friends which we have made here in the last four years. We are thus acutely reminded of the late regretted Henning Haslund5s prophetic words:

It is essential that this work be started now, because very soon Asia may close up to Europe again as it has so often done before in history, and the old cultures will then completely disappear, never to rise again’ (op. cit., p. 1).


These can be divided under the following headings: anthropology cultural and physical); photography (still and moving); sound recording; collection of artefacts and books.

When Mag. H. Siiger left for Denmark at the beginning of 1950 he already took with him a small collection of Tibetan ethnographical objects and books. The bulk of his results from the Himalayas was, however, made up of Lepcha records and books, and it was left to me in the following years to deal with the Tibetans. In 1952 I returned to Denmark for a short time and delivered to the Expedition's Board whatever I had collected to date. An exhibition of these things was held in Copenhagen during October of that year, at the termination of which I was requested to return to Kalimpong and to carry on for the two remaining years of the Expedition. This I gladly agreed to do, as the prospects of acquiring many interesting things still seemed bright at the time.

Under the heading of Anthropology, beginning with the cultural aspect, the Tibetan language was learnt with a number of various teachers (the jester of the former Radeng Rimpoche, Regent of Tibet, murdered in 1947, the local Tibetan printer, the son of the Tibetan State Oracle, &c.); the custom of polyandry as practised in Tibet, outlined above, was exhaustively investigated; biographies, mostly of women and with the invaluable help of my wife, were taken down; a record of the Tibetan nobility was drawn up (in course of publication); the Moslems of Tibet were described in an article of the journal of the Royal Central Asian Society;1 social statistics were established for 2,000 Tibetans interviewed during registration in Kalimpong; Thematic Aperception Tests (Tibetan version) and Rorschach Tests were taken in co-operation with the Indian Department of Anthropology, Calcutta; for this same department, specimens of Tibetan alcoholic beverages (chang and arak) were collected for analysis; and for Professor Rolf Stein of Paris, records were made of the Kesar sagas as sung by professional Tibetan bards.

On the physical anthropological side, medical statistics were sought and obtained from the local hospitals and dispensaries, those in Sikkim and the three in Tibet, at Yatung, Gyantse, and Lhasa, attached to the Indian trade missions there; 3,284 Tibetans were anthropometrically measured and described as long as the work was allowed to take place during their registration with the police, the Indian Department of Anthropology with which we worked in co-operation making measurements and taking blood from 198 individuals. These Tibetans, coming as they do to Kalimpong for various reasons (trade, pilgrimage, begging, residence, &c.) give a most wonderful cross-section picture of the population of the country, people from Leh in Ladak in the west, to Tatsienlu (Kanding) in the east, and from Buriat Mongolia in the north to Kurseong in west Bengal, India, in the south, having been interviewed in the course of the work.

Under the heading of Photography, these are the results we obtained: 2,250 coloured stills and 770 black-and-white ones, of all sizes, taken with Leica, Rolleiflex, and Speed Graphic cameras, and consisting to a large extent of anthropometrical photographs taken in conjunction with the measuring of Tibetans; 4,850 feet of 16-mm. Kodachrome movie film and 2,800 black and white of the same, taken with a Kodak Special Cine camera and a model F one. A single coloured film was made after editing these films and those taken in south India before we moved to Kalimpong; it was shown in Europe in various capitals (mostly in Scandinavia) during our 1952 visit there.

1 'The Moslems of Central Tibet', by H.R.H. Prince Peter of Greece and Denmark, Ll.D., C.B., vol. xxxix, parts iii and iv, July-October 1952, p. 233.

Sound recordings were taken both for the Expedition and for the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., U.S.A., the latter having supplied us with wire for the purpose. They included a complete recording of the Tibetan saga of King Kesar of Ling, chapter of the war against the Tajiks (Persians), a recording of the war against the Hors (Vigurs) of the same saga; namthars or popular Tibetan songs, sung by girls; an entire Nyingma-pa (Red Hat sect of lamaism) religious ceremony; the whole of a Gelug-pa (Yellow Hat sect) ceremony; various renderings of free Tibetan conversation; Lepcha songs; the trances of a Tibetan oracle; and the Tibetan New Year Lion Dance.

The amount of artefacts and books collected proved to be quite considerable. As alluded to earlier, this became possible when many Tibetans settled in Kalimpong in order to tide over the first onrush of Chinese troops into their country. These Tibetans have since all returned home, and it is doubtful if anything more can be acquired now under the present more settled conditions. We thus have been fortunate in being in Kalimpong exactly at the right moment.

The Ethnographical Collection of the Danish National Museum instructed us to purchase the following artefacts: a man's sheepskin coat; everyday household articles, although not of metal; articles for the care of cattle; the complete attire of a woman from central Tibet.

Of these we were successful in obtaining the latter, with an excellent set of jewels, from a distracted husband who had tragically seen his four children die of dysentery within a week, during an epidemic at Kyirong dzong in To, and subsequently lost his wife in childbirth at Yatung, in the Chumbi valley. He sold all her belongings in order to go on pilgrimage in India and to make offerings to the gods for the happy reincarnation of her soul.

