'Himalayan Climbing is not better than the Alps for the altitude is against enjoyment. But travel among the Himalaya has no equal in the world.'

W. H. Murray Himalayan Journal Vol. XVI

WHAT IS true for the Himalaya is also true for the club library and though the collection is heavily underpinned by Alpine classics of vertical achievement, there is nothing to beat for sheer pleasure the many 'travels in', 'tours and excursions to’, and 'narratives and diaries of those intrepid nineteenth century gentlemen on exotic horizontal quests.

Many of these authors were British army officers and their balanced eye for blending local lore with precise topographical information (often illustrated) lends a charm that is missing from modern objective accounts. Major Strutt illustrated Robert Shaw's High Tartary (1871) while Colonel Torrens illustrated his own Travels in Ladak, Tartary and Kashmere (1865). On the fly leaf of our copy is written: 'Awarded to Master James Brown for having obtained first place in the second dictation class at Midsummer 1867. John Sorley, Principal, Birkenhead College.'

At the end of Captain Knight's Diary of a Pedestrian in Cashmere and Thibet (1863) the publisher lists his recent publications, which include Everybody's Pudding Book or Tarts & Puddings in the Proper Season; Autobiography of a Navvy by the Hon. Miss Eden; and the Rev V. Tugwell's 'On the Mountain, being the Welsh experiences of A. Black and J. White, Esquires; Moralists, Photographers, Fishermen, Botanists, Etc., Etc.'

According to A. L. Mumm, whose Five Months in the Himalaya (1909) catches the overwhelming scale of the Uttarakhand peaks both visually in his panoramas from Kuari pass and orally in the remark of Inderbinen the Alpine guide that he had no idea there were so many mountains in the world, mountaineers can conveniently be classified among the ungulates: 'Both bharal and thar are mountaineers but with different tastes. The bharal likes fairly easy going and has no objection to snowfields whereas the thar is passionately devoted to difficult rock climbs.'

As your guide is a bharal (albeit of the lone ram variety) allowance should be made for his prejudices on the choice of terrain depicted. After twenty-five years' acquaintance I have acquired the local reverence for the peaks and prefer to find offerings of stones and flowers on them rather than trig points and Kleenex cartons. (What's wrong with rhubarb leaves?) I should add that while I have a Tilmanesque horror of deck chairs at base camp, I am not averse to sitting in them when offered.

After seven different locations including a stint at the Calcutta Light Horse HQ, the library now resides amidst the pleasant lawns and soothing fountains of the India International Centre in New Delhi. (This requires the hon librarian to try and look intelligent as he trips past some of the capital's leading eggheads.) Housed in a small, air-conditioned room and serviced by the Centre staff, the 1500 items (more than half of which are journals) give off a pleasing, uniform, almost naval look, bound largely in dark blue with the spines picked out in gold. Owing to the uniqueness of the collection and the fragile condition of its corpus, books are available for reference only.

Beware of binders whose enthusiasm is not matched by literacy. Thus you will find George of the Arun, and Dhu, Skean (that much travelled Scots snow pigeon). German and French titles come in for some severe mauling (for Himalaya by 'Herausgegeben von der' read 'Lohner-Sutter') and the catalogue should be read phonetically. Japanese titles require the yogic sirsasana* posture.

The club also possesses smaller branch libraries in Bombay, Calcutta and London and is always eager to receive members' diaries, notebooks and photographs of Himalayan travels. These acquire charm and value printed accounts can never match. Some of the most fascinating stuff in the library is the typed account with fading yellow snaps done by the enthusiastic amateur while the beauty of his surroundings was still upon him. Diary of a March from Simla to Leh by I. M. Cadell (1929) is comprised of a tatty 19 page folio made up of old brown envelopes but it breathes the hills: '11.6.29 Theog to Narkanda. Extracts from the Dak bungalow visitors book range from "Everything thoroughly bad as usual" to "With a reduction in prices might compare favourably with the Cecil".' Rundall's Rambles and Scrambles is another example of the climbing scribe and 'Wombat' (as he styles himself) has plenty of good advice for causing the weekend to end harmoniously: 'A visit to auntie after breakfast is recommended.' 'Treat weak members of the party as a sacred trust rather than a damned nuisance.'

A random glance at some titles might suggest an alarming preoccupation with eccentricity: A Ride to Leh by Mrs Ash Crump (1919): ('All the milestones had been burnt for firewood'); Through Persia on a Sidesaddle; From the Pyrenees to Dover in a Dog Cart (presumably the dog was a channel swimmer as well as a climber); Revelations in the Zenana and (non-sequitur) Wild Sports in India, with remarks on the formation of light irregular cavalry. One sinister title would qualify for the dirty tricks department in the Great Game. Gilgit Mission (1889) by Lockhart and Woodthorpe is stamped 'strictly confidential* and (in red ink) 'SECRET'. It is a prospectus for a military takeover Great Game. Gilgit Mission (1889) by Lockhart and Woodthorpe is stamped 'strictly confidential* and (in red ink) 'SECRET'. It is a prospectus for a military takeover.

