For the information of mountaineers climbing in the Himalaya and the Karakoram (perhaps the Hindu Kush) some guidelines on naming unnamed peaks have become increasingly necessary. The Editor of the Himalayan Journal therefore wrote a letter to the Surveyor-General of India, and for the benefit of present-day readers reproduces below the correspondence:

‘The Surveyor-General of India
Survey of India
Dehra Dun (U.P.)
5 Oct. 71

Dear Sir,

In Volume IX (1937) of the Himalayan Journal, the editor printed a letter from the Surveyor-General at the time, Brig. H. J. Couchman-letter No. d.o. 291-T of 1st October 1936, to the editor, Kenneth Mason. I enclose a copy of that letter.

As editor of the Himalayan Journal, I have felt concerned at the increasing trend of expeditions towards naming peaks indiscriminately, particularly with personal names. I, therefore, wish to reprint this letter as a reminder to future expeditions and to once again provide guidelines in this connection to the leaders. You may probably wish to add some comments of your own or even issue a fresh letter on the policy of the Survey of India on this matter and I shall be pleased to print it in the next volume.

The Himalayan Journal, as you know, is one of the foremost references to climbing in the Himalaya, Karakoram and the Hindu Kush—it is all the more necessary that it leads and guides a move towards accuracy in nomenclature, spellings and heights.

Leading directly from the last statement, it must be noted that the average climber in India suffers greatly from the lack of good maps. I do not wish, here, to argue on the pros and cons of the official decree and such restrictions, but would prefer to suggest to the powers-that-be through you, of the issue of sketch maps (as can be found in journals, but infinitely more accurate) on a sufficiently large scale as to assist the practising mountaineer in his endeavours and also guard against his temptation to reckless naming of peaks and their heights. The areas required are comparatively few, e.g. Kashmir, Kulu, Lahoul, Chamba, Garhwal, H.P. and Sikkim.

If such a suggestion should fall on fertile soil, I wish to say on behalf of the Himalayan Club that we would gladly undertake to share the effort in every way possible.

With kind regards

Yours faithfully
Soli S. Mehta
Hon. Editor, Himalayan Journal '

The following letter No. d.o. 291-T of 1 Oct. 1936 received from Brigadier H. J. Couchman, D.S.O., M.C., Surveyor-General of India.

‘As you are perhaps aware, the question of the entry of names invented by explorers and others for peaks and other features of the mountain systems to the north of India on maps published by the Survey of India is one on which there has been occasional controversy.

‘The practice of the Survey of India in the past has been that no names should be entered on its maps, of areas for which it considers itself responsible, unless they have been found to be of local or at least indigenous origin. It has admittedly departed from this practice in the case of Mount Everest, but it will be generally agreed that the highest mountain in the world is entitled to special treatment, especially when the result was so euphonious. In the absence of a local or indigenous name, the old practice was to allot a symbol, usually a letter and a number. This practice has, however, been abandoned on our maps for many years except in the case of K2 which, as probably the second highest mountain, is perhaps also entitled to special treatment.

‘This practice has had two results, one favourable, the other unfavourable. The favourable result is that there has been no temptation to give personal names to peaks, the embarrassment of selection of the person to be so honoured has been avoided, and the situation, not unknown, of the name of a peak being changed because the reputation of its owner had lessened, has not occurred.

'The Survey of India will always be grateful to its predecessors for this result.

' The unfavourable result is that owing to absence of local or indigenous names in these sparsely inhabited areas our maps are undoubtedly deficient in names. With the ever- increasing growth of Himalayan travel this defect is becoming of increasing prominence.

' The position has therefore been examined, and it has been decided that the embargo on invented, other than personal names, should be removed.

' Invented names will be accepted by the Survey of India for its maps taking into consideration the following points:

  1. Lack of local names in the vicinity.
  2. Suitability of the names.
  3. When applicable, the degree of currency among climbers and explorers that they have already obtained.
  4. Personal names will not be accepted.

'Suitability is difficult to define, but entirely fanciful or humorous names will not be acceptable. Well-known English names of peaks, such as those in the Karakoram and the Sikkim Himalaya, will be considered for adoption at once.

' You will no doubt agree that this change in policy should be brought to the notice of travellers, and I would request your assistance in doing so, either by publication of this letter or by a reference to its contents.

' The Survey of India will be grateful to past, present and future explorers for any suggestions they may care to make As regards the language of the names we should prefer that English names be confined to the more popular climbing centres. In the lesser-known regions explorers are requested to suggest names freely after consultation with the local guides or coohes—nalas, cols, glaciers, and peaks may be named after some local pasturage or other existing name or may be invented with reference, say, to shape, colour,' or some other distinctive feature. Such names should normally be given in the local vernacular and should be pointed out to the local people so that they may the more readily gain currency. English names should be given sparingly in areas which are likely to be unimportant from a mountaineering point of view.

'Explorers are requested to report their proposed names with sketches or annotated copies of Survey of India maps to me either direct or through you. In sending in reports full details should be given of the reasons for the proposed names, with meanings in English, and the local language adopted.'



Surveyor General's Office
Post Box No. 37
Dehra Dun (U.P.), India
Dated 19 Nov. 71

No: T-42222/813
Shri Soli S. Mehta
Hon. Editor, Himalayan Journal
c/o The Alkali & Chemical Corporation of India Ltd.
P.O. Rishra
District Hooghly (W.B.)

Subject: Himalayan Nomenclature


With reference to your letter dated 5.10.71 on the above subject, I have the honour to state that the present policy on names is as follows:

  1. The Survey of India field staff obtain names of habitations and geographical features by local enquiry. These names and their spellings in the vernacular are checked by the District revenue authorities. These spellings are transliterated phonetically for use in the maps.
  2. When change is called for the State Governments make proposals for change of name to the Survey of India/Government of India and provide local spellings. Survey of India provides authentic versions in English (Roman) and Devanagari scripts for use by the Government and the public.
    No change, however, is permitted on regional or linguistic considerations alone.
  3. Names which are not locally current are not entered in our maps. For mountain peaks in uninhabitated areas the desiderata mentioned in Brigadier Couch- man's letter still continue to apply.

Yours faithfully
Sd/- V. P. Sharma
Deputy Director
for Surveyor General of India

⇑ Top