The Himalayan Club at Eighty
[The history of the Himalayan Club has been written, and most excellently written, by John Martyn and Muslim Contractor. John Martyn's 'The Story of the Himalayan Club' in Volume XXXV 1976- 77-78 provides a vivid history of climbing and exploration in the Himalaya before the Himalayan Club was established in 1928. It then carries the story up to 1978, covering the first 50 years of the Club.
Muslim Contractor went on with 'The Continuing Story of the Himalayan Club 1978-1988' in Volume 44, 1986-1987and then in 'Such a Long Journey: The Last 15 Years 1989-2003' in Volume 59, 2003.
There have been other historical articles: 'Fifty Years - Retrospect and Prospect' by Trevor Braham in Volume XXXV 1976-1978; 'The Journey of the Journal' by Harish Kapadia in Volume 50, 1992-1993; 'The Himalaya through the Journal' by Muslim Contractor also in Volume 50.
This article is meant to continue the story and hence most old events are not recalled, however important they were.
In 2003, Harish Kapadia produced a CD-ROM Such a Long Journey: it consists of the articles mentioned above plus Himalayan Journals'. Vol I, 1929 to Vol. 58, 2002 by Aamir Ali. It contains photographs from the Journal and of special events. In 2008, as part of the celebrations of the 80th Anniversary, the Club produced a film on its history.
I am grateful to the many members of the HC who helped with information, suggestions and comments.]
During the eighty years of its life, the Himalayan Club has faced three crises: first, in 1939 when war broke out; second, in 1947 when India became independent; and third, in the 60s when various developments seemed to deprive the Club of its main functions.
An eightieth anniversary is not necessarily a major event; it does not have the cachet of a 50th or 75th. But there seemed to be a special air of expectancy as the 80th approached. Was the Club about to face another important turning point in its life?
Anniversaries and Special Events
The success of the Golden Jubilee celebrations in 1978 seemed to inspire a series of anniversaries, ceremonies and celebrations. So there was the Diamond Jubilee of the Club in 1988; the Millennium in 2000; the 50th anniversary of the 'beginning of Indian mountaineering' with the first Indian expedition to climb a major peak, Trisul, in 2001; the International Year of Mountains in 2002; the 75th Anniversary of the HC in 2003; the 50th anniversary of the first ascent of Kangchenjunga in 2005; the 70th Anniversary of the first ascent of Nanda Devi in 2006.
All these were marked by special dinners, lectures, illustrated talks, films, seminars, publications and visits by well known personalities. The celebrations not only helped the Club to become better known in India but strengthened its links with Alpine Clubs all over the world.
The celebrations began to include excursions into the mountains. In 2003, for the 75th anniversary, the Mumbai Section organised a climb of their local Everest, Kalsubai, the highest mountain of the Sahyadris, 1646 m. The general ceremonies included an excursion to Binsar, in the Kumaun Himalaya. In 2005, the Mumbai Section organised a climb of Kenjalgad in the Sahyadris.
For the 60th anniversary, 1988, the editors of the Journal, Soli Mehta and Harish Kapadia produced the book Exploring the Hidden Himalaya, and copies were distributed to all members. The purpose of the book was 'to excite and inspire the climber and trekker to take advantage of the vast possibilities of the Himalaya'. It ignored the highly publicised 8000 m peaks and focused on the less familiar and more challenging of the six and seven thousand metre summits, many of them unclimbed and unknown. It was a good antidote to the mania for the glamour peaks. Well illustrated and provided with maps and sketches, its value was attested to by the need for a second edition in 1998. Sadly, Soli Mehta passed away even before the first edition was published.
To mark the Millennium, the editor of the Journal published A Passage to Himalaya, a selection of the best writings from the HJ Nos. 1 - 55, 1928-2000. This was also distributed free to all members.
During the International Year of Mountains 2002, a website was launched; it has been kept up to date and is widely used. From July 2005, an E-letter was launched; some 8-10 pages of fresh news is mailed to about a thousand people every quarter. And in 2006, an E- Group was formed to interact and share experiences. All this shows not only that the HC is well into the electronic age but also that it has succeeded in getting younger members on board! These became so popular and the news so topical that the HC has decided not to publish annual Himalayan Club Newsletter (paper copy) anymore. Thus this publication, which started in 1951, saw its last issue no. 61 published in 2008. What better contribution the Club could make to save the environment than to save paper!
Donations and Gifts
Over the years, the Club has received many generous donations and gifts. The trend continued in the later period too - in 1995 by the 'Kilachand Mountain Scholarships', with the aim of supporting young students undertaking training courses in India. In 2003, five scholarships were awarded for training at the HMI and the NIM; six in 2004 and 15 in 2005, and one in 2006. These scholarships are only awarded if the applicant's income is below a certain minimum (currently Rs. 60,000 a year); at present the scholarship amounts to about Rs. 6000.
