Himalayan Journal vol.23
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.23

Publication year:
1961

Editor:
Dr K. Biswas
Index
  1. NUPTSE
    (J. WALMSLEY)
  2. CAMBRIDGE EXPEDITION TO NAGIR, KARAKORAM
    (W. P. GAMBLE)
  3. NAVAL EXPEDITION TO NANDA KOT
    (INST. LIEUT. M. S. KOHLI, I.N.)
  4. HIMALAYAN SCIENTIFIC AND MOUNTAINEERŽING EXPEDITION, 1960-61
    (M. B. GILL)
  5. THE AUSTRIAN KARAKORUM EXPEDITION, 1961
    (ERICH WASCHAK)
  6. BACK TO THE BARA SHIGRI
    (J. P. O'F. LYNAM)
  7. WOMEN'S KULU EXPEDITION, 1961
    (JOSEPHINE SCARR)
  8. THE SALTORO EXPEDITION, 1960
    (P. J. STEPHENSON)
  9. ROYAL AIR FORCE KARAKORAM EXPEDITION, 1961
    (A. J. M. SMYTH)
  10. THREE MONTHS IN WEST NEPAL
    (JOHN TYSON)
  11. NEELAKANTHA-CHOWKHAMBA EXPEDITION
    (COMMODORE S. N. GOYAL)
  12. THE DERBYSHIRE HIMALAYAN EXPEDITION, 1961
    (ROBERT PETTIGREW)
  13. A REGIMENTAL EXPEDITION TO THE HIMALAYAS
    (CAPTAIN J. S. KEEN)
  14. A SUMMER TRIP TO NANDA DEVI
    (HARI DANG)
  15. MANA EXPEDITION, 1961
    (BISWADEB BISWAS)
  16. THE CONQUEST OF MOUNT EVEREST BY THE CHINESE MOUNTAINEERING TEAM
    (SHIH CHAN-CHUN)
  17. EXPEDITION TO KANGCHEN JAU (22,603 FEET), 1961
    (SONAM GYATSO)
  18. ASPECTS OF THE SNOWMAN
    (H. B. GURUNG)
  19. OBITUARY
  20. REVIEWS
  21. LETTER TO THE EDITOR
  22. CLUB PROCEEDINGS, 1961-62
  23. THE HIMALAYAN CLUB

A SUMMER TRIP TO NANDA DEVI

HARI DANG

May 24th, I960, saw Gurdial Singh's rooms at the Doon School once again cluttered with the familiar array of kit-bags and canisters. The object of the trip was to traverse the Rishi gorge and climb Devistan (21,910 feet) on the western rim of the Sanctuary, and to reconnoitre the approach to Nanda Devi itself, a mountain much in the minds of some of the party who proposed to attempt it in 1961. The other three members were Brigadier Sukhdev Singh of 77 Division, Dilsher Singh, a student, and myself, Assistant Master, both of the Doon School. After a disturbing comedy of blunders, which initially delivered us a package of crockery, the equipment sent a fortnight earlier by the foresighted Mr. R. E. Hawkins, of the Bombay Branch of the Himalayan Club, arrived at the eleventh hour: an hour before our departure.

With characteristic thoroughness, Gurdial had booked seats in the bus to Joshimath in advance, and we were spared the ordeal of plunging into the pilgrim throng to buy tickets. But even his planning could not defeat the bugs of the Kali Kamli Dharamshala at Rishikesh, and we boarded the bus before dawn with alacrity. With suitable bribes of sweets and sweet words, we coaxed the driver into a determination to reach Joshimath the same evening ; which he did despite the usual leaking fuel-pipe, and the imprecations and threats of the various gate-keepers whose regulations he contravened.

The P.W.D. bungalow at Joshimath being occupied by tribes of officials we put up in the bazaar with Bala Singh, the most prosperous Bhotia merchant of the Niti valley and an old friend of Gurdial's. Dabbal Singh, an old hand who had been on almost all of his earlier trips, was the first to arrive. His endearing Kuch pata nahin, babuji, flowed effortlessly as we plied him with questions about the other porters. Dewan Singh, also a veteran, had died the previous year of appendicitis, though rumour and Dabbal Singh had it that the cause of his death was his exhuming the fortnight-dead body of his brother for reburial in another spot.

