THE BIRDS OF SIKKIM. By Salim Ali. With coloured plates by David Re id-Henry, Robert Scholz and Paul Barruel and line drawings by Paul Barruel and Waiter Ahrens. 414 pages with 17 coloured plates and 41 text-figures in black and white, Oxford University Press, 1962. Rs.30.
The Birds of Sikkim is a comprehensive treatise on the avifauna of Sikkim—a paradise for the naturalist. Although Sikkim birds have been collected and studied by earlier European ornithologists mostly in the 70's and after, starting from Hodgson in 1845 to Schafer's work in 1938 on Tibetan birds, no comprehensive work appears to have been published dealing so extensively as in the present volume with the bird life of Sikkim, Tibet and Bhutan.
A brief sketch of the vegetation on a somewhat altitudinal succession based on Hooker's monumental account in the Himalayan Journals and Champion's floristic classification has been appropriately incorporated in the introduction. Such an account of the vegetation forming the biotope of the various species of birds dealt with is indeed a valuable addition to the treatise, unlike previous publications on the birds of Sikkim, Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan. It has been rightly stressed that the 4 altitudinal zones of vegetation are of the highest interest to the student of bird ecology inasmuch as each of them harbours a more or less characteristic avifauna of its own. Perhaps nowhere in the world would one find the unique phenomenon of so divergent a range of climates and vegetation telescoped into so circumscribed a space. Hooker gives a good example. He writes: ‘From the bed of the Ratong, in which grow palms with screw-pine and plantain, it is only seven miles in a direct line to the perpetual ice . . . In other words, the descent is so rapid that in eight miles of the Ratong waters is seen every variety of vegetation from the lichen of the Poles to the palm of the Tropics: while throughout the remainder of its mountain course it falls from 4,000 feet to 3,000 feet flowing amongst tropical scenery through a valley whose flanks rise from 5,000 feet to 12,000 feet above its bed.' 4 A book that is quite indispensable to the proper understanding of the physiography and vegetational characteristics of Sikkim is Sir J. D. Hooker's Himalayan Journals, published in 1891. It is a classic of its kind— the enthralling narrative of a most difficult and adventurous pioneering exploration and sojourn between 1848 and 1850 in the then unsettled territories of the Raja of Sikkim. The Appendix to the volume, which deals in some detail with the physical geography and vegetation of the Sikkim Himalayas, East Nepal and adjacent provinces of Tibet, is a masterly account.' Naturally, the author has based his study of biotope and ecology of the Sikkim birds to such a luxurious and varied plant community unique of its kind in the Sikkim Himalaya.
As a veteran systematist Salim Ali has given the description of 400 species belonging to 44 families and many sub-families of Sikkim birds in a thorough manner. His data, observations and notes on status and habitat, distribution and general habits are extremely helpful to the present and future workers for field investigation of birds of Sikkim. He has left nothing untouched to understand each and every one of the species described, with local and scientific names duly recorded. Therefore, even a layman desirous of knowing Sikkim birds will find no difficulty in identifying the birds in these hills. The book is equally useful for detailed study of birds of the Eastern Himalaya in the museums in India and abroad where collections of Sikkim birds are well represented. His notes on habitat, distribution and migration of the species dealt with show his sound knowledge and vast experience in the study of the life-history of birds. His hypothesis,' A curious parallelism exists between the avifauna (and of several other widely differing forms of animal life as well) inhabiting the moist Sikkim Himalayas, Burma and Malaya on the one hand and the far-flung rain forests of the southern Western Ghats on the otherbears a somewhat close affinity to the composition and distribution of flora also of the Sikkim Himalaya. All these provide ample scope for future investigation on the different elements present in the avifauna of India and adjacent countries.
The book fulfils a long-felt want in the literature of Sikkim birds. This book will undoubtedly prove to be indispensable to the zoological institutions and libraries not only in India but also all over the world as one of the most important authoritative works on the investigation of bird-life of the Sikkim Himalaya in particular and India and Asia in general. Printing is good and plates are excellent.
TO THE UNKNOWN MOUNTAIN By Wilfrid Noyce. Published by HeinemUnn, London. 1962. Pp. 183. Maps. Illus. Price lis.
I shall begin straight away by saying that this is one of the very few expedition books—they can be counted on the fingers of one hand—that stands in a class apart. If 6 unclouded success is pleasant ..... respectable and therefore does not inspire \ then Wilfrid Noyce's book achieves a double triumph for it is the story of unclouded success told in a manner that assures it of a permanent place in mountain literature. There are no heroics ; there is absolutely no drama ; and, above all, the writing is honest, pure and entirely individual. The author's personality and style penetrates every page. And how this style has developed. With South Col comes about the first radical change ; and a natural evolution has followed ever since. His writing skill, like his climbing skill, has kept in step with the times. Masterly and scholarly, he has not been afraid to discard sham conventions, or to break cherished taboos. His place as a climber, even amongst the most advanced modern tigers, was at the very top; for he had over them the immense advantage of experience.
Trivor, 25,370 feet, was one of the dwindling number of Kara- koram giants still unclimbed in 1960—and, better than that, it had scarcely been photographed, still less reconnoitred. Here was the ideal mountain, rising above the immense Hispar Glacier, eight miles to the west of Distaghil Sar. Five other Englishmen and one American came to the unknown mountain with Wilfrid Noyce as their leader. A leader can seldom relax; his duties are wearing, often tiresome and always onerous. That this party—composed of a scientist, a plumber, a physical educationist, a shop fitter, a doctor—was an entirely happy and well-knit group, does credit to the leader who seemed to combine the qualities of the thinker and the man of action.