Donations have taken a variety of forms. Following Kaivan Mistry's tragic death while crossing a mountain torrent, his parents established a fund to hold annual 'Kaivan Mistry Memorial Lectures'; the first lecture was by Bob Pettigrew in February 2003; the second by John Jackson in February 2005,the third by Victor Saunders in 2006; in 2008 it was by Mark Richey.
In 2005, Mrs. Geeta Samant doubled her previous donation in memory of her husband Aran; this brought the total to Rs.400,000 to be used for talks and seminars. 'Aran Samant Memorial Lectures' are regularly held; nine lectures were given in all.
In memory of Kekoo Naoroji, an active member of the HC who had served as Hon. Secretary (1971), Vice President (1983-85), and President (1986-92), his family established an annual Book Award for the best book on the Himalaya. The Award for 2006 was made to Nick Middleton for his book The Silk Road, published by John Murray,
London, 2005. The Jury consisted of Bill Aitken (Chairman), Suman Dubey and Rukun Advani.
For 2007, the Jury decided to make the award jointly to Pete Takeda for An Eye at the Top of the World. The Terrifying Legacy of the Cold War's Most Daring CIA Mission, New York, 2006 and to Durga Charan Kala for Frederick Wilson (Hudson Sahib), New Delhi, 2006. The award ceremony was held in Mumbai on 29 March 2007, when Pete Takeda gave an illustrated talk. The 2007 award went to Bernadette McDonald for her book Brotherhood of the Rope. 'The Himalayan Club Kekoo Naoroji Book Award' is now awarded every year.
There have been many other gifts of books, equipment, maps during the period.
Mr. and Mrs. Nanabhoy Davar donated some 200 books in memory of their son Edulji; Gerard Emerson O.B.E, donated over 70 books and 20 maps; the Phirojsha Godrej Foundation donated a lakh of rupees; donations of books for the library have been made by many persons including Jack Gibson, Gurdial Singh, Dr. S.A. Craven. Aspi Moddie; in 2004, Bill Aitken donated all the royalties from his book Touching Upon the Himalaya: Excursions and Enquiries to the Club. Recently the family of Brig. J. R. G. Finch a long standing member of the Club, donated GBP 3000; this will be used to scan the entire set of the Himalayan Journal from Vols. 1 to 63 bringing the publication to the modern age too.
The HC and the Sherpas
A particularly pleasant feature of the Millennium celebrations in 2000 was the tribute paid to the three surviving Tiger Sherpas: Ang Tsering, Nawang Gombu and Topgay Sherpa. They were feted in Daijeeling and then invited to Mumbai. Ang Tsering, the 98-year old doyen, a survivor of the 1924 Everest expedition was also with Willi Merkl's ill-fated expedition to Nanga Parbat in 1934 when Merkl died in a storm. (Ang Tsering received the 'German Order of the Red Cross' signed by Adolf Hitler.) The performance of Sherpa Gay lay, who chose to die with his leader Willi Merkl rather than save himself, enhanced the legend of the Sherpa community.
At the time of the Millennium celebrations, Nawang Gombu was a senior Sherpa representative from Daijeeling and was the first person to have climbed Everest twice; he was an Honorary Member of the Alpine Club; in 2006 he was awarded the Tensing Norgay Award for Lifetime Achievement. Gombu and his family were given a touching tribute at the anniversary celebrations in February 2008 when his autobiography was launched.
When Topgay Sherpa retired after having served as instructor both at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI) and the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM), he hadavery small pension and was in difficult circumstances. In 2007, the HC Managing Committee set up a fund to supplement his pension; no sooner was this decision taken than generous contributions were made by the Committee members themselves and Topgay, over 80 years old, was accorded immediate relief. This gesture did more than anything else to enhance prestige of the Club amongst Sherpa community in Daijeeling, which otherwise seems to have been forgotten.
Cooperation with the IMF
The HC went through a long period of adaptation. The most impressive, and most unexpected development was surely the rapid spread of mountaineering among Indians - or among 'Hindu, Moslem, Sikh and others', as Col. Tobin might have put it. Local clubs and societies sprang up, three further mountaineering institutes were established inUttarkashi, Manali and Gangtok, dozens of agencies were set up and the mountains were flooded with visitors, Indian and foreign. Himalayan adventures were no longer the preserve of the select few.
