BOOK AND FILM REVIEWS
Including reviews of Himalayan films
HEIGHTS OF MADNESS. One Woman's Journey in Pursuit of a Secret War. By Myra MacDonald. Pp. 242, 14 colour photos, 2007. (Rupa and co.. New Delhi, Rs. 395).
Any book or study on the conflict on the Siachen glacier has to consider the politics of war between India and Pakistan. No one is better suited to do this than Myra MacDonald who was a correspondent for news agency Reuters based in Delhi. In that capacity she had access to political bigwigs (her book was released by then the Defence Minister of India). She visited Pakistan few times and established contacts with the army there. She visited the Siachen glacier from the Indian side. First time she could not fly over the glacier, which she did during the second visit in poor weather.
The book is not only about the Siachen glacier, the war and politics associated with it. Like a reporter she describes life in Delhi, Rohtak, and visiting friends in higher circles, in the army and otherwise. The descriptions are typical of a foreign reporter; 'half starved cows wandered the streets,....', 'monkeys that had infested the buildings (of the Defence Ministry)' - description of life in Delhi and little on history of India. All these are like a travelogue and has no relation with the Siachen war, which is the title of the book.
She has interviewed Subedar Bana Singh who captured the high post, now named after him. The description of battles, like this one and at Bilafond la are well researched. Talking with various Generals and officials the book narrates events that led to the war and reasons for it. Training of soldiers, hardships they face, food they eat, psychological impact and equipment they use. The major lacuna in the book is that no maps are given, it is very difficult, if not very irritating, to follow the war, its politics, and stories without knowing where it is being fought. It is evident that the Indian army was reluctant, as always, to let a foreigner fly or visit the glacier despite orders from higher quarters. Thus from the Indian side what she observed was a cursory glance.
The Pakistan army received her well. A special briefing was organised, many young and senior officers put forward their views and narrated battles. The story of the 'Model Martyr' Captain Iqbal is touching. The young officer had written a Will before going for the battle instructing to pay 'his bills to the mess, the laundryman, and the cobbler' too. He died in the battle and was a hero for the Pakistani troops. She is given a tour of Goma, Ghyari and Ali Brangza, what Pakistani army calls, 'line of actual contact' and observes the troops there. Due to this welcoming treatment by the Pakistani army the book tilts toward their view points, even though Pakistan does not control any bit of Siachen. Perhaps this is the lesson for the Indian army - to handle public relations as well as the war they fight.
The human stories from both sides of the border are examples of sacrifices the young are making. Their beliefs and commitment to their nations are total. But when one comes to the need for this war, wanting the territory under control and methods of fighting, both are on the other side of the fence. To someone this could be 'heights of madness' while to the nations involved in the war, it may be the necessary sacrifices to protect 'their territory'.
It is a curious war in a way. Fighting for the barren land, at great heights and in conditions that kills more soldiers than the bullets. Moreover you do not see the enemy or there are no specific lines drawn. The author reached the base camp on the Indian side, where everything was peaceful, roses flowering and mountainscape was enchanting. 'Where is the battlefield?' she asked, bemused. 'You are standing on it', the officer replied.
THREE CUPS OF TEA.. By Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. Pp. 349, 22 black and white photographs, 2006. (Penguin, New York, Rs 375).
The Himalaya and adjoining ranges due to their sheer size and complexity do throw up interesting stories and situations, many of which we have read over the years. Just when you thought you have heard them all you come across a story which leaves you baffled as regards what the human spirit can achieve against all the odds.
Returning from a failed attempted from K2 in 1993, Greg Mortenson, after walking down the Baltoro glacier and attempting to reach the road head, loses his way and lands up in a small village called Korphe. Struck by the hospitality of the Balti people inhabiting the village and his own desire to nurse himself to good health, Mortenson decides to stay on in the village. Filled with gratitude after his recovery Mortenson promises the village elders that he will assist in setting up a school for the hundred odd children of the village. This declaration would not only end up changing Mortenson's life but also the lives of thousands of children in the region. Mortenson was not only able to set up the school at Korphe but also managed to set up another 54 schools across north Pakistan and Afghanistan in the coming years. The book Three Cups of Tea brings to life this fascinating effort.
It is well known that the life of mountain people is tough due to the terrain, weather conditions, and lack of government resources which trickle into these locations. There is a desire from climbers who pass by to assist but often the support is in terms of a financial donation or transfer of old clothes and climbing gear. Here you see an American, thousands of miles from home, pouring in both personal time and resources in making and supporting schools in remote mountain locations. Mortenson's viewpoint is that the key to managing various village related issues is by encouraging girl's education, and through this process permanent change can be brought about.
