ELUSIVE SUMMITS. Four expeditions in the Karakoram. By Victor Saunders. Pp. 191, 19 colour illustrations, 9 maps, 1990. (Hodder and Stoughton, London, £ 14.95).
One subjects that authors of climbing books hold a secret desire to experience a dramatic event in their career providing a story to stir the hearts and minds of readers beyond the boundary of their climbing circle. From Edward Whymper onwards there are some who have succeeded. But all too often a book has been considered - justified provided it deals with a large enough mountain. The initial impressions that emerge from this book are that it is about lesser-known mountains and that it is devoid of drama. Thus it is by other criteria that it must stand or fall.
There are four mountains involved in four visits to the Karakoram over a period of seven years. Nearly all four are somewhat off the 'popular' tracks : two of them are over 7300 m high and a third just makes the 7000 m category; only one summit was reached.
The four parts into which the book is divided stand as separate narratives, with a perceptible shift in style growing from the first venture in 1980 to the last climb in 1987. The expeditions are all formed amongst friends many belonging to the same cabalistic group in north London, and the size of the parties never exceeds 6 climbers, — a demonstration of the lightweight style of expedition predicted 40 years ago by Eric Shipton once all the Himalayan giants had been climbed, — a style which even today is practised by a minority.
Since it is the approach to the mountains and the quality of the climbing that really matter it is by these criteria that the book must be judged, and by frankness and simplicity in the writing, bringing to life people and events. That the book fulfils these conditions is exemplified by a statement about the objectives of an expedition 'to climb the mountain, to have a good time, whatever that may mean; to return unharmed. In reverse order of importance.' (p. 55) And by another about the 'success' of an expedition. 'I began to debate the value of it all... we are driven to reach for goals but we can learn no lessons from them. There is no pot of gold only the rainbow. I suppose it's because we live in an achievement-orientated society.' (p. 182)
The routes chosen on all 4 mountains required climbing of a high technical standard and were tackled mostly Alpine-style. On the 1980 expedition to Uzum Brakk (6422 m) the need, after 4 weeks of effort, to forego the summit only 25 above, might not have arisen had the start npt been delayed by the valiant rescue of a trapped Japanese climber. The attempt in 1984 on Bojohaghur Duanasir (7328 m) was marred by a series of untoward events, many perhaps arising from treating a serious objective too lightly. The route had been tried before mid rejected because of objective danger. The author and Phil Butler were out on a limb for 10 days following a deeply committing route. I he descent of which required a further 4 days. They were clearly overextended and were luckier than they seem to have realised to return unscathed. There is humility and strength in this account, a trifle marred by confusing nicknames of other companions who never really come to life. Part Three covers the Indo-British Rimo expedition in 1985. This has been described in detail elsewhere, and it is interesting to (ompare Stephen Venables' account with the narrative in this section which deals almost exclusively with the Venables-Saunders attempt on Rimo I (7385 m). It is clear that a growing respect is generated by each of them for the skills of the other on a difficult climb. The final part of the book is devoted to the first ascent of the NW face of Spantik (7027 m) in 1987 with Mick Fowler by a daring route conceived 3 years earlier on Bojohaghur. There is a first-rate account of this six-day (limb involving 5 bivouacs on the relentlessly steep face, faultlessly carried out in classic Alpine-style.
D.L.R. Lorimer, who published in 1935 two volumes on the Burushaski language, affirmed that Spantik is the name used by the people of Arandu on the eastern side of the mountain. The better known Hiimshaski name is Yengutz Har (which means nala, not Sar which means head) a name adopted by the Karakoram Conference in 1937 and used on the RGS map after Shipton's 1939 survey. The other name, by which the mountain is known in Nagar, from where it presents a striking appearance, is Ghenisch (meaning Golden, not Ganesh which has quite a different connotation) Chish (Mountain).
The book is well presented and easy to read. Each section is provided with an area map and a route sketch. The 19 colour photographs bound Into the centre of the volume are principally of descriptive merit, with Iwo notable exceptions. A short index is provided. Excepting those occasions when I found myself reaching out for a dictionary to identify words such as diabatic and katabatic, I enjoyed the book, I think largely because of the happy blend of a writing and climbing style that avoids (llehes and heroics, and seeks its own way in untried fields. The book was awarded the annual Boardman-Tasker prize in London on 16 October 1990.
EXPLORING THE HIDDEN HIMALAYA. By Soli Mehta and Harish Kapadia. Pp. 172,44 colour and 37 b/w illustrations, 13 maps, 1990. (The Himalayan Club, Hodder & Stoughton, London, £ 20).
Exploring the Hidden Himalaya opens up a treasury of peaks and Valleys in the Indian Himalaya. Quite a few are unclimbed, but beyond that there are countless ridges and faces just waiting to be pioneered. This book emphasises just how much is still to be done in the Himalaya. ' Whilst the 8000 m peaks have received intense attention and have almost as many routes upon them as the peaks of the European Alps, there are still many unclimbed peaks in the 6000 m range and plenty of unclimbed lines on those of 7000 m, particularly in the areas that have been or still are closed to climbers.
It certainly shows how much is still to be done in the Himalaya. Except for one or two very popular and accessible areas like the Gangotri and parts of Kulu, the exploratory mountaineer can still discover the pleasure of penetrating high glaciers that have never been touched before, make the first crossings of passes from one valley system to another or look around a cirque of which not a single ridge or face has been climbed. The text also shows just how active exploratory mountaineering is today at a time when speed or technical achievements on the 8000 m peaks tend to capture the attention of not only the general media but also the specialist climbing magazines.
The book covers each region of the Indian Himalaya from its eastern end in Assam to the far west of the Eastern Karakoram, giving a potted history of the climbing activity, describing the principal peaks and providing both maps and photographs to whet the appetite. The peaks of the Eastern Himalaya, guarded by dense rain forests and closed even to Indian teams both because of border tensions and conflict with the indigenous tribes, still have a fascinating mystery. Further to the west it is more easy to gain access but even here, within the Inner Line, it is difficult for foreign expeditions to get permission to climb, and consequently there are still many fascinating peaks awaiting an ascent.
The book is well illustrated and the text gives the climbing histories of each region in the full and factual form that one would expect from Soli Mehta and Harish Kapadia, who have done so much in the past years to establish the Himalayan Journal's importance as a reference work of Himalayan activity.
As editors of the prestigious Himalayan Journal, Soli Mehta (sadly now dead) and Harish Kapadia are well qualified to produce this extremely useful reference book dealing with the Indian Himalaya and the Karakoram east of the Gasherbrums, over which India has de facto control.
In defining the scope of their remit, the authors decided to avoid all the well publicized peaks and areas (8000-ers, Bhutan, Nepal, most of the Karakoram), highlighting instead lesser known peaks and climbing areas, while also describing some of the newer, challenging routes up 11 it1 more famous peaks. This decisian led them, conveniently, to cover llie 6000- to 7000- m peaks of India, areas with which they were personally especially acquainted. In fact, Harish Kapadia was leader of several of the expeditions described and the book contains many of Nil photographs.
Illustrated Note 1:
Viewing Lhotse and Everest from Makalu la (7400 m). An Indonesian expedition led by Alriansyah attempted Makalu (8463 m) three times in May 1990. but failed. They followed the route from the MaUalu la.
Illustrated Note 2:
A four-member French team led by Pierre Neyret attempted the north face of Gangapurna (7455 m) in October 1990. The face was climbed only once before, by Yugoslavs on 1 October 1989 (led by Frank Pusnik). French team followed their route and fixed ropes for 1000 m. Cold and fatigue defeated their attempts. ----French route 1990 ----Yugoslav route 1989
Illustrated Note 3:
Many teams attempted Manaslu (8163 m) by the northeast face in pre-monsoon 1990. Two Americans and Sherpa were killed. A Swiss expedition led by Dominique Neuenschwander attempted to climb the peak and to descend by direct east face by ski extreme, leader's speciality. However, they could not reach the summit.
Illustrated Note 4:
Shiva (6142 m) is a beautiful peak on Lahul-Zanskar divide. Going from Manali-Purthi (road). Sach — Parmar — Ketal Jot, BC was established at the southern foot. On 20-21 August 1990 two attempts were made by the west glacier and west ridge which failed. This Indian team from Howrah was led by Sanat Kumar Ghosh.
The areas covered are : Sikkim and the Assam peaks east of Bhutan (2 sections); Kumaon and Garhwal (5 sections); Kinnaur; Spiti; Kulu and Lahul; Kishtwar; Kashmir, Ladakh and Zanskar (3 sections); Eastern Karakoram. A general map locates the individual section maps, all of which are clear and comprehensive, at an estimated average scale dl 6 miles to the inch. The numerous photographs are almost all excellent. The book is written on historical lines with ample supporting hihliographical references, mostly to the Himalayan Journal.
The authors describe the general topography and access routes in each section and indicate areas of virgin peaks and opportunities for new routes. The Indian frontier area with China has been, for many ye,irs, so politically sensitive that a lot of it has been out of bounds In all climbers except armed forces' expeditions. Many of the ascents made by members of the Indo-Tibet Border Police have not been recorded, other than that they took place, lists being published from time to time. This position is gradually being relaxed although only a small part of western Sikkim is presently open, for instance. The Nanda Devi sanctuary is currently closed for a quite different reason — conservation. Understandably perhaps, the authors do not mention the Irlction between some expeditions and the Indian Army in the Eastern Karakoram in recent years, or the fact that artillery battles occasionally lake place up and down the Siachen glacier.