Nothing was lacking in the organization and preparation of the expedition. Each man had a definite role to fulfil; and, with Noyce at the head, the party was assured of recovering much of its financial outlay through lectures, articles and a book afterwards.
For the initial successful reconnaissance, Wilfrid Noyce hands the palm to Don Whillans who preceded the main group into Pakistan by a few weeks. Out there a surveyor joined the team, a liaison officer, and two ‘extras '—neither really wanted, and one needing to be sent down for bad behaviour. The troubles expected from. the Nagar porters fully materialized; a day after Base Camp was established a careful check revealed that the expedition had enough sugar to last four and a half days. Six high-altitude Hunzas were also engaged. The route taken on the mountain is clearly illustrated in maps and photographs. But with Noyce's tendency to understate the technical problems, the uninitiated might falsely assume that the ascent was devoid of difficulties. Typically, the leader had intended to stand down in favour of younger men for the summit team ; typically, it turned out that he was the fittest climber, and in tremendous form. Don Whillans was extremely unlucky to be struck ill at the crucial moment.
There is an amusing sidelight when the returning Austrian Dis- taghil Sar party meets the expedition, and one of them asks Noyce to pose for a photograph, not as leader of the expedition but as the author of The Gods are Angry. Of course the climber does not look at the world and himself 6 from above' during a lull at a high camp. The ‘ intellect operating in the void' does not exist on a high mountain ; there is far too much anxiety over the time factor, rations, the weather; it is the mundane things that occupy, almost obsess, the mind. Anxiety, too, on the summit. The answer to what does it really feel like on top is relief at having arrived and anxiety about the descent; these two sensations overwhelm all others. The name of the mountain, which is taken from the map prepared during Eric Shipton's 1939 survey, is almost certainly a mutilation of Thale Var, and it is most unlikely that there is any link between it and Tryfan as suggested on p. 140.
There is an absolutely first-rate account by Don Whillans of his remarkable solo journey home by motor-cycle ; forthright, down-to- earth, direct; both the man and the style ; also a botanical appendix by O. Polunin, and a brief physiological note by A. J. M. Cavenagk To the Unknown Mountain should be bought and read by all those seeking the very best type of expedition book.
T. H. Braham
THE ASCENT OF DHAULAGIRI. By Max Eiselin. Translated by E. Noel Bowman. Pp. 159. Maps. Illus. Oxford University Press, London. 1961. Price 25s.
After reading the first 107 pages, I felt that a much more apt title for this book would have been ‘Yeti in the Himalayas ' Yeti' in this context refers to the single-engine Pilatus Porter PC6 aircraft used by the expedition to transport climbers and baggage to the north-east col of Dhaulagiri, 5,700 m. It was an experiment novel in Himalayan climbing, the outcome of which leaves one unconvinced about its possible adoption by other Himalayan expeditions.
Amongst many matters left unsaid about the use of aircraft is the question of cost. A 4 hire contract' is referred to with the Pilatus Werke in Switzerland. But what about the expense of taking two pilots out; who foots the £2,500-bill when a new engine has to be kown in ; and when finally the machine is abandoned on the Dam- bush Pass as a total wreck ? Was all this cheaper than a team of porters ? To my mind, the safety margins of using an aircraft in the high Himalaya are much too slender. The imponderables are too great; and in the event of a breakdown the expedition may find itself, as this one did, with rice as their only food on the Dambush Pass, soup and coffee on the north-east col, and the remainder of their stores still in Pokhara. That was when the aircraft broke down for the first time. After three weeks' delay, the machine w7as airworthy again ; but two days later it crashed and the two pilots, both non-climbers, were lucky to escape unhurt and find their way on foot to Tukueha. Yeti was not used again. The outcome of all this was that only three climbers and four Sherpas were left to their own resources on the north-east col to set up four high camps on the 2,000 m. north-east Spur with inadequate reserves of food ; to add to the climbers' problems two of their Sherpas failed them. The leader was isolated by himself on the north-east col, so out of touch with his party (two weeks without communication of any sort) as to find himself wondering 6 Was yesterday summit day ? ' The rest of the party were spread out below.
The author himself acknowledges that one cannot allow the out- come of an expedition to a major peak to be entirely dependent upon the functioning of an aeroplane. Also, I am not convinced that the best way for a climber to acclimatize is by putting him in an aircraft and depositing him on & snow pass at over 17,000 feet within an hour of his leaving a steamy germ-ridden camp at sea-level. Such an abrupt change laid low the strongest, and one soon had to be evacuated for a lengthy recovery. That the others managed to acclimatize later despite this violent treatment is a tribute to their strength and personal fitness.
However, it is the result that counts; and when we get down to the story of the climbing in the last 50 pages of the book we are told how four climbers and two Sherpas reached the summit on May 13th. On May 23rd, two more climbers reached the top. On the whole they appear to> have been treated kindly by the weather.
On page 142, too much is made of the situation at Camp V. It was perfectly natural that the defeated first summit party should vacate the camp in order to make room for the ascending second summit party. They themselves ought to have offered to do so. Finally, the author's claim on page 159 is false. Six men on an 8,000 m. summit is not unique ; has he not heard about the French ascent of Makalu in 1955 ?
T H. Braham