* standing on one's head

After this cloak-and-dagger stuff who better to restore the essential improbabilities of travelling in distant places than the indestructable Eric Newby who rushes in where angels fear to perambulate A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush (1958) proves that the modern adventurer can educate and entertain as well as the leisured Victorian. His discovery of Davidson's Kafir Primer illustrates how one man's priorities in Bashgali can be another's undoing in English: 'A vulture came down and took off my cock.'

The library boasts its own phrasebook, Sir Basil Gould's Tibetan Sentences (1943) which shows remarkable political prescience:

'Q. Whose is this big house?

A. The British Agent's.

Q. Where is your red shirt?'

The oldest book dating from 1796 (and in French) is Voyages dans les Alpes by de Saussure. The rarest must be The Pioneers of the Alps by G. D. Cunningham and Capt. W. de W. Abney (1887). This edition on large paper was limited to fifty copies and the library is lucky enough to possess the first numbered copy, super-inscribed 'To Sir Francis Adams with the author's best wishes. Hotel de L'Ours, Grindelwald, 1887'. The binding has disintegrated though the plates of Swiss guides are in good condition. Oddly enough this book does not appear in the catalogue though a second copy (normal size) is mentioned.

The oldest book on the Himalaya is probably Samuel Turner's Account of an Embassy to the Court of the Teshoe Lama in Tibet (1806) with its superb illustrations by the first Himalayan landscape painter, Samuel Davis. Another vintage title by an excellent watercolourist is J. B. Fraser's Journal of a Tour Through Part of the Snowy Range . . . to the Sources of the Jumna and Ganges (1820). Collectors currently value it at Rs. 5,000.

For my own money the finest thing in the library is Vittoria Sella's portfolio of photos taken on the Abruzzi K2 expedition (1909). The extraordinary 'calmness and perfection' (to quote Ansel Adams) makes it embarrassing to comment on the lush breed of coffee-table books that modern photography has lavished on us. Here is that rare meeting of sublime subject with worthy master; the grandeur of the Baltoro glacier portrayed by a genius. The library is lucky to possess the 19 panoramas which were published separately in 1912. The text apparently landed up in the Dehra Dun {Survey of India library with a second copy at Army HQ in Simla. When the library was first started members had the privilege of using these two libraries as well as the Simla Survey library and the United Services Institution also in Simla. If the Club library had only a fixed home it might have been considerably swelled by books from these other sources. As a worthy task of some future hon librarian these scattered collections of Himalayana could be the basis of an encyclopaedia of the Himalaya. On the subject of panoramas mention should be made of de Filippi's mammoth fold-outs which taken with Dainelli's shelf-full of enormous erudition proves that the Italians went the whole hog when it came to chronicling their expeditions. Incidently the run-ners-up in the prolific mountain-writer category include Young-husband and Smythe so that science is balanced by feeling.

Another outstanding book of photography (despite the foreword by the Reichsportfuhrer) is Paul Bauer's Auf Kundfahrt im Himalaya (1937) signed by the author. The English edition is even better and the fuhrer is replaced by weighty ponderings on Saxon attitudes.

After the Alpine books one of the pillars of the library is the various titles issued by the Survey of India. I refer to this section as 'Kenneth Masonry' for his versatile presence helped establish the library as a serious source of reference rather than of mere relaxation. It is a puzzle why all six copies of his Routes in the Western Himalaya have the Survey imprint (1929) cancelled or papered over. Mason was a papering artist for he cleverly inserted bits of coloured paper behind his photographs (e.g. K2) which shone through the transparent paper to highlight the peaks. Did the Survey disown his work perhaps because it gave away too much information or was there professional jealousy at work? The fact remains that all our copies are second editions of volume one. What became of the rest?

We do know what became of Routes in the Eastern Himalaya for the MS. is in the library, based on Bailey and Morshed's route notes, compiled by *R. A.G.' and commented on by Joan Townsend. These files contain the marks of true government for they are bound in red tape and abound in hierarchical niceties. The pecking order ranges from 'Dear Mason* to 'My dear Kenneth'.

While English has earned itself the pre-eminent place in mountaineering literature with an inexhaustible supply of talents, from Clifford Dent, Leslie Stephen and Coolidge to Sir Arnold Lunn, Walt Unsworth and Galen Rowell, it does seem a pity that the early sahibs of the Himalayan Club should have been so pukka as to overlook the local contributions of Indian travellers. For example the explorations of Swami Pranavananda and his guide to Kailash Manasarover are not in the library. Nor is Swami Anand's account of crossing Kalindi Khal (19,500 ft) with a naked ascetic in tow. (Steady on chaps!) In a sense the library is a relic of the Raj, though a better description would be legacy.

