I HAD EXPLAINED to our indefatigable editor, Harish Kapadia, just why it was impossible for me to write a retrospect based on Vol. I No. 1 of the H.J. I did not have a copy of this Journal; indeed, I had no issues of the H.J. before 1954 nor other reference material; I had been living outside India for the last 45 years and was out of touch; such an article needed someone who knew the Himalayan scene intimately; I was up to my ears with other commitments: enough to convince any reasonable man, even an editor. His answer was to send me a copy of Volume One, ('Please return it very safely after you have finished,') to say that the article should reach him before December, and to inform me that he would be incommunicado in the East Karakoram for the next few months.

John Martyn's thoroughly researched and readable article 'The Story of the Himalayan Club, 1928-1978', in the Golden Jubilee Vol. XXXV, 1976-77-78, tells us everything about the founding of the Club and about Volume One. It is well supplemented by Trevor Braham's 'Fifty Years - Retrospect and Prospect'. Is there anything more to be said ?

The first number of the Himalayan Journal, sub-titled Records of the Himalayan Club, was edited by Major Kenneth Mason, M.C., R.E., Assistant Surveyor General, and issued in April 1929. It was published by Thacker, Spink & Co., Calcutta; and W. Thacker & Co., London. It had the grey cover that was to remain its familar garb until 1958, with the list of Contents on the front cover.1 It had twenty sections; I to XII were articles while the remainder were notes on expeditions, reviews, Club proceedings, correspondence, library notices and so on.

The Himalayan Club 'was born in a chance conversation on the path behind Jakko Hill, on the afternoon of the 6th of October 1927,' wrote Sir Geoffrey Corbett in his introductory article. (Was Kipling's Mrs. Hauksbee listening in, ready to spread the news through Simla?) The idea of a Club went back to 1866 when it was suggested to the Asiatic Society of Bengal by F. Drew and W. H. Johnson. Then in 1884, Dougla Freshfield2, who was later President of the Alpine Club and editor of its Journal, wrote that 'The formation at Calcutta or Simla of an Himalayan Club, prepared to publish "Narratives of Science and Adventure" concerning the mountains, would be the most serviceable means of extending knowledge of the Himalaya.'

Is there a special irony in the fact that Shimla, the birthplace of the H.C. is now a case study of the death of a Himalayan hill station? Its narrow roads are blocked solid with wide-bodied lorries and buses exuding noisome gases; its system of garbage disposal is to empty it over the nearest hillside. For fresh mountain air, read diesel fumes and rotting trash.

After the Jakko Hill conversation, Corbett wrote to Kenneth Mason, to the Acting Chief of General Staff, and to the Surveyor General of India. He informed the Viceroy, Lord Irwin, the C-in-C Sir William Birdwood, Sir Malcolm Hailey, the Governor of Punjab, and others of his plans. On 20 December 1927, Corbett and Mason sent a circular letter to those 'who had done things', and the response was enthusiastic. So the Club was formally inaugurated at a meeting held in Field Marshall Sir William Birdwood's room at Army HQ in Delhi, on 17 February 1928; there were 127 founder members3. Incidentally, these included Col. E. L. Strutt, the editor of the Alpine Journal.

But the Club had been pre-empted. On 23 September 1927 - a bare fortnight before the Jakko Hill conversation - 'The Mountain Club of India' had been founded in Calcutta, its moving spirit being W. Allsup. All's Up with me, he must have muttered when the H.C. was founded; friendly discussions were held and on 14 December 1928, the Mountain Club decided to amalgamate 'for the benefit of the common aims of the two Clubs.4


  1. The cover changed with Vol. XXII, 1959, when a chorten took the place of the Contents on the cover. With Vol. XXX 1970, this was replaced by photographs, getting progressively more attractive.
  2. Freshfield was at one time the editor of the Alpine Journal, The latest issue of the Himalayan Journal, Vol. 47, 1989-90, has three references to him. The first is in A. D. Moddie's article 'Himalayan Journals of Sir Joseph D. Hooker, p. 142, which indicates that Freshfield was in Sikkim in 1904; the second is on p. 209 of J.T.M. Gibson's review of The Pundits, by Derek Waller. This tells us that in 1889 Freshfield made the first complete circuit of Kangchenjunga by a European. The third is in the obituary of Paul Bauer by J. Nyka, when he refers to Siniolchu, called by Freshfield 'the most beautiful mountain of the world'.
  3. There are over 900 members today. H.J. Vol. 47 gives obituaries of two founder members. Brigadier Gordon Osmaston and Dr. J. B. Auden. Auden was the brother of the famous poet, W. H. Auden, who, in collaboration with the equally famous Christopher Isherwood, wrote the play The Ascent of F6, ('that terrifying fang of rock and ice) first produced in 1937. The published play was dedicated to John Bicknell Auden, who presumably provided his famous brother with expert advice on the mountaineering aspects of the two-act tragedy.
  4. In Vol. XIX, 1955-56, W. Allsup and H. W. Tobin write a note on Professor Mason's Abode of Snow, and say, "The Professor has rendered graceful tribute to the Founders of the Mountain Club, of which Bruce was the first President, and has praised the spirit of co-operation and good-will through which the merging of the Himalayan Club was achieved. But we have been asked by the parents of the Mountain Club to elucidate the statement that the two were bom independently and almost simultaneously. Talks had been going on for years with no tangible result until the Mountain Club was inaugurated. Its birth on 23rd September, 1927, was the outcome of a talk on the Alukthang Glacier in 1925. The Himalayan Club was conceived on the "path behind Jakko" at a talk thereon in October 1927 (vide H.J., Vol. I, page 1) and the Club came into being on 17th February, 1928. The two were formally amalgamated in 1929 with a strong "Eastern Section" in Calcutta... It is pity that the old "diehards" of Bengal were not in closer touch with those of like spirit in Simla, the U.P. and the Punjab.' H. W. Tobin was a founder member of both Clubs, and editor of the H.J. from 1947 till his death in 1957. Vol. XX, 1957, carries an obituary by Tom Longstaff and EO. Shebbeare, and one by Trevor Braham.