Government employment in the Dhauli valley had increased greatly and porters were hard to find ; we could not afford the lush, woollen overcoats which the P.W.D. were distributing to their workers! So, while Dilsher and Sukhdev enjoyed the bracing air of Lata Kharak, and Gurdial cursed the flies, bugs and lack of porters in Lata village, I made a two-day 'rush' trip to Bampa, thirty miles up the valley, to look for Kalyan Singh, who was to be our Sirdar, and for more men. Kalyan Singh was tied down by family illness, and all I brought back was one youngster keen on saving Rs. 1,200 to wed a comely and hard-working wench, and a Gamsali man with a beard he wanted to grow in peace away from his family. At Bampa, Kalu, the great chest-thumper of Kamet and Nanda Devi, 1936, thumped his emaciated chest once more, while Jodh Singh, another veteran, packed his blanket and chillum to accompany me, leaving a heart-broken wife and a charming, sobbing daughter wailing loud and long as though he was going to certain death. I had to force him to remain behind whereupon Maghi and Saraswati, the wife and daughter, giggled, and Jodh Singh could scarcely conceal his tears. On the way back in Malari, the tea-shop resounded to the drunken laughter of Kalyan Singh, another veteran who had been with the Scots up the Girthi. He promised to join us with more men after a few days.

With 19 men, against an estimated need of 25, we camped beside the stream below the Dibrughetta alp three days after leaving Lata village, where we dumped some loads to be ferried up later. With dusk, arrived the whistling, light-hearted band of Malari- wallahs, who, true to their word, did double-marches and brought up our Lata loads. A party of village shikaris had preceded us and left behind burnt hillsides and forest as their unpleasant signature. The ash from these patches Hew into our eyes at each step and the country seemed somehow defiled by such human wantonness. We had numerous occasions to dislike this habit of hill-folk burning forest and scrub for sheer fun, even though better forage is often the result.

Beyond Dibrughetta the route to Ramani, the beginning of the gorge proper, is a two-day scramble over steep scree, morainic boulders and scary ledges, with one bad rock-face immediately after the midway camp of Upper Deodi, situated on a sort of hanging terrace covered with birches between two steep-sided streams. Sorties after burrhel were an everyday routine after pitching camp, and I remember the screes and hanging ice-patches above Deodi with little love, for all I earned by four hours of toil in them was a first specimen of Primula macrophylla and an intense dislike of the rock-face which stares down ominously on Deodi from across the northern stream.

The Bagini torrent which joins the Rishi at Ramani was unford- able even at noon, but bridging it was rendered easy by timber left on the bank possibly by the French in 1951. The snow-bridge normally found by previous parties for crossing the Rishi from the right to the left bank was this year in a state of imminent collapse, and its cracked ice-blocks precariously spanned the turbulent torrent with the help of a rock in the middle. After some hesitation, we effected a crossing in the early morning when the river was low and the snow frozen stiff. It finally collapsed a day or two after our crossing, for the porters sent back to ferry up more loads had to go by the left bank route. The only casualties were the off-day declared at Ramani to celebrate the safe crossing, and the stem of my pipe, which went down the Rishi, making me a habitual sharer of Kalyan Singh's chillum at camp-fires.

The cairns set up by previous parties have considerably simplified the traversing of the gorge, but it remains a two-day ordeal which always inspires respect, and more when wet with fresh rain. Mainly a stimulating traverse up and down scree and steep rhododendron- covered plunges of hillside, one particular bit known as the ' slabs ' necessitates roping at two points. It is a smooth, concave chute of steeply downward-sloping slabs of sandstone. When wet, it can be very treacherous. The midway camp of Bhujgara comes not a bit too soon.