There are, a few mistakes in the Index; also the varying size of the lections has resulted in some problems of layout, e.g. the Nanda Devi lext is 35 pages away from its map; also the Saser Kangri map appears 16 pages in front of the other Karakoram map.
This book sets out to answer the enthusiastic climbers desire to know where to go and what to climb. Within its parameters it does I his admirably.
THE PUNDITS. British exploration of Tibet and Central Asia. By Derek Waller. 9 b/w illustrations, 9 maps, 1990. (The University Press of Kentucky, Kentucky, price not stated).
This book is a detailed description of the exploration of Tibet and Central Asia carried out under the British. It is a work of wide research and scholarship. My only complaint is that references to authorities is not at the foot of pages, but in 29 pages at the end of the book involving continuous page turning. A large number of these references are to Colonel Phillimore, the fifth of whose volumes of Historical Records of the Survey of India I passed on to the Royal Geographical Society (RGS).
Waller tells the story of the exploration and mapping of much of Tibet and Central Asia, work mainly carried out by or under the direction of the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India (GTS) which in 1879 combined with the Topographical and Revenue Surveys to become the single Survey of India. The routes used by explorers are shown on maps.
A great problem was the penetration of areas beyond British India by Europeans. Eventually, to solve this, largely under the influence of Thomas Montgomerie, Indians were trained, first io measure distances by counting the number of measured paces they took, then latitude and rough longitudes, and to keep records of the country and peoples through which they passed. As a disguise, the people who did this were known as Pundits whether Hindu or Muslim. They had to go disguised as they were actually spies and the countries in which they worked had no desire that they should be known about by other peoples. They gathered the information the GTS wanted and political intelligence for the Government of India. Much of their work was done at heights of over 5000 m in temperatures well below freezing.
I believe that the most useful review of a book of which you think highly is an account of what is in it by chapters, so here is one.
Chapter 1. 'The Great Trigonometrical Survey of India' is a general introduction to early exploration and the considerable number of Europeans, many missionaries, who visited Tibet and Central Asia in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and of the East India Company's desire to trade. Then comes an account of the early surveys of India under Lambton, Everest, the bicentenary of whose birth is being celebrated as I write this by the Survey of India, and of others, leading to the employment of the Pundits and their training by British officers of the GTS which has been described as 'a combination of native enterprise directed by British intelligence.'
Chapter 2. 'First Attempts : Abdul Hamid and Nain Singh' is a more detailed description of how the Pundits were trained. There is some repetition for instance in the use of prayer wheels to store information, and the counting of beads to remember the number of paces. Indeed there are repetitions throughout the book, but they enable you to read a chapter without having to read all that went before. Hamid died on his way back from Yarkand, but his instruments and papers were recovered and proved to be of great importance. Nain Singh was a Hliotia from northern Kumaon who tsaded with Western Tibet. He was luiown by his code name 'the Pundit' or schoolmaster, was a man of extraordinary determination and became perhaps the most famous of the Indian explorers. His journey to Lhasa and stay there, taking 17 months is described.
Chapter 3. 'Across the Northwest Frontier : The Mirza, the Havildar. ,ind the Mullah' starts with a history of "The Great Game' — the competition with Russia — and describes a part of it. Exploration is carried out, not by Hindu Pundits, but by Muslim speakers of Pushtu, and Montgomerie informed the RGS of his attempts to extend I'xploration northwards into the great blank between the Himalaya, Russia, and China. The account of Mirza's adventure to Kashgar ends s.idly with his murder. The Havildar visited Swat, Dir, Chitral and Yasin — of great interest to me as I have been in that area. The Mullah or Icirned man journeyed from Peshawar, across the Hindu Kush and K.irakoram by the Baroghil pass to Walchan, Yarkand, Leh and back to Peshawar.
Chapter 4. 'To Tibet and Beyond: The Singh Family' starts with some account of information that had been collected by explorers and sportsmen in earlier days and by Nain Singh in the mid eighteen sixties on his famous journey to Lhasa. By now Montgomerie had decided to complete the map of Western Tibet. To do this Naini, Nain and Kalian (known as Pundit GK) set out in 1867. Later Kishan Singh, known as AK, another relative of Nain, joined them, and the chapter describes their awfuLhardships and marvellous journeys. Nain Singh's (1874-5) from Leh tei'Lhasa by a northerly route of 1405 miles was his last great journey and when it was considered for a goid medal by the RGS there was some dispute whether it should go to him for his explorations or to Captain Trotter, who had succeeded Montgomerie, for his planning, interpretation of the collected information, and publication of the results. The medal went to Nain Singh. AK's last expedition covered 2800 miles and took him 4&frac; years. When he and his companion finally returned to Darjeeling, General Walker, Superintendent of the GTS, reported that they 'arrived in a condition bordering on destitution, their funds exhausted, their clothes in rags, and their bodies emaciated with the hardships and deprivations they had undergone.'
Chapter 5. 'The Forsyth Missions to Yarkand and Kashgar' tells how the Chinese had lost control over Chinese Turkestan and the Indian Government was on the look out for increased trade under the new ruler Yakub Beg. In 1870 T.D. Forsyth, a Commissioner of the Punjab government, was invited by Yakub Beg to visit Yarkand, but nothing came of this mission as Yakub Beg was away fighting. A second mission from Leh northwards the Kashgar in 1873 was accompanied, as geographer, by Captain Trotter of the GTS who took with him Abdul Subhan, code name 'The Munshi' and other Muslim Pundits to map to the west, while Nain, AK and GK were to go eastwards through the desert Takla Makan, and back to India via Lhasa. The geographic and scientific information collected was of much greater value than the mission's commercial achievements. India was as suspicious of Russian moves as Russia was of the British.
Chapter 6. 'Around Everest and Kanchenjunga: Hari Ram and Rinzing Namgyal' starts with a description of Nepal, an account of the trade with and through it to Tibet and China, and various wars. The difficulties of learning its geography, because of its fear of foreigners, were as great as those in Tibet. Various British Residents and their military escorts were able to map some areas and establish the great heights of the Himalaya; but by 1870, except around Kathmandu, there was little knowledge of the country, and it was decided to use Pundits to learn more in secret. Between 1871 and '86 Hari Ram, again from Kumaon (code name MH), pretending to be a doctor, explored from Lake Manasarowar along the Tsangpo to Shigatse north of Nepal and south of Lhasa. He was one of the first people to make a complete circuit of Everest and his route survey of 844 miles gave new information on an area of 30,000 square miles. Rinzing Namgyal (RN), working in East Nepal, made a great contribution to British knowledge of the Kangchenjunga area and completed the map of Sikkim. In 1886 he was sent to try to discover whether the Tsangpo of Tibet flowed into the Brahmaputra or the Irrawaddy — of which more in Chapter 8. In 1889 he accompanied Freshfield in the first complete circuit of Kangchenjunga by Europeans. He was the only Pundit to visit England.
Chapter 7. 'A Hardy Son of Bengal', a title describing S. C. Das, is from a poem by Colman Macaulay, an official of the Bengal government. Das was highly educated and very different from the other Pundits and Waller writes a rather charming account of how he became .1 surveyor and went to Tibet with a fellow schoolmaster, Ugyan Gyatso ,1 brother-in-law of Rinzing Namgyal. They were there in 1879 and 1881 and made friends with the Prime Minister to the Panchan Lama at Tashilhunpo who arranged for Das to visit Lhasa where he made Iriends with a number of Tibetans and collected important information. However, rumours went round that he was a British agent and he returned to Darjeeling. The discovery of what Das had been doing Increased Tibetan determination to exclude travellers and those who had befriended him were punished horribly, including the Prime Minister of Tashilhunpo. After this, Das gave up exploration but continued to. help the Indian Government. He was rewarded with a C.I.E. and made a Rai Bahadur. The chapter ends with an account of the life and work of Ugyan Gyatso who was also made a Rai Bahadur.