'And so the H.C. is founded,' wrote Corbett, 'and we hope great things of it... the Mountaineer may dream of the first ascent of a thousand unclimbed peaks, the shikari of record heads shot in nalas yet unknown. My own hope is that it may help to rear a breed of men in India, hard and self-reliant, who will know how to enjoy life of the high hills.'

Climbing and Expeditions

The H.J. today is full of accounts of climbing expeditions, summits scaled, new routes opened, solo climbs, winter ascents, Alpine styles, ski traverses, avalanches and howling gales, frost-bite and rescues, tales of derring-do. Volume One has none of this. As John Martyn wrote in his Golden Jubilee article, '... for us who are used to recent issues of the Journal it is a surprise to find no article on a mountaineering expedition, but the reason is the very simple one that there was no mountaineering expedition to report.'

In 'Traill's Pass, 1925', Hugh Ruttledge writes of his trip, accompanied by his wife, Brig. Wilson and Maj. T. C. Carfrae. They 'reconnoitred the pass, a procedure rendered necessary by the fact that none of the previous three successful parties had left a detailed account of their doings; moreover the last crossing had been in 1861.' (Obviously they had left no detailed accounts because there had been no H.J. to leave them to.) A snow storm forced them to retreat, but this, said Ruttledge, 'was a blessing in disguise, for in the successful crossing next year from the north, with better porters', they felt that there might have been an accident if they had persisted.

One wonders why Ruttledge, presumably writing in 1928, chose to write of his unsuccessful 1925 expedition rather than of the 1926 crossing, the first from the north. Having complained that his predecessors hadn't left detailed accounts, he must have written one himself - but not in this Volume.

Ruttledge,was the leader of the 1933 and 1936 expeditions to Everest. Tenzing, who was on the 1936 expedition, wrote in his autobiography, Man of Everest, 'Ruttledge was a fine man and leader, but now he was getting on in aga, and this would be his last expedition to Everest. I did not see him again until years later in London, after we had climbed the mountain, and then he grasped my hand and said, 'Son, you have done a wonderful job. Now I am old. I tried and failed on Everest, but it makes no difference, because now you have succeeded. When you go back to India, give my embrace to all my Sherpa sons.' He was right in calling us sons, for he had been a father to us all.5

Lieut.-Colonel Reginald Schomberg writes on his trip to the Urta Saryk valley in the Tien Shan; Maj D.G.M. Shewen of his trip to the Baspa, 'among the most beautiful valleys in the Himalayas.' Shewen remarks that 'It has been suggested moreover by one who is competent to judge that Sangla may one day be the Zermatt of the Himalaya.' God forbid, as Shewen says in another context. 'Some day it (the PWD bungalow at Sholtu) may be a halting place for charabancs on the road to the Baspa Hydros. Who can tell ? God forbid!' Alas, the way things are going, God doesn't seem to be very active in the forbidding business.

Mrs. K. G. Lethbridge, in 'A Journey through Spiti and Rupshu', describes two months pleasant trekking with her husband, once touching 20,000 ft. Those were golden days of travel and the Lethbridges travelled in good style. They had 24 coolies, 16 loads being their own (including a canvas bath), the rest firewood and rations. Mrs. Lethbridge sounds a very formidable lady and one can imagine her standing outside her tent and shouting, 'Khim Singh! (Or whatever.) Garrum pani, ek dam. And put some juldi in it or I'll maro you this minute!' I envisage her husband, who plays little part in her story, as a mild, cowed little man, with rimless spectacles, a small grey moustache and a fussy manner. But I may be wrong because he turns out to be an army man: in a later section, Volume One informs us that Capt. J. S. Lethbridge, R. E. 1st KGO, Sappers and Miners, Roorkee, was appointed Hon. Assistant Editor of the H.J. for Lahu! and Spiti.6


  1. Vol. XVIII, 1954, carries a review by Ruttledge of The Story of Everest, by W. H. Murray, 1953. Ruttledge died in 1961 at the age of 77. Kenneth Mason wrote an obituary on him for Vol. XXIII, 1961.
  2. There is much valuable historical material on Spiti in Harish Kapadia's articles 'Spiti — Where Two Worlds Meet', Vol. 40, 1982-1983, and 'Unknown Spiti: The Middle Country', Vol. 44, 1986-1987.