We made an early start next morning, enlivened by an unusual morning alarm when a burrhel was sighted some six hundred yards above and across the deep ravines beyond the camp. Clad in pyjamas, remnants of drowsiness, and never very bright in the mornings any way, I rested the rifle on a convenient rock and fired in the hope of quieting the clamour for fresh mutton, but in vain. The porters lost all confidence in the expedition's shikari, while the members, no less disillusioned, had recourse to venting their spleen on the extravagance and noise. From Bhujgara the terrain is again tricky, a steep and slippery-sided ravine, a succession of rock- ledges, and the evil mauvais pas, a long snow-covered ledge under a steep overhang ending in a steep climb up a series of holds arranged like a staircase, all have to be taken carefully. The piece de resistance of the gorge is a stimulating climb up a steep rock- chimney to surmount the Pisgah, a highly serrated ridge owing its Biblical allusion to the first view of the promised land of the Sanctuary from its crest. The camp at Tilchaunani is just under Pisgah on the other side and commands an excellent view of Nanda Devi. It is on slate-rock-the porters called it Patal Khan or slate-quarry- just below a slippery-wet cliff of slabs which on the morrow needed great care. Here there is an overhang, under which two members elected to spend the night in the glorious open air and woke next morning like Somerset Maugham's Philip Carey with running noses. It would not have been tactful to ask if their conclusions about the futility of romantic gestures were the same as that worthy's.

But I anticipate. The porters in the evening espied a herd of burrhel on a saddle of the mountain above the camp. It devolved on me to go chasing them to the tune of jeers and sceptical comments. A porter had to be dragooned into accompanying me, for none would voluntarily waste time and energy with such a ‘kutcha shikari'. Crossing the torrent, I decided to climb up a scree-choked ravine to a knob above the saddle from where I would get an excellent view. On the saddle were only ewes, but half-way up it I saw a beautiful ram two thousand feet above Tilchaunani, silhouetted against the western sky. We retraced our steps down to the torrent, and up to a point above where the ram had been seen. This took over an hour and the ram was moving safely up a couloir well above us when we reached our objective. We scrambled down to camp, stalking a snow-cock above the camp. She flapped her wings characteristically after each melancholy whistle and flew with her brood across the Rishi as I was debating whether to chance a shot with the rifle. Tea, but little sympathy, was waiting for us at the camp.

Next day, ignoring the temptation of a clutch of five snow-cock eggs discovered in an earthen embankment, we pitched camp just above the Rishi, somewhat before the snout of the Southern Rishi Glacier. Our object was to climb Devistan, and we pitched a Base Camp below a 17,570' feet peak. From here loads were dumped on a ridge of the peak, from beyond which the snow slopes and glacier of Devistan took over. So far the weather had been clear, and we moved up to the high camp, an interesting climb of some two thousand feet up the crevasse-torn glacier. This camp had to be pitched on an exposed ridge commanding an excellent view of the Sanctuary. In the night, the early break-through of the monsoons penetrated the Sanctuary, and clouds came boiling and surging over the Devistan ridges from the south and west. Gusts of snow-lashed winds tore in icy frenzy at the guys of the two-man tents, which shook and quivered alarmingly, admitting piles of tiny snow particles with distressing frequency. The primus stoves after a short spurt of warmth refused to function and the blizzard held complete sway.

Twelve hours later, four weary and haggard climbers emerged from the snow-covered tents, as a wan and pale sun broke the curtain of grey clouds for a moment. Clouds closed in after a brief respite, and even as the tents were struck, snow-dust began to bury the fag-ends of our puny attempts.

Retreat down a relatively easy mountain when we had looked forward to clear views of Nanda Devi was not pleasant, but when the next morning, which found us encamped for a last bid on a col at 18,000 feet, brought no change in the weather, we retreated. The prospect of a few leisurely days on the downs of the Sanctuary, with the summer birds and alpine flowers, was welcome to all. The primulas gave a hearty homecoming, with choughs, rubythroats and rock thrushes serenading our walk to our new camp above the junction of the two Rishis. The burrhel of the Sanctuary find favoured haunts in the cliffs and screes and a dozen or so were sighted even as we pitched camp on the southern side of the junction. My indignation had worn to eagerness and I crossed over and climbed up the chutes where the quarry had vanished. After almost an hour's steady climbing and casting about, I saw a small ewe's sheepish face staring down interestedly at me from an overhang a few yards above me. D.S. shouted Maro, and could scarcely conceal his disappointment when I laughed at the suggestion. Having satisfied its curiosity the kid gave a broad and cheery wink, sneezed joyfully and scampered to its mother's side.