Apart from the story itself mountain enthusiasts will also appreciate the setting of the book. Skardu and Gilgit are gateway locations with reference to the Western Karakoram. The Karakoram Highway too has emerged as a lifeline for this remote region. Insights on the life of the Balti people including the climb of K2 are also of interest. There is also a reference to the Deosai plateau, located 30 km southwest of Skardu, which is widely accepted to be a geographical marvel. All in all, a very fascinating countryside but at the same time very harsh and punishing when you have to carve out a daily existence or even set up schools, and this is well elaborated upon in Three Cups of Tea.
Over the years, Mortenson's fan club has been swelling. Introducing Mortenson, leading mountaineer Alex Lowe on the lecture circuit remarked 'While most of us are trying to scale new peaks Greg has been moving even greater mountains on his own. What he has accomplished, with pure tenacity and determination is incredible. His kind of climb is one we shall all attempt.'
Three Cups of Tea has been on the New York Times Bestseller List since 2006.
DARK SUMMIT: An Extraordinary True Story of Everest's Most Controversial Season, by Nick Heil. Pp. 271, 17 colour photos, 2008. (Virgin Books, London, Rs. 480).
Guided mountaineering expeditions to Everest have been prevalent for some time now and the recent spate of such expeditions has given rise to a raging debate on issues such as environment, risks involved for 'part time' climbers attracted to Everest, and the ethics of putting miles of ropes and ladders all along the route. Despite this, the numbers of climbers attempting Everest from both sides only seems to go up each year. And if there are 'part time' climbers in record numbers there will be accidents and deaths, which in turn will fan further discussion on where all this is heading.
Dark Summit focuses on guided expeditions operating on Everest from the north side during the 2006 season, which was a season with its share of controversies. In addition, it was a bad year with 16 deaths- ~the highest since 1996 when a huge storm hit Everest. The biggest issue which surfaced in the 2006 season from the north was the tragic death of a solo British climber David Sharp who was passed by over 40 climbers as he lay dying on the slopes of Everest.
Dark Summit is the outcome of a two-year research effort by the author Nick Heil who was previously a senior Editor with Outside magazine. Heil has used various sources to put together interesting information, including about the early attempts at climbing Everest and research into effects of high altitude on human beings. This information is woven beautifully into the overall theme. It is interesting to note the wide range in terms of operators whom clients can sign up to climb Everest. The high-end operators work in a 'corporate' type manner and have on their rolls a 'senior management' team, which is actually Sherpas with multiple Everest summits to their credit. Though clients have to pay the 'world' for this it does guarantee a high level of success and safety. Other operators just provide you with a permit and support till base camp. After that clients are their own. David Sharp had used this option for his 2006 climb.
With reference to the David Sharp episode, Neil Heil in Dark Summit probes how few people are willing to give up personal goals to assist a fellow human being in grave danger. Heil's viewpoint is that Everest is a stage where human behaviour gets amplified. Heil further mentions that it seems that while we live in an established social system, humans are typically selfish and competitive. This is the only fact which can explain why 40 climbers walked past Sharp without offering more than token help. But the irony of it all is that it was in fact complete strangers who stumbled onto Lincoln Hall who had been left for dead by his team and brought him down in a dramatic rescue.
This book has been superbly collated and offers the most recent look at climbing Everest from the north side through guided expeditions. The book also has an excellent collection of photographs through which the route from base camp to the summit can be pieced together. There is a 'dark' side to the very concept of guided expeditions and this has been beautifully researched and presented in Dark Summit.
THE BIRDS AND MAMMALS OF LADAKH. By Otto Pfister, 2007. (Oxford University Press, New Delhi, Rs 795).
BIRDS OF KANGRA. By Jan Willem den Besten, 2007. (Moonpeak Publishers, New Delhi, Rs 395).
Till about the 1970s, the commonly accessible books on India's birds could be counted on the fingers of one hand by the average Indian reader. Beginning with the decade of the 1980s, there was a phenomenal growth of bird books textual, photo-guides and illustrated field guides. Each new book was hailed as a benchmark in excellence only to be outpaced a couple of years later by yet another! The first of these trend setting publications was the slim Collin's Hand guide (176 pages) in 1980 and the latest arrival, in 2004, Birds ofKangra is equally slim, but undeniably in a class of its own. The Birds and Mammals of Ladakh, published a few months earlier, is comparatively voluminous, in a larger format and decidedly unique in many aspects.
Ladakh's geographical inaccessibility has been both a blessing and blight for its wildlife. While it held at bay all forces inimical to the well being of its birds and mammals, it also discouraged deliberate field investigation and scientific documentation of its flora and fauna. Since the mid-eighteenth century however, explorers, mountaineers and game trophy hunters have helped build a limited inventory of Ladakh's wildlife. Otto Pfister, a Swiss national, is an accomplished ornithologist and photographer who has authored the first comprehensive book on the birds and mammals of Ladakh. Beginning in 1976, Pfister made over a dozen visits to Ladakh, each trip lasting between one and five months. His twenty-five year labour of love has given us detailed life histories of 226 species of birds and 30 mammals with colour photographs of each. The text is exhaustive and all but a few of the photographs are very good. There is one black and white photograph of a herd of Tibetan gazelles, animals are unfamiliar to most Indians. To the best of my knowledge, Otto Pfister is the first to have both written all the text and taken all the photographs in such a book. Scientific value apart, this book will be an excellent companion to anyone travelling to Ladakh.