R. Maclagan Gorrie, of the forest service for a change rather than the army, writes of 'Two Easy Passes in Kanawar'. 'I had occasion to travel by the Haran Pass, 12,350 ft., which connects the main Sutlej valley with its tributary the Baspa, and also the Runang Pass 14,500 ft. which lies on the old trade route into Tibet,' he wrote. He describes the beauties of Chini — now Kinnaur, I believe, lest the Chinese claim it by virtue of nomenclature. 'The Haran ghati was used this summer by Sir Malcom Hailey when he made a lightning visit to Chini from Simla. Chini lies on the Hindustan-Tibet road, 150 miles from Simla, and its fascination was first discovered by Lord Dalhousie who escaped from his Viceregal duties away back in the 'forties until he was pursued and retrieved by some officious secretary. It certainly is a delightful spot to escape to'.

Gorrie describes the Baspa valley 'as a real gem of its kind and reminiscent of some West Highland glen with its rolling moraine terraces at the foot of precipitous cliffs.'

H. M. Glover, also of the IFS, went to the Baspa valley as well, having toured the Tidong valley with his wife and crossed the Charang Pass, 17,600 ft. The Baspa was obviously the 'in' place to go to; no wonder Maj Shewen thought it might become a Zermatt.

In the section on Himalayan Expeditions, there is a note on the Italian expedition to the Karakoram, 1928-29, organised by the Milan Section of the Italian Alpine Club. The expedition included Prof Ardito Desio, the same who is now the Hon. Local Secretary for Italy'.7


  1. Ardito Desio contributed 'The 1954 Italian Expedition to the Karakoram and the First Ascent of K2,' to Vol. XIX, 1955-56; 'Geological Notes on the Falchan Kangri (Broad Peak 8047 m) in Karakoram'. Vol. 39, 1981-1982; and 'Which is the Highest Mountain in the World?' Vol. 45. 1987-1988. (Also see article in this issue — Ed.)


Dr Emil Trinkler's Central Asian Expedition, 1927-28, 'to investigate the geography and geology of the Western K'un-lun and Western Takla-makan', took over a year. They made a thorough exploration of the Aksai-chin plateau — happily before it became disputed territory — the existing maps of which, based on very rough reconnaissances in the sixties, 'were found to be rather unreliable'. During his expedition, Dr Trinkler also succeeded in doing some archaeological exploration, finding life-size Buddhist statues similar to those excavated by Sir Aurel Stein in 1900.

Trinkler writes in the highest terms of his transport sheep. 'Two men only are required to look after 70 sheep, and each can carry a load of 20 to 30 lbs and a sheep can work without grass or water longer than a pack pony or yak.'

Dr Trinkler was obviously a determined explorer, for the book review section includes one of Quer Dursch Afghanistan Nach Indlen, 1925. It is an account of his 1923-24 journey as geologist to a newly founded trading company.

Dr Wm. Filchner's Central Asian Expedition of 1926-28 was to fill in some of the many gaps in the magnetic surveys of Central Asia. For much of the journey, Dr Filchner was unaccompanied by any other European; he 'appears to have travelled very lightly (sic) and to have relied largely for his subsistence on such food supplies as were locally obtainable.'

Dr Filchner was an even more determined explorer than Dr Trinkler, for his book on his first journey to the Pamirs was published in 1903. The Journal reviews his Wetterleuchten im Osten, 1928. This is in the form of a novel with real as well as fictional characters and covers events in Central Asia between 1899 and 1923.

Central Asian exploration seemed to be in German hands.

The Indus and the Shyok

The Shyok was a major preoccupation in 1928 because it was feared that a natural dam formed by a transversal glacier would break and cause disastrous floods.

F. Ludlow's article 'The Shyok Dam in 1928', and Kenneth Mason's 'Indus Floods and Shyok Glaciers' arose out of this alarm. Ludlow found himself in Panamik in the Nubra valley, on 'natural history pursuits', intending to go to the Karakoram Pass, and decided to go and see what all the 'pother' was about.

He explained that 30 miles west of the Karakoram Pass, at 20,000 ft is the head basin of the enormous Rimo glacier, surveyed first by the De Filippi expedition of 1914. Northern Rimo forms the source of the Yarkand river which flows north and loses itself in the marshes of Lop Nor, now famous for nuclear testing. The Central and Southern Rimo branches unite about 10 miles south of the watershed to form the main source of the Shyok river. The valley contracts and forms a narrow gorge. To the west are half a dozen magnificent peaks of over 22,000 ft. If there is a heavy accumulation of snow on the three glaciers, they move relatively fast and flow right across the river, blocking it and forming a lake. Some time 'either the dam suddenly collapses and the waters thunder down in one appalling cataract, or the waters eat a tunnel through the dam and disperse in a more gradual and less terrifying manner', he wrote.

On 24 July, Ludlow travelled via the Saser la and the Depsang plateau to Daulat Beg Oldi, and descended to the Chip Chap river. The lake was an irregular crescent; at its widest it was about 1½ to 2 miles broad, about ten miles long. 'But I had never seen a Karakoram glacier of the first magnitude before,' wrote Ludlow, 'and here was one spread out before me in all its grandeur. The sight was impressive beyond words. I had never dreamed of anything half so magnificent .... I could see the Southern and Central branches, each from 2 to 3 miles wide, snaking their way downwards from a series of beautiful snow peaks in the far distance. Down, down they came, mile after mile, their sharp-pointed ice-pinnacles gleaming like silver in the sun.'