Chapter 8. 'The Tsangpo-Brahmaputra Controversy: Lala, Ncm Singh and Kintup' : a long and complicated chapter with many long notes of importance at the end of the book. In the eighteenth century European geographers were greatly interested in how the Tsangpo of Tibet reached the sea. The great difficulty for European explorers was not only Tibet's attempts to keep them put, but also, at times, the bitter hostility of certain tribes and almost impassable forests between Assam and Tibet; so by 1870 the Survey of India decided to use Assamese in the same way as the Pundits. However, there was great difficulty in training them and Nain Singh was called on. He reached the Tsangpo from Lhasa but had to return from Chetang. Then Lala, n hill man from north of Dehra Dun, did useful work but, imprisoned several times by the Tibetans, could not get further down stream than Nain Singh. In 1878 Captain Harman measured the flow of three rivers, tributaries of the Brahmaputra that could connect the Tsangpo with it nnd found that of the Dihang much the greater. He then sent Nem Singh (GNM) to Chatang. Some 287 miles down river he was halted by mountains and going that was too difficult, but the local people told him that the river flowed on to a land ruled by the British, and if it joined the Dihang there remained only about 100 miles unsurveyed, I lowever, there were supporters of the theory that the Tsangpo joined I lie Irrawaddy and at meetings of the RGS in London there were bitter disputes. In 1880 Harman sent Kintup (KB), a Sikkimese, and a Chinese lama to try to follow the river into Assam. If this proved impossible, he was to throw marked logs into the river. A watch was to be kept to see if they floated down the Dihang. They reached a place beyond which they were given to understand the river fell over a 150 ft high cliff, and for£6me years to come people expected to find a great waterfall there. From here Kintup and the lama had to turn north and suffered one disaster after another. The lama deserted Kintup and sold him as a slave. In 1882 he escaped, only to become a slave again; but he managed to throw marked logs into the river. Unhappily none were retrieved as the letter reporting this to Harman never reached him. Kintup got back after four years but had been forgotten and it was another two years before he reported all he had achieved and was rewarded with Rs. 3000. Meanwhile, in 1885 Rinzing Namgyal (RN) was sent from Darjeeling through Bhutan, but could not cross into Tibet. He travelled for part of the time with a Bhotia Pundit named Phurba (PA) and they brought back important information about Bhutan. For the next ten years or so there were further expeditions that failed to gather and absolute proof of where the Tsangpo flowed eventually. Of these expeditions those of Bailey — eight pages of the book are of particular interest to me as Bailey was a friend of my father and I knew him as a youngster. He was able to show that Kintup's report, though made from memory four years after his journey, was reasonably accurate, and the fact that the Tsangpo joined the Brahmaputra via the Dihang was finally established.
Chapter 9. 'Questions of Secrecy' explains again why the Government of India, fearful of upsetting other countries and of giving useful information to Russia, tried to insist on secrecy, or at least not giving away too much about the work of the Pundits : why they had code names, how they were disguised, how they measured distances, how they recorded information in prayer wheels, and how they concealed their surveying instruments. On the other hand the officers of the GTS felt that their work and that of the Pundits should be known about and win the admiration and credit it deserved. So, much exploration was reported to the RGS and recorded in its Journals and in other publications such as The Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. Geographers of different countries were glad to exchange information. Walker, the Surveyor General, was nearly dismissed for publishing matter he had been instructed by the government to keep secret.
Chapter 10. 'Conclusion' gives again some account of European attempts to penetrate Tibet and Central Asia and sums up the work of the Pundits: how in 30 years, from 1863 to '93, they explored places where Europeans could not venture, or only at great risk, and how their journeys covered more than 25,000 miles in an area of over 1,000,000 square miles. The final sentence of the book is .. .the work of these lonely spies.... must receive a place of honor (American spelling) second to none.'
VERRIER ELWIN PHILAINTHROPOLOGIST. Selected Writing. Edited by Nari Rustomji. Pp. 385, 21 b/w illustrations, 66 sketches, 1989. (North Eastern Hill University Publications, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, Rs 275).
I was once introduced at a cocktail party to the wife of a British Colonel as an anthropologist. We sat down together on a sofa but I noticed that the lady squeezed herself into a corner as far away as possible and kept shooting furtive glances at me. Presently, however, after she had strengthened herself with three pink gins, she leant over and in a confidential and slightly guilty whisper asked me, 'Tell me, Dr Elwin, is anthropology very prevalent in your district? (p. 18).
Dr Verrier Elwin narrates this incident to show the extent of the ignorance about the subject of anthropology during the days of the Raj. But, at least for the mountaineers, even in the present days the same Ignorance prevails. How many of us would know about the village-folks we meet on the way, our porters and their life styles, customs and rituals of the area we visit or their crafts ? That's where lies the Importance of the likes of Verrier Elwin.
The present volume is a collection of Dr Elwin's writings, from a number of his books that are out of print. It tells us about the man and his work. Dr Elwin came to India in 1927 and was drawn to Mahatma Gandhi and his ideals. In fact he was so involved in Gandhiji's Ireedom movement against the British Raj that after a visit to Britain lie was refused a return passport to India by the Secretary of State for India, Sir Samuel Hoare. Dr Elwin had to give an undertaking not to take part in politics or meet persons associated with the movement. He loved his work with the poor of India so much that very reluctantly lie agreed to do so and returned.
Although some of my friends, notably C. F. Andrews, thought I was wrong, Gandhiji himself approved, and I remember Sir Francis Younghusband was good enough to say a few years later; 'I will always be grateful to Sam Hoare for one thing at least that he forced Elwin from politics to poetry (p. 13).
But apart from poetry Dr Elwin had returned to work for the tribal people of India. First for almost a decade it was with the people of Central Provinces, particularly Bastar. His writings and studies here were acknowledged. After a few forays to Orissa, he reached the North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA). The whole region was totally unknown asd feared. Dr Elwin brought the area of Assam, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh to knowledge. To him these tribals were teachers and human beings who were well organised and deeply religious. He travelled widely in the foothills of the Himalayan ranges here and visited the remote places, something that would be difficult for well equipped parties even today. These thick forests are difficult to travel, the rains and flies spread diseases and some tribes were hostile. His work and travel to Tawang, Se la pass and near the Burmese border is now legendary, so much so that anyone talking of NEFA has to remember Verrier Elwin. His understanding of the culture, problems and traditions of NEFA, if followed today would solve the long standing political animosity between people of that region and the rulers in Delhi.
A glimpse of all these are portrayed in the well selected articles in this book. Some of his poems and a detailed bibliography gives a full insight and reference to his work. This introduction to Dr Elwin will be certainly useful to all interested in these aspects of the Himalaya. It includes many drawings and photographs.
All along Roy Hawkins of the Oxford University Press was the publisher for Verrier Elwin and he pays tributes to Hawk. The dedications of Britishers like them have made many aspects of India come alive. The present editor of the book, Nari Rustomji, pays rich tributes to both.
Dr Elwin s anthropology was so humane and benefactory to the people he studied that A. H. Quiggin called it 'Philanthropology'. In his last book before his death in 1964. The Tribal World of Verrier Elwin. Dr Elwin outlined his philosophy.
Now. feeling as I did. when I first went to live in the tribal hills of India, with my Wordsworth, my T.S. Eliot, my Blake and Shakespeare burning like torches in my little mud house, it was natural that I should look about me for poetry. And I soon found it. for amongst these gentle and romantic tribal people, poetry jumps out at you. It is there everywhere, in their eyes, on their lips, even in some of their actions. And so now poetry became, from something external to be admired, part of me. a personal possession and whatever I have done in the name of poetry comes from the work I have done with my tribal poet-friends.
Illustrated Note 5:
An Indo-Polish expedition led by S. P. Chamoli attempted Nanda Devi East (7434 m) from the east. The expedition was organised to celebrate 50 years (1939 1989) of the first ascent by the Polish team. The team was delayed due to political changes in Poland, porter problems and bad weather. It reached the Longstaff Col (5910 m) on 7 September 1989 (left photo) and little above towards the main peak, (above). Photos: S. P. Chamoli
Illustrated Note 6:
The Indian Mountaineering Foundation expedition led by S. P. Chamoli climbed Swargarohini II (6247 m) — 4th ascent, and III (6209 m) — 2nd ascent, both on 9 June 1990. Their route followed on SW ridge (above photo) to a camp at foot of Peak III. After climbing Peak III, they traversed to Peak II, both on the same day. Peak 1 (6252 m) is to further right. Photo: (above — from Bali Pass, by Harish Kapadia)
(below — by S. P. Chamoli)
HIGH ASIA. An illustrated history of the 7,000 metre peaks. By Jill Neate. Pp. 213, 58 colour and 53 b/w illustrations, 59 maps, 1989. (Unwin Hayman, London £ 25).
Ten years ago Joydeep Sircar prepared a much awaited Himalayan Handbook which won him legions of friends in climbing circles but at the cost of severe strains on his personal life. Anyone who has been rash enough to take on the mantle of indexer knows the thanklessness ill the labour involved, which is why many modern books dispense with what the serious reader considers the most important listing. Now Jill Neate has furthered Joydeep's study (paying him a handsome tribute) and produced a real corker of a reference book every bit as exciting as its subject. Nowadays we all think twice about acquiring books that read once lie fallow — to remind us that impetuous fashions cost dearly. With this illustrated dictionary of peaks intelligently compiled and arrestingly laid out you can keep dipping into it till the yaks come home.
For the first time most of us will be confronted by names that had seemed doomed forever to be hidden in forbidden ranges like the Kun I un and Tien Shan. Now at last we get all the information so far scattered in out of print travellers books-neatly summarised, as for example, under the heading of that Kashgar challenge Muztagata (7546 in) made famous by attempts on it by Sven Hedin, Sir Aurel Stein ,md Shipton and Tilman. Four times Hedin had tried to ride to the top (on a yak). A photo of the great Swedish explorer and a box insert enumerating his travels adds to the value of this book. However, allowances have to be made for the compiler's adopted politics; she has taken over the messianic view of imperial orthodoxy. The remarkable achievements of W. H. Johnson, a maverick ' country - born' surveyor are inevitably cut down to size and British historians jeer at this genuine successor to Marco Polo with the title 1 Corporal Johnson'. By contrast the British born Tom Longstaff whose racist-prone temperament was typical of the climbing establishment is played up as a mighty traveller. Similarly the travels of the Schlagintweit lirothers from Bavaria are dismissed airily as 'over ground already covered'. Compare this with John Keay's assessment (When Men and Mountains Meet) 'In the history of Himalayan exploration they deserve the fullest treatment."
