Himalayan Journal vol.37
The Himalayan Journal

Publication year:

Harish Kapadia
    (N. G. CLEAVER)
  20. KINNAUR, 1980
    (COL N. KUMAR)
  25. LADAKH, 1979
  29. RISK *
  31. EXPEDITIONS 1978- 1980


GEOLOGY OF THE UPPER SHAKSGAM VALLEY, NORTHEAST KARAKORAM, SINKIANG. By Prof. Ardito Desio, (Scientific Reports of the Italian Expeditions to the Karakoram (K2) and Hindu Kush). Ill-Geology, 4th Volume. Pp. 196, 60 illustrations, 43 figures, sketches and maps, 1980 (Istituto di Geologia, Universita di Milano).

On a mountaineering expedition the primary objective and the method of estimating success or failure is comparatively simple, it depends on whether the peak has been climbed or not. The result of a Scientific Expedition takes months or even years to become apparent as so much work has to be done afterwards and it cannot compete with the instant impact of the successful ascent of a peak. It takes many more times as long to write up results as it does to make the observations. Further it is extremely difficult to publicise scientific work which by its very nature is slow to produce result and which in any case may be more a beginning than an end.

Professor Ardito Desio the author of the present volume first participated in the big Italian expedition under Aimone di Savoia-Aosta, Duke of Spoleto in 1929, as its geographer and geologist. The original intention of the expedition was to make an attempt on K2 the chief aim, but on careful consideration, the sponsoring committee dropped this plan and instead laid the real emphasis on the scientific side, concentrating on a more exact study of the whole Baltoro tract, a new photogrammetric survey and the exploration of Shaksgam. The credit for the varied and important scientific observations reported in the official volume about this expedition first published in 1936 must go largely to Ardito Desio. Thereafter starting from 1953 till 1975, Prof Desio organised and led seven scientific explorations in the Karakoram, the last two in 1973 and 1975 having merely a geologic purpose. The 1954 expedition led by him succeeded in climbing K2, the second highest peak of the world, for the first time. With such close involvement with climbing and scientific Expeditions to Karakoram the author who is also a professor of geology at the University of Milan, is certainly well equipped for his task. The result is a very timely book, which will be invaluable for those with a serious interest in the Himalaya in general and the Karakoram in particular.

The immense complex groups forming Karakoram are bounded on the north by river Shaksgam which eventually drains into Yarkand. Its remote valley separates the chain of the Karakoram from the one of Aghil. Younghusband was the first European to visit the region. Two years after his classic crossing of the Muztagh pass, he explored the Shaksgam valley along with the approaches to K2 in 1887. After Younghusband's pioneering journeys, Kenneth Mason (1925), the Italians including the author A. Desio (1929) and Eric Shipton (1937 and 1939) did much to fix the course of this circuitous river, its relation to the Aghil range to the north and to reconnoitre the six glaciers of Sarpo Laggo, North Gasherbrum, Urdok, Staghar, Singhie and Kyagar descending to its upper basin.

However the image of 'the Karakoram' like that of 'the Himalaya* has changed a good deal in the last two decades. The region as a romantic arena for explorers has lost much ground and that idea has been replaced probably by one of wresting information, geological, geophysical, glaciological and whatever else. Last decade has seen an enormous flood of new data pouring in from a series of scientific missions to these high ranges. Naturally Karakoram-Himalayan geology is no more an infant science. It embraces an exceptionally broad range of disciplines. Since its goal is to understand the origin and the evolution of these high ranges the geologists are obliged to take into account a wide range of phenomena from glaciation to wind erosion.

Prof Desio's present volume entirely devoted to geology is the eighth in the series, the previous seven having dealt with various other scientific aspects of Karakoram. The book has been designed to include a systematic compilation of reproductive information of the ten chapters contained in the volume, the first chapter (eighteen pages and two maps) gives the geographic outline of the region, with its physiographic features. Chapter two is a brief, four page note on previous geological research on the Shaksgam. Chapter three (nine sections, fifty-four pages and thirty-five illustrations) gives the detailed geologic itineraries undertaken by the author to the Shaksgam basin and to all the glaciers feeding the river.