On his way to the Karakoram Pass, he came to the most 'miserable bone-strewn encampment between Panamik and the Karakoram.' His map had informed him that it boasted of three huts. 'It did. And when I arrived I found them all occupied — one by a dead pony, the second by a dead donkey and the third by a dead Yarkandi'.

Following the Shyok river, he saw the dam 'right ahead of us, two miles or so to the north'.. It proved impossible to get to, so he describes it as seen through binoculars: 350-400 yards long, about 200 ft. high. 'I am painfully aware of the imperfections of my story. To write usefully on such a subject I ought to have possessed an elementary knowledge of glaciology and engineering. Then, perhaps, I might have judged whether the present dam will collapse suddenly, and if so, when the catastrophe will take place. As an amateur naturalist, I know none of these things.'

Obviously this was not Ludlow's first trip to Ladakh 'on natural history pursuits', for the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society (B.N.H.S.) Vol. 27, 1920, has an article by him, 'Notes on the identification of certain birds in Ladakh.'

Kenneth Mason's article — which refers to Ludlow's — also explains how the Shyok river comes to be blocked. I have collected in this paper as much historical evidence of previous floods in the Indus basin as I have been able to find, he writes. And being with the Survey of India, he was able to find a great deal. Floods had been caused by the Shyok glaciers in 1780, 1835, 1939, 1842, 1903, and 1926. Only those of 1835 and 1926 seem to have been serious down the river as far as Skardu.

There were two danger points: the Shingshal valley and the upper Shyok. 'Much may be done by careful watching and a sound system of warning.' In the Shingshal valley men were despatched each year to report on the positions of the glaciers, and as long ago as 1893 warning of a glacier burst was given in time to prevent loss of life. 'The problem is not quite so easy in the upper Shyok, for the nearest village, Panamik in the Nubra valley, is four marches away, and separated from the glaciers by the Saser Pass'.

Writing of the Great Indus Rood of 1841, Mason says, 'In December 1840 or January 1841, the west side of the Lechar spur of Nanga Parbat opposite Gor, was precipitated into the Indus by an earthquake. The obstruction was approximately a thousand feet deep and completely closed the main river. In April 1841, Jabbar Khan, the Chief Astor, warned Kashmir of this block and stated that the river would probably be held back for another month, and about the same time Raja Karim Khan of Gilgit sent warnings, written on brich-bark, down the main valley of the Indus.' It burst in May-June and the lake which extended for 40 miles was liberated. The lake emptied itself in 24 hours and swept everything before it. .A Sikh army was encamped on the plain of Chach near Attack — at 2 pm in early June, the roar of the waters was heard and before the soldiers could reach safety, the river came down with an immediate rise of nearly 80 feet.

'An interesting account of the flood, narrated by a zemindar of Torbela is given by Capt. Abbott in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol. XVII, 1848, p. 231 sqq.' writes Mason. He quotes it and it is worth reproducing. 'We began to exclaim, "What is this murmur? Is it the sound of cannon in the distance? Is Gundgurh bellowing? Is it Thunder?" Suddenly someone cried out: "The Rivers come!" And I looked and perceived that all the dry channels were already filled and that the river was racing furiously in an absolute wall of mud, for it had not at all the appearance or colour of water. They who saw it in time easily escaped. They who did not, were inevitably lost. It was a horrible mess of foul water, carcasses of soldiers, peasants, war-steeds, camels, prostitutes, tents, mules, asses, trees and household furniture, in short every item of existence jumbled together in one flood of ruin. For Raja Goolab Singh's army was encamped in the bed of the Indus at Koolaye, 3 coss above Torbaila, in check of Poynda Khan. Part of the force was at the moment in hot pursuit, or the ruin would have been wider. The rest ran, some to large trees which were all soon uprooted and borne away, others to rocks which were speedily buried beneath the waters. Only they escaped who took at once to the mountain side. About five hundred of these troops were at once swept to destruction. The mischief was immense. Hundreds of acres of arable land were licked up and carried away by the waters. The whole of the Seesoo trees which adorned the river's banks: the famous Burgutt tree of many stems, time out of mind the chosen bivouac of travellers, were lost in an instant. The men in the trees, the horses and mules tethered to the stems all sunk alike into the gulf and disappeared for ever. As a woman with a wet towel sweeps away a legion of ants, so the river blootted out the army of the Raja...'

In his article, Mason refers to the travels of Sven Hedin,8 Francis Younghusband, Tom Longstaff (we learn from the section Himalayan Notes that in 1928 His Majesty the King-Emperor approved the award of the Royal Geographical Society's Founder's Medal to Longstaff), Sir Aurel Stein (who was appointed the Club's Scientific and Technical Correspondent for archaeology).


  1. In summer 1991, in a small valley in the Valaisan Alps, I was a camper with the curious legend 'Sven Hedin' boldly painted on it. The owner had obviously gone off on an excursion so I was unable to find out the reason for this adornment. The car had Bernese license plates.