Since almost all mountain literature happens to be in English, it is Inevitable that the crude distortions of Anglocentric vision are constant defects objective readers have to guard against. Incidentally the lady editor has also compiled a superb reference work on mountain literature. If her inherited bias towards the 'missionary' aspect of Himalayan endeavour could be corrected, her second book would join the first In its reputation for being unbeatable. Joydeep Sircar dedicated his book to the three heroic Sherpas who sacrificed their lives for selfish Sahibs on K2. Jill Neate on the other hand overlooks to credit Shipton and Tilman's three Sherpas for getting them into and out of Nanda Devi Sanctuary. 'They (the two Sahibs) made a hazardous exit via the Sunderdhunga Khal' she writes, forgetting to mention that the route had been cracked by the Sherpas.
However, these are minor grumbles in a book that is bigger than the pettiness of prima donna climbers and narcissism of exhibitionist gold medal explorers. Inspite of the materialist urge of the European ethic to reduce the mountains to man's sporting whims, these 400 peaks sailing far beyond human aspirations, bring home the Himalayan reality that such ennobling forces of nature exist to be worshipped as well as to be measured. The photographs are outstanding and the route sketches most useful, though the newer areas open to climbers in Tibet obviously are not given in much detail. For years I had been wanting to find more about 'Amne Machen', which some reports suggested might be higher than Everest. In fact the peak turned out to be in the piddling 6000 m league. Apparently its imposing lines and boosted reference in the National Geographic magazine appealed to the Texan spirit of exaggeration and the myth was floated that it stood 9000 m high. American pilots flying 'the Hump' deliberatively fuelled the hoax and it was not until 1960 that the Chinese confirmed the peak's modest credentials.
If would be ungallant in the face of so much excellence to quibble over misplaced names. Indian political purists will be annoyed to find 'NEFA' still in existence (in the end-map) but delighted to discover that Namcha Barwa has become part of the Assam Himalaya. No one in such labours of love can be expected to get every detail right and surely the lesson of High Asia is the baffling amount of information we still do not know. Whatever its human slant, this book is sheer delight in introducing us to a magic gallery of mountain sculpture and art where old friends mix with new faces in a peak experience.
This is a reference book from an author who has written two books, Mountaineering and Its Literature and another on Mountaineering in the Andes. She has been active in mountain rescue in the Lake District, U.K. As the title suggests, the book covers 7000 metre peaks in Asia, from Amne Machen in eastern China to Pik Kommunizma in Russia; Bogdo Ola in northern China to Chomolhari in Bhutan, not to mention hosts of peaks in the Himalayan and Karakoram ranges. The book covers 400 known peaks in the span of 213 pages.
The first section compiles information on the mountains, in the order of their heights : Everest 8848 m to Saraghrar West 7000 m, mentioning the year of first ascent and the climbers who did it. Sub-sections are made under geographic regions of ASsam, Bhutan, Sikkim, East and West Nepal including Tibet, Kumaon and Garhwal, Western Himalaya, Greater and Lesser Karakoram, Hindu Kush, Pamirs, Tien Shan, China and Tibet. There is a useful list of General Bibliography, separate index on peaks and people. Each section has line maps, colour and black and white photographs as well as selected pictures of early explorers and climhers who had been active in the region. Kenneth Mason is erroneously mentioned as the first Honorary Secretary of the Himalayan Club.
The book has no pretense to be encyclopaedic. However, it is a useful reference book for one to have a quick scan of the vast ranges it covers. One would have welcomed as more informative contents in the maps than the simple position indicating maps of 7000 m peaks and regions.
CLIMBERS. By M. John Harrison. Pp. 221, 1989. (Victor Gollancz Ltd., London, £ 12.95).
In common with sailing, the sport of climbing abounds in fiction, lioth printed and of the oral tradition. Even more pertinent, climbing has perhaps spawned more literature than any other single sport. Moreover, in today's achievement-oriented ethos, there is a constant blurring between climbing fact and the climber's imagination, and understandably so, since the activity itself is fraught with subjectivity.
Climbers won the 1989 Boardman-Tasker Award for mountaineering literature and so the reader approaches the book with high expectations. In the past, the now legendary Ascent of Rum Doodle entertained the climbing fraternity at their own expense; so did efforts by the novelist John Masters, Dougal Haston and even a thriller by Trevanian (The Eiger Sanction). What makes the present book stand out is the fact that it is written by a very skilful craftsman of the language who has iniblished a number of novels and short stories in the past; he is also an active climber : the result of this synthesis is a superbly crafted work which brings out in iridescent form and detail the unique milieu of Britain's continuing climbing tradition : he brings to vibrant life its eccentric, fallible human characters. The climbing sequences are little cjems strewn about like sunny boulders on a flower-bedecked grassy meadow: the feel of the moment, the fears, trepidations, the panic, the pathos and comedy are frequently ignited by a nice turn of phrase : At the same time the rope ran out through the Sticht plate as if I had caught an enormous fish, and there was Sankey dangling upside down not very far from my head, gaping like a failed Peter Pan, with that passive unreadable expression fading from his eyes.' And again: 'All his runners had been nuts placed in poor rock or in situ channel pegs rusted to a gesture. The climber's yearnings come out unexpectedly in the text: 'Half seen outlines, half glimpsed possibilities; and to set against them, a desperate clarity of the air. Cerro Puntiagudo hung, with its snowfields like a feather necklace, in a sky blue enough to make your teeth ache.
The general style of the work is disjointed, very much in the modern idiom : a stream of consciousness whittled down to palatability. It reflects a phase of the protagonist's life: a sort of drifting among the crags, a drifting away from his wife, a sort of climber's limbo. Towards the end. this observation: '1 sat in the niche for a long time. I realised I didn't know any more than I had the last time 1 sat there. I didn't know anything about anything.' What more can one ask of a work of fiction in this anxious age ?
FOOTLOOSE-IN THE HIMALAYA. By Mike Harding. Pp. 242, 158 colour illustrations, 6 maps, 1989. (Michael Joseph, London, £ 16.95).
The author, although a beginner to trekking in the Himalaya has put forth radical views about the entire Himalayan scene in a humorous and pleasant narrative. During the course of his trek in India and Nepal, the author seems to have developed a deep understanding of the cultural and religious background of the Himalayan people.
With his remarkable photographic skills and excellent descriptions, with a charming sense of humour, he effectively portrays the Himalayan wilderness, with its mountains, rivers, forests and of course its people.
Landing at Delhi, the author gets the taste of the Indian bureaucratic set up when he tries to retrieve his misplaced baggage. Arriving in Darcha via Manali, Mike and his wife Pat begin their trek over the well trodden Shingo la to Padam. After some initial high altitude sickness problems, they get on their way. Nearing Padam in Zanskar the detailed historical background, descriptions of the villages and monasteries encountered enroute emphasise the author's avid interest in people besides enjoying the scenic beauty of the Himalaya.
From Padam they take the road to Leh in Ladakh and while marvelling at the remarkable zeal of road engineering by the Indian army are at etnee filled with fascination.
The next stage of travel is in Nepal where he teams up with John Thornicroft of Central T.V. working on a film on the massive deforestation and ecological imbalance evident in the foothills of the Nepalese Himalaya.
Here while covering the two most frequented trails. the Pokhara-Ghorapani trek and the Eve*rest base camp trek, he realizes that most of the environmental damage is brought about by the ever increasing tourists to these mountains.
He also encounters many westerners who have settled here and working with the villagers to reduce the extent of damage and work towards afforestation.
His aversion of the so called modern trekkers is to the point ol deploring them as they show scant respect for the local people or their customs.
While mingling freely with the local villagers and the monks of the various monasteries enroute and participating in their festivals, the book generates in the reader a sense of participation in the day to day life of these people.
Although stricken by the 'Delhi-Belly' during almost the entire trek, he makes it to the top of Kala pathar opposite Everest to have a glimpse of the panorama of the peaks of that region.
The author has somehow developed the feeling that most, if not all. western trekkers (except for very few, including himself) are unaware of the intricacies of the Himalayan trekking and are arrogant towards the native which is unfair. On one hand he seems to propagate the benefits that commercialization would bring to the locals ,on the other hand he does not want the ill-effects of modernization, all this is somewhat confusing and difficult to comprehend. Where is the 'golden mean' ? Also some spellings of different places mentioned in the book are erroneous for e.g. 'Dharsa' which should have been Darcha, Keylong not 'Kyelong', etc. One expects such accuracy from an author like Harding. Although the author's fascination with the Gompas and monasteries of India and Nepal is sometimes repetitive but overall its an enlightening and engrossing journey.
FROM HEAVEN LAKE. Travels through Sinkiang and Tibet. By Vikram Seth. Pp. 178, 19 b/w illustrations, 1 map,1990. (Penguin Books, New Delhi, paperback Rs 60).
This book is based on the journal the author kept whilst travelling from Xinjiang and Gansu in the northwestern desert, the basin and plateau of Qinghai and Tibet.