As for The Birds of Kangra, most of these avians were first documented by Hugh Whistler in 1926. Though posted to Dharamsala from 1920-24 as SP, Whistler was at heart more an ornithologist than policeman. So it was natural that the first ever list of 403 birds of Kangra would be compiled by him.
Seventy five years later (1994) Willem den Besten, a young Dutchman, arrived in Dharamsala to take up a waste disposal project set up by the Tibetan government in exile in McLeodganj. Besten's first love is also ornithology and photography and he too is destined to be remembered for his systematic conservation, research and compilation of the most significant database, which takes Whistler's count of 403 bird species to 555 by December 2003. Of course, Besten has reaped the benefits of improved mobility, a new generation of spotting scopes and camera equipment and easy access to the immense research sources through the electronic media. Besten has photographed 500 of the 555 species of the birds detailed in his book, putting him in the same class as Otto Pfister. Besten was indeed fortunate that he had the very gifted Noriko Kawakami design the book, brilliantly juxtaposing photographs with text. The other great attribute of this book is that Besten includes local folk tales connected with 38 birds, not seen in any previous book.
Above all, Besten has crowned his love of birds by having His Holiness the Dalai Lama write the introduction. We know that Emperor Asoka, a devoted adherent of Buddhism, had made the preservation of animals an instrument of state policy. That tenet of Buddhism, nurtured and refined over centuries, now finds poetic and sensitive expression in H.H. the Dalai Lama's text:
'Ever since I was a boy in Tibet, I have particularly enjoyed watching birds, the dignified Bearded-vulture roaring high above... .the flocks of geese, and occasionally.. .the call of the Eagle Owl... It is very relaxing just to enjoy the dawn and listen to the birds'.
Maybe that is also the voice of the innermost anguish of an emigre. Thank you Besten for leading us Indians back to our heritage of caring for avians, first etched on a rock in 247 BC.
LT. GENERAL BALJIT SINGH
YOUNGHUSBAND. TROUBLED CAMPAIGN. By Maj. Gen. (Retd) Shubhi Sood. Pp. 212, 76 b/w photos, 7 panoramas, 5 sketches, 2005. (India Research Press, New Delhi, US$ 56.50, Indian price not stated).
Most tourists visiting Gyantse miss the most important place there. It is not on the tourist itinerary as the Chinese hosts do not encourage many to visit the Gyantse Fort in center of town. This is the fort where the British forces, led by Sir Francis Younghusband soundly defeated the Tibetan forces. As the British forces continued their march to Lhasa, Tibetans reoccupied the fort. The best troops in India, the Gorkhas (in this case from the 8th Regiment) were sent to reinforce the Younghusband troops. They attacked the fort and captured it quickly. Tibetans were so sacred that many jumped to their deaths from a high cliff to run away from the khukris of the Gorkhas.
The present book is by a Commanding Officer of 1/8 Gorkha Rifles. He stumbled upon historical photos, taken by an unknown officer during this campaign in 1903-1904. The battalion records gave more information and other books led to construct the full story. The book is in large size and with black and white photos, surprisingly good after 100 years. They bring back memories and are a treat to see - only b/w pictures can evoke such memories. The pictures cover the British forces entering Tibet from Jelep la, past Yatung, fight at Guru, Gyantse fort, Karo la and finally entering Lhasa.
There are pictures of battleground, Indian soldiers, and sangars (stonewalls) that they built capture the mood of those days. Personalities like Lord Curzon. Younghusband, Chinese Amban, Nepali representative at the talk and the Tibetan soldiers and people are strengths of this book. Surprisingly the book does not cover the heroic attack on the fort by Lt J. D. Grant and Havildar Karbir Pun, which won them the Victoria Cross and First Class Order of Merit respectively.
The text gives details of military formations and personnel, which may not interest an average reader. The text of agreement between the British and Tibetans is for record and for students. The photographs are captioned as per the captions in the original album.
Those who visit the Gyantse fort now, should also visit the museum on the upper ramparts. The museum made of many statues and paintings depicting events show how Tibetans and Chinese forces defeated the British at Gytantse ! The Chinese cannot do without blowing their trumpet even from the wrong side. The book like this will be a treasure to hold and hopefully it will guide visitors against such false depiction of history.
HIMALAYAS: DAWN TO DARK. By Ashok Dilwali. Pp 180, 123 colour pictures, 2008. (Prakash Books India Pvt. Ltd, New Delhi, Rs 2500).