The book section contains a review of Magic Ladakh, by Major M. L A. Gompertz CGanpat'). He passed six months in 1928 wandering in Ladakh with a camera and a typewriter — he did not shoot. In recent years, there have been a number of articles in the H.J. on Ladakh; our editor seems to have specialised in the region; see Vol. 37 CA Trek in Ladakh and Zanskar'), and Vols. 45 and 46.

Extending Knowledge of the Himalaya

One can imagine the editor, Kenneth Mason, determined to get a number of articles 'to extend knowledge of the Himalaya and adjoining ranges through science ...', as stated in the aims of the Club. Must get one on geology, he must have said, and who better than my colleague J. de Graaf Hunter, Director, Geodetic Branch, Survey of India? De Graaf Hunter entitles his article "The Attraction of the Himalaya', well aware that this would be thoroughly misunderstood. 'Members of the HC will not be surprised at the above title,' he wrote , 'but many of them will not have in mind exactly the subject with which the article is to deal... Attraction is a compendious term which includes many very different meanings... It is the gravitational pull of the Himalaya which will be discussed here and the inferences which observation results make possible.'

Sir Geoffrey Corbett has a learned article on 'The Word Himalaya,' and it was reassuring to learn that the way I pronounce it turns out to be correct. It is startling to learn, however, that there was a Hindu way of pronouncing it and a Muhammadan rendering; but it is a Sanskrit word, and there is no doubt about the Sanskrit pronunciation.' Corbett had reached his conclusions with 'the help of Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya and Pandit Brijlal Nehru'.

Flora of the Himalaya

For plants, Mason must have thought, the obvious man is Capt F. Kingdon Ward9 who already seems to have made Eastern India his own particular domain. So Kingdon-Ward wrbte 'Botanical Exploration in the Mishmi Hills', following eight months in that region with H.M. Clutterbuck. The Mishmi Hills 'are not new ground to the pioneer explorer', wrote Kingdon Ward, 'but to the botanist they are virgin soil.... For some years I have been botanising on the NE frontier of India... in the hope of throwing light on a certain purely academic problem.... What happens to the Great Himalayan range after the Dihang-Tsangpo has drilled a passage through it?'


  1. Frank Kingdon-Ward died in 1958 at the age of 72. His obituary in the H.J. Vol. XXI, 1958, was written by Kenneth Mason. 'When Sir Geoffrey Corbett and I were enlisting the support of Himalayan travellers who found our Club, we naturally turned to Kingdon-Ward, F. M. Bailey and H. T. Morshead as the acknowledged experts of the eastern Himalaya.' Born, bred and educated as a naturalist, exotic plants were his great joy in life. Vol. XXII, 1959-60 has a review of Kingdon-Ward's book Pilgrimage for Plants. The review is by Dr K. Biswas whose own book Common Medicinal Plants of Darjeeling and Sikkim Himalaya, 1956, is reviewed in the same issue. Biswas was later editor of the H.J. Vol. XXXIV, 1974-75, has an article by Ulrich Schweinfurth, 'F. Kingdon-Ward and the Exploration of the Eastern Himalaya and River Gorge of South Eastern Tibet'.


Other contributors to the Journal referred to the flora. Lt Col Reginald Schomberg in his account of the Urta Saryk valley, while complaining that the weather in July 1928 was execrable, with heavy rain every day, usually for 5-6 hours in the afternoon, said, 'The flowers in July were nearly over, but the river-sides were carpeted with blue aconite stretching for miles, in great luxuriance. There were quantities of white gentians — the blue ones were over. There was also a purple primula of immense height, some of the stems of the flowers being two feet long. No ferns were to be found. The season for flowers in the Tien Shan is much shorter than in the Himalaya... The Urta Saryk valley was completely deserted for the Kazaks graze there only during the early winter. To me, the absence of man was a great relief. No doubt he murmured Bishop Heber's oft quoted lines to himself, 'Where every prospect pleases, And only Man is vile.'

The book section reviews Wild Flowers of Kashmir by B. O. Coventry, 1927. Coventry had chosen a hundred of the more striking and attractive flowers of the country and described them so they could be identified easily.

Birds of the Himalaya

Ornithology seems to be given pride of place in Volume One and one may be forgiven for sometimes wondering if one is reading the Journal of the H.C. or of the B.N.H.S. As an amateur bird-watcher, I have no quarrel with this emphasis on birds.

Hugh Whistler was the obvious man to get hold of for a suitable article. His Popular Handbook of Indian Birds had just been published and is in fact reviewed in the book section by KM, presumably Mason himself. In the review, KM rightly describes Whistler as 'well known throughout the country as a highly skilled and scientific ornithologist.' Though we now have the standard Handbook of the Birds of India and Pakistan by Salim Ali and Dillon Ripley, as also The Book of Indian Birds, Indian Hill Birds, and others by Salim Ali, Whistler's book remains a readable 'scientific but not too technical publication.' It is good to see that as recently as 1986, there was a reprint of the fourth edition. In the Preface, Whistler's son writes, 'Although many other excellent books on Indian Birds are currently available, including those by my father's friend and colleague, Dr. Salim Ali, it is a tribute to the Handbook that it is still widely used.'