Chapter four (seventy-two pages) while dealing with the lithostrati- graphic units of Cherty Limestones, Conglomerates, Shales and rocks of Shaksgam valley and its feeding glaciers also makes their comparison with similar formations in the Eastern and the Western Karakoram, Aghil and Pamirs. Chapter five is a brief three page note summarizing the Paleogeographic evolution of the Eastern Karakoram. Chapter six of twelve pages and five illustrations, while giving the Tectonic outline of the region also states the relationship between the Tectonics of the Shaksgam valley and those of the surrounding regions. Chapter seven in five pages sketches the traces of Pleistocene glaciations in the Shaksgam. Thus the Synoptic view offered by Prof Desio's book though confined to the upper Shaksgam basin, permits readers to discover really large region-sized geological structures. In eight pages of Chapter eight the author describes a few representative rock specimens, four volcanic, two parametamorphic and thirteen sedimentary, most of these collected in his 1929 expedition. Chapters nine and ten are devoted to elaborate bibliography upto 1979 and detailed index.

One conspicuous omission, from this otherwise excellent book, is that the pictures are rather poor perhaps because there are no colour pictures. The use of colour would no doubt have added to the cost, but it could have made a world of difference in several cases. But this apart, Prof Desio's style is admirably clear and reassuring. He demonstrates the extraordinarily subtle interpretations that can be arrived at by the gentle art of perusing illustrations and pictures, and where unambiguous interpretations are impossible, provides a clear review of the viable alternatives. Even in the present era of remote sensing, when satellites carrying synthetic aperture radars, aided either with optical or computer processors and interpreters, detect all the geological structures and alignments, Prof Desio's book will be read for interest and even for enlightenment because of the human endeavour behind it.

Ramesh Desai


Pp. 198, 100 illustrations, 2 maps, 1980 (Vikas Publishing, New

Delhi, Rs 295).

For the cost of this book one could buy Cunningham, Drew and Younghusband's books on Ladakh. Even the contents of any one of these books would give more information on Ladakh than this one. This is more of a tourist brochure on Leh and its immediately adjacent areas than a serious book on Ladakh. Strangely enough the author in his preface declares that he wrote the book as there was little authentic material on Ladakh. Such presumption, and from one who from the account in this book-visited Leh briefly one October and that too by air, and wrote this brochure by consulting a larger bibliography than he discloses in his book. The portion at the end of 'The Pundits' is almost entirely lifted from Kenneth Mason's Abode of Snow but no mention is made of it.

This book is full of misleading and incorrect statements. The Author says that having visited the Valley of Flowers 3 or 4 months ago he was acclimatized to tackle the high altitude of Ladakh! And he is an experienced mountaineer. Then he says that it was -io°C to -20 °C one October morning in Leh. This has never been so. His own temperature chart shows that. Then he tries to present a quaint, touristy, and unreal picture of the once attractive Leh bazaar by saying that there is only an odd vehicle. This is difficult to swallow. Leh bazaar is filled with vehicles and noise. To contrive the impression of some knowledge of Ladakh he drops strange names like Rupshu, Chang-tang, Drogpas and the Dards, out of context and makes that portion more unintelligible. Further, to carry on this contrivance he has borrowed pictures of some of those areas of Ladakh that he has not visited (50 out of 100 pictures are borrowed) and concentrates conveniently on the historical and cultural aspects of Ladakh. Easiest thing to do especially when there are so many books available. Even the areas that he has driven through he has somehow missed noticing the most striking aspects. Like on his way to Saspool he crosses the 12,200 ft high Bazgo Thang, a stern, bleak wasteland, with a lonely windswept and arrow-straight road running through it - a ribbon of jet-black amongst ochre and brown hills. For drive to Nubra one has to cross the Khardung La and the hanging glacier just below it - a remarkable sight, if ever there was one, but here again Maj Ahluwalia has missed it all. There is a photograph of the Pangong Tso and the caption says that the Tibet border is on the eastern shore. This is incorrect. This photograph was taken from near Lukung, which is at the beginning of the lake and here both shores are very much in India. The border is on the third ridge visible in the photograph, which has unfortunately been spoiled by the printer.

