As the Club inches towards that centenary pinnacle, the time has come to take stock. Current members have a huge legacy to protect and responsibilities to bear. For the Himalayan Club, there are reasons to celebrate, and with even greater urgency, reasons to critically assess its role.
Note - The last history of The Himalayan Club titled ‘The Himalayan Club at Eighty’ was written by Aamir Ali (HJ number 64, 2008). This excellent article carries a list of all the earlier histories appearing in the Journal so readers are encouraged to read Aamir Ali’s article and those he mentions. They give a comprehensive understanding of exploration and climbing in the Himalaya before the Club was started and of the role played by the Club in the eighty years of its existence until 2008. This article attempts to carry the story forward from 2008. Thanks are due to the many members of The Himalayan Club who helped with information, suggestions and opinions.
At the outset, let’s start by paying tribute to two departed individuals without whom the The Himalayan Club would not be what it is today.
Jagdish C Nanavati (1928 – 2011)
Jagdish Nanavati (JCN) was the backbone and conscience of The Himalayan Club. He was the Secretary from 1972 to 1992, President from 1993 to 1999 and President Emeritus from 2000 onwards.
JCN as he was known was born on 19 November 1928 in the same year that the Club was founded in Simla. He started trekking as a young man and scrambled extensively all over the Western ghats and in the Himalaya for over 40 years. He completed his mountaineering course at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in 1958 and arranged with the Principal to have three instructors sent to Bombay every year to train youngsters in rock climbing. Thus began The Climbers Club and the popular climbing courses at the Parsik hills near Bombay which continued into the early 70s. Among the Sherpas brought down to teach were such illustrious names as Ang Kami, Nawang Gombu, Dorjee Lhatoo and Da Namgyal. Later on, disagreements with The Climbing Club led him to resign, just in time to take on the reins of The Himalayan Club as it shifted Head Office from Calcutta to Bombay. With unwavering zeal and dedication JCN brought about a renaissance in the functioning of the Club’s activities and kindled the same enthusiasm in other sections. Although Jagdish Nanavati climbed no great peaks, his deep understanding of mountains and brilliant analytical mind made him an expert on authentication of expeditions. Indeed, he was known as the last reference point for authenticating controversial climbs in the Indian Himalaya. In 2008, he was appointed Ombudsman of The Himalayan Club, a perfect choice, to whom would be referred all matters concerning the Club’s governance, and who would ensure proper adherence with standard mountaineering procedures for all expeditions as laid down by the IMF.
Jagdish Nanavati’s death on 29 June 2011, left a huge void not only in The Himalayan Club but in the mountaineering world at large.
Aspi Moddie (1921 - 2014)
One of the Club’s most respected and senior members passed away on 9 Jan 2014. Aspi Moddie had joined The Himalayan Club in 1949 and was a member for 65 years. He served as its President for nine years and above all was friend, philosopher and guide to all who sought him out.
During his tenure as President, the functioning of the Club was streamlined, membership fees were rationalized and The Himalayan Club developed closer ties with mountaineering clubs the world over. Aspi Moddie donned many hats but most of his interests had to do with the mountains. He accompanied the Basic Training Course at the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering to introduce mountain poems to the students - many of them his own. He possessed a vast and rare collection of mountain literature and maps and was actively involved in projects to protect the Himalayan environment. His work with international colleagues led to the creation in 1998 of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Developments at Kathmandu, an initiative that still flourishes.
It was under the guidance of Aspi Moddie and Meher Mehta that the Sarat Chandra Das Memorial Lectures were started in Kolkata to honour the 19th century scholar of Tibetan studies. The very first of these lectures was delivered by Mr Moddie himself on 26 December 2004. Since then, the lectures have been an annual event, bringing some of the finest adventure stories to an appreciative audience. With his death, the Club has lost not only a great friend but also a great pioneer.
On 15 March 2008, The Himalayan Club held its 80th anniversary celebrations in New Delhi. The then President of the Club, Suman Dubey, concluded his address to an august gathering of guests and members with these words :
It is my hope that 20 years from now, when a future President addresses the Himalayan Club Centenary celebrations, he or - preferably she - will have many positive things to say. I hope that the Centenary address will affirm how climbers of all nationalities can come and go freely in our greater Himalayan region. I hope by then the President will be able to report that the average age of our membership has fallen significantly, and that many of our most active members will be people living in the mountain regions.
