(Reprinted from G.E., Edinburgh University Geographical Society Magazine, April 1962, No. 11)


  1. Fact and Fiction
  2. Search and Research
  3. Attraction and Distraction
  4. Conclusions
  5. Bibliography



Fact and Fiction

Does the Snowman, however abominable or amiable, exist ? Mountaineers are grateful to Mallory for having said, regarding climbing, ' Because it is there’ Unfortunately no Snowman (Yeti) believer has justified the situation by saying, ‘Because it is not there'. It is not the existence of the Yeti that is in question, however, but that of his image. Ever since Waddell (1899) reported the trail of ‘the hairy wild man ' from Donkya La, the debate has remained unabated. ‘ Nowadays', sighs Gerald Durrell’, to say you believe that in some parts of the world there be quite large animals unknown to science is tantamount to admitting that you are weak- minded.' Scalps, skins, hairs and droppings accredited to the Yeti have been discredited one by one. The few first-hand evidences available are submerged in a maze of myth, magic, imagination and superstition.

Yet the Himalayans are not to be despised for their belief, nurtured by geography and preserved by tradition. Within the compass of 1,500 miles of the Himalayas are extensive areas that are remote and inaccessible. These are not empty deserts to the inhabitants on the fringes, as they are elsewhere. In the Scottish highlands, the bland hills look bleak, and millions of years old (Laurentide and Lawrentian), and it is impossible to think they can preserve anything novel. Even the Loch Ness monster is supposed to be prehistoric! But one can conjure up anything to happen in the refulgent youth of the Himalayas. Alternated with innumerable forbidding peaks are deep valleys, each with its own secret. If there were no mountains, men would create them: like the Pyramids in the featureless Sahara. If there we?e mountains, men would adorn them with life.

A highland boy's highway code' is to run downhill when chased by the Yeti. For if it is a ‘he’, the crest-hairs will fall over his eyes, and if a ‘ she ', her long, pendant breasts (supposed to be carried on the shoulders) would encumber her movement, and while the Snow- woman is thus fumbling, our junior Sherpa or Gurkha is safe down in the valley. In actual fact, says Dr. Hagen, not a single soul has ever actually seen a Yeti so far. If you follow up the story of the Sherpas on Mount Everest seriously, if you cross-examine the storyteller, his answer is always: ' No, I have not seen the Yeti myself: it was my cousin's father, and he lives on the other side of the moun tains, and he died two years ago.' This does not mean all Yeti stories are native figments ; as George Orwell would generalize: 4 That is invariably the case in the East; a story always sounds clear enough at a distance, but the nearer you get to the event, the vaguer it becomes.' Even on logical grounds, a simple Himalayan asks, if there can be wild goat (ghoral), wild sheep (jharal), wild dog (bwanso), wild horse (kyang), why not wild men (the Yeti) ? It is equally naive of the scientist to assume that these people cannot identify monkeys. In West Nepal, the highlanders appreciate the affinity between man and monkeys, and have been calling monkeys mon Oncle since long before Darwin was born.



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Search and Research

Either a distinguished research worker introduces his subject or an unusual subject advertises the worker. The Yeti is a subject ideally sensational, and we pity the American scholar surveying the nine million rhesus monkeys (equal to Nepal's total Homo sapiens) in Uttar Pradesh. When the Yeti is finally scientifically classified into zoology or anthropology, all the journalistic zeal will melt away. As long as science poaches on publicity, be it so.

Most of the Yeti footprints have been met casually, by Waddell (1898), Howard-Bury (1921), Kaulback (1934), Tilrnan (1937 and 1938), Hunt (1937), Shipton (1951) and Wyss-Dunant (1952). The 'Daily Mail' Expedition (1954), sent specifically to find the Yeti, came back only with more footprints. The American Expedition of Tom Slick (1957) was equally unrewarding and the Japanese Expedition spent a fruitless winter in 1960 waiting to capture a shivering Yeti. Nor were the Czechoslovakians in Mongolia (1958) and the Russians in the Pamirs (1958) more successful. The second Soviet Expedition (1960) came to the same conclusion as the Hillary Himalayan Expedition of 1961: that the6 Snowman' existed only in local legends. But their leader Professor Stanyjikock's valedictory remarks are most sentimental:

'Farewell, you fascinating riddle. Farewell, inscrutable snowman, ruler of the heights and snows. A pity, a thousand pities that thou art not to be found. What, not at all? Not Anywhere ? Perhaps thou art yet to be found in the remotest mountains of Nepal. Perhaps! '*

What has confounded the Yeti investigation is his nebulous character. He has many names to justify his numerous adherents: Metoh-Kangmi, Mi-tre, Mi-go, Mirka, Shupka, Thloh-Mung; all refer to the same elusive image. The focus for the search is also widely diffused. Originally a native of the Eastern Himalayas, the Yeti has been allegedly reported from Karakoram, Garhwal, Burma and Borneo. The latest dossier, The Snowman and Company even imposes upon him such distant cousins as the Tibetan Dre- mon, the Mongolian Alma. and British Columbian Sasquatch.

The dictum that suspended judgement is the greatest triumph of intellectual discipline is fully ignored when explaining mysterious footprints in the snow. Expert speculations on its authorship have been so prolific and diverse that any sensible Yeti (he would not play hide-and-seek if he had no sense of humour) must be prone to plantigrade more cautiously in order to further confound his pursuers. Extreme sceptics attribute the prints to rolling boulders a challenge to slope geomorphologists), ' blob ' tracks (micro-climato- logists should know better, or snow-sandals (whose foot ?). Some suggest apes, gorillas or langur monkeys. Others think of snow leopards, loping wolves, giant pandas, Tibetan outlaws, Hindu ascetics, and bears (not one, but of three species). The advocate who pleaded for the Yeti, 'if fingerprints can hang a man, I see no reason why footprints should not establish the existence of a particular kind of man must envy the inimitable palaeontologists.