Whenever the Author writes about the geography of Ladakh he makes a bloomer, for it is obvious he has not visited that place. He quotes Sven Hedin on the Karakoram Pass, but had he had any idea of Ladakh he would have known that the Karakoram Pass that Sven Hedin was talking of was not the 18,290 ft high one that is above Daulat Beg Oldi but the 18,910 ft high Changlung la which is approached via Pamzal, Hot Springs, Tsogatsilu and by crossing the Chang Chenmo river and Kongka La. This pass too cuts the Karakorams and that is why Sven Hedin calls it so. There is a picture of it in his Trans-Himalaya Vol. I and it is definitely not the Karakoram pass we all know. Again on the same page he mentions that while Shipton was crossing the Karakoram he was accosted by Chinese at the left bank of the Mintaka river. Amazing! These two places are more than 600 km apart and Shipton at that time was going by the Silk Road via Mintaka Pass (13,300 ft) to Kashgar. Such inaccuracies go on and on whenever the author speaks of the geography and describes scenes.

Hemis did not deserve a special chapter; there are even more attractive but remote monasteries of Hanle and Chumar of east Ladakh. Perhaps their remoteness and the fact that no tourists could visit them excluded them from the purview of an 'authentic' tourist brochure. A good 'authentic' book on Ladakh would have to cover all this and the regions of Chang-tang, Rupshu highlands, Depsang Plains, Nubra, Kargil, Batalik and Zanskar. All this is missing here.

Maj Ahluwalia is a mountaineer and that is why one is surprised that he has managed to lump the Zanskar, Kinari, Ladakh, Chang Chenmo and Karakoram ranges as part of the Ladakh Himalaya. He prefers to dwell on gompas and safer things like history and culturc. Had he not been attracted by those eerily placed forts of the 16th century king Deldun near Mulbekh, Bodh Kharbu, Fukche and Zingral? They are so neatly built you cannot tell them from the ridges and yet they are not mentioned. Similarly, he has missed the 10th-century Cyriac Christian inscriptions in Tankse and described in detail by Aurel Stein, of whom much is said by the author. What do they know of Ladakh who only know Leh?

There are only five interesting points in the book. They are: fu st The foreword by the Prime Minister, where she says, 'Alas, the intrusion of streams of moneyed visitors has robbed it of its serenity, spontaneity and even piety and is denuding its monasteries of their ancient tre.is sures'. Second is the account on Lakhpa Tenzing. Third is the I lerbert Tichy photograph of Mt Kailash. Fourth is the photogr.iph of Lake Manasarovar taken by William Shering, Commissioner of Minora in 1908 and published by him in his book on Western Tiber, but to whom no acknowledgement has been given. Fifth are parts of the chapters on the Namgyals, and Hemis.

It is a good enough brochure for a 'Skip-the-details' kind of tourist to only Leh. Nothing else.

Romesh Bhattacharji

EVEREST: THE WEST RIDGE, By Thomas F. Hornbein. Pp. 181,

Illustrated, 1980 Reprint. (The Mountaineers, Seattle, Washington $ 17.50).

The original edition appeared in 1965-a big sized volume with pictures that have been matched only by some of the Japanese publications, subsequently. Then followed some smaller versions-semi-hard covers, and now 25 years later a revised version with a foreword by Doug Scott and almost a fresh set of photographs (don't worry, the classical shot of the West Ridge is still on the cover, as well as in the text).

It is strange that the H. J. missed reviewing the original copy-the revision has lost none of the excitement and poignancy of Tom Hornbein's wonderful writing on the intimacy of Willi Unsoeld's deep understanding of human motivation-above all, a great epic well told.