As the Club inches towards that centenary pinnacle, the time has come to take stock. Current members have a huge legacy to protect and responsibilities to bear. For the Himalayan Club, there are reasons to celebrate, and with even greater urgency, reasons to critically assess its role.
First let us recap the decade’s news and activities :
Sponsoring expeditions would seem to be the most natural place to start enumerating the functions of the Club. And so we start with those of the last ten years.
|2008||Kolkata||Subrata Chakraborty||Mt. Shinkhun east (6081 m)|
|Mumbai||Divyesh Muni||Nya Kangri|
|2009||Mumbai||Kudrat Pardiwalla||Chau Chau Kang Nilda 1 (6303 m) Expedition|
|Mumbai||Cyrus Shroff||Lampak Peak, Kalla Bank Glacier Expedition|
|Mumbai||Divyesh Muni||Indian-American expedition to Tsumzong Kangri (6010 m)|
|Kolkata||Pradeep Sahoo||Mt. Panchuli II (6904 m)|
|Kolkata||Subrata Chakraborty||Zemu Gap crossing over Goech la|
|2010||Mumbai||Divyesh Muni||Indian-American expedition Ibsti Kangri (6340 m), Dzo Zongo (west) (6265 m) and Dzo Zongo (east) (6200 m)|
|Kolkata||Pradeep Sahoo||Mamostong Kangri I (7516m) in eastern Karakoram|
|2011||Kolkata||Pradeep Sahoo||Saser Kangri I (7672 m), Saser Kangri II and Saser Kangri IV (7416 m)|
|Kolkata||Gautam Ghosh||Diamond Jubilee climb to Trisul to commemorate Gurdial Singh’s first ascent in 1951|
|Mumbai||Divyesh Muni||Peaks in Lalung valley in Zanskar|
|2012||Kolkata||Pradeep Sahoo||Mt. Jongsong expedition. Two peaks above 7300 m were reached by new routes.|
|Mumbai||Divyesh Muni||Angtung valley Ladakh. Two first ascents above 6000 m|
|2013||Kolkata||Debraj Dutta||Plateau peak (7310 m) - historic first ascent.|
|Mumbai||Divyesh Muni /Victor Saunders||India-British Joint expedition first ascent of Chamshen peak (7017 m).|
|2014||Mumbai||Divyesh Muni||Rassa glacier -successful first ascents of two peaks – Tusuhm Kangri (6219 m) and Rassa Kangri (6250 m)|
|2015||Mumbai||Divyesh Muni||Ryong Kharu valley and the Sagtogpa glacier two first ascents; first crossing of the Sagtogpa col into the Rongdo valley linking the Shyok and Nubra valleys|
|Kolkata||Debraj Dutta||HC – IMF joint expedition Mt. Koa Rang 3 (6145 m)|
|2016||Mumbai||Divyesh Muni||Nya Kangri attempt|
During 2017, Divyesh Muni and his team celebrated 90 years of the HC by completing an ambitious climbing and trekking expedition in the Eastern Karakoram.
One of the most active climbing members of the Club, Pradeep Sahoo suddenly passed away in November 20161. In May of the same year he fulfilled a life ambition by standing atop Everest with his wife Chetna Sahoo.
The Flagship and the Torch Bearers
The Himalayan Journal was started to carry expedition reports and articles about the Himalaya. Volume 1 appeared in April 1929 with Major Kenneth Mason as the editor. Although the demise of the Journal was predicted when the British left India, it survived and flourished under a string of illustrious and successful editors. Harish Kapadia with the longest editorial spell of 26 years finally hung up his editorial boots in 2011. Rajesh Gadgil took over for two years with Nandini Purandare as co-editor and since 2014, the Journal has been in the capable hands of Ms. Purandare - the first woman to hold this prestigious post. Volume 71 of the Journal was published in August 2016.
At the Annual Seminar 2017, to celebrate the beginning of the 90th year of The Himalayan Club, the editor unveiled a special edition of the Journal. Reproduced to closely resemble the early issues, this volume has reprinted select articles, correspondence and advertisements from the years 1929 to 1947, i.e. Volumes I to XIV. This was distributed free to all members.
