This article, describing a journey undertaken in December 1955, is of some interest in view of the publicity that has been given to recent finds near Rupkund Lake. Human remains and other specimens collected from there have been studied by scientists, and many theories have been put forward as to their history and origin.
The author of the article, N. Chuckerbutty, who was an assistant master at The Doon School, Dehra Dun, died on June 14th, 1956, at Dibrugheta alp in the basin of the Rishi Ganga, whilst taking part in an expedition led by Ourdial Singh to Mrigunthi, 22,490 ft.—Editor.
Seated by a fire in our Mess at The Doon School one evening last u winter, Gurdial Singh and I decided to visit the much-publicized Rupkund Lake in December. Not the ideal time to go into the mountains as many of our friends reminded us, but we felt that the beauty of the winter scenes would more than compensate for any hardship we might suffer.
Long before we had reached Wan, situated below the Jatropani ridge along which one might travel in two stages to Rupkund, we discovered that Trisul to the villagers in that region was not merely Trisul but also Kailash, the seat of the all-powerful Shiva and his consort Parvati. The other and more famous Kailash of Tibet is unknown and of no consequence to them. After we had been there for some time we ceased to be surprised at this because we found that Trisul and its neighbours completely dominate the lives of the simple folk. The place simply teems with legend and folk-lore centred round Shiva.
We made the acquaintance of one such legend in a very curious manner immediately on our arrival at Wan. There are two streams that girdle this village and meet further down. We were heading for the nearer one to wash in when we were warned that the water was dirty and fit only for inferior ablutions. To wash we should go to the other stream. To us, however, both streams appeared equally clear and sparkling. We discovered the reason later when on our way back we passed through Nandaprayag and met an old gentleman who several years previously had gone on a pilgrimage to Rupkund. This is the story he told us:
Ravan, the villain of the Ramayana epic, was in fact a most accomplished person and had pleased Shiva by his meditations. He wanted to take Shiva away from Kailash and establish him in the island kingdom of Ceylon. Shiva agreed but on one condition, namely that he should be transported between sunset and sunrise. Confident of his ability to do so Ravan took Shiva up on his shoulders. Now Ravan was not a righteous king and the gods feared that if he should succeed in establishing Shiva in his kingdom he would be all powerful under the patronage of the Lord of Kailash. So they appealed to Brahma, one of the Trinity, and he caused Ravan to pause in his journey to fulfil an urgent bodily need. Ravan thought he would soon relieve himself and resume his journey and so he set Shiva down by the wayside. But Brahma do destined it that Ravan went on and on and relief never came, though he had caused a river to flow and the sun had risen. In exasperation he had to leave Shiva in the Himalayas and flee in shame to his kingdom. Because it was the symbol of frustration the river was called 'Karmnasa', which literally means 'Foiler of success'. The villagers of Wan identify the dirty stream with this river of mythology. Curiously enough, they do not seem to have any scruples about washing below the confluence of the two streams.
There has been much speculation and many theories about the presence of the large number of human remains around Rupkund Lake; but on our return to Wan after our attempt to reach the lake we heard another legend there, which at any rate for the believing rustics, provides sufficient explanation for the existence of the human bones. We were all assembled in the hut of one of our porters and the entire village had collected to listen to the Song of Rupkund. The old man who was to sing it to us was the ch'aukidar of the Forest kuthia at Wan. The manner of recitation was similar to the singing of religious verse anywhere else in India. The old man would sing a couplet which would then be repeated in chorus by the rest of the assembly. Thus sang the old man:
‘One day Lord Shiva and his consort Gauri stood side by side on mount Kailash (Trisul), and looked down into the plains stretching far and wide before them. They saw many kinds of dwellings nestling in the valleys below but Gauri was particularly intrigued by a large palace which was visible in the far distance. Shiva told her that it was the palace of her sister Balaba, Queen of Kanauj. Gauri was seized with nostalgia on hearing this, and longed to pay a visit to her sister. But she could not bear to think of being parted from her Lord for long and so she built a large fire at the foot of Kailash and persuaded Shiva to sit by it, while she went away on a visit to her sister for one day and one night only.