The heat of Turfan, an oasis town of the desert province of Xingiang, proves distressfully overpowering even for one accustomed to the high temperatures ot the northern Indian plains. Vikram Seth, then a foreign student doing research in economic demography at Nanjing University, is disinclined to bear either the heat or the stifling officialdom, in whose web he is caught. There seems no scope to make a dream — of visiting Tibet — come true. An unexpected involvement in a roadside entertainment show, where the author treats the squatting audience to a song from film Awara. helps him to hop out of the rigid itinerary, and he manages to get a pass endorsed for a trip to Lhasa. Thence, every move is unplanned, and he bounces from crisis to crisis as he makes his way by the most unconventional methods through four Chinese districts. Tibet and Nepal to India. Certain restrictions are 'peculiar to travel in China.... a travel pass is needed for every place outside Nanjing. It has to be filled out and signed by the Public Security Bureau (the Police). The whole of rural China, except for famous scenic sports or - occasionally — model communes, is out of bounds..." Roughly translated as 'contact' or 'liaison'. Lianxi is absolutely essential for effective action where discretion, personal fiefdoms and a hierachical system of command exist.
The desert of Turfan has water brought from the distant mountains by an ancient system of underground canals called Karez, some of which are upto forty kms long. From this heat, he escapes and finds his way to the cool Heaven Lake, from where he is on his own — the title of the book tells us that. Whilst shopping for something to help ward off the chill the author comes across an old Moslem cap-maker who re-stitches his cap to make it stronger and longer lasting for this strange 'Yindu' (Hindu) customer from India.
There's nothing like a cigarette to break the ice in China. Each people have (had, until the revolution) a separate culture: Han, Uighu, Kazadh, Mongolian; yet the sight of a 555 or a Kent works with all equally well. The watch, with its chime, stopper and alarm is always admired when seen on the wrist of an 'outlander'.
Much of what goes into Tibet from eastern China is unloaded in Liuyan's vast railroad yard, and then reloaded onto trucks bound southwards. From Liuyuan, the trucks travel to Germu in the province of Qinghai and from there to Lhasa.' Any truck with a number beginning with 23 belongs to a work unit in Tibet. Since the Chinese entered Tibet in 1959, one of the major changes has been the formation of these units, even temples are units, with monks 'on duty'. The demolition, frequently with no scope of subsequent repair, of temples, works of art, etc. is to be found even in the remotest of villages. And amongst the rubble, the fact that the spirit is still alive and kicking is evident.
Throughout the book, disappointment after disappointment precede strokes of unexpected luck, whether it be getting a pass endorsed, a lift to the next town or a shelter for a night. Whilst the travels lasted. there have been more pain than pleasure. Much of the way to Lhasa is spent in Sui's truck, on one sidetif the front seat, along with Sui's itillen nephew, and sulky G anseng, and sacks, bags, watermelons near the feet. 'Half the engine (was) uncovered, as with most trucks plying the l.iuyuan-Lhasa route so that the engine remains cool despite the mountainous terrain and — one can examine it more quickly if a problem arises.'
Regulations are regulations' is the motto of the nation. So it has In lie fought by quoting other regulations, learns Seth. When a shop-girl Nouses to sell him clothes because he has only 'funny money', he lias In fight: when the loss of a bag from the top of the truck ends in an exciting chase, he needs knowledge of regulations. At Chaidam Basin, lie has an encounter with the police who wake him up in the middle of a tired night, only to kindly and politely wish him goodnight at the sight of a family photograph that accidently falls to the floor.
Enroute to Dunhaung, semi-sunken vehicles mark the edge of the ford submerged by the murky waters of the flooded river Dang.
Thanks to Sui, Seth meets a host of characters. He discovers that there is no apparent social jealousy between a surgeon and his hike-mechanic friend; that for truck-drivers, journeys are not journeys luil a style of life. In southern Qinghai, Seth is overwhelmed by altitude sickness. He brings out the discomfort of the ride in one of the verses :
Here we three, cooped alone,
Tibetan, Indian, Han,
Against a common dawn
Catch whatever sleep we can,
And sleeping drag the same
Sparse air into our lungs
And dreaming each of home
Sleeptalk in different tongues
Sui's obsession to catch fish for his wife is the cause of the parting of their ways. Seth hops onto a truck and reaches Lhasa and faces new difficulties. Besides the unknown complications concerning exit Basses, the Lhasa-Kathmandu links have both been destroyed by floods. Compelled by meagre finances and lack of time, a novel solution is worked out for him by the Consul-General of Nepal.
The few days spent in Lhasa are rich and memorable. He joins a hnppy, carefree clan for tea and noodles, then discovers their unhappy secret. The comparison between standards of living and conditions of (he rural poor in both countries is inevitable and tilt in China's favour.
Seth has not dwelled much on statues and paintings and architecture and history, but has described the worshippers, the hangers-on and the activities that surrounded him. Many incidents and scenes may seem familiar to those who reside in India. Of the people he says, 'Time and again, with no other thought than kindness, people have helped me along in this journey... a remarkable warmth (shown) to the outsider from a people into whom a suspicion of foreigners has so long been instilled.'
Seth witnesses an unusual, bizarre funeral ceremony where the corpse is chopped into small pieces of meat, minced, mixed with barley flour, and fed to waiting eagles.
The next long truck ride is with a sour driver, Wu, from Lhasa, through Shigatse. The trek to Nepal with a porter and a trader, is short and fairly risky, and interspersed by checks by customs - officers that step out from behind trees in the mountain !
The advantage of such unconventional modes of travel is that there, is a gradual link between climate and culture from place to place, unlike the sharpness of landing at an airport after having traversed time, weather, social-and cultural zones without a peep into them. This fact Seth brings out with clarity. His prose is fast-moving and concise, his descriptions apt. The book is a Thomas Cooke Travel Book Award winner for the year 1989. From Heaven Lake is a book worth reading. Again.
INTO THIN AIR. By John Pilkington. Pp. 171,17 b/w illustrations, 8 maps, 9 sketches, 1985. (George, Allen, & Unwin, London, £ 10.95).
No tourist trekker this.
As far as possible from the toilet paper hordes that frequent this gentle land. our traveller from Yorkshire sets out to discover northwest Nepal and the self in a four-month winter odyssey. Discover is the word, but for the alien only, as this vast tract west of Pokhara has been inhabited by locals for centuries. But no roads, no electricity, no sanitation, little medical help, and in places little food, has stopped the Western visitor at the Jomosom-Annapurna trail.
Much used to being the loner in his travels, whether in Africa, Latin America or Mexico, Pilkington s brushes with his fellow tourists in a warm up trek on the Annapurna circuit only strengthens his determination to learn the Nepali language and set off alone. After a two week crash course and determined visits to convoluted bureaucrats to extend his visa, successfully behind him, Pilkington starts his trek with the imminent threat of winter snows.
A truck ride to Pokhara and then Into Thin Air. The northwest of Nepal and towards Rara tal. The first few attempts at Nepali end when ihe dignified old man speaks English — an old soldier of the Gurkhas. Kut soon it has only to be the native tongue and its variants, till he meets a little girl '....with a stick of sugar cane. She presented it proudly, then showed me how to split the cane and suck out the juice. We walked hand in hand for a while. Across the valley came the sound ol a flute, played delicately.... The music grew louder, then softer as ii floated in the afternoon breeze.' Magical stuff this, no need for language.
On to Jumla, suffering 'increasingly from mountaineer's sickness — a reluctance to put one foot in front of the other' says our author quoting Tilman. But fortitude there is throughout this odyssey. At Jumla he meets with a kind American family working with the United Missions to Nepal and spends Christmas with them, the only Westerners through the whole journey.
Then to Rara tal where 'Cormorants and bar-headed geese swam lazily and Pilkington meets a Buddhist meditant whose perspicacity astounds. 'You are full of doubt and self pity. All the way from Pokhara you have been walking around in circles. You are on the point of giving up your goals because you think they have failed you; but in truth you have failed them.'
And so on through winter snows to the lower levels and the; western border of Nepal where, after two and a half months of walking it meets India, in the shape of a disbelieving border official — 'and where, exactly, is this Pokhara ? '
Pilkington's book is neither a travelogue nor a visit into his lonely mind. Where it excels is in his oft felt sympathy for the land he traverses, luit frequently it remains one dimensional in description. Perhaps none would visit western Nepal after reading this book, but if in this Pilkington succeeds, he will truly have had the last laugh.
Anil. K. Nehru
SHERPAS. Reflections on Change in Himalayan Nepal. By James F. Fisher, Pp. 205, 104 b/w illustrations, 19 colour plates. 8 sketches, and maps, 1990. (University of California Press, Berkeley. $ 12.95, paper back).
Let's begin this review article with the author's claims. He begins by saying it is neither an anthropological monograph, nor a memoir with literary pretensions, nor a picture book in the coffee-table tradition. He has tried 'to devise a multi-vocal format that incorporates elements of all these genres'. Later he says 'the book is about myself by myself. The author writes up to his declarations.