The Himalayan Club Newsletter was started in 1951 and published annually to wide appreciation. Technological advances however also necessitate appropriate responses so The Himalayan Club website was launched in 2002 and in July 2005, an E-letter was started. To date 36 volumes of the E-letter have appeared, the most recent being in July 2017.
On 6 November, 2008, The Himalayan Club started the Facebook group : https://www.facebook.com/groups/TheHimalayanClub/ to provide a forum for information and the sharing of experiences, photographs, news and articles. Not restricted to members of the Club, the group has proved immensely popular, and at the time of writing this article it boasts of over 2,65,000 followers with numbers growing every day.
The arduous task of actively engaging with group members, providing information and monitoring for spam, commercial or political interests is carried out by a dedicated team of 21 administrators. They devote hours each day to ensure that the feeds remain clean, relevant, focused and informative. While their role is often appreciated by followers of the group, here is an excerpt from a recent Facebook post that gladdens the heart :
My day typically used to start at 4 a.m. After a cuppa I am ready to tackle my day’s work. I work for US company hence the odd work hours. At the end of the working day, I used to be on Facebook or dream about places that I would like to explore. I would say pretty dull day.
Everything changed since the day I stumbled upon ‘The Himalayan Club’. Now my day starts with a cuppa with the mountains (virtual) . . .
. . . Hats off to the admins and moderators for their love towards these beautiful mountains. Their work is selfless; they strive relentlessly to enrich the club.
The Himalayan Club = Nature class + Photography school + History class + Geography class.
I am so glad I am part of The Himalayan Club. Thank you.
While the Club has 12 national and an equal number of international ‘Hon. Local Secretaries’, not all sections organize regular programmes and activities. The most active chapters are those in Delhi, Kolkata, Pune and Mumbai. Here a regular calendar of events has allowed members recourse to brilliant and awe-inspiring talks by national and international speakers.
Grants, Donations and Scholarships
Over the years, various gifts have been made to The Himalayan Club in memory of those who loved the mountains. Some of the donations have been to the library and others to institute awards or scholarships or memorial lectures. Because of these generous gifts the Club possesses a valuable library, is able to hold special talks and lectures, can honour excellence in mountain writing and expedition work, can send deserving students to mountaineering courses and award those support staff who work tirelessly to ensure the comfort of expeditions to the Himalaya.
The Kaivan Mistry Memorial Lecture : Kaivan Mistry was a passionate mountaineer from Mumbai who drowned tragically while crossing the torrential Shyok river on 25 September 2000. Four of the team slipped in the water and three managed to swim across while Kaivan hit his head on a rock and died instantly. His family donated funds in his name to start the Kaivan Mistry Memorial Lecture to be held annually. Started in 2003, it has introduced members to some outstanding speakers. The last decade has been no different – luminaries such as Bernadette McDonald, Col. Tony Streather, Nicholas Clinch, Krzysztof Wielicki, Peter Habeler Pat Morrow (who could not make it in person but sent a brilliant AV presentation instead) Marko Prezelj, Lindsay Griffin and Martin Moran addressed members. The Kaivan Mistry Memorial Lecture for 2017 was delivered by Leo Houlding.
The Arun Samant Memorial Lectures are held to honour a climber committed to the cause of climbing in India. An active member of the Club, Arun served at various times as Treasurer and then Secretary. On 31 May 1999, he died tragically on the Gya Expedition after having ascended Gyasumpa. In his memory, his wife, Dr Geeta Samant, donated funds towards using the income on the corpus for holding talks and seminars. Over the years, the audience has been delighted with illustrated talks, presentations and film screenings on a host of topics ranging from treks and expeditions to mountain communities and conservation.
The Kekoo Naoroji Book Award is an annual prize for the best book on the Himalaya. Kekoo was an active member of The Himalayan Club who had served as Hon. Secretary (1971), Vice President (1983-85), and President (1986-92). He was a keen environmentalist, lover of the outdoors, sportsman and an enlightened photographer. He realized the importance of conservation in the 1950s at a time when no one ever talked about the subject in India. His 11-week trek in 1952 to central Garhwal and a trek to Sikkim in 1958 were highlighted in his book Himalayan Vignettes, released years later at a special function in Bombay at the hands of the President of the World Mountaineering Federation. The award was instituted with the proceeds of the sale of the book and with assistance from the Godrej family.
