Mana (23,860 feet) Expedition, 1961, was an obvious sequel to our success on Nandaghunti (20,700 feet) the previous year. The Nandaghunti Expedition, 1960, was the first of its kind ever organized from Bengal by young amateur Bengali climbers. Its success aroused immense enthusiasm, which encouraged us to prepare an ambitiously elaborate plan for our next mountaineering adventure. Our aim was to make an all-out attempt on Mana by its northern bastion. We planned to take also a few scientists with us to study the Dhauli Valley and the East Karnet Glacier from its confluence with the Raikama Glacier. With three scientists, two press representatives, one physician and one transport officer, the total number of members came to fifteen. There were twelve Sherpas, led by Ang Tsering of Nanga Farbat. The expedition was generously financed by Sri Asoke Kumar Sarkar, Editor and Director of the Bengali daily, Ananda Bazar Patrika, who provided funds for our Nandaghunti Expedition the previous year.
The expedition left Calcutta on August 15th, 1961. We were held up owing to the inclemency of the monsoon. Normally, it takes only a day by bus from Rishikesh to Pipulkoti and two hours more to reach Joshimath, some twenty miles beyond. In our programme three days were provided for this part of the journey, but it was on the tenth day, instead of the third, that we were at last able to reach, not Joshimath, but Pipulkoti. This was due to frequent landslides all along the bus route.
At Pipulkoti we had to procure at much higher rates the entire supply of our foodstuffs and porters for the transport of five tons of luggage to the proposed site of the Base Camp, more than eighty miles away near Vasudhara Tal.
The trek from Pipulkoti to Niti (11,100 feet), the last human habitation on this side of the Indo-Tibet border, was eventful. We were very often overwhelmed by the hospitality shown to us by the Tolchas and Marchhas inhabiting the Dhauli Valley. They are generous and simple hill tribes. Taking a well-earned rest for a day at Niti, we followed the Dhauli by its right bank up to Shephuk, about seven and a half miles away from Niti. From Shephuk the trade route to the Niti Pass runs east of our route to the East Kamet Glacier across the roaring Dhauli. To cross the turbulent Dhauli with the help of a log of wood which had to be carried from a distance of about two miles was a hard job. The first stage of the Mana Expedition was completed on our arrival at the Yasudhara I al, after three more days of arduous trekking over the boulders.
The Base Camp was pitched at an altitude of 15,700 feet, ten days behind the scheduled date—September 5th. We could not, therefore, afford to lose a single day more. Hence, while the rest of us were busy repacking our luggage camp-wise, two members, Gauranga and Subimal, with two Sherpas went to select the site for our first camp on the E.K. Glacier. From Vasudhara Tal the E.K. Glacier goes northward for about a mile, then detaching itself from the Raikama Glacier runs westward for about five miles when it takes a sharp bend to the north and ends in the southern wall of Kamet. Though the track was extremely hazardous with boulders piled up one on the other, the advance party was successful in finding a good site for the first camp at 16,700 feet, somewhere midway of the E.K. Glacier. On September 8th the entire party carried loads to Camp 1. Two members, Madun and Prodyot, with two Sherpas were selected to find the route to the second camp, somewhere near the bend, which we called afterwards Jayal bend Till now the route followed the course of the lateral moraine on the E. K. glacier which is about 100 feet to 125 feet above the level of the glaciei But immediately after Camp I the course of the moraine became very erratic and the party had to descend to the glacier. If it was a little easier on the glacier it proved also to be much more dangerous. With icy streams, yawning crevasses and huge boulders of rock and ice, climbing on it was a veritable nightmare. However, Camp 11 was pitched on September 9th and Camp III on the 12th at an altitude of 19,600 feet by Gauranga and Dilip along with two Sherpas at the foot of the rocky wall linking Mana with Kamet. During all this time loads were being regularly ferried from Base Camp to the higher camps by the other members and Sherpas of the team. Up ward from Camp III the approach to Mana went south-west, while that to Kamet went roughly north-west. We were at last on the untrodden face of the giant Mana.
Nimai, following the map, went ahead on the 15th across the bergschrund to select a site for Camp IV. A severe gale was raging on the north wall of Mana. However, after tackling the rock-wall by fixing rope on it, the party went forward on Mana. From the site of Camp IV (20,500 feet) Nimai could appreciate the mountain's defences. The full length of the north-east wall was a sheer precipice rising some 5,000 feet above, from were avalanches were seen coming down frequently. The northern ridge of the mountain was literally knife-edged and would not ‘go ' for such a great length. If there was any chance, then that chance must lie beyond the ridge on the north-west side of the mountain. It was obvious that a Camp V would have to be pitched somewhere beyond the ridge.
The quest for the site of Camp V somewhere beyond the ridge was launched on September 19th by two members, Dilip and Gauranga, and three Sherpas. The quest went on for three successive days under great hardship, but was of no avail. Rope was fixed during the first two days throughout almost the entire length of the wall amidst a raging blizzard which prevented us from scaling the ridge. On the fourth day the members of Camp IV spent the day resting and on the fifth day there was a lull in the storm. Camp V was at last pitched on September 21st on the north-west ridge of Mana at an altitude of 22,550 feet by two members, Madan and Gauranga, and three Sherpas. The lull continued during the night and was followed by a calm morning, when the inmates of Camp V got ready to continue their efforts to reach the top. After going some 35 lengths of the rope, hacking steps on the hard ice, the party found it impossible to climb further on this wall of the ridge, the wall beyond having simply caved in. The peak, however, seemed to be tantalizingly near. The party tried to reach the ridge by retracing their steps and then climbing for some time till they were confronted by a sheer rock-wall of about 150 feet. There was no hold of any kind on the smooth rock nor any crack in which to drive in a piton. The peak was only some 500 feet above, but though it was only 3 p.m. and the weather was fair, the party thought it wise to turn back. After overcoming so many obstacles the determined assault team had to give up their attempt with only a 150 feet rock-wall between them and their goal.
A second assault was staged on September 26th by two members, Biswadeb and Prodyot, and two Sherpas. The second assault team left Camp IV on September 25th early in the morning and reached Camp V in a raging blizzard late that evening. The blizzard howled around the camp throughout the night and did not abate in the morning. It was obvious that the north wind had set in and was not likely to subside before the end of the winter. There was no other alternative but to come back, safe and sound, after climbing the north-west wall of Mana to a height of about 22,550 feet and to say good-bye to the mountains for the time being.
Northern face of Mana peak. Photo taken from camp v (22,550 ft.)