It is really a book by two Fishers. The first, an earlier amateur enthusiast of the Peace Corps, simple, idealist, indefatigable as worker and eater. And what an eater he was,' wrote Hillary in the foreword, even the Sherpas sat and watched in wide-eyed amazement.' In a charming,confession later, he said he only stopped eating when he 'had to get on wifh ' 'other things' !' In that first role, innocent of country, people and problems, he threw himself with Sherpa Sirdar Mingma ('a potential Chairman, General Motors had he been born in the USA), as Hillary's agent into the Himalayan School House Expedition, 1964, taking time off to explore and climb in Solu Khumbu upto heights of 6000 m. And so he helped lay the foundations of Hillary's Sherpa Schools and the Lukla airstrip, two major change-agents in the Sherpaland. as a gifted amateur. That first chapter of the School House expedition is a most readable story of Fisher ('about myself by myself), interacting enthusiastically, sensibly and humanely with all, from Hillary to poor Sherpa cretins: despite repeated sickness and amusing cures with lama-urine. As an outsider's first encounter with Sherpaland, it is one of the best'accounts, packed with details from Fisher's eye and heart.
The second Fisher takes over in the rest of the book, now a sociologist, but losing little of the Fisher verve, humanity, and an eye for detail. Happily, the sociological writing does not suffer from the profession's jargon. It is factual, practical, readable, and of interest to a variety of readers from students of sociology, mountain environments, and Himalayan climbers and trekkers. To those who suffer from the general impression that Nepal has two communities, Hindu and Buddhist, Fisher corrects when he says the book is about 'the most famous minority in a country where there is no majority'; though Nepali is spreading as the language of the majority, as Hindi has in India.
Fisher offers useful insights, supplementing those of earlier scholars, notably Furer von Hamendorf, into Sherpa demography, agriculture, employment changes, village administration, the profound impact of tourism, and of Hillary's schools. One can only touch on a few in a review. For example, the Sherpa demography seems to show how, despite polyandry (earlier considered a population-restraining social custom), and the meagre eco-systems of Solu Khumbu; migrations to Darjeeling earlier. Kathmandu and Nepal later, have helped multiply the community from 169 households in Khumbu in 1936, to 596 in 1959 (Hamendorf. 1964). to about 3000 in Khumbu in the next decades, spreading to 17000, west of Khumbu, and about 7000, in Darjeeling. with an influx of about 6000 Tibetans after 1960. As elsewhere, a more developed agriculture, in this case with potatoes, also helped population growth.
The reader's particular attention may be drawn to the graphic Annual Cycle' diagram on p. 60, of the varied seasonal and overlapping occupations of the Sherpas from firewood and foliage collection to pilgrimages and expeditions, a unique illustration in the Hindu-Buddhist chakra' style. Equally good is an account of how the local village administration ran its affairs; a picture fast vanishing in simpler societies with less effective and damaging interventions of governments. Besides, apart from Fisher having an eye for good pictures, including lovely female faces, the juxtaposing of the old pictures of the fifties with more recent ones two or three decades later is of interest. One set (p. 144-5) discounting 'the alarmist view' of Tengboche ridge, (1950 and 1988). of deforestation, does not reflect the Sherpas' own perceptions of the danger of deforestation in the next two decades.
But, of course, the two major impacts of the book are the new schools, Hillary's and the government's, contrasting with the vanishing tradition of the gompas, and of tourism, which the lama of Tengboche compared with the seasonal floods of the Himalayan rivers in the Gangetic plain. Hillary's schools opened the windows of Sherpaland to help Sherpas cope with the next generation's changes arising from these floods of tourists, and with the changing social, physical, and spiritual environments. Sherpa parents innocently thought that all that needed to be learnt could be done in a year or two, and then back to work. The result has been what has been experienced in other rural developing societies, a high fall-out rate after secondary school.
Whilst the new life with tourism and the new education naturally dilutes contacts with traditional gompa education, and whilst the younger generation are moving from Sherpa to Nepali; the old gompa-based Buddhist culture still attracts as a magnetic centre of Sherpa identity, and some of the new wealth flows there.
The impacts of tourism on occupations, ways of life and living, incomes, health, environment in the twenty-four years of Fisher's observations (1964-88), make insightful and factual contributions to this, one of the most admired and famous small minorities in the world, those linked with the story of Everest and Himalayan climbing. Someday, it would be fascinating to read a comparative account of changes in Sherpaland and in the European Alps, since mountaineers opened up these high places to the outside world.
A. D. MODDIE
THE TREKKING PEAKS OF NEPAL. By Bill O'Connor. Pp. 224. 24 colour and 130 b/w illustrations, 15 maps, 1989. (The Crowood Press, Marlborough, U.K., £ 15.95).
In Nepal, a total of 104 peaks are available to foreign climbers upon payment of fees and compliance of several conditions, such as the inclusion of an official liaison officer and Sirdar, equipped and paid on an official scale. These conditions have led to tremendous cost escalations in expedition budgets and have effectively made finance and paperwork key factors for climbing teams; daunting, at times. The 'back of an enyefepe' has yielded, ever so clumsily,'to reams of paper and, IBM compatibles. In 1978 the Nepal Mountaineering Association released a list of 'trekking peaks' comprising eighteen mountains ranging from 5587 m to 6654 m, which were opened to foreign climbers without the financially restricting and administratively onerous regulations governing expedition peaks.
These peaks represent a fraction of the smaller peaks so abundant in the Nepal Himalaya and are located in different sections such as the Khumbu Himal, the Rolwaling and the Annapurna Sanctuary. Included in the list are the comparatively straight forward and popular Imja Tse (Island Peak of yore) (6189 m) on which a Sherpa once reached the summit with the author with 'the cigarette he was smoking, "Sherpa oxygen' 'and the technically demanding Kusum Kanguru (6369 m) on whose steep 1500 m high north face a very difficult route was completed by a two man team in 1985. The author provides a brief stage wise description of the walk in to each peak; alternatives available on the trek are also presented. Each peak is described with a well produced sketch map showing prominent features and routes. The addenda enhance the value of this book, particularly the section on rules and regulations and emergencies and rescue. The text'is clear; mercifully, the mush is missing and many photographs will prove to be useful to those planning to climb these peaks. This book is useful in a dual capacity as a source of reference as well as an aid to planning and is bound to become, rightly, popular.
M. H. Contractor
PEOPLE WITHIN A LANDSCAPE. A collection of images of Nepal. By Bert Willison and Shirley Bourke. Pp. 128. 208 colour illustrations, 1 map, 1989. (The Four Sherpa Trust, Box 92, New Plymouth, New Zealand, no price stated).
What does one write about an essentially coffee table book. That it is well printed — that it's layout is good — that it has a foreword by Sir Edmund Hillary ?
All the above can be said about this book. But unfortunately there has been a surfeit of such books in the recent past. Nepal is such a beautiful place, you just have to go there with your camera and hey presto — by the end of your visit you have a collection of very good photographs. And if you repeat this exercise, then you have a big enough collection to publish a book — provided you have the funds.
One must, however admit that the reason for publishing this book is a noble one. The entire proceeds from the sale of the book will be used to assist the Four Sherpa Trust, say the authors. The Four Sherpa Trust was founded in 1985 following the death in an avalanche of four Sherpas who were accompanying a trek in the Tilicho lake area, by members of the New Plymouth Tramping Club. New Zealand. The people of Nepal are amongst the poorest in the world and aid in any way is bound to be helpful. Tourism is the only major industry in Nepal — and if this book can inspire more people to visit the Himalayan Kingdom, it is bound to benefit the Nepalese.
The business of being a mountain guide is a very risky proposition iind these Sherpas are all insured as per the rules of the Royal Nepal Government. The lowly porter is not really cared for. He does not have an organisation which fixes his rates, nor does he have any benevolent government order/law which takes care of his plight. The Trust should look into this.
The Western eye and mind is fascinated by the people and faces of the Orient, a fact which is amply reflected in the book, (though they have tried to cover this up in the title). Along with some candid portraits of people from different ethnic and tribal backgrounds and their habitat, are included, pictures of changing terrain and flora as one moves from the lower regions of Nepal towards the point where trekking ends and mountaineering begins. What gives this collection of pictures a unifying lorce is the presence of the mountains, caught in the splendours of many different hues and moods.
Eventually, this reviewer recommends that you buy this book, because llie proceeds from its sale are going for a good cause to assist the dependents of unfortunate Sherpas and 'the wider group of Nepalis who now guide trekking groups or assist climbing expeditions.' Its a well-produced coffee-table book — and lets admit it — we all need to have one such book lying in the house.
THE KARAKORAM. Mountains of Pakistan. By Shiro Shirahata. Pp. 192. 101 colour illustrations, 1990. (Cloudcap, Seattle, $ 75).
The book is a Himalayan treat for the eyes and the soul. It is a collection of over a hundred excellent mountain pictures taken in the K.irakoram by a sincere and devoted mountain photographer.
Born in 1933, Shiro Shirahata has dedicated his life to photographing mountains since he was 25. In 1978, a collection of his photographs were acquired by the French National Museum in Paris. European Alps. Nepal Himalaya and The Beauty of South Korea are amongst his other notable works published.
For this book, Shiro Shirahata spent 430 days in the mountains in several arduous trips from 1987 to 1989. Braving the hazards of raw nature at high altitudes and the extortive attitude of his own porters, he-has captured the mountains in their full splendour on his plates. The book is-Mivided in three section : 1) Karakoram 2) Nanga Parbat and 3) Hindu-Raj, Hindu-Kush.