Thus the myth multiplies. One asks of the credentials of the Yeti: ‘Anthropology or Zoology ? ' Another queries: Is the Yeti a biped or quadruped ? ' While most scientists reject the supposition of an unknown zoological specimen daring to escape their classifications, those more hopeful think of the Yeti in terms of a ‘missing linkOne of the latter laments: ‘It is difficult not to be exasperated when all the pieces of evidence run away as soon as the experts arrive on the scene.' Another scientist, relying on embryo- logical evidence, believes in some sort of a giant primate—perhaps akin to the Pleistocene Gigantopithecus. Evefn classificatory names have been appended to the already long list of Yeti nomenclature. Tilman suggests Homo niveus odiosus, and Heuvelmans prefers Dinanthropoides nivalis or ' terrible anthropoid of the snows’.



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Attraction and Distraction

Climbing or exploring in the Himalayas is like booking seats in a theatre: but sitting on the top is your own business. In a single year, there were eleven applications to climb Dhaulagiri. Each nutgnitudc of peaks has its price fixed, and a Yeti expedition tops them all, with about £400. As long as the Yeti helps by being scarce, I he underdeveloped Himalayan countries are assured of this royalty and foreign aid without strings. Yeti search has also contributed greatly to geographical exploration in regions where explorers claim to have been the first to set foot, at the same time chiding the Survey of India for inaccurate maps!

Himalayan wanderers have found the Yeti to be their Achilles' heel, causing distraction in camp and during the climb. Climbers need not read The Hound of the Baskervilles to be convinced, when alone in a flapping tent, of the Yeti's eerie whistle down the wind. Leaving apart the few high-altitude Sherpas, the natives believe that the Sahibs are also scared of the Yeti: otherwise why should they be carrying such lethal weapons as ice-axes and crampons ? Neither is a surveyor wielding his theodolite on a remote ridge much safer. While taking bearings, he has only to imagine a Yeti's grisly tackle from behind his shoulder and we suspect that the oscillating height of Chomolungma—Mount Everest—from 29,002 feet to 29,141 feet, and 29,080 feet to 29,028 feet was not due to the heaving Himalayas, but rather due to the shaking surveyors!



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Most Yeti investigations suffer from generalization. If he is to be found, the Yeti should be pinned down in the place, instead of debating on his ubiquitousness from Alaska to Borneo. The attempt of unsuccessful expeditions to seal the Yeti's fate is being unrealistic. Failure to find a thing does not necessarily deny its existence. Neither does Smythe's Garhwali bear or the fake Khumjung scalp invalidate each and all of the Yeti facts elsewhere.

It is presumptuous to hope that the Yeti will contribute extensively to zoology, zoo-psychology, anthropology and the theory of evolution. This will be the more heartbreaking if a hibernating Ursus arctos isabellinus or Semnopithecus entellus Dufresne is revealed at the end of a trail.

To be open-minded may be healthy. The opening of a closed mind causes more embarrassment than the closing of an open one., Finally, things that persist may or may not exist.



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  1. Burton, Maurice. Animal Legends, 1955, pp. 197-208.
  2. Heuvelmans, B. On the Track of Unknown Animals, 1958, pp. 127- 184.
  3. Izzard, R. The Abominable Snowman, 1955.
  4. Lancet, June 6th, 1960.
  5. Lowe, George. R.S.G.S. Usher Hall Lecture, Edinburgh, January lltli, 1962.
  6. Murray, W. H. The Story of Everest, Appendix II, 1954.
  7. Nature, Vol. CLXXXVII (1960), August 13th, p. 558.
  8. Pranavanand, S. Alpine Journal, Vol. LXI (1956-57), pp. 110-117.
  9. Science, Vol. CXXIII (1956), pp. 1024-1025.
  10. Science, Vol. CXXVI (1957), p. 858.
  11. Science, Vol. CXXVII (1958), pp. 882-884.
  12. Stonor, Charles. The Sherpa and the Snowman, 1955.
  13. Tchernine, O. The Snowman and Company, 1961.
  14. Tilman, H. W. Mount Everest, 1938, Appendix B, 1948.
  15. Tilman, H. W. Alpine Journal, Vol. LX (1955), pp. 296-301.
  16. Tscherezky, V. Manchester Guardian, February 20th, 1954.
  17. Wyss-Dunant, Ed. Mountain World, 1960-61, pp. 252-259.
  18. Hagen, T. Nepal: The Kingdom in the Himalaya, 1961, p. 58.

*Sir Edmund Hillary's Himalayan Expedition in 1961 in search of the Snowman (Yeti) throws sufficient light on the mystery of the Snowman (Yeti). Results of investigation both in the field and the laboratory by the experts based on the materials collected during the expedition indicate that the Snowman in all probability is a kind of Himalayan brown bear found sometimes roaming in Alpine snows.

The Editor in his article on * The Vision of Yeti' published in the Magazine section of the Sunday Amrita Bazar Patrika, May 23rd, 1954, mentioned also that' the Snowman is a kind of brown bear which when climbing over the snows in search of food sometimes stands up and even lifts its forearm over its eyes to avoid glare of the sun in the snows '.—Editor.

The ' area north of Kangchenjhau' as mentioned in H. V. R. Iengar's article entitled ' Sikkim, I960', published in the Himalayan Journal, Vol. XXII, 1959-60, is in Sikkim and not in Tibet.



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