On re-reading the book after years, I find it still has the freshness that I experienced at the first encounter. Now, the text takes on a special meaning, for it seems that so much is devoted to Willi Unsoeld that the book would be described as a tribute to the memory of this great mountaineer. Could Tom have had in mind that he was going to outlive Willi ?

Picture plates and slides don't last for ever-grab this volume before the next edition loses even more of the superb photographs of the original.

Soli S. Mehta

ZANSKAR, THE HIDDEN KINGDOM. By Michel Peissel. Pp. 205, 36 illustrations, 3 maps. 1979 (Collins & Harvill Press, London, L 7-95)

A journey to Zanskar can be a truly rewarding experience. Whichever side one comes from-be it Kargil, Kishtwar, Lamayuru or Lahul- the impact is everlasting. The Zanskar area, centred at Padam, is a full-fledged district in the Indian State of Jammu & Kashmir.

It is not that Zanskar is 'unexplored' nor even a 'Hidden Kingdom'. Travellers and climbers from within India and outside have crossed the passes into Zanskar for many years. In fact, Michel Peissel's journey from Kargil over Pensi-la to Padam and across Shingo-la to Lahul covers only one section of established caravan routes linking Central Asia with the Himalayan hinterland of India. As for kings, India now has none.

It is therefore annoying to be confronted with Peissel's penchant for 'discovery' and his claim to have 'found a lost valley hidden in the fold of the Himalaya'.

The chief merit of Peissel's Zans\ar is that it conclusively proves the limitations of pseudo-inquiry based, in this case, on misinterpretation of fact. Thus, we are told that the Shingo-la leads to India. Where, pray, does Peissel believe Zanskar is? In Tibet? Or outer Mongolia? The book abounds in distortions of this kind for which the most charitable explanation can only be ignorance. Peissel suggests that there is antagonism between the 'Tibetan-speaking districts of Kashmir' and the 'superior Hindu administrators of New Delhi'. He forgets that it was India which provided a home for the victims of the Chinese invasion of Tibet. He equates himself with Heinrich Harrer, who 'like me, had lost no time in rushing to Zanskar'. Alas, enough damage has already been done by those who rush around the valleys of Himalayan mountains.

From all the trivial details that clutter up his book, the conclusion is inevitable that he came with preconceived notions and was unable to fathom the diversity which is also the unity of India. Unfortunately, writing as shallow as Peissel's is seldom challenged because few members of the reading public travel to these areas.

It would be a tediously lengthy exercise to have to catalogue the inconsistencies in Peissel's narrative. One hopes that the next time he sets out to 'discover' a hidden valley, he starts from his backyard where, perhaps, he could do some genuine soul-searching.

Sudhir Sahi

MOUNTAINEERING. By John Cleare. Pp. 169, Illustrated, maps,

1980 (Blandford Press 3.95)

A small-almost pocketsize volume-christ, what an unimaginative title! But my reservations and first thoughts were proved totally false on a closer study of this little bedside gem.

John Cleare writes about mountaineering as if he was talking informally to his friends around a camp fire-not too detailed and not superficial-yet all the ingredients for getting a young mountaineer to know what it's all about.

'Ten Great Mountains', then 'Ten great mountaineers' followed by 'Mountain Sport'-from hill-walking to high-altitude climbing. Finally an abridged but excellent chronological history of mountaineering in the various ranges. The problem in such anthologies is what not to leave out-one would suggest that Shipton and Tilman should have joined the greats, but so could Lionel Terray and a dozen others. Similarly with the mountains-each of us have our favourites. The glossary had a few surprises for me-perhaps it's my age and I can't keep up with the jargon-Deadbody (presumably a very small Deadman)-Matterhorn Peak is actually a term used to describe a sharp pyramidal mountain with several steep faces & ridges (. . . .

4 the Mattern is the prime example'. . . . well I never . . . .)-Wart Hag* and I'll leave you to fathom that one.

Excellent value for money and to leave around the house for periodic references. The photographs are superb and the all-round printing of a high order.