Ashok Dilwali has been photographing the Himalaya since 1979 when he undertook his first trek to Sikkim. This love affair with both the Himalaya and photography over the years resulted in Dilwali publishing 17 books and also winning numerous awards all around the world. This, almost three decade long passion, has earned Dilwali the label of being India's foremost mountain photographer.
This book is possibly Dilwali's grandest effort yet in recording his images. The volume contains a collection of the best photographs he has taken over the years across various locations in the Himalaya. In a novel and interesting way of presentation, Dilwali has arranged the photographs in the book based on the time of day in which they have been clicked. The collection of photographs is split into the following six groups: dawn, morning, day, evening, dusk, and night. Through this method Dilwali is able to show the huge influence of light in the final outcome.
Those who travel frequently into the Himalaya are well aware of the elements that one has to face. From landslides to long hours of walking, rain and snowstorms, altitude issues and bitter cold, all these make life in the mountains difficult. To all this, if you add another element, which is carrying heavy and expensive photography equipment, things get even more interesting. And if you are not satisfied by photographing in the day and want to do early morning and night photography, things can only get more complicated. Dilwali believes in the adage 'The harder I work the luckier I get'. From the quality of photographs on offer in this book it is indeed apparent that Dilwali is very lucky with his pictures.
With each picture Dilwali has attached a personal note. Through these comments he shares details about the location of each photograph along with interesting information on why he feels these photographs falls into the 'Best of Ashok Dilwali' list. For photography enthusiasts there is a lot to learn by observing the way the photographs are composed. In the 123 photographs featured, there are several landscapes, portraits of mountain people, as well as some interesting artistic compositions for which you need both an eye as well as close understanding of the subject to bring to life. The only aspect missing in the personal notes is technical information about each photograph in terms of aperture, speed, and focal length.
Being a keen student of photography myself, what I found most interesting was the night photography section. Some of the photographs in this section are absolutely astonishing. My favorite picture is a shot of Shivling taken from Tapovan over a long exposure through the night, delivering a stunning result. This photograph was adjudged third in a world photography contest recently.
This is a coffee table book, which through its sheer size and the magic of Dilwali's photographs, succeeds in bringing home the grandeur and beauty of the Himalaya. You will enjoy it with sipping something stronger than coffee too.
K2 - THE PRICE OF CONQUEST. By Lino Lacedelli and Giovanni Cenacchi, Pp.128, maps, 20 colour photos, 28 b/w photos, 2006. (Mountaineers Books, Seattle, U.S. $ 16.95).
In 1954 an Italian expedition was mounted for K2, the world's second highest peak and considered a tougher climb than Everest. It was to be redemption after the humiliation suffered by Italy during the Second World War. Two members of the expedition, Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni, reached the summit, but the legacy of the expedition has been one of controversy. In this book, Lacedelli finally breaks a 50-year-old silence to give his version of what happened.
On 30 July 1954, Lacedelli and Compagnoni established summit camp. Compagnoni, despite Lacedelli's objection, insisted on moving the camp off the line of ascent to the far end of a difficult traverse. The support team of 20-year-old Walter Bonatti and Hunza porter Madhi was unaware of this change and reached the originally agreed area of Camp IX with additional oxygen bottle supply for the summit attempt in near darkness. Unable to find the tent, they spent the night in the open above 8000m. The two survived, but Madhi suffered severe frostbite injuries for which Bonatti was blamed. Compagnoni and Lacedelli did make their difficult final ascent using Bonatti's cached oxygen, which ran out short of the summit. Bonatti was later also accused of having used some of the oxygen during his night in the open, thereby putting the summit team at additional risk.
The expedition leader was Ardito Desio who returned home to controversy and accusations flying fast and furious between team members. An official version put the events to rest, stating that all stories were unfounded and results of misunderstandings. Now Lino Lacedelli reveals that he and Compagnoni deliberately failed to make their rendezvous with Bonatti, forcing him to abandon the final ascent so that they could use the two oxygen tanks that he carried with him.
Walter Bonatti spent many years of his life defending his actions of that fateful night but was never fully exonerated until this book came along. All he did was risk his life for his team mates carrying oxygen to make their summit attempt possible!
Following an introduction to the history of K2 and a short account of the expedition, co-author Giovanni Cenacchi conducts an extended interview withLino Lacedelli. Lacedelli in turn, provides his perspective on the expedition's leadership and on the events of 30-31 July 1954. His views, maybe a bit dimmed by the years gone by, nevertheless are in stark contradiction to the official account.
A must-read for those interested in the murky politics of high altitude climbing and the insight into climbers' egos as also the difficulties of functioning at high altitude with primitive equipment which has now been proven to affect judgment and memory. The research on functioning of the brain in extreme altitude was nascent or non-existent then but can be put in a sort of perspective today. Above all for people like me, any literature on this fascinating killer mountain makes for a page turner.
A terrific selection of photographs completes this volume. Hats off to Lacadelli whose true redemption is his honesty about the price he paid for 'conquering' K2.