Now Jasida, King of Kanauj and husband of Gauri's sister, was a vile man and he spread false rumours vilifying Gauri for her night's absence from Kailash. However, retribution followed swiftly and the strangest kinds of mishaps began to occur in his kingdom. Fields sown to grain came up in obnoxious weeds; ugly buffalo calves were born to beautiful cows; milkmaids were seized by a strange hysteria, and instead of milking the cows they held the pails above their heads and danced; the heavens showered down blood instead of life-giving rain. The bewildered king sent for soothsayers from Benares and all of them said that these strange happenings were the result of the false rumours that Jasida had spread about Gauri, and he could obtain her pardon if he made a pilgrimage to the foot of Kailash and offered prayers to her there.
So the King assembled a large retinue, and collected many kinds of offerings gleaned from the four corners of his kingdom and prepared to set out. Balaba, his Queen, longed to go with him, but as she was with child he tried to persuade her not to go. But she refused to be persuaded, and at last, she went too, riding on a stately palanquin. The procession after passing through many kingdoms (included in the list of places mentioned are Almorah and Wan) finally arrived at the foot of Kailash where the King encamped; turning the hillside into a miniature city. Gauri looked down upon the crowd below and was curious to know who all those people were. Shiva told her that none other than her sister Balaba and her brother-in-law King Jasida had come to do homage to her. She was overjoyed at this news and in her excitement ran all the way down to the encampment to greet* her sister. But there her joy turned to horror when she discovered that her sister had given birth to a child and so tainted her holy Kailash.
She returned seething with rage and told Shiva of the calamity. He was inclined to be forgiving and philosophical about it, but she refused to be consoled and vowed that she would not rest until she hadj purified Kailash. She called a large number of deities from different parts of the country, including such celebrities as the all-powerful Kali of Calcutta, and asked for their help. But they all hung their heads in shame and admitted that they could do nothing. Then a local god named Lado stood before her and submitted respectfully, "O Mother, I have the power to cleanse your Kailash but would seek a reward for doing so". Gauri told him that if he was successful, he would be given the right to guard the entrance to Kailash and whoever came to do homage to her must first offer prayers to him. Then Lado mustered up his energies and for several days and nights rained down iron shots on the throng below until the whole company was annihilated, Thus was holy Kailash cleansed of the taint of child-birth.'
We had become completely engrossed in this fascinating story as it gradually unfolded, and when it ended we found ourselves spontaneously joining in the cries of 'Glory to Shiva, glory to his consort Gauriraised by the assembly.
Rupkund is regarded as holy by the local people and once every twenty-four years a big procession consisting sometimes of as many as a thousand men and women visits it in late August. The pilgrims assemble at Wan before setting out, and offer prayers at the shrine of Lado.
We had to turn back when we were only about five hours from Rupkund, owing to foul weather and heavy snowfall; and the night that we spent at our highest camp, over 12,000 ft., was the coldest we had ever experienced. Yet we felt that in spite of all hardships, the sombre beauty of the mountains that we saw, and the interesting legends that we heard had made the trip entirely worth while.
Peter Aufschnaiter and George Hampson made what is believed to be the first ascen't of Ronti, 19,893 ft., on June lftt.h, 1955.
The trek to the mountain commenced at Nandaprayag. The party ascended the Nandakini valley and crossed the Humkum Gala, 17,170 ft. They next ascended a pass separating Ronti from Nanda Ghunti. At a point a short distance below the summit of this pass, they set up camp opposite a prominent snow couloir showing avalanche tracks in the rocky south face of the ridge connecting Ronti with a point 19,350 ft. to the east. The following day the climbers ascended this couloir to a point about one-third of the way to the top. Here they turned to the left in a snow gully hidden from the pass below by a rock buttress. They followed this gully and subsequent ledges up to a snow slope leading to the crest of the above-mentioned ridge. The ridge was followed for a brief distance. The route lay across a narrow ridge of snow that was corniced.
