Himalayan Journal vol.35
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.35

Publication year:
1979

Editor:
Soli S. Mehta
Index
  1. EDITORIAL
  2. THE STORY OF THE HIMALAYAN CLUB, 1928-1978
    (JOHN MARTYN)
  3. FIFTY YEARS RETROSPECT AND PROSPECT
    (TREVOR BRAHAM)
  4. THE PASSANRAM AND TALUNG VALLEYS, SIKKIM
    (DR EUGEN ALLWEIN)
  5. NANDA DEVI AND THE SOURCES OF THE GANGES
    (H. W. TILMAN)
  6. THE MOUNT EVEREST RECONNAISSANCE, 1935
    (ERIC SHIPTON)
  7. THE SHAKSGAM EXPEDITION, 1937
    (MICHAEL SPENDER)
  8. GANGOTRI TRIANGULATION
    (Major GORDON OSMASTON)
  9. EVEREST, 1976
    (MAJOR M. W. H. DAY, R.E.)
  10. LHOTSE, 1976
    (KANJI KAMEI)
  11. THE SECOND ASCENT OF LHOTSE, 1977
    (DR HERMANN WARTH)
  12. MAKALU, 1976
    (ANDERS BOUNDER & OTHERS)
  13. THE CLEAN-UP TREK, 1976
    (MICHAEL CORDELL)
  14. THE THIRD KOREAN MANASLU EXPEDITION, 1976
    (JUNG SUP KIM)
  15. THE HONGKONG KANJIROBA EXPEDITION, 1976
    (DICK ISHERWOOD)
  16. AVALANCHE ON SISNE, 1977
    (R. A. L. ANDERSON)
  17. DHAULAGIRI IV, 1975
    (KUNIAKI YAGIHARA)
  18. NORTH SIKKIM, 1976
    (HARISH KAPADIA)
  19. NANDA DEVI FROM THE NORTH, 1976
    (H. ADAMS CARTER)
  20. NANDA DEVI SANCTUARY - A NATURALIST'S REPORT
    (LAVKUMAR KHACHER)
  21. A BOTANICAL SURVEY IN THE NANDA DEVI SANCTUARY, 1974
    (N. C. SHAH)
  22. AN ATTEMPT ON NITALTHAUR, 1974
    (MANIK BANERJEE)
  23. CHAMRAO GLACIER EXPEDITION-1977
    (M. DEY)
  24. CHIRING WE, 1977
    (HARISH KAPADIA)
  25. KINNAUR-1976
    (LIEUTENANT-COLONEL BALWANT SANDHU)
  26. BLACK PEAK, 1976
    (MANDIP SINGH SOIN)
  27. NILAMBAR EXPEDITION, 1977
    (RANVIR SINGH)
  28. POLISH K2 EXPEDITION, 1976
    (JANUSZ KURCZAB)
  29. A CRAWL DOWN THE OGRE
    (DOUG SCOTT)
  30. ISTOR-O-NAL NORTH I, 1976
    (RONALD NAAR)
  31. THE ASCENT OF SHERPI KANGRP 1976
    (PROF. KAZUMASA HIRAI)
  32. AFGHAN DARWAZ, 1975
    (RYSSZARD W. SCHRAMM)
  33. SWISS THUI EXPEDITION, 1975
    (DR ADOLF DIEMBERGER and HANS SCHIBLI)
  34. CLIMBING SHERPAS OF DARJEELING
    (DORJEE LHATOO)
  35. OF MOUNTAINS & MEMORIES
    (SITU MULLICK)
  36. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES
  37. OBITUARIES
  38. BOOK REVIEWS
  39. LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
  40. CLUB PROCEEDINGS, 1976
  41. EXPEDITIONS 1975-1977

OF MOUNTAINS & MEMORIES

SITU MULLICK

MOUNTAINS must have esoteric bugs, for I was nibbled at by one such virulent type when I was a child.