A most important issue for the HC was its relationship with the Indian Mountaineering Foundation. It is to the credit of the leaders of the HC and of the new institutions that instead of competition, it was co-operation that was the order of the day. Establishment of the IMF could have well proved to be the most serious challenge to the existence of the HC; fortunately, there was much inter-twining of personalities between the two institutions and therefore no serious conflict.
Thus H.C. Sarin, President of the IMF for its first 23 years, was later elected Honorary Member of the HC. Dr. M.S. Gill was President of the IMF for six years and then President of the HC for eight years; Gurdial Singh was Vice President of the HC 1966-71, and an active member of the IMF Executive Council, and was awarded the President's
Gold Medal in 1982; Nalni Jayal was Vice-President of both the IMF and the HC; Harish Kapadia was Vice President of the IMF and was also awarded its President's Gold Medal in 1993; Suman Dubey was editor of the IMF Journal and is now President of the HC; there were others who served both institutions.
The IMF published its own journal, Indian Mountaineer and there was a suggestion that the Himalayan Journal be closed down. M.C. Motwani was the editor of Indian Mountaineer for the first 12 years, after which Suman Dubey took over. In fact, both Journals flourished, and there was fruitful collaboration between them. H.C. Sarin, stated that the high standard of the HC's Journal was fully recognised and 'we rightly raised no bogey of competition.'
The IMF inaugurated its new building in New Delhi in 1980, and surely the homeless HC must have felt some jealousy at this rich newcomer; however, the HC generously donated four enlargements of mountain photographs to adorn the new premises. It wisely rejected an invitation to move its library to the IMF.
The Himalayan Journal
In adapting to the changing conditions, the Himalayan Journal played a major role. 'The Journal is now our most important activity,' declared Jack Gibson, President of the Club, to the International Mountaineers' Meet in 1973.
The HC has been remarkably lucky in its editors - and assistant editors. Several of them have had - and continue to have - exceptionally long stints; to have had only seven editors in 80 years is in itself an achievement. During the same period, there were 28 Presidents.
The year 2003 was marked by a very special honour conferred on the editor, the Journal and the Club: It brought prestige to the Club and pleasure to its members. Her Majesty the Queen approved the award of the Patron's Medal of the Royal Geographic Society (RGS) to Harish Kapadia for 'contributions to geographical discovery and mountaineering in the Himalaya.' The ceremony of the award took place on 2 June, the 50th anniversary of the Queen's coronation; it also marked the 50th anniversary of the first ascent of Everest. Harish dedicated the award to his son Lt. Nawang Kapadia, 4th Battalion of the 3rd. Gorkha Rifles, 'who died defending the Himalaya'
Harish was only the second Indian to be accorded this honour; the first was Pandit Nain Singh, one of the legendary pandits of the Survey of India, in 1877.
In a sense, the wheel had turned almost full circle from 1931, when three HC members were honoured by the RGS and Kenneth Mason, the editor of the Journal, expressed the hope that 'with wise guidance, the Club would weather our first hundred years and emerge ninety seven years hence with as proud a record as that of the RGS'
Mason would have been proud of the award to Harish and been assured that the HC was well on its way to the centenary that he envisaged.
Sponsoring expeditions would seem a natural activity for the Club but it was not until its Golden Jubilee that it sponsored its first; this was to Kabru Dome. Later in 1982 it sponsored two more expeditions. The trend continued and many young mountaineers took advantage of this facility.
Many expeditions from Mumbai Section at first took off to the Himalaya under the banner of the HC, to peaks like Leo Pargial, Gya and Kagbhusandi, each of them a serious challenge. Not to be left behind, in 2003, the Kolkata Section supported a 'mini-expedition' of seven members, to the Alakhthang glacier.3
In 2005, the HC sponsored an expedition led by AVM (Retd) Apurba Bhattacharyya to Papsura, 6451 m. In the same year, it sponsored a joint Indo-American expedition to the Eastern Karakoram, led jointly by Divyesh Muni and Don Goodman. It had 14 members, seven Indians and seven Americans. They made five first ascents, explored five glacier systems, and crossed four high passes. Members of the HC had donated writing materials and warm clothing and this was distributed to school children inLeh and Satti village. The scheme, continued with expeditions being sponsored to Kamet, Karpo Kangri, Chong Kumdan, Nilkanth and others.
In December 2006, Cdr. Satyabrata Dam, a member of HC, led a rather unusual naval expedition of ten to the South Pole. After a crash course in Nordic skiing in the northern polar regions, they flew down to within 250 km of the Pole. Then it was skis and sledge pulling. They reached the Pole on 28 December and 'proudly unfurled the national flag...we shrieked, we jumped up and down...we sang the national anthem'.
It seems incongruous to read that at the South Pole station, manned by 200 scientists and support staff in summer, there was 'a post office, dining hall, gym, basketball court, vegetable garden, library, souvenir shop, radio room etc'.