Some of the more poetic (and prolific) authors like Whymper and Sir Martin Conway shrewdly exploited the mountains for name and fame ("For sale. Volcanic dust from Andes. Price a shilling and sixpence" Chamonix Guide 1902) while other reputedly hard-headed types like Finch and Abraham appear to have been a deal sincerer in their scientific approach. George Abraham as well as being a famous photographer must rank among the Alpine wits. He subtitled his Complete Mountaineer 'How not to break your neck by one who has tried/ Dent is another gifted author who writes with irresistible elegance and gusto, a cross between Sir Thomas Browne and Lewis Carroll. His use of page captions ('fragment of a highly coloured account; a sepulchral bivouac; pardonable digressions') is a habit that could be well revived.

Dent delights in pulling the legs of earnest ladies who are ennobled by the mountains and find the Lake district 'dreadfully sublime', and the air at 1,500 ft 'almost too thin to breathe*. One wonders what he would have made of Mrs Gandhi's foreword to Saser Kangri (1980): 'Up there in that rareflied air thoughts cannot help but soar over the mundane towards the eternal.' To bring us back to earth we need only quote Mumm, who after five months of it, sums up life at great heights succinctly: 'A general feeling of intense misery.’

Skiers not surprisingly have a more light-hearted approach to mountains than climbers. The Ski Club of India Annual (1946) gives a word of advice 'to prevent total destruction of luggage by Tanmarg coolies. 1. Take a good stiff peg of brandy ten minutes before arrival. 2. Keep a good stout stick and allow none of your luggage to be moved without prolific use of it.’

Apart from mountaineering and geographical journals the library has some natural history journals as well as a few wildlife classics, from an age when the gun and rod were acceptable symbols of the Himalayan sportsman. A Summer Ramble in the Himalaya (1860) by 'Mountaineer* was actually written by the colourful Raja Wilson of Harsil. Even then the snow leopard was considered 'very rare'.

Though the library records have suffered from its wanderings it is still possible to see how editors of the Himalayan Journal cut their contributors MSS. to size. Egos are painlessly pricked, 'assaults' are turned into 'attempts' and long purple sunsets are hustled quickly over the horizon. Another of the library's valuable records is a fine bit of mountaineering detective work contained in a monograph entitled Nilkanth Still Unclimbed? (1962) by Jagdish Nana-vati. This minute scrutiny of the confused and contradictory claims to that beautiful peak shows that for most men, climbing down when you've been proved wrong is even more difficult than climbing up. To the student of symbolism the intriguing fact is that the logo on the expedition brochure — an ice-axe embedded just below the peak — is in the place where Nanavati's calculations point. False claims apart, the library has no fiction in its catalogue though there are a few titles that have been gifted and remain unclassified. Hilton's Far Horizons and Godden's Black Narcissus both capture the essential mood of the Himalaya and should prove to be of lasting interest. Also Herge's Tin Tin in Tibet is a marvellous pictorial record of contemporary 'expedition’ Nepal.

Lastly, the library has been spared the scribbler in the margin, the reader who believes he knows more than the author does. The notable exception is in The Travels and Adventures of the Rev. Joseph Wolff (1860). Our copy has come via Emily Eliza Ponsford and then (1926) 'ACM', an inveterate margin-scribbler. 'He was a high if not Senior Wrangler. Bishop French of Lahore talked to me about him’. 'Bethune was de jure Earl of Lindsay and a cousin of my friend.' 'Colonel Taylor left his mark on Baghdad. I thought he might be a relative of the famous General who married my aunt.' The commentator appears to be in the wholesale name-dropping business and may be suffering from a 'Lloyd George Knew My Father' complex.

Due to its many moorings the library has suffered greatly from that other pest, the map-whipper. The situation hasn't been helped by India's extreme attitudes to maps. Those at the top appear hysterical when 'sensitive* areas are mentioned while total apathy characterizes the ordinary citizen. This cartophobia is of recent origins for the old hands of the Survey and Forest departments were made of sterner stuff.

Another bane to the librarian is the paper-clipper who marks his references but does not remove the metal clip, which rusts and disfigures the page. Then there are tracers-anonymous who bore into the original. At least they are more sociable than the whipper who takes them home on private, permanent loan.

Apart from gifts, about a dozen new titles are added annually, usually those books which have a lasting value, hopefully, in literary as well as subject matter. Because it's there, members are apt to overlook the pricelessriess of their collection. The library represents a remarkable labour of love, not only of the founding members but of those hon. librarians (and their assistants) who over the years have saved it from a variety of fates, including covetous glances and takeover bids from without, and philistinism from within: ('The club would be better off with a few slings and carabiners'). Lest we offend the strong feelings of the hard men we will concede that on the mountain, undoubtedly,

'Chang does more than Milton can
To justify God's ways with Man.'

P. R. Oliver (Himalayan Journal Vol. XVII)


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