TOMAZ HUMAR. By Bernadette McDonald, Pp. 258, 28 colour photos, 14 b/w photos, 1 map, 2008. (Hutchinson, London, GBP 18.99).
Finally, here is a book on a living legend. Even Reinhold Messner has admitted that Tomaz is the most remarkable mountain climber of his generation. His routes are seldom repeated; most consider them to be suicidal; yet he often climbs them solo. And in the generation of the web, you can almost live with him, smell his sweat while he climbs another suicidal route. Do a Google search and you will see many videos; of his climbs and of course, of the historic rescue off Nanga Parbat where the world watched for six days with bated breath whether Tomaz would die a tragic public death or be rescued in a spectacular way. Thanks to two brave Pakistani pilots, he was rescued and in between jumping on and off other big mountains (soloing on south face of Annapurna to be precise) he has told his story to Bernadette McDonald, the very able writer of this biography.
To put things in perspective, I quote from the inner flap: In August, 2005, Tomaz Humar was trapped on a narrow ledge at 5900 m on the formidable Rupal face of Nanga Parbat. He had been attempting a new route, directly up the middle of the highest mountain face in the world - solo. After six days he was out of food, almost out offuel andfrequently buried by avalanches. Three helicopters were poised for a brief break in the weather to pluck him off the mountain. Because of the audacity of the climb, the fame of the climber, the high risk associated with the rescue, and the hourly reports posted on his base-camp website, the world was watching.
As Messner says in his heartfelt foreword, besides describing the on-the-edge and very complex life of Humar, the book examines what motivates climbers who perform at the very highest levels; about the positioning and competition within climbing communities and about the fascinating world of Slovenian climbers - the best in the world.
This boy, born as a Yugoslavian in 1969, was doing his own thing as a climber when the politics of the Balkans was in utter turmoil. Communism was collapsing and the region was at war, fragmenting rapidly. Humar was forced into a war that he hated and he did the unthinkable - he escaped, to come home to a new country, Slovenia and to his first and greatest love - climbing. This book is divided into chapters that describe each Himlayan quest and in between camps, we gradually get to know Tomaz Humar. All the beautiful mountains - Nuptse, Jannu, Ama Dablam, Annapurna, Dhaulagiri and finally, Nanga Parbat are on the footfall map of Humar.
Bernadette McDonald is the former director of the Banff Festival and author of several books on mountaineering. Among other biographies is a memorable one on Elizabeth Hawley - I'll call you in Kathmandu and a recent one on Charlie Houston - Brotherhood of the Rope. For a change, Humar is in guaranteed good hands!
Together they have woven a mesmerising story of a remarkable human being, who is a loner from within as he describes deeply in his afterword: After a while you learn the difference between holding hands and clasping the soul. You learn that love does not mean opening up and company does not mean safety. You begin to realize that kisses are not contracts and gifts are not promises. You begin to admit your defeats with your head held high and your eyes wide open, standing tall like a man, not with dejection like a child. You learn to build all your roads for today, because the ground for tomorrow is too uncertain for planning. After a while you find out that even the sun will burn you if you expose yourself to it for too long. So plant your garden for yourself and adorn your soul, instead of waiting for someone else to bring you flowers. Andfind out that you can really make it through... that you are really strong and really worthy.
For anyone interested in mountain literature, please note that Tomaz Humar is a milestone.
THE LAST RIVER - The tragic race for Shangri-la. By Todd Balf, Pp. 293, 2000. (Three Rivers Press, New York, $13).
The subtitle 'The tragic race for Shangri-la' gives the plot away. We can anticipate the key factors in the book : an extreme adventure trip; protagonists who are the sort of men that feature in Hollywood movies; the impending death of one of them and finally redemption if not a happy ending. The book lives up to its promise and then goes a little further. For armchair adventurers like myself, it is a glimpse into the minds of men/women who routinely risk life and limb to answer a call that I can't hear but can imagine.
The author systematically introduces his cast - 5 friends who have been running rivers together for years - and their passion. Without delving into their personal lives, he shows us their deep love for their sport, paddling and their painstakingly acquired skills and expertise. He details their thorough research and planning. He talks about the reactions of their families and friends. Carefully he builds up the world that they inhabit, a world of Sundays spent hunting white water, of hours in cold, wet kayaks, of the sort of camaraderie that comes with shared madness. 'The bottom line is that they are a band of old friends... .flying off to an exotic sliver of the world, bound for a river that... .they ache to see'.
But the river they are bound for is the Tsang-po, the 'the Everest of rivers' and theirs is a first descent. They are in uncharted territory - the maps they use are secret, high definition, satellite ones but no one they know of has actually been deep inside the Tsang-po gorge, the deepest on the planet. They will have to learn as they go along. They also know that the team won't be much of a safety net. If one of them gets into trouble, he'd have to get out of it himself. But they aren't a bunch of thrill seeking youngsters with huge egos - 'It was never hard for us to put aside ego. A big part of that was the river. It was so obviously the number-one presence.'