That probably happened on the very first day I was taken out of the four walls of our modest little family home in Quetta- a large garrison town in a green valley lying secured in the lap of the Sulaiman range. The only image that could have hit my juvenile eyes then, as indeed it consistently did for many more years I stayed there and whose memory even now lingers bold, clear and indelible, is that of the domineering mountains that girdled and guarded our bountiful valley.

Those towering mountains must still be there, ever so unassailable and ever so close to the town's limits. They must even now be forcing the sun to rise a little late and set the sooner. Their peaks were so shapely as to look like a moving mosaic in a shadow lantern when you whirled to scan the horizon.

And what fascinating names the Baluchis of yore gave their mountains. The Chiltan-a haven for such rare game birds as 'see-see'-eternally guarding the Bolan pass to the south-west; the Takattoo-a labyrinth of a range to the north-west, and its neighbour, the Zarghoon close by, where markhors[1] and the guds roamed freely and lived in their selected cliffs and gorges.

The Murdar (meaning the putrefied) to the east, in spite of its unedifying name, was everyone's favourite. The Quetta valley oriented itself by the Murdar's two incredible peaks as if chiselled by euclidean gods-one a near-perfect hemispherical vault and the other a trio of pyramids. And between these two peaks shifted, right or left, the rising sun the year round. (Incidentally, it was this trio of pyramids with ' two camels passing through the triangular gorges that provided such a striking motif for the provincial emblem.)

Not a blade of grass, let alone a tree, grew on the Murdar's rocky face. Its southern shoulder sloped gently down to hold the eastern flank of the Bolan, and then it disappeared, transforming itself to' reappear as mushrooms of rockeries of countless li.ipes and sizes only to give way again to a sprawling shingle desert which must have inspired a cynical bard to write the cruel lines :

'Oh, stony waste Baluchistan,

No credit to God, no use to man. . .’

The Murdar was a part of our lives as much physically as in an abstract sense; for it stood in towering dignity as a 'touchstone' to uncover the secrets of light and darkness alike. Its colours would change from morning through night, from season to season, chameleon-wise. With the rise and fall of the sun its foreboding granite would change from cold steel to mauve and to violet, and then to burnished copper, brass and to a mellow gold as the sun would move overhead. The setting sun would paint it all in reds and crimsons like the lingam in a temple. A grey veil would then suddenly start creeping up from its foot to head and soon the starlit sky would leer at it which by now would turn into a huge edifice of glistening black marble. Some times it would cover itself up with the wrap of fluffy clouds. And one fine morning, when the freezing winds from the Khojak pass in the north would have stopped blowing and permit us to come out in the open, the Murdar with the rest would turn all silver and platinum with the first snows of winter and remain so till the onset of the spring in mid April. That, in turn, would let loose blossoms from numerous groves of naked trees, soon to be loaded with almonds and peaches, apricots and cherries and pomegranates and pears, and . . .

Nature's Fury
It was towards the close of spring one year, at an unearthly freezing hour in May (for nights in the Quetta valley even in midsummer could be nippy) that these mountains stood mute and helpless witnesses to nature's murderous fury that rocked the valley for just under a minute, so violently that it left over sixty thousand dead under the very debris of their own homes.

The tremor had left little untouched except the mountains that stood fast and looked a little taller against the flattened city. Nor could the catastrophe shatter the undauntable spirit of man who began clearing the debris and rebuilding on the old city's very ashes, under the shadow of his beloved mountains, almost immediately after nature had had its own savage say.

