Himalayan Journal vol.44
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.44

Publication year:
1988

Editor:
Soli S. Mehta
Index
  1. EDITORIAL
  2. MOUNTAINS AND RIVERS OF THE HIMALAYA: THEN AND NOW
    (JACK GIBSON)
  3. MEMORIES
    (MAVIS HEATH)
  4. ZHANGZI - AUTUMN, 1987
    (JOSS LYNAM)
  5. BRITISH XIXABANGMA Expedition, 1987
    (LT COL M. W. H. DAY)
  6. MENLUNGTSE, 1987
    (CHRIS BONINGTON)
  7. KINGDOM OF THE THUNDER DRAGON
    (S. K. BERRY)
  8. RATHONG, 1987
    (MAJOR K. V. CHERIAN)
  9. PANDIM - DIARY OF A WAR-TIME ESCAPADE
    (LORD JOHN HUNT)
  10. MAKALU
    (GLENN PORZAK)
  11. CHO OYU, 1987
    (Dr MAURICIO A. PURTO)
  12. KUMAON SECRETS
    (GEOFF HORNBY)
  13. FIRST ASCENT OF CHIRBAS PARBAT, 1986
    (INDRANATH MUKHERJEE)
  14. KALANAG EAST FACE EXPEDITION, 1986
    (W. J. POWELL)
  15. CHURDHAR MORE OF THE LESSER
    (WILLIAM MCKAY AITKEN)
  16. A RETURN TO LINGTI, 1987
    (HARISH KAPADIA)
  17. ASCENT OF KARCHA PARBAT, 1986
    (J. K. PAUL and S. N. DHAR)
  18. A TRYST WITH PHABRANG, 1987
    (ANIL KUMAR)
  19. BRITISH KISHTWAR EXPEDITION, 1986
    (BOB REID and EDWARD FARMER)
  20. CANADIAN KASHMIR HIMALAYAN
    (JOHN A. JACKSON)
  21. UNKNOWN SPITI: THE MIDDLE COUNTRY
    (HARISH KAPADIA)
  22. PICNIC ON A GLACIER -A KARAKORAM JOURNEY
    (STEPHEN VENABLES)
  23. THE GOLDEN PILLAR
    (A. V. SAUNDERS)
  24. PROBLEMS OF ACCURACY IN REPORTING MOUNTAINEERING
    (ELIZABETH HAWLEY)
  25. HIMALAYA-OUR FRAGILE HERITAGE
    (N. D. JAYAL)
  26. THE CONTINUING STORY OF THE HIMALAYAN CLUB
    (M. H. CONTRACTOR)
  27. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES
  28. IN MEMORIAM
  29. BOOK REVIEWS
  30. CORRESPONDENCE
  31. CLUB PROCEEDINGS, 1987

CHURDHAR MORE OF THE LESSER

WILLIAM MCKAY AITKEN

I HAVE LONG had a bone to pick with the editor of the Himalayan Journal for plugging the upper reaches of the Great Himalaya to the exclusion of almost all else. If the aim of the Himalayan Club is to extend knowledge of 'adjoining ranges' legally there is no way the editor can overlook the existence of the Lesser Himalaya no matter how mean he finds their contours or how measly their height. The trend to ignore lesser aspects of the range (not to mention avoidance of the brief to encourage 'science, art and literature*) is increasing in centimetre columns each year. Volume 43 of the HJ was entirely devoted to higher things and could have had for its motto 'life begins at 26,000 ft’ (or Up yours> depending on your point of view).1
As a corrective to the malady of bypassing the most fruitful parts of a mountain - the lower slopes where things grow, when the chain gang of porters* feet let them - I set out in April 1987 to have a look at the intriguing Himalayan feature called Churdhar. This is said to be the highest of the peaks of the Lesser range and assumes Guinness Book proportions when it also happens to be the highest peak nearest to the plains and the highest peak furthest from the permanent snow line. It’s name 'Churdhar* which means 'the ridge of the sweeper’ is also modified to ‘Chur Chandani’ referring to the moonlight glinting on the snow. Seen from the plains this mountain mass holds some snow for seven months of the year and confirmation.of its humble status before the feet of the distant abode of snow would no doubt be seconded by the HJ editor.