Whistler's article in Volume One was 'Some Aspects of Bird-Life in Kashmir', for Kashmir, he said, 'is rapidly becoming the playground of India in the sense that Switzerland has become the playground of Europe.'

Whistler outlines the connection between the avifauna of Kashmir and that of other parts of Asia; describes the more familiar birds of the Vale of Kashmir, and those of the Treaty Road to Leh. "There is no more charming bird in Kashmir than the White-cheeked Bulbul,' he writes, after having described several common birds of the Valley. 'He is such a sprightly fellow, spruce and debonair as he turns from side to side uttering two or three little rippling notes that always strike me as amongst the most cheerful of bird-calls... Sit in the verandah and they will come to tea with you... hopping on the table and picking at the cakes. Picnic at Shalimar and they join you on the grass; live in a house-boat and they will come in to call. Yes, the journey to Kashmir would be worthwhile to meet this Bulbul alone.'

The Treaty Road to Leh provides, or course, many quite different species. And 'occasionally a Griffon Vulture or the grander Lammergeyer beats along the hillsides or wheels far overhead hoping to find a dying goat or pony.'

Whistler ends his article with a vivid description of a kestrel mobbed by mountain-finches. 'I remember how once I saw a kestrel fly swiftly over some fallow fields and take a mountain-finch off the ground, flying on with it held in its claws. As it passed, some sixty or seventy other mountain-finches rose from the ground and mobbed the kestrel. Away went the kestrel clinging to its booty with the cloud of small birds in pursuit. I watched them into the distance across the valley growing dimmer and dimmer, until suddenly they passed from the shadow of the mountain Into the early morning sunlight which poured between two peaks. And In the beams of light the cloud of mountain-finches was lit up and became a kaleidoscope of dancing motes, rising and falling in perpetual motion. They crossed into shadow and all had vanished save the memory.'

The section on Himalayan Expeditions contains an account of the expedition organised by Rear-Admiral Hubert Lynes, C.B., C.M.G., to study birds nnd to gain material for the monograph being prepared by Hugh Whistler, lilrds of Kashmir. Both Whistler (who was formerly with the Indian Police Service and was now retired in England) and B. B. Osmaston, formerly wllh the Indian Forest Service and another well-known ornithologist, .it c ompanied the expedition. Those were leisurely days; they left England on 22 March and arrived in Srinagar on 9 April. They went over the Zoji la, to Khalatse, Ringdom and Kargil and returned by the Skardu route lo Srinagar on 6 August. The B.N.H.S. had sent V. S. La Personne to Cillglt for three months. Seven hundred skins were collected by Whistler and Osmaston, and 450 by La Personne.

In the later section Himalayan Notes, there is a piece on 'The Birds of Kashmir’. 'Mr. Hugh Whistler is engaged in writing a book on the Birds of Kashmir. His intention is, as far as possible, to write a complete moiiiKimph on all birds found within the political boundaries of H.H. the Maharajah of Jammu and Kashmir.' There follows a request to send hllfl nnv notes on observations. 'Mr. Whistler will also be most grateful for shooting notes, and records of game, wild-fowl, etc'.

Other writers in Volume One also record observations of birds. Kingdon Ward wrote, 'Birds of all kinds were extraordinarily numerous in the forests throughout the summer. Owls, woodpeckers, magpies, laughing thrushes, bulbuls, honeysuckers and many others were seen. There were green pigeon in the valley, and woodcock nesting at 13,000 ft. in July; in October I saw flocks of Tibetan sandgrouse in the snow; blood-pheasants and Monal pheasants occur on all the higher ranges; and in 1926 1 obtained a fine new Trogon on the Burma side of the Diphuk La'. (One can imagine Whistler muttering to himself, 'What is the use of saying owls, bulbuls, woodpeckers? In heaven's name, man, what species were they?)

The indomitable Mrs. Lethbridge, at Monkhar on the Pare river, saw 'a lot of bar-headed geese and quantities of brahminy duck, the latter seeming very fond of perching on high cliffs and on exposed rocks on the tops of hills.'

The book section also reviews Douglas Dewar's Indian Birds's Nests, 1929. The purpose of this book was to give within a small compass an 'epitome of our present knowledge of the nesting habits of the commonest species... Every means which helps to obviate the necessity of shooting a bird in order to identify it is so much to the good.'

Animals and Shikar

When reading Volume One, you must keep reminding yourself that this was 1929, when shikar was not a dirty word, India's wild life was not on the verge of extinction and a shikari was a 'sportsman'. Also that it was shikaris who often turned into the most effective conservationists.

Sir Geoffrey Corbett tells us that after the chance conversation on Jakko Hill, one of the names suggested for the new Club was 'The Alpine Club of India'. 'But this seemed likely to scare those whose interest was not high mountaineering....it is shikar that first impels nine-tenths of those who go to the Himalayas,' he wrote, 'and though we were unwilling to admit shikar as a specific object of the Club, we thought our objects should recognise that knowledge of the Himalayas is extended through "sport", which would cover mountain climbing and ski-running as well as shikar.' It is chastening to find that climbers and skiers were relegated to the same sub-species as shikaris!