Balf builds the story gradually, without resorting to gimmicks or drama. The sense of dread too mounts relentlessly and the tragedy, when it happens, sneaks up on you like it does in life. The book is engrossing and moving because of his tone not in spite of it. To start with I was a little put off by the magazine article style and wanted to know the people a little more personally. But the pay-off comes later, when things get rough. The author's calm tone reflects the spirit of the team members and helps the reader to traverse the seemingly pointless tragedy.
Finally questions linger - Why do this? Why take risks when you have families to be responsible for? How do people left behind cope? How come people who live near the river or the mountain do not feel the pull to conquer? Is it fear? Or respect for that which is greater than you? Todd Balf leaves you pondering, as well as succumbing to the thrill of rushing water!
RATNA PATHAK SHAH
PEACE PARKS - CONSERVATION AND CONFLICT RESOLUTION. Edited by SaleemH. Ali, Pp. 406, 10 maps, 2007 (The MIT Press, Massachusetts, nps)
The link between the process of peace and conservation, on the face of it, seems far fetched but when one begins to read the foreword of Peace Parks, it falls into place as much conflict stems from the tussle for scarce natural resources and economic stability. As the editor states, there is an inextricable link between environment, sustainable development and peace and security and an effective way to resolve conflict might be to create peace parks in areas of conflict such as the Siachen.
This collection of research papers begins with an introduction that describes peace parks as environment conservation zones 'that can play an instrumental role in peacemaking or sustaining amity between communities' especially transboundary protected areas. The World Conservation Union lists 188 transboundary protected areas around the world.
The first peace park was the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, established in 1932 on the United States-Canada border. Since the United States and Canada have maintained friendly relations, this first peace park was a symbolic gesture but significant as an example of how to cooperate in managing the natural and cultural resources of the international park. A case study of the park in the book shows a history of effective cooperation in function and resilience despite the United States increasing border security problems within the international park in recent years. Other examples of existing peace parks described in the book are 'W' International Peace Park in Africa; the Emerald Triangle conservation zone in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia and the one in Antarctica.
31 authors have contributed to Peace Parks which is organis ed into three sections. The first section addresses theoretical and policy aspects of environmental peace-building. The second section covers existing transboundary conservation in action. The third section focuses on proposed Peace Parks and regional Governance Regimes. An interesting aspect of this research volume is that not only academicians but people in the field such as park rangers as well as government agencies (like the German Development Agency) NGOs have contributed articles. Among the case studies are several proposed peace parks such as one on the U.S.-Mexican border, in Liberia, between the Koreas, in Kashmir, between Afghanistan and its neighbours, and even between Iraq and Iran.
Besides case studies, the book also offers strategic guidance, practical advice, and good old idealism. The most important insight is that environmental concerns are the common grounds that give conflicting parties reason to cooperate, as destruction of the planet can be a common aversion for both parties. A must-read for anyone involved in conflict management, conservation or environmental studies. Most importantly this book proves that the idea of peace parks is not necessarily a panacea, but an important contribution toward more sustainable conservation as well as for international relations. It is filled with proposals that work towards peace in a pro active manner and objectively point out some of the potential obstacles to achieving these goals.
Short Reviews: by Nandini Purandare
A MAN OF THE FRONTIER - S.W. LADENLA(1876-1936). His Life & Times in Daijeeling and Tibet. By Nicholas and Deki Rhodes, Pp. 89, 3 colour plates, 70 b/w photos, 2006 (Mira Bose, Kolkata, Rs. 300).
It's always interesting to read books about characters that get the red underlines on the computer screen. Such people increasingly are being written about now and here is another lovingly crafted book by a grand daughter who had access to many family relics, papers and photographs that give life to a man and a time full of lore and fantasy
Sonam Wangfel Laden La was born in a Sikkimese Bhotia Lama family in Daijeeling and given a European education. He used this rare gift to his advantage (so did the British) and went on to play an important role in establishing a connection between the very mysterious Tibet and British India. Finally when the Dalai Lama sought refuge in India in 1910, Laden La was assigned to his party full time. He was truly valuable for his skill at handling Tibetan affairs and would be very useful were he alive today! The book attempts to trace and record events of his life, his achievements and failures and more importantly place these in the correct historical perspective in order to understand the current politics of this sub-continent.
Beyondbeing an intermediary between Tibet and India in the service of the British Empire, Laden La was a leader and a spokesperson for his own people. As early as 1917, he created an agenda for separating Daijeeling from Bengal, a movement which continues even today. He lived a comparatively short life and died just when he had retired and decided to dedicate the rest of his life to his hill people. His dream to create an autonomous Daijeeling remained unfulfilled. Apart from being a biography on a remarkable person in the early 20th century, the history of Daijeeling and Sikkim and Tibet in those years is well described.