Surmounting the overhang, I saw a big male standing poised on a thin Spire of rock. I fired four shots in rapid succession, but the range was high and all that dropped was a furrow of fur where one shot had grazed the animal's shoulder. Tea and sympathy back at camp strengthened my determination to bag something next day, and dawn, a misty brightness on the northern shoulder of Nanda Devi, found D.S. and me dismally plodding across ledges and screes, up crags and chimneys, in pursuit of burrhel on the cliffs below the mountain.

Our climbs over one false ridge after another eventually led us to a breath-takingly exclusive hillside partly obscured in mist and covered with scree and dwarf rhododendrons below the northwestern ridge of the mountain. This looked far less difficult than the south-western approach, but was effectively rendered impracticable by a vertical thousand-foot rock step a few thousand feet below the summit which forms the characteristic ' step' in all pictures of Nanda Devi from the west and east.

I was listening raptly to the desolate double-whistle of a snow- cock from a nearby gully, when D.S.'s shrill and excited whistle mingled with the cock's melancholy dirge. He eagerly pointed to half a dozen mist-shrouded burrhel in the scree and rhododendrons below us, just this side of a deep, ice-filled gully. Borrowing D.S.'s khaki monkey cap for camouflage, I set out to climb above and on the far side of the burrhel who were unaware of our presence. The mantle of mist helped, and I reached the ice-gully after two hours or so of stalking, to find no sign of burrhel in sight. I changed vantage, peered in the gathering gloom. I saw the big male as soon as I stood up and he saw me too for he snorted, sneezed in alarm and went sneezing up the scree, the ewes and a small male following him a hundred yards behind. After wasting three shots on him at a range in excess of four hundred yards, I brought down the smaller male. D.S, claimed it a triumph of his monkey cap, and we rolled the animal down the intervening cliffs to the Rishi, put a cairn about him and reached camp for a once well-deserved cup of tea. Rations had been running out, and much as we disliked the idea of shooting in the Sanctuary our earlier failures rendered this sacrilege necessary.

The burrhel, all sixty seers of him, soon disappeared down twenty gullets and next day found us trying to ford the Rishi to reach the peak above the white granite moraine of the Changabang Glacier. The ford was tricky, and some members went back to the flowers on their own side rather than risk a ducking while another, with a shotgun for the collection of a single snow-cock for the respectable purpose of taxidermy, tried to dry-ford the river. The silhouette of a large male burrhel on the cliffs one thousand feet above us made this impossible. A strenuous one-hour climb followed, then we relaxed and smoked half-way up a chimney which led up to the overhanging ledge above us. D.S, investigated the upper portion of the chimney, and suddenly peeled off into my arms gesticulating wildly about the6 big one that was above us One hand holding on to the jagged slabs, while the other aligned and fired the shotgun loaded with spherical ball is hardly the way burrhel-shooting is visualized. This was in fact the nearest I had ever been to a male burrhel. The way he sailed through the air in the same proud posture in which he had stood on the ledge above to hit our ledge and go hurtling down the c khudside' is a sight imprinted on the tablet of memory that will never fade. He had been chewing the cud of content, the wind ruffling the scraggy summer coat on his brisket, staring vacantly into space beyond the rock anemone at his feet, beyond the ridge and Rishi Glacier, oblivious of the eastern rim of the Sanctuary or of Trishuli and Hardeol beyond it. Perhaps his focus was Tibet, or, like mine, the mystery and divinity, the beauty and complexity, of all creation. We were in empathy for a short moment. Why did I shoot him ? I wish I could answer that!