The fine details in each of the picture have to be seen to be believed. One can distinctly count the petals of small flowers and the blades of the grass in the foreground of 'Nanga Parbat and Mazeno Peaks' (Plate 72). Each pebble of the glacial moraine in the foreground is extremely sharp and distinct, and so is each feature of snow, ice and rock of the mountains behind.
The use of small aperturesof f 32. f 22 and f 16 has ensured an excellent depth of field. A large format (4"x5") Plate camera has been used resulting in higher resolution. Only 'Skylight' and 'Polarizing' filters have been used. This has resulted in pure and unadulterated colours. The photographer obviously hates to add drama to a photograph with coloured or special effect filters, a gimmick so common with most of the younger generation. It is extremely difficult to get details in the snow-white mountains receiving direct sunlight, as also in the valleys in the shadows in the same photographs. But perfection in exposure, processing and printing has resulted in excellent details in the shadows and the highlights.
A composition favoured by the photographer is to have an area of shadow in the foreground, with a sunlit peak in the background. This makes the peak stand out beautifully in contrast. Some of the best pictures have been taken in the early mornings or late evenings with the peaks bathed in 'Alpen glow', some in rich golden hues and a few, pale pink.
Perfect lighting and high resolution brings out the texture of ice floating on a glacial lake in 'Broad Peak' (Plate 17) and 'Baltoro Glacier' (Plate 22). Blue hues of 'Snow lake and Benta Brakk (Baintha Brakk)' (Plate 39) are soothing to the eye. The serpentine 'Batura Glacier' (Plate 50) with receding mountains on both sides give an excellent 3 dimensional effect. Huge chunks of ice make an interesting pattern in 'Pasu Glacier and Pasu Peak' (Plate 54). Graceful curves of a ridge leads to the summit of 'Mani Peak' (Plate 67). The only picture which seemed out of place was of 'Benta Brakk (Baintha Brakk)' (Plate 34). I found a large shadow in the centre somewhat unappealing.
Excepting two plates, all others are treeless, conveying the barrenness of this area. There is no sign of life in these inhospitable mountains. Yet, the beauty of this region is a class apart. As the Japanese would say, this book gives you Shibumi, a taste of perfection.
Mayank A. Chandan
ARUNACHAL PRADESH. Religion, Culture and Society. By Chander Sheikhar Panchani. Pp. 347, 20 5/w illustrations, 1989. (Konarak Publishers, Delhi Rs 200).
C. S. Panchani's book on Arunachal Pradesh is a rare and in-depth study of this far flung state of India. A state that is often confused by outsiders as a part of any one of the other North-Eastern States; a state which boasts of a rich and ancient culture, unrevealed to the rest of the world; a state which deserves a special study, to signify its identity on trie map of this country. A state with high and long chain of Himalayan mountains unknown as much as the people who live in the foothills.
The author studies his subject in a well-defined, organised manner. There is the careful tackling of different aspects of history, geography and culture. The description of the inhabitants, their diverse forms of culture, all seem to blend into a harmonious existence. The acceptance and assimilation of changes display the capacity of a people to acquire that which is new, while holding on to norms, inherited in the course of their history. And the information provided, indicates the author's deep study and personal involvement.
The book traces the historical evolution of Arunachal Pradesh to its present statehood. As the author studies each period of development in its socio-political-religious context, the reader comes to understand the complex culture of this North — Eastern State.
More than anything else, the book shows a deep concern for the people, and even as different aspects are discussed analytically, the overall effort is to understand the inhabitants better.
MOUNTAINS AMD OTHER GHOSTS. Short Stories by Dermot Somers. Pp. 224, 1990. (Diadem Books, London, £ 12.95).
I started reading this book with (I admit) some reservations. Mountains are a sacred subject to us — lovers of nature. And, a mountaineer venturing into the field of writing short stories based on mountains is not something that is welcomed with open arms. The book of course makes me withdraw all my reservations. One realises that all the stories are not only about mountains and climbing. They reveal the author's keen insight into human behaviour and situations. Most of the stories have an unexpected twist, at times even have an abrupt ending. But yes, one can feel (and understand) the author's love for mountains (sometimes expressed subtly) as one reads through the book. Since the book does not revolve entirely around climbing, this will act as a redeeming feature for amateurs in this subject.
Dermot Somers sheds some light on the techniques of climbing in the "Facelift' . 'Whitegraph', 'The Island' and other stories. These lack an enthralling storyline (obviously because much of the emphasis is on climbing!). In 'The climber who courted death,' he tells us about the beliefs and .toyel exploits of a carefree soul. 'The gift of tongues', is a poignant fate of an African in search of redemption for his suffering countrymen. (Reminds one of Cry the Beloved Country!) My personal favourite is The boy who shot John Wayne', told in a lucid style. The story evokes a rebellious spirit and one is relieved to discover Pat (the central character) shedding his cloak of servility for resoluteness. 'Dark Mourne is a story of three juveniles desirous of spending a week, trekking and rock climbing. The story is gripping and hair-raising. 'The Lug Walk' written in a P. G. Wodehouse style elicits chuckles, demonstrating Somers’ ability to write humorous vignettes.
The narratives have an Irish background throughout and almost all of them have an ethereal quality of mystery. Many of the accounts have a political dimension hinting at the helplessness of man and the inevitability of his ending up a mute spectator. The author's understanding of human behaviour is impressive.
Happy reading ! The book was nominated for the Boardman-Tasker Prize, 1990. It ended as the runner up.
GABE'S FALL. And other climbing stories. By Peter Lars Sandberg. Pp. 156, 7 sketches, 1990. (Diadem Books, London, £ 12.95).
This collection of seven short stories revolves around the world of mountains and mountaineering. Peter Lars Sandberg explores a variety of themes against the backdrop of mountains and cliffs — all related to adventure and the elemental joys of climbing. At a deeper level, each story reflects the subtle nuances of human nature and a finer understanding of human values.
Starting with 'Gabe's Fall', each story is strikingly different, involving a distinct aspect of the human psyche. Each new setting depicts characters struggling to attain a hazardous goal, and in the process, attaining a new self-realisation. The wide-ranging themes cover a broad spectrum : the man-woman relationship, crime and blackmail, male chauvinism and egoism. Each story in turn becomes a fine projection of man's ability, limitation and glory.
Despite the variety, the stories are all linked by the common thread of mountains and climbing. There is the pulse of excitement, the need to experience the heady flavour of danger and uncertainty, and the feat which tests every ounce of man's Endurance and grit.
The author's note at the beginning of each story is significant. It emphasizes the author's involvement in the climb and the characters. And the reader has no doubt of the authenticity in the description of even minute cracks and breaks in the course of the ascent. Undoubtedly, a personal knowledge of the terrain, and the experience of the author, gives each story an added depth and dimension.
And yet, there is the classic distancing from the characters in the story — the distancing which ensures an objective viewing of events. There is the finer understanding of motives, intentions and human values. As a sport, climbing is obviously fraught with danger and risk. A person's decisions and motives can alter the nature of the climb. So that often, a sport can turn into a bitter and irrevocable end.
A word needs to be said about the portrayal of women in the stories. It is to the credit of the novelist to accord a new strength and individuality to the woman. Her skill, strength, rationality and order, provide a firm footing for the man to rest on. She is seen to succeed, where an over-confident, egoistical and selfish man fails. Like in 'Gabe's Fall'. And as the man-woman relationship changes and alters, the man is forced to come to terms with his weakness, folly and inadequacy.
The short story mode is particularly effective in the light of subjects chosen. There is the expert grip on the focus of the story, the main issues at hand and of course, the peculiar individuality of every new rock face. Character relationships unfold naturally and smoothly, the reader gets involved in their life and the climb, well before the ascent gets under way. And as with scaling a difficult cliff, the excitement mounts towards the end — so that reaching the summit is also climax in the outcome of the story.
The resolution at the end of the story is never the final word. But it leaves the reader pondering on the future course of events. And the peculiar dilemma faced by the characters remains long after the end of each story.
AFRICA'S MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON. Journeys to the snowy sources of the Nile. By Guy Yeoman. Pp. 176. 64 colour illustrations, 13 botanical illustrations by Christabel King, 4 maps. 1989. (Elm Tree Books, London, £ 25).
I first climbed the Mountains of the Moon, or to give mem their more official title the Ruwenzori Mountains, in 1951, from what was then The Pare Nationale Albert. This range of mountains were the last to be explored in East Africa as they were the last to be discovered for few knew of their existence except through fable and local African myths, as during most of the year the peaks are covered in mist.
Although the Mountains of the Moon were known to the Ancient Egyptians and mentioned by the early Greek and Roman travellers, by the beginning of the 19th Century the general scientific opinion was that the presence of snow-capped mountains in the middle of Africa straddling the Equator was an impossibility. Sir Samuel Baker when he discovered Lake Albert (as he named it) saw what he described as the Blue Mountains when he noticed this range in 1864. Sir Harry Johnston from his camp on the shores of Lake Albert in 1876 thought he saw snow on their peaks but dismissed his vision as an hallucination.