The book is sharp, precise and well edited. The extensive appendices contain reports, articles and letters from the family collection. The old photographs complete this book which is well laid out and well priced. Here is nostalgia at its best, without the mush and exaggeration and anglophile slant.
ENCYCLOPAEDIA OF NORTH EAST INDIA, Volume -3. By Col. Ved Prakash, Pp. 450, 2 maps, 4 colour plates, 44 b/w photos, 2006. (Atlantic Publishers & Distributors Pvt. Ltd, Rs. 950).
This of a five volume publication running into over 2500 pages!
This is Volume 3 of a 5-volume, encyclopaedic study of India's North-East - the result of the author's 11 years of service extended over three tenures in the region, followed by six years of library research after his retirement. Consider what the book jacket says - 'Being the first of its kind, given its contents and sheer size, over 2,500 pages, it is a unique book. Writing on the North-East is not an easy exercise, given its diversity (ethnic, racial, religious and linguistic), size, history and geography. If India is microcosmic world, the North-East is microcosmic India. Of the 5,653 communities in India, 653 are tribal of which the 213 are indigenous to the North-East. Of the 213, 111 are found in Arunachal Pradesh alone. Illumined by an equally amazing linguistic diversity, it is home to 325 of the 1,652 languages spoken in India. Yet again, North-East's total population of 3,84,95,089 (2001) constitutes 2.69 per cent of India's 1,02,70,15,247, while its area of 2,55,088 sq km is 7.75 per cent of India's 32,87,263 sqkm.'
Volume 3 of this concise encyclopaedia contains Books 3 and 4, on Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur respectively. The style maybe dry but what fascinates me is the sheer scale of work undertaken by an army man who made use of his years in the region to produce an invaluable anthropological work more than equal to the gazetteers on this little known part of India. A must for collectors and travellers interested in the North East.
ALEXANDER MACKENZIE AND EVOLUTION OF BRITISH POLICY IN THE HILLS OF NORTH EAST FRONTIER OF INDIA, edited by S.K. Barpujari, Pp. 158, 2003 (Spectrum Publications, Guwahati, Rs. 440)
The North east seems to be the flavour of the month, considering that I have just reviewed a book on S.W. Laden La of Daijeeling and another Encyclopedia of the North East which runs into five volumes. Also, this book was first published in 2003 but escaped our attention until the resurgence of interest. All-in-all its a good thing as the region has been neglected for far too long so, lets have a look at this one. It is a collector's item as the Memorandum prepared by Mackenzie, a British officer of the late 19th century, has never before been found or published. It contains his paper, based on examination of official records, about the north east frontier hill tribes, their relationship with the Government, their customs and manners. It was an invaluable handbook for local officers and in a sense could still be. It has been adapted for the first time with an introduction to Mackenzie and his work along with a descriptor of the area discussed. Most interesting.
NAWANG GOMBU - HIS LIFE AND TIMES THROUGH MEDIA CLIPPINGS. Compiled by Ongmu Gombu, Pp. 184, 2007. (Highland Design Services, New Delhi, nps, privately published) available through firstname.lastname@example.org
Tenzing Norgay's nephew, and one of the youngest Sherpas in 1953, Nawang Gombu carried a load twice to the South Col. He later took part in several expeditions, reaching the summit of Everest with the Americans in 1963 and with the Indians in 1965, becoming the first man to reach the summit of Everest twice.
Born and raised in Tibet, Nawang studied as a boy at the Rongbuk monastery, before running away at the age of 13 to Nepal after crossing an 18000 ft. pass. He went on to become a mountaineer of repute and an instructor at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Daijeeling (set up in 1954 under Tenzing Norgay's directorship). He eventually became Field Director on his uncle's retirement until 1999 when he himself retired. He continues being associated with the institute as advisor. This book is a file-sized compilation of newspaper and magazine articles on Nawang through various phases of his life, beginning with an article from Junior Statesman (JS - does anyone remember?)
The compilation, put together by his children for their children, is a trip down memory lane and has to be left at that level, a bit unwieldy though it is.
EIGHTY YEARS ON TOP. The Histoiy of the Himalayan Club, celebrating its 80th year. Documentary written and produced for the Himalayan Club by Karamjeet Singh. Ascent Films. 25 minutes. Copy available from the Himalayan Club, Rs 100 for within India and Rs 200 outside, including postage.
'In a hundred ages of the Gods' the film begins, 'I could not tell thee of the glories of the Himalaya'.
Well, in a hundred words, I could not tell you of the glories of this film.