All good things must end. We took leave of the Sanctuary which had become a part of us in the last week of June. From Ramani, we changed our route and spent some glorious days in a birch-sheltered camp above the Trishul Nala, exploring our own joys and strolling happily on the mossy, yielding carpet of soft grass that formed a half-mile terrace here, under the splendour of ancient birches.

The bridge built on the Rishi at Deodi by the Germans was our goal, and we reached it to see our porters to a man emulating the worthy ostrich ; heads buried in their arms on the ground, posteriors heavenward. The rock-bees of Deodi were in fighting mood and had to be placated by prayer. The crossing was effected in darkness, the terrors of swaying logs competing with the fear of the frenzied bees who claimed many a porter victim with their stings. Dib- rughetta, that balm to the weary traveller in the Rishi valley, was reached next day and greeted us with mists and venal showers of fine rain. Here some braved the icy cascade of the stream below the alp, while others dozed under the mottled shade of the solitary birch on the alp or read mysteries into the faces of the flowers which were now in profuse and luxuriant blossom. It may have been a coincidence that the tents of the impeccably clean, heaven-born bathers were usually pitched upwind of the flower-fanciers' tents, the cookhouse odours safely intervening between, until the hot-springs at Tapoban rendered this unnecessary. We could stay here longer if fresh meat could be shot, and so D.S. and I left camp at 4 a.m. to climb up the alp. We peered over the relatively gentle country below and on either side of the glacier which ends abruptly some two thousand feet above Dibrughetta, but not a burrhel rewarded our scanning till Dabbal Singh sighted an animal browsing across and above the torrent. He was evidently moving upwards as the horizon brightened, and we scrambled down and hastened up the next ridge across the stream, hoping to reach the terrace of an old glacier now extinct, to which the solitary burrhel appeared to be heading. A strenuous climb showed us that we had been mistaken, for it had joined four others, and the five were browsing along a ridge still further south, almost above the Dharansi slopes. We moved up the ridge which bounded the glacial terrace on which we stood, reached another much larger boulder-strewn terrace, whose ' Devil's cauldron ' of confusion brought us to rest in the warmth of the morning sun, lovingly indulging in the ritual of a smoke.

Seldom have I felt smaller than when the alarm whistle of those burrhel brought us scampering to our feet. They stood poised and inquisitive five hundred yards away a few hundred feet above us, the male's huge head silhouetted against the morning sky, while the ewes grazed unworried nearby. Leaving D.S. to hold their attention I silently slid between boulders, and after an hour's stealthy stalking, came out on the 15,500-foot ridge which forms the watershed between the Rishi and the Dhauli. This was directly above the burrhel's last position, and being a col, they would be likely to cross it. It was covered with old, hard snow and I slithered over it in my rubber shoes, crawling up the ridge to try and catch a glimpse of them. For the second time that day, they saw me first, whistled, sneezed and snorted. A small ewe crossed the ridge above the col, followed by the other females. I lay hid behind a boulder, and at last the ram appeared. He looked around and down into the Dhauli valley and the Tolma gad. He was the largest head of the trip, and D.S. again claimed its poor summer-skin as a reward for my using his khaki cap while stalking.

Our last night at Dibrughetta was spent in discussing the morality and philosophic justification of hunting, and the mists parted early the next morning to disclose the Curtain ridge, down which a stone- fall clattered. A brownish animal crossed a boulder-filled gully, and it was assumed by all hands that the animal was a thar. The porters had often promised thar on this remarkable ridge and it was little use arguing that thar were a hundred times more difficult to shoot than burrhel, and that there were a hundred times more of the latter, for this was put down as plausible sophistry to conceal the greater lure of fresh vegetables and ‘chang' which awaited us at the Dharansi camp.

Feeling like a martyr heading for a wholly superfluous crucifixion. I left with D.S. for the Curtain, promising to meet the others on the top of Malatuni. The musk-deer, for such the animal observed from the alp turned out to be, bounded out from some juniper on the slab ridge as we neared it. The range was two hundred yards, and as it surmounted a false ridge it gave an excellent shot at a hundred yards.