One can see ‘the Choor’ as the British used to call it, from Mussoorie and Shimla and from Chandigadh and Saharanpur. Standing near the watershed of the Sutlej-Yamuna, this area is rich in geological riddles and in fossil finds. Young and old rocks clash in a confusion of colour on the map of morphochronology. Travelling through the old princely state of Sirmur whose northern boundary the Sweeper guards is to pass from featureless foothills where good building stone is at a premium to a place where it is least required - on the Summit of Churdhar. Huge outcrops cf granite emulate the geology of the Great Himalaya. Most sources seem agreed that the summit crags are five feet under 12,000.

1. The editor takes the point, but offers no apologies since he remains at the "tender mercies of the authors who contribute the articles. He can aver that no contribution has been turned down because of its modest height and in fact the ihunt is on for the lesser known peaks of the ranges covered by the Journal - the problem lies with the climbers who have need to satisfy their egos, not with the poor editor who is perpetually on his knees begging for 'suitable' material.- Ed.

Finding information about how to reach the Choor was difficult to come by since it lies in an area little visited and less liked, judging by the fact that the Himalayan Car Rally tried the Hari-purdhar run in 1986 and found it too grisly for self-respecting vehicles to repeat. The bus I took from Dadahu and the steep mountain road to Haripur had not been matched and either the chassis of the former needed to be shortened or the bends of the latter widened. At a point halfway where a truck had been standing in the middle of the road blocking the way for four days, I met a party of local medical officers which seemed appropriate for the high risk rate in which the bus passengers stood of getting heart attacks. Bhattoo had already scared me with the evils of the way by suggesting I read Goldilocks and the Three Bears before setting up the final ridge. Major Ahluwalia (who was apparently Lieutenant White in a former incarnation) also came up with a heartstopping account of crossing the Chur in the 1820's with 'respiration on the very eve of suspension’.2
The only sensible account seemed to emanate from Yadavindra Public School whose Chandigadh branch supplied me with mileages and a map which showed that White was wrong in believing Churdhar marked the Indus-Ganges watershed. In fact it lies east of the Giri, which rising at the roots of Hathu circumvents the Chur and joins the Yamuna not far from its meeting with the Tons, which drains the other flanks of the massif. I also learned that it was the founder of YPS, Maharaja Yadavindra Singh of Patiala who invented the sport of white water running on this same stretch of the Giri. What began as 'lilo-baji' in the 1920's reached fruition in 1959 in a fullfledged rubber dinghy expedition down the Giri to Dadahu in the monsoon.

The Chur according to Lt White 'is the most lofty eminence belonging to the secondary Himalaya, running south of the great snowy range and from whatever point it may be seen forms a grand and prominent object, towering majestically amid a host of satellites.' I had been intrigued by White's sketches of the temple architecture of the surrounding villages and wondered if this style had survived 150 years of earthquakes, progress and the urge to say it with cement. By one of those delightful flukes the person I plonked down next to in the bus happened to be from the last village on the approach to Churdhar from the northern face. Having gained a height at Haripur only a few thousand feet short of the summit I felt my stomach sink as the bus wound its way back down to Baggi on the embryonic road to Chaupal. That left us with a steep pull up to the village of Kanda-Banah which we didn't reach, despite all my cursing in the dark, till 9 at night.

2. See Eternal Himalaya by H. P. S. Ahluwalia, major part of the book includes
full text of the travels of George Francis White in .1825. See p. 185, 'Crossing the
Choor Mountain'.-Ed.

That night I looked gloomily across at the lights of Mussoorie which seemed just 15 minutes away, though I had left them a full three days ago for the endless tortured scream of bus engines which if translated into passenger shared feelings would read bloody hell! Next morning I was thrilled to look down and see White's village just below the forest bungalow, recognisable from the temple.