Soli S. Mehta

MEN AGAINST THE CLOUDS. By Richard L. Bardsall and Arthur B. Emmons, 3rd, with contributions by Terris Moore and Jack Theodore Young. Pp. 315, 63 illustrations, Revised edition 1980. (The Mountaineers, Seattle, 5.95).

The 'search for a mountain higher than Everest' had got four young men to China and before they returned nearly a year later, they had not only established and gained the heights they dreamt, but had numerous specimens of big game and a collection of birds to their credit.

Though it would seem unreasonable today, in 1932, their objective would have seemed more logical, for the ranges they trod upon had hithexto been unsurveyed and unexplored.

A remarkable compilation of their unique expedition that describes their travel through China, their exploration and the climb of Minya Konka at 24,900 ft-the first ascent of the mountain.

The exploration and survey charts, the various statistical observations are indeed detailed and informative, but to those who climb just 4because it is there', they hardly mean a lot.

Tke revised edition of 1980 that includes an Epilogue by Terris Moore, leader of the Minya Konka summit team, makes interesting reading, substantiated with photographs that would put to shame many a recent publication.

Bhupesh L. Ashar

THE GUINNESS BOOK OF MOUNTAINS and MOUNTAINEERING-Facts & Feats. By Edward Pyatt. Pp. 256, Illustrated, maps, 1980 (Guinness Superlatives Ltd. U.K., 8.95)

The last three decades have witnessed an explosion of interest in Mountain Sports in all their aspects. Gone are the days when mountain explorers and climbers were an esoteric tribe of individuals who have strayed into mountain adventure. Mountains have attracted modern man like never before. New techniques and equipment have opened vistas once considered as impossible of achievement. The hunger to seek more information on facts and feats has brought in numerous publications on the subject. The author has brought his long experience and knowledge as Editor of the Alpine Journal to the production of this well presented book, illustrated by interesting diagrams and photographs covering important mountain areas the world over. But by its very vast scope the choice of material has been selective and not exhaustive. Thus the section on Himalaya and Karakoram occupy only 21 pages out of the total 256 (and Alps having 30 pages). Main peaks in each region are listed with reference to first ascents. History of climbs on a few of these are also given. One appendix contains a mountain calendar of events date-wise. Another one tables information according to country, showing the names of highest peak, main National Mountain organizations and publications. Under this table the Himalayan Club's Bombay address and the name of the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling are not correctly mentioned. The official body, the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, New Delhi, needs to be included as the same controls and regulates a number of matters concerning mountain activities in India.

The early part of the book contains some interesting facts covering general mountain information on wide topics. One would have liked that ecological aspects of mountains could have found a place in this section especially when we find large mountain areas are ecologically disturbed as in the Himalaya.

The book is indeed a good reference for all those who would like to check facts on certain aspects of mountains in a quick brief manner.

J. C. Nanavati


By John Cleare. Pp. 208, illustrated, maps, 1979 (Collins, London, 7.95)

Yet another anthology, but full marks for the compiler in getting his Himalaya spelt correctly without the V at the end.

An exquisitely printed volume with a full complement of maps and photographs. The text is extremely readable and though I had in mind a quick browse before writing a review, felt compelled to go through whole chapters before turning off the lights-and you will too.

I can perhaps only comment on the Hindu Kush, Karakoram and the Himalaya-the coverage is as comprehensive as one can make it without turning the 'guide' into a 'dictionary'. Some of the maps are not quite accurate-e.g. the Kulu area of the Punjab Himalaya on page 178 is slightly mixed up in relation to the major peaks-spellings too need some care both in the script as well as in the maps. But these are small quibbles-the massive work of love is recommended reading and everyone will find something new and innovative in its text as well as pictures.

Soli S. Mehta

FROM THE OCEAN TO THE SKY. By Edmund Hillary, Pp. 272,

60 illustrations, 9 Sketches, 1979, (Hodder & Stoughton £6.50)

A jet-boat trip from Ganga Sagar Island in the Bay of Bengal to Nandaprayag on the Alaknanda, through the length of the Ganga, and the ascent of Nar Parbat and Akash Parbat-this could be an over- simplistic subtitle to the book and perhaps one would pick it up to read about jet-boating and see what all the fuss was about. You would be totally wrong and-what's more you are in for a real surprise.