Four years later, when World War II came, Quetta was once again the premier cantonment in India which it always was in the days before the quake. It was during the first few months, of the war that I had an encounter with General Norton who, till then, had held the record of having gone to the highest point on Everest. General Wavell, then the newly appointed C-in-C, was being taken round by General Norton to border defences established to check the 'expected Russian onslaught which might come any moment'. The two generals began to climb a steep hill to have a look at the mountainous expanse to the north-west for earmarking possible sites for airfields. Their young British ADCs had already gone up ahead of them with a youthful, seemingly effortless, stride. The two brass-hats were going up with a measured, rhythmic slow gait when, all of a sudden a massive boulder was seen being let loose by the two enthusiastic aides still racing goatlike to reach the top first in a schoolboyish competitive spirit. General Norton looked up as the boulder roared down accelerating from a mere slip to a springing, jumping, shooting missile. Completely unruffled, he took General Wavell by the arm and traversed a few steps aside. They stopped for a while for the hurtling rock, followed by a shower of stones and earth, to shoot past. Looking up again, the old Ever ester raised his voice a little to draw attention of the two young 'human goats' and, spotting the culprit, casually remarked "Try and remember, John, that whatever else you might become in due course, you can hardly expect to make a safe mountaineer".

The lure of wearing the blue uniform made me join the Air Force, the choice of the service partly made after having met 'young' Subrato Mukerjee then a student in Quetta staff college. With some stray connections with photo-journalism I soon found myself drafted to the Arakan and Burma front. Within the very first week of my being in the field, the steaming jungles and the rain-drenched hills of the Arakan, plus the 'K' rations, bleached the pink colour pale and ate up the fat fast; for I had left far behind and, as it happened, forever, the spring waters and luscious fruits of Baluchi mountains. . . .

It was mostly a mountain warfare in the Arakans. The way the Japanese dug themselves in by constructing bomb-proof bunkers on top of the hills and the effective way one solitary machine-gun post would ward off a whole brigade's attack, are too well-known to be recalled here except that the little known hilltops of Buthidaung and Rawthidaung came to be noticed by war historians, as they certainly fascinated a man from the- Baluchi mountains.

As members of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force sent to Japan when the war was over, we were supposed to 'civilise the barbarous ex-enemy' only to return home after two years fully converted ourselves as lasting friends and admirers of the incomparable Japan.

It is pretty hard now to decide at my age and honestly say which of the two claimed the youthful preference-the petite Japanese girls or the 'honourable' Japanese mountains-both of them being equally striking? But the deep-rooted admiration, love and respect for both, luckily, has not dimmed, let alone been obliterated, even by passage of decades. Fuji-San, over which flew more than once, still remains too beautiful for words.

While I was still in Japan, India won its freedom and we lost our homes. With this also went our right to see the Murdar and the Zarghoon, Gulistan and Bostan, Chaman, Khojak, the Bolan, Ziarat and much else-ever again. . . .

But there were other, much bigger mountains in the geo- politically truncated India that gave us refuge-the Himalaya- thereafter. First in Jammu and Kashmir during the 1948 operations and later along the whole of its 3000 miles of super nature grandeur from Leh to Ledo-quite the most partial gift of God to ourancient land. It was, now, all flying over, including thrice over Everest, twice in 1953-barely a week after Tenzing and Hillary had blazed the trail to the summit-and again in 1965, when India put nine atop Everest.

Thereafter, such names as Sonam Gyatso, Gyan Singh, Gurdial Singh, John Dias, Mohan Kohli, Narendar Kumar, Nandu Jayal, Cheema, Nawang Gombu, Harsh Bahuguna, Sonam Wangyal, Ahluwalia and a whole long list of many more came to be known to me as lasting symbols of friendship, great courage and fellow mountain-lovers.

Amongst the sentimental junk collected over the years, there is a tiny little metal piece of no real antiquity but yet of inestimable value. It is done in bronze and was struck especially for such of the intrepid' Sherpas as during the 1965 Everest expedition had carried loads to the last camp at 27,930 ft. It was through the usual magnanimity of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation that I, too, was included amongst the recipients of this exclusive Sherpa badge-for sharing with a handful of others some 'load-carrying' during the expedition while sitting pretty all the while in Delhi! The justification in being so highly honoured might be questionable, which it probably is. But for me that piece of bronze is a little more than even the Purple Hearts which are awarded to the American GIs returning home with battle wounds. For this Sherpa badge is proof enough, if proof be needed, that some virulent mountain bug did, in fact, bite me decades ago and that the resultant itch has continued ever since.