No Place like Home
Through most of its life, the HC has been a homeless nomad. It began in New Delhi, but independence denuded the capital of its British residents and it was difficult to keep the Club going. So it was at a meeting held on 21 November 1947, with M.W. Yeatts in the Chair, that it was decided to shift headquarters of the Club to Calcutta (now Kolkata). Later in 1971, HC again moved again, this time to Mumbai where it is now well established largely due to the efforts of J C Nanavati. In recent decades, many youngsters have enthusiastically shared the burden; Divyesh Muni, Hon. Secretary for 1997-2006 provided enormous support to the Club in many ways.
Meher Mehta was appointed Hon. Secretary of the Eastern Section in 1971 but was shortly transferred to London. On retirement from Grindlay's Bank, he was appointed Vice President in 2003 and in a chance meeting, the President, Jagdish Nanavati
, asked him 'to do something for Kolkata'. He claims that it was in a moment of absent mindedness (rather like the British acquiring the Indian Empire) he agreed. His aim was 'to restore the Eastern Section to its past glory, style and influence'. In his four years as Vice-President he achieved this.
2006 was a great year; the Club acquired its very own premises. When it set out to purchase a home in Mumbai, a most expensive and over-crowded city, it sounded like Mission Impossible. To have been successful and become the proud owners of its own home in a prime locality is an achievement comparable with the first ascent of Everest. All things considered, the cost of Rs. 56,07,000 was very reasonable (it appreciated rapidly!). What a debt we owe to the fund raisers particularly Dr. M. S. Gill and Tanil Kilachand and other enthusiasts who made this possible. DrM. S. Gill, one of the most dynamic Presidents, modernised many aspects of the Club, managed to persuade the State Government to contribute generously and approached many industrial houses to make this dream come true. As he said in an interview 'My main aim was to get the Himalayan Club a home, in which I am happy that I succeeded. With this headquarters established, the Club has a sense of belonging and a feeling that it will never die.'
Named 'The Himalayan Club Centre' this headquarter houses many things which will benefit the members. It has one of the largest collection of maps of the Himalaya, a video and CD library of films, library of books, priceless mementos from leading mountaineers, an exhibition on members and history of the Club, a gallery of leading mountaineers and explorers, a meeting room, and an exhibition on one mountain (at present Nanda Devi) which will be changed every couple of years. Many members from India and abroad are taking advantage of these facilities. As a novel experiment, one of the local schools conducted a geography class at the Centre, using available materials. It has certainly made the Club come alive.
As the editor wrote in Volume 62,2006, 'It is strange how physical space can influence intellectual inputs and also help in the practicalities of production work... With the HC being established in its own rightful home, we already have begun to feel a sense of belonging where we meet, discuss and design. "Our own" space is already facilitating group work, coordination and enthusiasm'.
Despite growingmembership in India, 60%ofthe Club's membership is from abroad, especially UK. Many members of the HC have been Presidents of the major Alpine Clubs in the world - strengthening the club's ties with them. Sir Chris Bonington, Stephen Venables, Doug Scott (the Alpine Club, London), Mark Richey (the American Alpine Club), Hiroyoshi Ohtsuka (the Japanese Alpine Club) were Presidents of these Clubs, each of them older and larger than the HC.
The Annual London Re-union dinners are held with regularity and were addressed by several leading members like Trevor Braham, John Jackson, Harish Kapadia, and Ian McNaught-Davis amongst other leading mountaineers. Robert Pettigew has continued the tradition for several years. HC members have also addressed the prestigious Royal Geographical Society on several occasions. The Japanese members have met every year and celebrated their association with the HC, especially during the 100th year celebration of the JAC.
On several occasions the international membership also rose to the occasion and contributed to the HC, like to the funds to purchase the new Headquarters. Sir Chris Bonington travelled to Mumbai, twice, to deliver Management lectures proceeds of which he donated to the fund to purchase the premises.
Many members have specially travelled to attend the various celebrations and make presentations at the Club gatherings of the Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata sections. Their list is long but they include Tom Nakamura, George Band, Mark Richey, Stephen Venables, T. H. Braham and Hirsohi Sakai. As former President Aspi Moddie stated, 'Almost all other Clubs in the world are national bodies while the Himalayan Club is truly an international club'.
Protection of the Mountain Environment
Inevitably, as mass tourism came to the Himalaya, it brought problems of pollution and degradation. The concern of the HC was reflected in its activities and certainly in the Journal. In 1983, S.P. Mahadevia organised a seminar on 'The Himalaya Closer to Nature', and set a trend for further seminars.
