The Last 15 Years (1989 — 2003)


In 2003 as the Himalayan Club celebrates 75 years of fruitful life this year and we expect this septuagenarian to belie all dire predictions of aging. A look at the last fifteen years, since its 60th anniversary, shows signs of vigour and maturity, and the inevitable changes that a healthy organization adapting to changing environments must exhibit.

The ranks of the old guard, including the founding members, continued to thin in this period. Among these notables were Brig. G. H. Osmaston of the Survey of India, Dr. J. B. Auden (of the eponymous col), Paul Bauer (early Kangchenjunga expeditions), Sir Charles Evans (the South Summit of Everest, Kangchenjunga), Dr. Barry Bishop (Everest West ridge). Theirs is a substantial contribution to Himalayan mountaineering history and inspires even today. It is part of the sentient history of the Club.

We also lost formidable editorial talent in the passing of the tenacious and much-loved Soli Mehta, the Hon. Editor who, during a most difficult period of the Club, sedulously edited 11 volumes of the Himalayan Journal, from Mumbai, Calcutta and Africa, and the meticulous R. E. Hawkins, who graciously gave the required guidance while maintaining a low profile. Harish Kapadia stepped to the fore once again, took charge and made editing into a practitioner's art. He has edited all the issues of the Himalayan Journal in this period, and this issue brings the total that he has edited to 21 volumes. He had assisted Soli Mehta for another 4 issues, completing a unique silver jubilee of association. He has stood like a rock, gathering articles, cajoling reluctant writers, wading through heaps of unwanted material, choosing photographs, twisting printers' arms and overcoming personal tragedies to enrich the mountaineering community with his labour of love. He has also inspired assistants from the days of galley proofs to spell-cheque (oops!).1 Dhiren Toolsidas produced a Consolidated Index to the Himalayan Journal Vols 1-50, while Parul Shah made one for the Himalayan Club Newsletters. These were tremendous efforts.

Among other publishing achievements, we have the widely read and appreciated Exploring The Hidden Himalaya, published by Hodder& Stoughton, UK, and sent complimentary to entire membership. Now it is in the second edition. This collaboration of Harish and Soli is fulfilling its initial promise of becoming a neoclassical concise reference book. Arun Samant brought the vigorous local climbing news to the attention of the Mumbai Section's members with the Sahyadri Bulletin. The fiftieth volume of the Journal, released by Sir C.J.S. Bonington, had a special supplement edited by Aamir Ali entitled The Himalayan Environment, later published in the book form by the Club titled Environment Protection of Himalaya.

Continuity with change — a statement trivialized by overuse but useful nonetheless to summarize this period in the Club's life. The Club continued to encourage the learning of mountaineering skills at the various institutes by providing financial help through the Grindlays Scholarships and due to wise investing even increased the aid amount considerably. The Kilachand Mountain Scholarship was set up in 1995 for similar goals and continues to help deserving youth. The G.E.D.Waller fund continues to help build the store of equipment available for rent to members. The Nehru Memorial Equipment store in New Delhi, created mostly by the efforts of Sudhir Sahi in 1990, is a useful resource for expedition teams facing a paucity of equipment. The Calcutta Section has increased the range of equipment that it rents. In the year 2000 the club lost an energetic supporter in Kaivan Mistry as he drowned in a river in a freak accident. His family has donated an endowment to the Club to start the annual 'Kaivan Mistry Memorial Lectures'. The first such lecture was delivered by Bob Pettigrew on 14th February 2003.

The domestic and international presence of the Club is represented by the Hon. Local Secretaries , who number as many as 11 and 16 respectively. This is a large number, considering everyone's efforts are voluntary. It is a testimony to the goodwill created and respect earned for the Club by its stalwarts of whom I will name a few. Jagdish C. Nanavati 's contribution includes being the Hon Secretary for 21 years, the President for 8 years and now President Emeritus, serving the Club for over three decades. The Club surely bears some of his qualities — steadfast, rational, analytical yet passionate, never shy to critique and quick to appreciate. Like the last 15 years, the current decade and a half belong to his era in the history of the Club.

It is no wonder that the Club was given recognition via membership of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation in 1997. K.N. Naoroji has the ability to lead with his presence and example. A lot of members were delighted that they were offered and accepted Honorary Membership. S.P. Mahadevia has soldiered bravely as Hon Business Editor for several years till handing it over to Rishad Naoroji. Divyesh Muni has demonstrated the talent and energy to shoulder Club matters as its Hon Secretary.

The grim reaper has been active in the last fifteen years. The Club lost many members. F.C.Badhwar, Paul Nunn, Mike Cheney, Dr.M.L.Biswas, W.H.Murray, J .Latimar, C.R.Cooke, H.C.Sarin, Brig. Gyan Singh, S.N.Das, Col.J.O.M. Roberts, U.P.Mukerjee, Dr. Barry Bishop, H. Adams-Carter, S.P.Godrej, Arun Samant, Kaivan Mistry, Lt. Nawang Kapadia, Dr.P.A.Naik, A.B.Ghoshal, Surinder Lal, Sir Peter Holmes, Ardito Desio and so many others...They will be sorely missed.