What you actually have in your hand is an extraordinarily perceptive study of human nature, an introduction to Hindu philosophy and mythology and a small glimpse of what the real people of India are like-hospitable, friendly, trusting and generous in their praise of great achievement-alas, you don't see much of that in the bureaucratic gobbledigook of the metropolitan cities of Bombay, Calcutta and Delhi.

Sir Edward and his co-authors have done their homework well and at each step or incident, a diversion into history, philosophy or myth is undertaken. One never tires of reading and the element of surprise and wonderment continues into the appendices.

The photographs would do a more expensive book proud-with few exceptions they are excellent but every one of them topical and appropriate.

Get hold of this book-but now now, as they say in Nigeria.

Soli S. Mehta

K2-THE SAVAGE MOUNTAIN. By C. Houston and R. Bates,

Pp. 394, 14 illustrations, sketches, 1979 Reprint (The Mountaineers,

Seattle: Washington and Diadem Books, London, 4.95)

In the wake of the first successful American expedition to K2 in 1978, here now is the reprint of the attempt made in 1953 on the then- virgin eight-thousander. It is an account, modestly written and engrossing, that remains greatly readable even today.

In keeping with the team-spirit so vital in this expedition, the book contains material authored by no less than five members (Houston, Bates, Craig, Bell and Streather) though most of the material is by Robert Bates and Dr Charles Houston (leader), both members of the 1938 American expedition to K2. The expedition followed the Abruzzi Ridge and had to brave the days of bad weather at Camp VIII at ail altitude of 25,200 ft. (a painting by Dee Molenaar during this period holds the record for high altitude artistic endeavour) and ironically, at about the same time that the expedition reached its highest point, Art Gilkey developed thrombophlebitis. Giving up their summit attempt, they began their descent in bad weather, carrying the helpless Gilkey who now suffered from pulmonary embolism. The descent was further complicated by an accident in which the climbing ropes were entangled and six fallen climbers were held by the strength and skill of one man only, Peter Schoening. The tragic loss of Art Gilkey is recorded without becoming maudlin; the sorrow without being excessively sombre and yet, or may be because of this, appears genuine.

In the present context of Alpine-style climbing, one may feel tempted to dismiss this book as just another account of the early heavyweight, Himalayan expeditions; but the book has an underlying relevance to those who feel, as Houston does, that 'by testing himself beyond endurance man learns to know himself.' An additional attraction of the reprint are the tapes recording the conversations between the members at the base camp after the climb was called off, as also the reminiscences of the team after twenty-five years. Houston's belief that 'each generation passes the limits defined by its elders' has been amply vindicated and his assertion that the conquest of a great peak provides an irresistible frontier to human beings may explain the motivation behind climbing.

Muslim H. Contractor

THE LAST BLUE MOUNTAIN. By Ralph Barker, Pp. 210, 22 illustrations, 1979 (Reprint) (Diadem Books, London, jt 3.50)

A story of an expedition of four climbers attempting Haramosh (24,270 ft) in the Karakoram in 1957, two of whom were destined not to return, of men who lost their lives, of men whose courage and endurance were tested but not broken. A daring adventure of remarkable men.

Perched high up amidst the wondrous 'white land'-the unforgiving land of mountains, four young men fight for survival; their love and sacrifice for companionship, the unshakeable faith in team-work is irrefutable and spell-binding. The quest for adventure had got them death and suffering, they won not the summit they strived for, yet their unique endeavour, endurance, determination and bravery is worth a hundred laurels.

That a non-mountaineer, professional writer/journalist should have portrayed so well this haunting legend of human endurance, courage and suffering is indeed remarkable.

First published in 1959 the book has been reprinted in 1979, in paperback; with bold and clear print it makes smooth and interesting reading.

Bhupesh L. Ashar