Aspi Moddie was perhaps the earliest member to sound the alarm about the environmental dangers of mass tourism with his article 'Quiet Crisis in the Himalaya' in the HJ Vol. XIII, 1973-74. He continued with 'Himalayan Tourism: A Mongol needing eco-civilising' in Vol. 40, 1982-83; Climbing and the Himalayan Environment in Vol. 51, 1995, In 2002 Aspi Moddie proposed that the HC should undertake a major environmental project; the Managing Committee agreed to study the possibilities but nothing much happened.
In December 2003, at the invitation of the Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Aspi Moddie gave the keynote address at a seminar on Travel and Tourism; he called for the 'de-slumming, d- bugging and d-bureaucratisation of various facilities'. He was followed by Kisor Chaudhuri, responsible for environment and conservation in the Kolkata Section, who gave an illustrated talk on the need to protect our wildlife and forests.
Several Alpine Clubs in different pars of the world have wondered whether they should concern themselves with environmental issues or stick to climbing; however, the problems of pollution everywhere have become so acute that no mountain club can avoid being concerned with them. Indeed, most mountain clubs seemed to go through three stages. At first, they deplore the increasing harm being done to the mountains by over-building, mass tourism and pollution; as a second stage they insist that something must be done about this; and as a third stage, they realise that they must accept their own share of responsibility and do something themselves.
In 1982, the Neora Valley Biosphere Reconnaissance was carried out under the auspices of the HC and WWF (India). Plans for building a dam were ultimately abandoned and the Neora Valley became a National Park in 1986. Kisor Chaudhuri who was Project Coordinator at the time, continued his association with the Neora Valley project;
the Club helped with its financing. Kisor Chaudhuri led a small team in 2004 to the valley to report on its current status; the Club co- sponsored this.
The Club had made efforts to spread awareness by publications too. In 1994, the Club published Environmental Protection of the Himalaya: aMountaineers' View, a collection of essays editedby Aamir Ali. In 1999 the Club prepared recommendations on how to conduct adventure activities, treks and training camps. The IMF endorsed these and circulated them in a joint letter to relevant societies: a good way to begin the new millennium.
Siachen Peace Park
The HC has played a role in promoting the idea of a Siachen Peace Park between India and Pakistan. The idea was first floated in an article in HJ Vol. 50, 1992-1993. In 2001, the HC joined the Doon School Old Boys' Society and the India International Centre in marking the 50th anniversary of the climbing of Trisul by an Indian expedition. This was also the occasion to launch the book For Hills to Climb, published for the anniversary. The editor outlined the concept of a Siachen Peace Park and this received some media attention. Harish Kapadia became a roaming ambassador for the proposal, and spoke about it in America, Britain, Japan, Nepal, and various other countries. He used the occasion of his acceptance speech of the RGS Patron's Gold Medal, the award of Honorary Membership of the American Alpine Club, and other events to promote the concept. The idea has received support in India and abroad but there are still political and military problems which have prevented progress.
In the millennium year, Harish and Mandip Singh Soin joined two Pakistani climbers and Club members, Nazir Sabir and Sher Khan in joint Indo-Pakistan climbs in the Alps; this was organised by the UIAA (World Mountaineering Federation) to promote peace and the concept of the Siachen Peace Park.
Many distinguished personalities have promoted the idea; in 2003, the HC arranged meetings where Aamir Ali could speak in Mumbai, and Bangalore; other meetings were held in Chenai and elsewhere. As the President Dr. M.S. Gill wrote in reply to the Newsletter 2002, 'The Club, led by Aamir Ali and Harish Kapadia, has taken keen interest to float an idea for a Siachen Peace Park'.
Jointly with the Sanctuary magazine, the Club organised a seminar on the Siachen Peace Park project in Mumbai in December 2004; Dr. Saleem Ali, an American of Pakistani origin and an active promoter of the project, was the Chief Guest. In June 2004, a photo exhibition, 'Save the Siachen Glacier' was inaugurated by Dr. Karan Singh in New Delhi; satellite images were shown courtesy of Syed Iqbal Hasnain, the noted glaciologist. A number of experts and mountaineers met in the residence of the British High Commissioner on 27 May 2004 to discuss the Siachen Park.
Recent Indo-Pakistani talks seemed to get close to some agreement on Siachen but mutual mistrust prevented any conclusion. In September 2007, the Indian Chief of Army Staff announced that the Army had decided to open the area for adventure tourism, to trekkers and climbers. This seems to indicate that the Army will not move out of Siachen or negotiate unless India's conditions are met, namely: authentication of the actual position of troops.