To be honest, I hadn't expected much. I thought that the filmmaker would be too handicapped by lack of historic material. It has never been easy to visually document expeditions. Its hard enough just being there without the added mental and physical burden of cameras, particularly the burdensome ones of the early days. But people did go to this trouble, as this film so richly shows, and extraordinary effort has been taken to gather all the rare gems in both film and still forms (what beautiful black and whites !) covering everything from Himalayan pole vaulting, mountain top yoga and the day the ever forgetful Mallory forgot to put on any clothes. The visual richness is further enhanced by wonderful mountain images, many of them time lapses and recently shot footage of the Rishi ganga gorge, where an Australian friend of mine fell off the track and died in 1980.
That the film's Director Karamjeet Singh was also its writer just adds to my respect of him. The narrative is wonderful, encompassing the entire gamut of mankind's past relationship with the Himalaya and the ideal parameters for mankind's future relationship with it.
The narration is further enriched by on screen appearances by Suman Dubey, Gurdial Singh, Harish Kapadia, Jagdish Nanavati, Divyesh Muni, Dr. M S Gill and Tanil Kilachand, all of whom reinforce my assertion that Indian Nationals speak better English than the English. On a personal note it was good to see for first time in decades my old friend from the Ocean to Sky expedition, Capt M S Kohli.
So thank you all, the entire filmmaking team. Yes it is always a team and far, far, more work than anyone can imagine. Thank you for guiding us so well on this wonderful journey through the history of the Club, and by way of bonus, a wonderful journey through the Himalaya.
Current members, please remember that in 20 years from now there will be another film maker, hopefully equally talented, seeking material for the 100th anniversary film. So when you leave your house for your next outdoor adventure, don't forget your still and video camera. If you don't yet have the latter please give some thought to getting one. Its easy to use. Just hold it on wide angle, hold it still and press record. It's a good word 'record'. For that is exactly what you are doing. Recording moments you will increasingly treasure as the years go by, recording moments that will be treasured by others too.
(Michael Dillon is an Australian documentary filmmaker. He filmed the 1977 Indo New Zealand Ocean to Sky Expedition co led byH C Sarin and Sir Edmund Hillary and made 5 subsequent documentaries with Sir Edmund Hillary including Beyond Everest. Another project, Everest Sea to Summit, about a journey by foot from the Bay of Bengal to the summit of Everest won an unprecedented 8 grand prizes at the mountain and adventure film festivals worldwide.)
SIACHEN. A war for Ice. Documentary by Mariao Casella and Fulvio Mariani. ICEBERG-film in cooperation with TSI. (English version appox. 35 minutes, Italian version appox. 60 minutes) Available from SA, Via Sole 2, CH 6942, Savosa, Switzerland, www.siachen.ch
Many film makers have tried to make a movie about the on going Siachen war between India and Pakistan. Most were thwarted by their permission being rejected by authorities, specially from Indian authorities. The Swiss film makers have been permitted to visit the glacier in lower reaches and film the training and some life of soldiers on the glacier. They had to be satisfied with interviews with retired personnel who talked to them. They were given almost full access on the Pakistani side where senior officers and serving commanders also articulate their views.
The films starts and ends with most significant shots. The first shot show the ritual played out every evening at the Wagha border between Indian and Pakistani security persons. To impress the large crowd on both sides, there is vigorous banging of legs, marching as if they are about kill the enemy and throwing open the doors as if they are about to break it. This is in front of cheering crowds who shout 'hail my country', depending on which side they belong to. The same theme continues to the Siachen war.
The film has some stunning visuals and covers military aspects well. It narrates the history, why the war was necessary and how it started. Retired Indian Col. Kumar talks of how he stumbled upon a map which showed borders marked wrongly. In a way it speaks poorly of Indian intelligence establishment- till 1978 almost 10 foreign expeditions had climbed on the upper glacier approaching from Pakistan. And their records were published in mountaineering journals (including The Himalayan Journal/Newsletter) worldwide. No one noticed it?
If Indians, narrated by Lt Gen (Retd) M L Chhiber, states how strong Indians are, Pakistani Major Afsar Shah after a gruelling march in snow, stresses the high moral of their troops. If one side is living at high altitudes in winter, the other side is fighting from below. Hospitals on both sides are full with injured persons and the dead are being ferried down. All these are dramatically shown. The film does not take sides, does not go deep into politics, simply narrates what is this war about and what price soldiers are paying for defending their country.
There is no end is sight, despite a ceasefire in place at present. Col. Kumar firmly rejects any proposal for a Peace Park, till Pakistan include Baltoro glacier in it. At the same time Lt Col. Sohail Khairat, local commander of Pakistan army states that their army is prepared to fight as their cause is right. The result ? The final stunning pictures of pollution on the glacier. Discarded drums, leaking kerosene pipes, dirty campsites and garbage dumps. You are not sad looking at this, simply shocked that such a glacier exists and feeds water to millions of persons in lower reaches.
The film makers have done a wonderful job and may put some sense into powers that control such a war. Will they see this film, mull over it and finally do something about the war?
Film on the history of Himalayan Club for the 80th year
Film on the Siachen glacier