‘Babuji, shoot!' That musk-deer are prohibited made little appeal "to D.S. The musk would have sold for at least eighty rupees in Chamoli.

We scaled the Curtain to find that several thar, judging from the tracks, had preceded us that morning. The ridge overhung on the other side. The Curtain is actually a series of such ridges, overhanging on one side and sloping steeply on the other. We crossed three such minor ridges and sat down to rest on a particularly steep one. D.S. went down the crest of the overhang, casting stones on either side. When he was some five hundred feet below me, he suddenly sprang back and pointed at something which the overhang hid from me. I scrambled down the sharp crest to join him, and saw nine thar clambering up a steep chimney directly below the Malatuni peak. We determined to give chase, and rejoin the others from the Dharansi side of the Curtain. When the last two of the herd, and these were the darkest and therefore likely to be the males, had disappeared up the chimney, we began a laboured descent down their tracks. At an earlier camp-fire discussion we decided that barefooted humans could follow burrhel where thar went. But thar have a mountaineering reputation and our attempts at going where this herd had gone made a mockery of our conceit.

We went ahead till the base of the final chimney where D.S. took off his shoes, caught what looked like three blades of grass and inserting his big toe in a half-inch crevice surmounted the first obstacle. I could not follow, but managed with his help to climb up a neighbouring crack. Beyond this the chimney slanted at an angle of 45 degrees, with the slabs arranged like a receding pack of cards, which ruled out all but pressure holds. D.S. went up it like a rock lizard but the rifle forced me to find better holds as I had to stay outside the chimney's upper projection. A loose slab, under which I inserted my right hand while the left searched for another such hold, pried loose and went clattering down into the nether regions of the chasm. D.S.'s hand rescued me in time, as I clung to the mountain for a few breathless seconds. It was a close thing, and my hand shook when we lighted our pipes after surmounting the chimney.

We peered anxiously at the ledges and cliffs across the deep chasm below us. Far below it broadened out to disappear in silver birches above the lower section of the Rishi gorge. We finally sighted the thar on a ten-foot ledge with only one darker animal among them. As both sexes have horns, though the males are considerably bigger and broader, it was hard to distinguish between them except as to shade. One thar seemed engrossed in watching the progress of a Himalayan tree-creeper as the bird purposefully and methodically scanned the cliff-face for insects ; he moved his head up and down as the bird crept up or flew down the cliff. D.S. soon tired of watching this, and nudged me to shoot. Picking out the biggest and brownest animal, I dropped him at the second shot. He rolled down the terrace and plunged from sight into the chasm. We did not even hear the thud of his fall, and but for the evidence of our eyes would have ascribed the whole incident to faulty vision. The rest of the thar went sneezing and scrambling up the impossible cliff, snorting down at us for minutes. Two hours later we fetched up above an overhang under which the stream boiled and saw the thar wedged in between two boulders. It was manifestly impossible for us to carry him back and after building a cairn about him we returned to camp. Dharansi, the camp-site for the day, was four thousand feet above us, hidden behind ridges and the all- pervading afternoon mist. The maze of ridges, chimneys, and false crests proved too much even for D.S.

As night moved on, we stopped under an overhang where a musk-deer had fallen prey probably to a snow leopard. We had eaten nothing since 6 chota hazri' and a night out in such circumstances was an appalling prospect. D.S. was for once apathetic and unhelpful, lost in muttered prayers to his many gods. We climbed doggedly on, removing shoes and socks at difficult patches- of wet rock, putting them on again to save them from frost and laceration on sharp stones and the stalks of dwarf rhododendrons. It was long after dark when we received an answer to our yodels and whistles. Hot chocolate and a warm stone for the feet restored our spirits and gay company and pleasant chatter rewarded our day's efforts.

The clouds rose in monsoonal mushrooms over Garhwal for the next three days. As always, we left the hills with sadness and a promise: sadness at departing and the promise of greater intimacy and even fuller joys some future summer.