A villager crossing the ridge agreed to put me on it. I could make out the top of Churdhar above the thick tiers of conifer by the streaks of snow in the gullies. We must have been some 4000 ft from the top which the villagers placed at a distance of 10 miles. I soon learned why. Within two hours of setting out I was gasping on the ridge with the steepest part of the climb over and only 2000 ft to go. One could enunciate a (lesser) mountaineering law from this experience. 'For those who wish to ascend vertically in the shortest possible time compatible with future progress on a less inclined plane, take as your companion a hungry villager desperate to reach home for his morning meal.'

It was a marvellous place to be on a marvellous morning. For the first time I saw the full beauty of Swargarohini and what the local school master called the 'backside' of Bandarpunch. The angle of the latter's pyramids effectively cut off the eastern panorama of Garhwal depriving me of the Bhagirathi Sisters (peaks) two of whom White lists in their imperial incarnation as St George and St Patrick. Left to the missionary mentality of some early surveyors we might have had the Himalaya renamed as the Indian Alps.

The easy ridge I followed up was littered with full grown trees capsized by the wind. The stick I picked up wasn't needed, for the only living thing I saw was a jackal on the way up and a monal on the descent to Nahura (Naura) on the south side of the mountain. I reached the temple around midday and resisted offers of food from the pujari since I wanted to get to the top before the clouds came down. A large dharmshala proves that the temple is very popular with local pilgrims but access from the south is not possible till May. Normally snow clogs the northern approaches but on the Chur the temple has been placed nearly 1000 ft below the top.

So far everything had been too good to be true and I wondered why everyone had advised me not to underestimate the Chur. Now there were deep snowfields which by midday had become unpleasantly soggy. Escaping to the granite crags meant an energetic detour with scraped knees since I was dressed only in shorts and tee shirts. By 1 p.m. I had made it to the cairn on top surmounted by a large cement image of $hiva to take the peak into the 12,000 ft league. Shimla lay to the northwest and a glitter of water to the southwest may have indicated Chandigadh. Everywhere the ridges of the Lesser range seemed arid, almost dessicated. This was in contrast to the superb forests around the feet of the Chur. In all directions thick conifer stands plunged down to the Giri and the Tons and above them all stood this impressive head of granite.

It was while thinking that the summit reminded me more of the Greater than the Lesser (Himalaya) that I looked down to discover my retreat over to the south side of the mountain. I gulped as I saw no route, just a circling sweep of very steep and very virgin snow. Quickly I tried to work out a line between linking outcrops of rock that would get me to the rhododendron bushes that offered some braking power to the involuntary glissades my tread-less footwear invited. The black clouds that threatened fortunately were not serious and after a lot of hysterical scrabbling and embarrassing impalements I was able to extricate myself with self-respect not entirely in tatters.

Suddenly from the cold unfriendly mood of the snow one was back among growing things and a scintillating mauve rhododendron was the next best thing to a victory trumpet. Once on the broad trail to Nahura it seemed only an idiot could get lost and I felt J had answered enough challenges for one day. Then the well-defined path dissolved into an unused trail. It took a whole kilometre of descent to accept that I was lost. As I sweated back up I enunciated another law for lesser altitudes: 'Bewilderment is the natural son of optimism., Cursing my way back to the point of confusion I sat and counted up to the prescribed number for dismissing folly. Then weighing carefully the navigational evidence, was poised to plunge entirely in the wrong direction when I heard a call. The very first Gujjar of the season had arrived to save me crashing down through thick jungle to the Giri. Pointing out a bald ridge to the southeast he urged me not to waver one inch from its line. Within an hour I descended quite literally on to the roof of a shop in Nahura. There I was told that plans were afoot to keep the Gujjars out and make the Chur a musk-deer park. From Kanda-Banah J had walked 26 miles and proved to my own satisfaction that Churdhar was in more ways than one a chip off the old (and Greater) block.