Kingdom Ward, travelling in the Mishmi Hills, wrote," 'Takin, gooral, bear, monkeys and other animals are fairly common; but it must be remembered that, except in the summer when these animals ascend above the tree-line, the mountains are so precipitous and the forest so thick that it is almost impossible to shoot anything except by a fluke. Certainly the Mishmi Hills are not a sportsman's paradise. The Mishmis hunt musk-deer, which appear to be rather plentiful, and there are barking-deer in the valleys'.

Major D. G. P. Shewen, in 'The Way to the Baspa', wrote, The journey is of course a long one for a limited leave, even with double marches, and the sightseer who walks to a time-table to see the Rogi cliffs at Chini has no time to spare for excursions off the beaten track, while the sportsman either leaves the road at Wangtu to cross the Bhaba pass in search of the Spiti ibex, or confines himself to the valleys on the right bank of the Sutlej....The Baspa, however, has attractions of its own for the artist, the climber, the scenery tripper and even for the sportsman, if he can get his leave early in the summer before the burrhel have retired with the snow to the uttermost heights'.

The sturdy Mrs. Lethbridge, before attacking the Parang la, made sure that their rifles were with them. 'We had now fifteen loads all indispensable, consisting of food, tents, clothes and rifles — no camp furniture except a canvas bath.' Rifles were obviously as essential as canvas baths. And later, she writes, 'At Monkhar we left the river and cut eastwards across downs for two marches, finding much game en route - burrhel, ovis ammon, and Tibetan snowcock. We were lucky enough to shoot three good burrhel, the horns measuring 30, 26½ and 25½ inches.' And again, 'Having bagged a 42½ inch ammon and a 12½ inch gazelle, we decided to return by Hanle to Tso Moriri.'

The ovis ammon is presumably the ovis ammon polli, or Marco Polo sheep; are there any left ? And one cannot help making a silent comment... "three good burrhel"; may one assume that the only good burrhel is a dead burrhel ?'

In the section Minor Himalayan Travels, Major A. S. Brooke describes his trip into eastern Ladakh 'for shooting'. His bag included 1 ammon, 2 shapu, 4 burrhel, 1 Tibetan gazelle and 1 Kashmir stag. Lieut G. Sherriff travelled from Kashgar to the Tekkes valley and tells us, 'The best shooting grounds lie between Shotta and the upper Koksu...Game consists of wapiti, roe, ibex, sheep besides small game.'

The book section contains reviews of Sport and Travel in the Highlands of Tibet, by Sir Henry Hayden and Cesar Cosson, 1927, and Twenty Five Years of Big Game Hunting, by Bridgadier-General R. Pigot, 1928. I low far away seems that world of plentiful wild life and happy, conscience-free shikar !

Indigenous Peoples

Sherpas are not mentioned at all; perhaps this is not so strange because there are no real accounts of climbing, and Nepal had not opened up as yet. (There is a review of Nepal, by Perceval Landon, 1928: Nepal of ‘all Eastern countries, easily the least known.')

Kingdon Ward wrote, 'For the benefit of future travellers it may be remarked that the Taroan Mishmis, beyond the administered line, are difficult to manage. They are grossly lazy and dislike cooly work, and they are hllillali ntxl dishonest in a feeble way. Petty larceny is their strong suit; Itut mutn.il suspicion and a yellow streak would probably prevent them ever indulging in a serious "hold-up" of the white man or the Tibetan, especially if they could gain their ends by non-cooperation as they did With us. Most of them — not all — take opium in excess; but as every village and almost every hut grows its own crop, nothing is gained by carrying opium for payment. They have hazy ideas of the value of money, the more remote inhabitants of the Delei valley rarely visit Sadiya. Unlike the Abors, they do not drink much liquor; in fact above Minutang (Chibaon on the map) no liquor is brewed, though the Mishmis are said to indulge in wild alcoholic orgies when they go down to the plains.'

'Their young men are truculent but easily cowed; indeed, they may be said to be somewhat timid swashbucklers, and the least display of force is enough to frighten them. The Gams have only a nominal control, but we found that when they promised to do a thing, they usually did it; the difficulty was to make them promise anything'.

The intrepid Mrs. Lethbridge also had problems with coolies whose ideas of their responsibilities did not conform to hers. 'We had written ahead to arrange for coolies, but owing to a cholera epidemic, the duplicity of the lumbardar, and the natural aversion of the Kulu people to any hard work, we were delayed there three days. Had it not been that our shikari from Spiti with two or three other Spiti men were waiting at Jagatsukh when we arrived, we might still have been there, for they helped us to put an end to the blackmailing policy of the lumbardar, although we finally had to pay three times as much as the nerrick rate quoted in the Punjab Route-Book'. (I would not have liked to be in the shoes of whoever was responsible for the Punjab Route-Book, when Mrs. Lethbridge got back from her trip).10


  1. And what would she have said about young men spinning around Spiti on motor bikes? I refer to William McKay Aitken's article in H.J. Vol. 47, pp. 94-98? She might just have forgiven him because the article is so entertainingly written, but I doubt it. I rather think she would have got out her trusty rifle and cheerfully added him to her collection of 42V2 inch ovis ammons and 38 inch burrhels. Incidentally, the Swiss Alpine Club is trying to cope with the explosion of mountain bikes in the Alps. Not only do they damage the paths but push the poor, ordinary walker off them. And now they are organising world championships for mountain bikes, which means preparing special trails by destroying yet more of the environment.


