A few months ago, on a Saturday morning (April 25, 2015 to be precise), a few of us Managing Committee members were at the HC office for the monthly meeting, revising the timeline of the Himalayan Journal. It was past noon - pizzas were being sliced. Just then a member’s phone beeped. An earthquake had struck Nepal; each one of us went scrambling to get news of friends, family, climbing and trekking colleagues. By the end of that horrifying day, there was some idea of the magnitude of the disaster (7.8 on the Richter scale at the epicentre) but the actual extent is probably not clear even four months down. More than 40 aftershocks over the next few weeks and countless avalanches triggered by the quake did their bit too - there is no trace of homes, villages, trails that once stood small but proud among the tall mountains.
In the same manner as an earthquake triggers aftershocks, avalanches, landslips, bursting of lakes etc, it also sets in motion a train of events in poor nations that are seemingly unconnected but impact people for decades - tourism and climbing activities are just an example. Nepal will have to grapple with factors as diverse as health systems, debts, administration, corrupt practices and most importantly, the ecological impact on the fragile Himalayan range as a result of human activity, of which this event was a warning.
But, above all there is resilience. Dawa Steven Sherpa wrote back after the disaster :
More than anything else, we need to get people back to work so that they can look after themselves. And for us in Nepal, that means we need to get tourism up and running as it is one of the biggest employers as an industry. I believe the Himalayan Club can play a tremendously powerful role in that. We need to let the world know that the best way to help Nepal is by visiting her.
The Himalayan Club has initiated a fund to undertake some rebuilding activities for this country so do the best you can to help. Details are on our website. The thick layers of bureaucracy have slowed down the process but we are trying to maximise the impact of every rupee collected.
This brings me to another aspect of a certain disease. As an editor, I observe that the first two paragraphs of almost every expedition account echo similar sentiments on the matter of permit red tape and costs. It is known that India expects a specific mountaineering visa (X-visa), and not a tourist visa, if climbing in specified areas or peaks over 6000 m. ‘X’ visa is endorsed on passports by Indian Embassies only after the Govt of India informs them that the expedition has been cleared. One would expect this to take a month therefore application timing has to be precise. Additionally, if the objective is within boundaries of a National Park, separate permits are needed.
Besides this, for higher peaks and sensitive areas, Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF) has high peak fees which are calculated on the basis of height of the mountain and number of members. And then, even after completing all visa and permit requirements, each expedition must visit the IMF before and after each expedition for ‘briefing/debriefing’ and to meet and provide gear for a liaison officer who is expected to monitor activities. Uttarakhand additionally charges double for peaks in the Garhwal region. This complicated process is usually filled with delays and inefficiencies.
Knowing the problems involved, climbers usually apply well in advance for permits. Invariably, messes happen and they are not to do with security issues alone. How do you explain two or three expeditions getting permits for exactly the same dates for the same peaks? Teams do not get permissions until the last minute making it impossible for them to actually use the permit. Overnight, expeditions are known to cancel or change objectives as the whole team or even one team member is not allowed to go at the very last minute. If India is to encourage mountaineering, then this is extreme logistical inefficiency will have to be streamlined ASAP.
Himalayan Journal 70, as our Past President Brig Abbey says, indicates a landmark - of the Journal seamlessly and gracefully easing into her 70s, that too by breaking a glass ceiling. I am proud. Harish Kapadia has been of immense support, helping cross every ‘t’; dot every ‘i’. Without Rajesh Gadgil’s help, this volume would not have been possible - I thank you both for your strength and support - I will continue to seek it. I also seek cooperation from our much valued authors and request other writers to come forth. We look forward to publishing not only mountaineering but also mountain related articles - research, culture and literature. In fact, any form of writing that may create an imprint of the Himalaya in the minds of young people, heighten awareness of its fragility and provide pure pleasure to mountain lovers will be welcome.
In this issue we have an article on a mountaineer’s search for Bon Manchi (Sikkim’s elusive creature), a Himalayan wild life photo feature, a note on moths as indicators of Climate Change, an article on Kashmir’s remote Lolab valley as well as dare devil explorations, leisurely treks and of course, some very fine climbs. Take Divyesh Muni’s climbs in Rassa glacier or Mick Fowler’s poetic ascent creating a new route on Hagshu’s northeast face or the Slovenians climbing hard and fast up the north face of this mountain in a beautiful first ascent or Martin Moran’s first ascent of Cheepaydang or…there are too many to name in this volume. These expeditions albeit many prefaced by frustration on permit issues, bring back the faith in the true spirit of mountaineering.