The climb up the snowy slopes of the summit peaJk of Ronti was somewhat complicated by a number of small hidden crevasses. In this section, the climbers followed a slight hump of wind-blown snow dividing the eastern from the south-eastern snow slopes. The upper slopes are much foreshortened when seen from the pass below.
The climbers started at 6 a.m., and reached the summit at 1 p.m., returning to camp at 5-15 p.m. Crampons are required in the snow gullies which contain ice. There is also some potential danger from rock or snow avalanches.
K. F. Bunshah, a member of the Bombay Section, and two climbers from W. Germany, Fritz and Adolf Hieber, with two Sherpas, Gyalzen (H.C. No. 163) and Wangdi, climbed Trisul, 23,360 ft., and attempted other peaks nearby in June 1956.
The party established Base Camp on June 6th. On the 10th Bunshah, Fritz and Gyalzen made a bid for the top of Trisul from Camp II, at about 20,000 ft. They came within 500 ft. of the summit, but had to return owing to lack of time. On June 12th, Fritz made a solitary attempt from Camp III. He got to within 500 ft. of the summit when the weather deteriorated and he was forced to return. The next day, Bunshah and Gyalzen left Camp III (21,200 ft.) at about 8-15 a.m. and reached the summit at 12 noon. After spending an hour on top, where they had a fine view, they returned to Base the same day, arriving at 9-30 p.m.
As the ice and snow conditions were not good during the day, Fritz and Adolf decided to climb Trisul by night. Accordingly, they left Base on June 15th at 8 p.m. along with the Sherpas and reached Camp II before daylight. On the 16th night they left camp and reached the summit of Trisul on the morning of the 17th at 7-50 a.m.; they had a very fine view from the top, and spent 4 hours there. On the 18th, Fritz and Gyalzen reached the top of one of the minor summits of Bethartoli Himal, to the south of the main summit. From there they went down to the Col between their summit and the main peak. Lack of time prevented an attempt on the main peak from the Col.
While the Hiebers were climbing Trisul, Bunshah and John Albiston, a member of the Mrigthuni Expedition, who had arrived at Base Camp, made an attempt on Mrigthuni, 22,490 ft., with one Garhwali porter. On the 19th they established Camp III at 20,500 ft., but were forced back from there the next day on account of bad weather.
On June 21st, Bunshah and the Hiebers made an attempt on Devistan II, 21,420 ft. They went up a steep rock ridge, and established a camp at 19,700 ft. Following heavy snowfall during the night, the rocks were found to be covered with ice and the party had to return.
On the 24th and 25th, Fritz and Gyalzen made an extensive reconnaissance of Bethartoli Himal from the north-east.1 The party left Base Camp on June 23rd for the return journey.
EVEREST KANGCHENJUNGA REUNIONS, PEN-Y-GWRYD,1956. Left to right:- Back row : J.C. Henderson, R.C. Evans, E.J. clegg, Mrs. Henderson, R.E. HOTZ, A. BAINES, T.D. BOURDILLON, LADY HUNT, MR. & MRS. J. H. EMLYN JONES, H. NICOL, ANNE DEBENHAM, N. MATHER, A.K. RAWILSON, SIR C. SUMMERHATES, J.L. LONGLAND, B.R. GOODFELLOW. Centre Row: W. Noyce, L.C.G. PUGH, M.H. WESTMACOTT, SIR JOHN HUNT, LADY SUMMERHAYES, JO BRIGS, ___ MARY HILL, MRS. PUGH. Front Row: A.D.M. COX,___ CAPT. H.R.A.& MRS. STREATHER, M.P.WARD, MRS. JACKSON, MAJ.C.G.& MRS. WYLIE, J.A. JACKSON, SUMMERHAYES,JR. (Photo: B.R. Goodfellow)