The goodwill of some members towards the Club continues even after their tragic deaths. Soli's books are housed in the BNHS library. The families of Arun Samant and Kaivan Mistry have funded publications and educational programmes to be channelled through the Club in their memory.

The Club's library at Delhi remains a patent-free treasure-trove and inspired a book in 1996 by the then Hon Librarian Janet Rizvi. Jack Gibson added his personal collection to the Delhi library in 1993. The Sectional libraries continue to grow, and in 1999 a new one was started in Bangalore. Various expeditions have been sponsored by the Club, notable among them being the successful Indian-American Expedition led by Aloke Surin to the Parvati valley which climbed 5 peaks and the second leg of the 4500 km long Trans - Himalayan trek led by Vineeta Muni.

The old watchdog habits remain intact, and in 1995 the Club studied the comments of Ake Nilsson who had climbed Swargarohini I and who suggested that a previous claim for the same peak was not quite correct. The matter was re-examined and the old claim of first ascent of the team from Nehru Institute of Mountaineering confirmed.

In 1999,the Club prepared recommendations on conducting adventure activities, treks and training camps. The Indian Mountaineering Foundation supported these views and issued a joint letter to various organizations conducting such activities.

A few of the many Sectional activities need special mention. A workshop on Expedition Planning in 1993 in Mumbai was well received, as were the 70th anniversary celebrations in 1998 in various sections. The London Section held a Millennium celebration, which was well attended and enjoyed with presence of Harish Kapadia as a lecturer. With change of guard, the Kolkatta (Calcutta as it is now called!) Section of the Club showed vigour and enthusiasm not seen in past few decades and organised two seminars and exhibitions, thus rejuvenating the Club in the east.

Despite the relatively wide reach of the Club, it has preferred to stay focused on its objectives. The membership criteria have not been diluted and constitutional changes expanding the nature of the Club have been examined and thought to be unnecessary. I'm glad that corporate membership was nayed but happy that a modified patron status was introduced. This will allow the needed funds for a permanent office for the Club to be established.

In its 75th year the Club looks poised to reach triple figures. An innings being well played, full of content and not lacking form, seems to be the consensus. One must look at the future, which too looks bright.

Since shifting its office to Mumbai, the Club has been well served by many young enthusiasts, what our President calls, 'The Mumbai Group'. They worked tirelessly, raised funds, managed publications and enthused the large membership. The chief initiator in this has been Divyesh Muni, who has been devoted to the Club. A leading mountaineer himself, he devotes the energies of a climber to the affairs of the Club and is leading by example.

By late 20th century the Club was in need for fresh inputs, ideas and finances. All were provided under the able new President, Dr M. S. Gill. Using his administrative expertise of being India's Chief Election Commissioner he pursued the cause of change, modernised the outlook and worked to get the Club started on course of search for a permanent office in the city of Mumbai. One of the main thrust has been to revitalise the club by several well attended seminars, lectures and film festivals. At the same time the Club never lost sight of its heritage, 'Tiger Sherpas' alive at the turn of the century (unfortunately only 3) were feted in Darjeeling and honoured in Mumbai, the traditional annual diners were held in London and Mumbai and the 'British Connection' was looked upon with pride.

In the events of celebrating 75th year the Club recalled its past by presence of two British long standing members of the Club and mountaineers like Bob Pettigrew (Hon. London secretary since 1986) and Ian MacNaught-Davis, President of the UIAA. Families of three mountaineers who had perished were paid homage to. With presence of two speakers from the Japanese Alpine Club and others from India, the true international character of the Club was evident. Like a matured 75 year old but adapting to the modern technology, the Club has produced a special CD-Rom (edited by Harish Kapadia- that man again!) sent complimentary to the entire membership. Titled Such A Long Journey it covers the history of the Himalayan Club from 1928-2003 in text and rare photographs.

Harish Kapadia, the editor of the Himalayan Journal was awarded the Royal Geographical Society's 'Patron's Gold Medal' by Her Majesty the Queen, For contributions to geographical discovery and mountaineering in the Himalaya. He is the first Indian (indeed even Asian) to receive this highest award of the RGS in last 125 years. He received the award on 2nd June 2003, - on the 50th Anniversary of the Coronation and the 1st ascent of Everest. It was a proud moment in the 75th year of the Club.

It has been a long journey but a fruitful one. The Himalayan Club can look back to its 75 years with satisfaction, and to the future, with confidence.


For a complete history of the Himalayan Club for the first 75 years refer to the following:

  1. 'The story of the Himalayan Club 1928-1978' by J. A. K. Martyn, HJ Vol 35, p. 1
  2. 'The continuing story of The Himalayan Club, 1979 — 1988', by M. H. Contractor, HJ Vol. 44, p. 159
  3. 'Such a long journey, The Last 15 years 1989 — 2003', by M. H. Contractor, HJ Vol 59.
  4. Such A Long Journey, a special CD-Rom, edited by Harish Kapadia and sent complimentary to all members in mid 2003.


  1. One of the most promising Assistant Editors was M. H. Contractor himself, writer of this article. We worked together (enjoyed together while working!) for 7 volumes. He was poised to take over as the Honorary Editor soon, but the the greener pastures of the west called him like many other young enthusiasts who had worked for the club. Muslim was a major 'missing person' in this last decade, for the Himalayan Club and the Himalayan Journal. — Ed


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