The comments on the locals are typical of those who are used to a money economy and come from a technologically more highly developed civilisation; they are unable to understand why a poor man following a quite different way of life, should not jump at the chance of working for money. Hence the usual charges of lazy, childish, unwilling to work. The failure of one culture to understand another — and therefore anxious to condemn it — is a common and enduring trait of human beings, white, black, brown or pink. As Turgeniev wrote, 'A man is capable of understanding anything, how the ether vibrates, and what is going on in the sun, but how any other man blows his nose differently from him, that he is incapable of understanding.'

Some Concluding, Random Thoughts

Volume One — not surprisingly — must strike a reader today as terribly 'British'. All the writers, and probably most of the members, were British; the ony Indians mentioned were two learned Pandits who were consulted on the word 'Himalaya'. There were members in Europe, Africa and America, but no doubt most of them were British too.

Even the advertisements — a sure indication of the orientation of a journal — reflected that Englishness of the Journal. They included Lloyds Bank; Spencer & Co.; Army and Navy Cooperative Society; Cockburn's Agency; Kashmir "The Tourist's Delight'; and Cheap Return Tickets by East India Railways to hill stations like Naini Tal, Almora, Pahalgam, Mussoorie, Chakrata, Kasauli, Simla, Gulmarg, and Sonamarg. All these hills stations, like the H.C. itself, had been started by the English.

It is obvious that many of the founders of the HC and many of those who put together Volume One and wrote for it were friends or at least acquaintances. It was something of a charmed circle, making for a homogeneous group. Kenneth Mason — who remained Honorary Editor for the first twelve volumes — was clearly the tiger in the tank, the activist, who did all the running around and putting together. The advertisements include one inserted by the Geodetic Branch of the Survey of India, advertising its Survey of India Route Book, 2nd Revised edition, 1929, by Major Kenneth Mason: 'This book contains details of 100 important routes, divided into recognised stages. Notes are given for each stage, about the nature of the country, mileages, heights above sea level and latest available maps.' Major Mason obviously came to the editorship of the H.J. with much experience in the trade.

Then there is a review of Mason's book Exploration of the Shaksgam Valley and Aghil Ranges, 1928, by Francis Younghusband. (The compliment was returned when in Vol. XVIII, 1954, Mason wrote a review of Francis Younghusband: Explorer and Mystic, by George Seaver, 1952. Younghusband died in 1942.) 'The H.C. starts with the advantage of having in this publication a kind of guide book to perhaps the most interesting and least explored part of the whole Himalaya,' Younghusband wrote. Mason had explored this most remote and wonderful region lying north of the glittering constellation of peaks culminating in K2. Mason was awarded the Founder's Medal of the Royal Geographical Society for his four month exploration of the Shaksgam in 1926. In 1932 he returned to England (he had first come to India in 1909) and became Professor of Geography at Oxford. In 1955 he published his Abode of Snow, a historical record (if the Himalaya from the earliest times. Having explored the region round K2, what would he have thought if he knew that 60 years later, a ipecial expedition would have to go to that mountain to try and clear Up some of the tons of garbage that expeditions had left behind ?

Mnson died in 1976; Trevor Braham wrote an obituary in Vol. XXXIV, 1974-75. He said, 'I think it is as a geographer, and especially as an authority on the Himalaya, that he will be best remembered.' To borrow a phrase from William McKay Aitken's delightful article 'A Ramble through the Himalayan Club Library', Vol. 40, 1982-83, the H.C. was built on solid foundations of "Kenneth Masonry'.

Four institutions seemed to be closely linked to the H.C: the Army, the Survey 6f India, and the Bombay Natural History Society, and the Indian Forest Service. A good basis to start with. Many of the writers and shikaris were army men; Mason himself belonged to the Survey of India.11 Two of the authors belonged to the Forest Service. The B.N.H.S. is not mentioned but there was undoubtedly a close connection: Ludlow, Whistler, Osmaston, Kingdon Ward were, I believe, active members of it.


  1. Vol. 47 of the H.J. seems to emphasise the connection. It has an article 'Survey of India through the Ages', by Lt. Gen. S. M. Chadha, Surveyor General, being the text of a talk to the Royal Geographical Society on 8 November 1990 in celebration of the bicentenary of Sir George Everest. And it has a full scale review by J.T.M. Gibson of The Pundits, British Exploration of Tibet and Central Asia, by Derek Waller, 1990.


To look back is always a fascinating exercise, for the past 'is a different country; they do things differently there.' It is also usually a saddening experience. There has been so much change in the 63 years since Volume One. One tends to exaggerate the goodness of the good old days and the badness of our present times. Yet, allowing amply for this human weakness, there can be no doubt that the degradation of the Himalayan environment is alarming. In H.J. Vol. 47, H.C. Sarin writes on the 'Environmental Protection of the Himalaya.' Is there something more that the H.C. could do for this?


A browse through the Himalayan Journal Vol. I, and its relevance to the present day.


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