So be it. But why not make the Siachen into a National Peace Park? When Manmohan Singh, the Indian Prime Minister, visited the Siachen some years ago, he declared that it should be a 'Peace Mountain'. The Army has stressed its concern for the environment and for cleaning up the tons of garbage and waste that has accumulated. Could it not make the Siachen into a National Peace Park and in the fullness of time, who knows, it may yet evolve into a trans-boundary Peace Park?
The Himalayan Club at Eighty
So where does the Club stand at eighty? According to Trevor Braham 'it stands now, vibrant, confident and with an active and increasing membership of younger people benefiting from improved assistance and facilities, eager to move towards new frontiers while maintaining past traditions'.
This was certainly borne out by the gusto and glitter of the anniversary celebrations held in Mumbai and Delhi. Each Section had arranged a judicious mix of climbing camps and festivities such as dinners, lectures, films, seminars and visits by distinguished personalities.
Thus in Mumbai, the commemoration events from 15 to 18 February 2008 were preceded by a five day rock climbing and trekking excursion to Pachmarhi. There was a cruise round the harbour and there was a 'family' gathering at the new home of the Club. In July, there was a large gathering of about 600 mountaineers from Maharashtra to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Club and the 50th year of the IMF jointly
In Kolkata, a rock climbing camp at Bero preceded the 'Nilkanth Programme' on 17 May 2008. SumanDubey, the President, attended and over 200 enthusiasts were present at the launching of the encyclopaedic Nilkanth souvenir. Apart from this souvenir, the Kolkata Section also brought out richly illustrated souvenirs of their expeditions to Papsura 2005, Tingchenkhang 2004.
At the main function of the 80th year celebrations at New Delhi, Mrs Sonia Gandhi was the Guest of Honour. The events in New Delhi were followed by a week of trekking and rafting in Uttarkashi at the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering and on the Ganges
But somehow, throughout the preparations for these events, there continued to be an air of expectancy, some feeling that another tuning point in the life of the Club was waiting to happen. Perhaps it was the world's concern with Global Warming and Climate Change: what would happen to the Himalaya, the water tower of Asia? Perhaps it was fuelled by the growing symbiosis between the Club and the Indian Merchants' Chamber (IMC), which had taken a remarkable lead in meeting the challenges of Climate Change.
All this came to a head in the celebrations in Mumbai. The Club invited Dr. Juerg Meyer, who had just completed 11 years as Director of the Environment Department of the Swiss Alpine Club, to talk about the Swiss experience and its relevance for the Himalayan Club. To take maximum advantage of his unique experience, a special Seminar was organised on 15 February for the whole day. Leading members of the Club made special efforts to attend. Aamir Ali was asked to chair the session.
On 16 February, Juerg Meyer and Aamir Ali addressed a meeting organised by the IMC and on the following day Dr. Meyer spoke to the Club on the 'Role Model for Environment Protection of the Himalaya'. The Seminar, the lectures and many informal discussions roused a great deal of enthusiasm - as demonstrated by the standing ovation given to
Dr. Meyer. It was evident that people were keen for the Club to deal with the Himalaya's environmental problems seriously. Perhaps this was the turning point that had been waiting in the wings.
Another idea that was floated during these discussions was that the Club might build up a special relationship with Nanda Devi
Why Nanda Devi?
• It is a symbol of the wonders of the Himalaya.
• Of all the deities that inhabit the Himalaya, none is more beautiful, none so elegant and none so admired as Nanda Devi.
• She is a goddess and has been worshipped through the ages.
• Few mountaineers have seen it and failed to become instant devotees.
• For fifty million years it remained undisturbed by humans and its protected Sanctuary nurtured a unique eco-system; for the last seventy years, it has offered access to its Sanctuary but this should not be abused.
• It was first climbed by two distinguished members of the Club, N.E. Odell and H. W. Tilman. It was the highest mountain then climbed and was the highest mountain in what was then India
• Two of the Club's senior members have played important roles in protecting Nanda Devi and in making its glories more widely known. Nalni Jayal, as a senior civil servant, played a notable role in the establishment of the Nanda Devi National Park and in getting it listed as a World Heritage Site. And fortunately he is a native of the region. Bill Aitken, through his lectures and writings has spread the awareness of the religious and cultural significance of the 'Blessed Goddess'.
• Many members of the Club in India and abroad know it well and lie under its spell.
So what would it mean if we say we would build a special relationship with it?
• First it should be clear that it does not mean that the Club would ask for or accept any managerial or administrative responsibility for it.
• It does mean that we would take a special interest in it. We would establish contacts with the government officials responsible for its protection.
• We would provide regular information on it, its health, its problems, its wild life, both in the Journal and the Newsletter.
• If there were any way in which the Club could help in its protection, it should do so.