Instead of only obtaining a man's sheepskin coat, we prevailed upon a friend to get us complete sets of nomad's clothes with all their c amping paraphernalia. This he brought to us from his 'own nomads' as he styled it, together with one of the spider-shaped Tibetan, black yak-hair tents.

Household articles of daily use, although not of metal, were more difficult to come by. We did, however, successfully acquire two willow-knot wood butter boxes, a large butter and tea churn, and a wooden chang pot of some antiquity.

Finally, recently, after trying for four years, we finally took delivery from Tibet of all articles for the care of cattle, of implements for ploughing with yaks and of many agricultural tools such as are used in the Tsang province.

As things came our way under the stress of the prevailing political circumstances, we also bought at our own expense, later to be sold to the Museum, the following items of clothing:

a Lhasa nobleman's ceremonial riding habit, complete with pronged rifle, sword, bow and quiver of arrows, gilt saddle, trappings and pendants of rank; the uniform of a cabinet minister (shape);

a Gye-lu-che habit, as worn by all officials of the 4th rank upwards; a Tse-trung (monk official) uniform;

the uniform of a Colonel (de pon) of the Dalai Lama's Guard (ku-sung);

the gin-tshar (wrap) and ku-djam (cloak) of the late Radeng Rimpoche;

a sha-nag (black hat) dancer's costume, with rii-gyen (human bone apron);

the clothes of a Red Sect lama, with Wang-cha adornments (for special ceremonies);

the complete set of clothes of a Tibetan oracle with pike, sword, and trident;

an ordinary muleteer's dress.

On demand from the National Museum, we also purchased the chuba (coat) of the Bhutanese Paro Pen-lop (an official of western Bhutan), a Lepcha kom-fort-ki or wrap made of woven nettle fibre, and a statue of Padmasambhava, the Buddhist preacher, with his two wives.; We added further, an exceptionally good pair of ceremonial, lamaist spoons called kang-sa kang-lug, used mainly for pouring butter over pyres during the cremation of dead bodies.

All these artefacts are now on exhibition at the National Museum in Copenhagen, Denmark, and can be seen in the Ethnographical Collection's galleries.

The Royal Library had also made an order with the Expedition. They wanted the two great Canons of the Tibetan Buddhist faith, the Kan-gyur and the Tan-gyur. These we succeeded in obtaining, not without difficulty, the former taking fourteen months to be delivered to us. The latter, thanks to the assistance of a Tibetan friend, was specially printed for us at Nar-thang in Tsang, the wooden blocks of the printing-press there being first thoroughly cleaned so that a good impression was obtained. About 100 other books, both wood-block prints and manuscripts were sent off to Denmark; they included such works as the Blue Annals of Tibet, the biography of Padmasambhava, the collected works of the reformer Tsong-kapa, the tales of Milarepa, &c. All of these are on view at the Royal Library, Copenhagen, Denmark.


At the end of last year, Dr. G. I. Finch, a member of the British Everest Expedition of 1922 and now Director of the National Physical Laboratory in Poona, India, told an Indian newspaper that, in his opinion, 'India's Himalayan region is likely to become a favourite tourist playground' in the future.

And the British Broadcasting Corporation, in its news broadcast of 27 November 1953, after announcing the opening of a motor- road from the Indian frontier to Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, added that this would most certainly now open up this, until now, very closed country.

The Chinese armies in Tibet, on the other side of the Himalayas, are reported to be feverishly building new motorable highways towards Lhasa from many directions, including from Chumbi in the south.

These countries will undoubtedly 'open up' as the B.B.C. has put it, but for whom? I doubt very much indeed that it will be for 'tourists', as Dr. Finch thinks, if by that he meant, as I presume that he only could, Europeans or, better said, Westerners. For them, on the contrary, I believe, these countries will gradually close up more and more, and the Himalayas, far from becoming the 'playground' which we hear about, will rather much more likely become a strictly closed area, from which 'foreigners' will be rigidly excluded and where much more grim and serious activities than 'play' will take place. Bhutan has already become, if possible, even more forbidden than it was before, and even Tibetans and Indians are not allowed in today. Sikkim, once the paradise of trekkers, is virtually inaccessible, and the bungalows put there by the British Raj must be rotting away for want of use and attendance.1
It is a thousand pities, but there is nothing that can be done about ii. Henning Haslund-Christensen was prophetic in his appreciation of the situation, and all that can be said about his pronouncement that 'Asia may close up again as it has so often done before in history' is that this is taking place even sooner than he expected.

We were not able to carry out Operations 2 and 3 as planned for th third Danish Expedition to Central Asia because of the countries north closing up before we got there. And those in which we have worked, as a substitute, for the last four years, seem gradually to be going the same way.

1 This actually applies to Sikkim north of an east to west line through Gaugtok.

We may deem ourselves lucky to have done as much as we have in Kalimpong and the Himalayan frontier regions, and for this we must be and are very grateful to those of the present Indian Government who made it possible.

[1] Dr. Paludan, Gand. Mag. Edelberg, Magister H. Siiger, later also Prof. Johs. Humlum, Mr. and Mrs. Koie, Mag. Niels Haarlov.