The Indian Airlines Corporation Flight IC 121 from Calcutta to Bagdogra on 12 May had on its passenger list probably the largest number of the greatest mountaineers of our time- little did the Pilot or the Air Hostesses realise this historic event —the flight was smooth, the faces were as civil as the refreshments tasteless—certainly not the slightest sign of recognition! But let us be reasonable and not blame the crew—how were they to know that the plane was full of the Admirable Snowmen? (Air India were surely quicker with that witty advertisement of theirs).
Flight slightly delayed—lets go to the restaurant for some coffee—what a collection! Chris Bonington (who has lost his return ticket), Norman Dyhrenfurth (one can recognise his prominent nose anywhere), Maurice Hertzog (whom I mistook for a rejuvenated Douglas Fairbanks!), a man in a wheelchair (how different he looks—the sharp features of Maj. Ahluwalia have softened with the travails of the intervening years, between his ascent of Everest and now—years of mental and physical anguish and soul-searching and the final acceptance of being paralysed for the rest of one's life). Raymond Lambert (this time accompanied by the charming Madame Lambert), Rene Dittert (fit and dapper as ever), the old veterans Albert Eggler and Eduard Wyss-Dunant (also accompanied by the graceful Madame Wyss-Dunant) et Mon Dieu, almost all the Swiss Everest Lhotse summiters of 1956—Jurg Marmet, Von Gunten, Dolf Reist, Fritz Luchsinger, Ernest Schmied. Quiet and unassuming, the youngest Everest summiter is almost lost in the crowd— "Hello Sonam, aap kaise hai?" and Sonam Wangyal breaks into his characteristic smile—bashful in the extreme it's difficult to draw him out. I've never met this man before but by jove his face is familiar and I've seen him in photographs—we look into each other's eyes for a moment and recognition flashes at last, "Hello Mr. Sarin, my name is Soli Mehta"—the father of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation smiles and extends a hand (on him rests the success of this Meet). Two young toughs, very French, perhaps I talk to them, yes? “er-mmm-er....jem’appelle Soli Mehta” ; not necessary, they speak good English. . . "I am Jean Coudray" . . . "and I am Maurice Gicquel"— Ah! Maurice of the South Face of Annapurna South fame and both recently descended from the formidable South Face of Pumori—Maurice's article on Annapurna South is already in the Himalayan Journal Vol. XXXI and the Pumori article is awaiting translation for Vol. XXXII (i.e. this issue) —the editor meets his famous authors (there will be others in Darjeeling) and the fun of the whole trip begins. Just as we pass the security barrier, another tough appears—definitely an Austrian or something—totally wrong—its good old khalsa without his long hair —Col. Balwant Singh Sandhu (an H. C. Member who has been asking for an extra Club tie for ages) !
At Bagdogra Balwant introduces me to Maj. Joshi (Indian Everest, 1965) ex-Principal of N.I.M.—Big Jo, Ballu and I would be sharing a room at Darjeeling—long drawn out nights, discussing the ethics of Indian climbers, the direction of good climbing practice and decorum for climbers; wither Indian mountaineering!
A cloudy day for the Inaugural ceremony—an occasional drop of rain but in general, Tenzing's forecast that all will be well turns out to be correct. The speeches are made; Mr. Sarin's as President of the Meet; Mr. A. R. Dias, the Governor of West Bengal—short and to the point; Mr. S. S. Ray the Chief Minister of West Bengal— too many "conquests" and "conquer this peak and conquer that" —not enough appreciation of climbing "because it is there"- someone will have to tell him about it some day. Lord Hunt makes a dramatic entry in the middle of the Governor's speech—he apologies for it in his brief address—he has trekked through east Nepal and has arrived this very moment from across the border—thought it more prudent to wash and change rather than to come "as I was attired, dirty and unshaven and embarrass Mrs. Dias by plonking myself next to her in full view7 of this August gathering ..." After the speeches, an orgy of photography and autograph hunting—children, grown-ups, locals, tourists—all mill round the great names—some of the less discriminating even ask for the autograph of yours truly—fame is the spur.
The following days—talks, film-shows and receptions. Thefilms that stand out in my memory are Gaston Rebuffat’s silent film "Between Heaven and Earth" synchronized to recorded music and live commentary by himself; Chris Bonington's film of the S.W. Face on Everest (1972) during which showing the projector sound packed up and the audience was treated to a brilliant impromptu commentary; the French film on Makalu West Pillar was impressive but tended to overdo the descending by jumar—otherwise the photography of the route was terrific; in a slightly different category was Fritz Moravec's touching little film on his school of mountaineering which specialises in introducing young children to the joys of climbing and mountain travel; the Japanese delegation displayed (and presented to the H.M.I.) a copy of the classic Everest Expedition of 1924—a generous and rare gift.
Of the talks, the most moving by far was an unprepared (therefore straight from the heart) account by Lute jerstad of his experiments in the treatment of mental patients by allowing them the opportunity of communing with nature and the while allowing them the benefit of some instruction in rock climbing, rapelling—in other words, removing them from the tensions and pressures that civilization can inflict on man—the miraculous recoveries a number of the most hardened (almost lost) cases had shortly thereafter. The quiet work that Lute and his friends have been performing—the sentiments of one dedicated and genuinely concerned in helping his fellow beings —all the things one believes in but cannot express because of the inability to choose the right words in their correct sequence —Lute said it all—and there were many in the audience who had a lump in the throat and could only thank the speaker with a thunderous and prolonged applause. Equally thought provoking was Warwick Deacock's approach to "Loving our wilderness to death"—his witty style hid the depth and seriousness of the subject of preservation (as different from conservation) of the remaining wildernesses of the world—important enough to receive more than a passing reference from Lord Hunt during his illustrated talk on the Anglo- Russian Expedition to the Pamirs and also from Brig Cyan Singh during his plea for more scientific studies in the Himalaya (Deacock's, Gyan Singh's and Jerstad's lectures are precised elsewhere in this issue). On the last day there was a bit of free-for-all discussion initiated by Sir Edmund Hillary on the problems of the Sherpa in the light of development of mountaineering in the Himalaya. A number of voices spoke up against involving the Sherpa in situations of considerable objective hazard or on routes requiring the highest of technical skills without ensuring that proper training has been given to enable him to successfully cope with the problem—the spate of deaths during expeditions of recent years should give sufficient warning that all is not well with our motives in using (or misusing) this hardy breed of honest, willing and lovable people.
The final function was the Sherpa Dinner Dance Night when Tenzing and his fine men hosted the participants to a sumptuous meal, preceded by Chhang and dancing—a fitting end to a week that will be remembered and recollected again and again in the years to come. The Mountaineers' Meet in Darjeeling was followed by an Advance Rock Climbing Techniques Course in Gulmark. The Editor requested Col. Balwant Singh Sandhu to report on this and his brief account is printed on page 137—Ed.