• The Club would cultivate special relationships with the local communities in the area. Perhaps it could follow the example of Edmund Hillary and help with educational and medical facilities.
• The HC could produce a film along the lines of Eighty Years at the Top and distribute it widely.
The proposal regarding Nanda Devi was not endorsed immediately at the Mumbai meetings but will be further considered in the days to come.
All the discussions at the Seminar and at various meetings were distilled in a joint report by Juerg Meyer and Aamir Ali with a number of specific recommendations. These included the establishment of a commission on the environment, a special fund for environmental activities and the appointment of a full time professional.
The Club set up a three-person team: Vijay Crishna, Sukeshi Sheth and Mandip Singh Soin to examine the report and make proposals for action.
The HC produced a film Eighty Years at the Top which was distributed widely. The Club owes a debt to its producer Karamjeet Singh, himself a member of the Club and a renowned film maker. The film includes many historic shots, a brief history of mountaineering in which the HC played an important role. There are interviews with many leading Club members recording events and their contributions to the Club. It was premiered at the 80thyear celebrations at New Delhi in presence of the Chief Guest and was well received where ever it has been shown.
Inher address at the commemoration ceremony inDelhi on 14 March 2008, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi said: 'It is reassuring that the Himalayan Club is taking up the challenge of environment protection. This is an area which all of us, whether private or public, need to attend to urgently. Problems such as deforestation, the pressure of human populations on fragile eco-systems, waste disposal and the effects of roads and infrastructure building need our urgent and serious attention...Once again I congratulate the Himalayan Club on this important milestone in its journey'.
On the same occasion, the President of the Club Suman Dubey, said: 'The Himalayan Club would like to address enviromnent issues. Our Club is very small and global wanning is a huge problem, but we want to work with institutions and authorities to bring about a change of attitude'.
At 80, the Himalayan Club seems poised and ready to accept its various roles; as a Club promoting interest in the Himalaya, encourage the sport of mountaineering, studying the various aspects of the range and now specially, as a trustee of the Himalaya, the Abode of the Gods.
A continuing review of the history of the Himalayan Club; 1988- 2008.
Mandip Singh Soin adds
'The young turks' is probably how we thought of ourselves in the mid 70's as we climbed hard routes on rock, cocking a snook at the IMF mandarins who were bureaucratic.
Himalayan Club lectures in those days meant a cyclostyled circular that arrived , signed by the eternal local Hon. local sec.(Delhi) Sudhir Salii, where illustrated lectures ranged from the racy to the mundane . After all, the Himalayan Club was dominated by armchair mountaineers in general who more than occasionally slid back in the past and tended to remain there !
Little wonder then that most of our Indian Everesters seemed to feel that having done the ultimate, it was time to relax and really by the time it was late 70's early 80's many of the senior Club members hardly ever went on treks, climbs and expeditions. This was a disappointment as we always felt true climbers would be always be drawn to the mountains for the love of climbing.
As most of the Everest club , very much HC members, tended to get involved in the administrative bit of mountaineering through institutions like the IMF, aspect of modern techniques, tools and indeed rock climbing as a firm base for quality climbing was not recognised well until the mid 80 's when we finally convinced H C Sarin to allow IMF to build an artificial rock wall. With only the IMF building architect and a few masons under blistering heat we were able to get a rudimentary rock wall at the IMF premises.
Whilst many of our members typified the spirit of getting out and doing stuff without making a song and dance about it , some were influenced in different culture where in participation was only when big projects were launched like Everest once more in 1984 via the normal route !
Quite clearly a band of the younger HC climbers were coming into the fore with better knowledge of rock climbing and converting these skills to some fine routes in the Himalaya. For example Yousuf Zaheer had made some gallant attempts on Gya in Spiti and we had made the first fndian ascent of Meru North in lightweight style .
1 guess the one good action that H C Sarin as President fMF did take for the younger climbers was that he allowed students to go as liaison officers with visiting foreign expeditions and this allowed for a opening up of technique and tool and a yearning to emulate better routes rather than what were being done. It was with so many people and siege tactics that the quip was 'ascent due to a human pyramid ?'
Style and ethics mattered a lot and got reflected in whether to use pitons or not and going lightweight and doing a route in fine style rather than reaching the top being the raison d'etre. A lot of this also was culled through the lectures of visiting climbers and HC members from all over the world. The active use of the library of the Club, housed at the India fnternational Centre was another factor .
In fact that is why even when some great ascents were done by the tTBP and the Indian army, many of us at the Club were more interested in how it was done rather than the hype of the ascent.