Aeschylus the Greek poet referred to 'Egypt nurtured by the snow', and Aristotle referred to the source of the Nile as 'Mountains of Silver'. Claudius Ptolemy acting on information from the writing of ancient travellers pin-pointed a range of snow mountains whose streams fed the tropical lakes out of which emerged the beginnings of the great Nile river, naming them The Mountains of the Moon. However, it was Stanley on the 24 May 1888, hot and weary battling his way through the moist jungle of a tropical forest who looked up into the steel blue sky out of which a merciless sun bore down upon him savagely, who first saw in that sky what he thought were snow peaks. He, like his predecessors, dismissed his vision at first as hallucinations, but being the methodical traveller he was, made some detailed enquiries, and was informed that indeed a range of snow mountains did stand where he had seen them. It was Stanley who called them by their African name — The Ruwenzori Mountains.
However, it was not until 1906 that the Duke of Abruzzi, later to be associated with K2 and the Karakoram led the first scientific expedition to climb and map these Ruwenzori mountains. He discovered they were not volcanic in origin.like Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya, but were part of the formation of the fault known as the Great Rift Valley. The Duke in conjunction with the Royal Geographical Society named the seven mountain blocks and their various peaks which form the Ruwenzoris,-after explorers and distinguished men and women of the — Mount Stanley at 16,763 ft (5109 m) being the highest.
Because of the inaccessibility of these Mountains of the Moon, unlike the approaches to Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya, the Ruwenzoris have not been explored or indeed written up in the same way as the other two East African mountains. Tilman and Shipton both published articles on their own climbs of the Ruwenzori peaks as of course did the Duke of Abruzzi. But we had to wait until now for a full and detailed account of these mysterious Mountains of the Moon until the appearance of Guy Yeoman's most interesting and truly magnificent book simply entitled Africa 's Mountains of the Moon.
Yeoman takes the reader on enthralling journeys to the snowy sources of the Nile which he undertook with a group of four English women. One of these Christabel King is not only an expert on botany but delights us all with her exquisites drawings.
The book is full of very beautiful photographs all taken by the author which transports us to one of the most fascinating areas not only of Africa but also of the whole world.
Unfortunately Yeoman warns us that due to population explosion and the cutting down of the forests, the Ruwenzori area is under duress and their unique beauty threatened. His dream is to make it into a National Park.
Not only does Yeoman take us to the Ruwenzoris themselves but also to the volcanic range of the Virunga Volcanoes further to the south which Speke claimed were the Mountains of the Moon before Stanley's discovery later on. These Virunga Volcanoes are now famous as the home of the mountain gorillas, which the American girl Dian Fossey worked so hard to save, even to giving up her own life.
Yeoman's book is divided into twelve chapters each one as interesting and enthralling as the one before. It is not just that I too have climbed In the Ruwenzori to make me find Guy Yeoman's book so fascinating, for had I never set foot on these fabulous mountains, I would still have been transported to a fairy-like area by his good writing and wonderful photography. His maps are detailed and clear.
Guy Yeoman's book is not only well worth reading, but is a must for all mountaineers to add to their collection of the most interesting and fascinating mountains of the world.
KARAKORAM. (1:250,000) Orographical Sketch maps in two sheets. By J. Wala, 1990. (Swiss Foundation for Alpine Research Zurich SFr. 29).
A 3-colour map, in 2 sheets, is published covering 44,730 sq. km. It cover the area between Khora Bhot pass, Khunjerab pass. Aghil pass (south), Karakoram pass, Shyok river and villages of Leh, Khapalu, Skardu and Gilgit.
Base for this map was established by Jerzy Wala of Poland who worked on it for many years. All the areas are clearly drawn. Wala has also carefully studied the recent literature, all the new nomenclature, heights and climbs are incorporated here. Names of glaciers, peaks, places marked on the map are separately indexed with reference to locate them easily. It refrains from marking any political borders in this troubled area.
The only irritating point is that the 'North' of the map does not point straight up but about 45° to left. This unconventional printing could have been easily corrected and would avoid a lot of inconvenience. It also proposes new 'Regional Division of the Karakoram Mountain Area' which are different than those accepted. Perhaps survey authorities in Pakistan antl India may disagree.
The map can be ordered from the publishers at Binzstrasse 23, 8045 Zurich, Switzerland.
NEPAL. World Bibliographical Series, vol. 38. Compiled by John Whelpton. Pp. 294, 1 map, 1990. (Clio Press, Oxford, no price stated).
This book is one of a series of one hundred and eleven books published in the World Bibliographical series. Each book comprises annotated entries on works dealing with the history, geography, economy and politics of a particular country or region; and also with its people, their culture, customs, religion and society. The book on Nepal provides all this and even has a small section on mountaineering. This book will be useful to anyone planning a serious study on any aspect of this country; tourists and researchers alike will welcome its presence on the library shelf.
M. H. Contractor
KLIMENT OHRIDSKY 3. Edited by V. V. Shopov. See Pp. 5-27, 1989. (University of Sofia expedition annual for 1987-1988).
I never fail to be amazed that some people who have the misfortune to live behind the Iron Curtain manage to beat the system and to travel beyond the confines of that system. One such group is the speleologists from the University of Sofia in Bulgaria who were able to overcome the difficulties of the Government bureaucracy and a worthless currency, and to mount an expedition to the Himalaya in 1988.
Although much of this report appears in Cyrillic characters, the three (scientific) papers originating from this expedition are written in English :
'Direct radiometric measurements in a Himalayan glacier.'
'Unusual caves in the Garhwal Himalaya.'
'Genesis and mineralisation of two Himalayan caves.'
Although no cave on the grand scale was found, all these papers add to the literature on Indian speleology and on the Himalaya, and deserve to be brought to the attention of a wider audience, and help to push back the frontiers of ignorance.
S. A. Craven
JOURNAL OF WILDERNESS MEDICINE. VOL. 1, No. 1, Edited by Dr Paul S. Auerbach and Dr Oswald Oelz. Pp. 61, 5 b/w illustrations, 6 sketches, 1990. (Chapman and Hall Medical, London, no price stated).
This new journal is for the Wilderness Medical Society. Its editors aim at presenting original research and clinical reports from all over the world on all aspects of wilderness medicine related to sports, like 'high altitude and climbing', 'hypothermia and cold injuries', 'diving and bartotraima', 'aeromedical transport', 'survival physiology' 'environmental disasters' and so on.
This first issue has an impressive list of authors like, P.H. Hackett, R. C. Roach and others writing on topics like pulmonary oedema and frostbites. The article by M.P. Ward on 'Tibet: Human and Medical Geography' makes very interesting reading.
There is also a section of Book Review, again related to wilderness medical aspects.
With increasing interest in nature and wilderness developing all around the globe such a journal dealing with the most important topic of human health and survival in the wilderness is most welcome. One looks forward to the further issues of this quarterly.
Dr (Ms) Rekha R. Shroff
EVEREST THE TESTING PLACE. By John B. West, M. D. Pp. 187, 18 colour illustrations, 7 diagrams, 1 sketch, 1985. (McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York, $ 18.95).
This book recounts the medical research expedition to Everest, led by Dr John West in August-October 1981. Fourteen physicians and scientists took part in the expedition. Five people reached the summit from South Col route. This was the first expedition to Everest, specially arranged to carry out scientific and medical research at high altitude.
Sophisticated laboratories were set up at the base camp (5400 m) and C2 (6300 m). Most extensive research programme was carried out in the main laboratory at C2. In addition several projects were completed at the base camp. A few measurements were made at C5 (8050 m) and even at the summit (8848 m).
At C2 much of the energy was devoted to measuring the body's responses to exercise. A definite deterioration in the body functions occurring at high altitude was documented. At C2 laboratory maximal work levels were about one-half of those at the sea level; and when conditions on the Everest summit were simulated, work level came down to less than a quarter of the sea level control. This reduced work capacity was attributed to very low levels of oxygen in the air and, therefore, in the exercising muscles.
A number of sleep studies were carried out at C2 and the base camp. It was found that the normal control of breathing was disrupted by low levels of oxygen and the breathing became 'Periodic' or ' Cheyne - Stokes'. Blood samples were collected at different altitudes and were analysed with the equipments installed at the base camp. A striking increase in the red blood cells, which are the oxygen carrying cells, was noted in the process of acclimatization.
Many experiments were done which showed extensive changes in body chemistry as a result of hypoxia. Absorption of food from the gut was found to be reduced, which partly explains the weight loss at high altitude. Many hormonal changes were noticed. The control of water balance was also found to be altered, and this may explain the high altitude pulmonary oedema and cerebral oedema.
A number of studies including a package of psychometric tests were carried out to evaluate brain functions at high altitude. It was found that the brain functions less efficiently at these altitudes and residual impairment persisted even after the expedition was over. Both short term memory and motor co-ordination were altered. The former returned to the pre-expedition levels within twelves months, but the motor-coordination lasted in a majority of expedition members for longer period after returning to the sea level. This clearly indicates that a prolonged hypoxia at high altitudes can cause deterioration of brain function for some period.
Though complicated tests were not carried out at the level of C5 and the summit, very important data was collected at these levels. Forty-two alveolar gas samples including six on the summit were collected and analysed at the main laboratory.
All the scientific and medical data collected during this expedition are not only useful for climbers but also useful in the treatment of patients suffering from cardio-pulmonary diseases, who are also exposed to severe hypoxia.
Dr (Ms) G. A. Samant