But possibly, notwithstanding the inevitable differences in opinion amongst HC members we always regarded ourselves a cut above the rest and there was a spirit of adventure and going ahead and doing things rather than moan about situations. Perhaps we moaned occasionally as well but some action was there too even if it meant trying to change mindsets of older members and many reacted quickly as they pitched in to get a state of the art artificial wall commissioned at the IMF.
Interestingly, many memorable events such as the occasional club dinners and regular lectures at IIC and later at the more spacious India Habitat Centre, generated useful thought and debate. A fascinating aspect of the membership was the diversity of characters and the eccentricities which were harmless whilst in the realm of the club, but the same at other forums it may take a serious turn.
But the rich tapestry of the Club was woven by other members too - an elderly Leila Harishwar Dayal, wife of the erstwhile Indian Ambassador to Nepal was a climber and went to beyond 21,000 ft, slightly unusual for an Indian woman many decades ago. Gurdial Singh was always seen in Delhi at least once a year and people could count on his sage like opinions. Dr M. S. Gill came in as a mover and shaker and did the club some good as its President and got some equipment donated to the club. In fact a self confessed non mountaineer but an avid trekker and cerebral in his writings and observations, he managed to happily arm twist potential sponsors when looking for the headquarters of the Himalayan Club at Mumbai.
Possibly many of the younger generation today are wanting more activity that can be centrally organised. As regular lectures happen and the camaraderie grows, many of the club members here are at pains to ensure there is greater harmony between all members. One of the aspirations of the younger membership (and if I can cheekily include myself at 51), is to have a much larger role in our care for the fragile Himalaya from which we as club members have certainly 'taken'" and now it may be time to give back what with not only garbage and pollution issues but also that of climate change and therefore of receding glaciers and swelling glacial lakes .
To that extent it was good to benchmark what the Swiss Alpine Club is doing as their Environment strategy , unfolded at the 80th anniversary in Mumbai .Obviously being a club based on volunteers rather than the professionals that SAC employs, we do hope to form a clear set of guidelines for minimum impact trekking and mountaineering . Beyond that we hope to help with scientific efforts to help scientists in the field to recover and log data from dangerous terrain for scientists but probably a breeze for HC members .
And hopefully if we are seen as one of the main organisations charged with the care taking of the Himalaya we will be able to assist in some burning issues - debates regarding whether we strive to open Nanda Devi selectively by conducting responsible trekking/ mountaineering expeditions and try to minimise the environmental impact on the Siachen glacier by armies present.
As an enlightened club, we may in the future be able to have succession plans in place for office bearers and Hon. local secretaries worldwide. A challenge will be to make the Himalayan Club relevant to all its membership worldwide with more active and innovative. We may need to have some great memorabilia that members can buy as well as have them have their routes improve in the Himalaya as well as the greater ranges world wide .
One of the greatest scenes I witnessed at the Alpine Club 150th celebrations in Zermatt last year was not the unveiling by a helicopter of the special sculpture or the gastronomical delight laid out, but the die hard spirit of the climbers many who were well past 80 years of age, like Roger Chorley coming up with 2 walking sticks but getting there.
In fact the Club's library has had quite a wandering life. Housed with other HC equipment and belongings in the Calcutta Light Horse Club, they received notice to quit and were rescued by the Geological Survey. In 1966 the library moved to the National Library and in 1971, to its horror, it received a bill for Rs.7000 as rent. Luckily, Nalni Jayal was in the Ministry of Education and persuaded it to come to the rescue - and find it space in the Central Secretariat in New Delhi.
In 1974, Sudhir Sahi was appointed Local Secretary and Hon. Librarian. Most HC events were held at the India International Centre; the Director, Dr. J.S. Lall was a family friend and agreed that the logical place for the library was the Centre. The rent was fixed at one rupee a year and the library moved there in May 1976. 'The tough part' Sudhir recalls, 'was shifting the nearly 2500 volumes from the Central Secretariat Library. I had to do this with the lone mini-truck driver for company. It took two long days.'
It is perhaps significant that HJ Vol, 62, 2006, carries a review by Harish Kapadia of the book To the Ends of the Earth. Visions of a changing world: 175 years of exploration and photography, (Royal Geographical Society).
Shades of the 19th century? When the Rev. J.F. Hardy and other members of the Alpine Club made the first ascent of the Lyskamm, 14,889 ft. from Zermatt, they sang the national anthem. As Hardy wrote, 'the noble anthem filled our English hearts with happy thoughts of home and fatherland, and of the bright eyes that will sparkle and the warm hearts that will rejoice at our success'.
This may be a fitting place to record Jagdish Nanavati's remarkable contribution to the Club: he served as Hon. Secretary for 21 years and as President for eight; he made his office available for the Mumbai Section's library and for meetings. It is only fitting that he is now the President emeritus.