In the last decade, the books that have been awarded are :
|2007-08||:||Brotherhood of the Rope by Bernadette McDonald|
|2008-09||:||Tomaz Humar by Bernadette McDonald|
|2010-11||:||No way Down - Life & Death on K2 by Graham Bowley|
|2011-12||:||Freedom Climbers by Bernadette McDonald|
|2012-13||:||Shipton and Tilman, The great decade of Himalayan exploration by Jim Perrin|
|2013-14||:||My Father Frank by Tony Smythe|
|2014-15||:||Becoming a Mountain by Stephen Alter|
|2015-16||:||Up and About – The Hard Road to Everest by Doug Scott|
The Nawang Kapadia Trust was instituted in memory of Lt. Nawang Kapadia who died fighting terrorists in Kashmir on November 11, 2000. Donated by his father, Harish Kapadia in 2006, the Trust consists of one of the largest Himalayan Map Libraries of its kind in India – and a visual library consisting of CD and DVD films related to mountains and mountaineering.
Through the efforts of Meher Mehta, and Tanil Kilachand the Grindlays Bank Mountain Scholarships and Kesar Kilachand Mountain Scholarships respectively, have assisted scores of youngsters by sponsoring their training at various mountaineering institutes around India. In 2013, the setting up of the Barun Ghosh Mountain Scholarship Fund by his brother Arun Chandra Ghosh has ensured that many more youngsters will get the mountain training they deserve.
The JCN Awards
In 2013 to honour his memory, The Himalayan Club and the Nanavati family instituted The Jagdish C Nanavati Garud Gold Medal – an annual medal for outstanding support staff on expeditions and explorations carrying a cash prize of Rs. 11000/- and The Jagdish C Nanavati Award for Excellence in Mountaineering - also an annual award carrying a cash prize of Rs. 51000/-.
2013 - JCN award for Excellence in Mountaineering to Anindya Mukherjee for his exploration ‘Zemu Gap from South’. Garud Medal was awarded to Harsingh Harkotia for his tireless support and contribution to Himalayan exploration and climbing over several decades.
2014 - Debabrata Mukherjee received the JCN Award for exploration over the sources of the Ganga to Chaukhamba col. The Garud Medal was awarded to Pemba Norbu, a Darjeeling Sherpa, also known as King Kong.
2015 - The JCN Award was won by Divyesh Muni and his team for exploration of the Rassa Glacier, Eastern Karakoram and the Garud Medal went to Ringzen Ladakhi.
2016 - Divyesh Muni and his team won the Award again for their pioneering exploration in the Ryong Kharu Lungpa area of East Karakoram. The Garud Medal was presented to Naveen Panwar.
2017 - The JCN Garud Medal for was awarded to Skalzang Rigzin. There was no award for Excellence in Mountaineering as the sole entry did not meet the award’s high standards in executing and reporting expeditions.
The Vrinda Chinchwadkar Memorial Lecture began in 2015. Dr. Chinchwadkar was a popular and active member of the Pune section who died in a tragic roadway accident. The donation made by her husband Gajanan Chinchwadkar is for a memorial lecture to be held in Pune in April every year.
The Aspi Moddie Welfare Fund: In memory of this oldest, longest serving and most respected member of the Club the Moddie family and The Himalayan Club have decided to institute the Aspi Moddie Welfare Fund (AMWF) which will be funded by the Moddie family and managed by The Himalayan Club. A corpus of Rs 500,000/- has been set up and the annual interest from this fund will be donated to a deserving family of a support staff who has lost his life or means of livelihood due to an accident on the mountains or a mountain village or community that has been affected by natural disaster.
There have been many other gifts of books, equipment and maps. Nanabhoy Davar and Mrs Hilla N. Davar generously gifted their collection of about 200 books in memory of their late son, Dr Edulji N. Davar to the Mumbai library. The valuable and extensive Soli Mehta collection of books which was housed in cupboards in the BNHS Library was brought home to The Himalayan Club Centre in 2016. Mountaineering books from the collection of Malatiben Jhaveri were donated by her daughter Parul Jhaveri, in 2016 again in Mumbai.
Besides, building the HC Library, the Club has also begun an initiative of scanning old and rare photographs, editors’ papers, Minutes books, correspondence etc. A long and tedious process, it is however necessary to preserve the knowledge wealth of this Club – an effort led by Harish Kapadia and funded by the Nanavati family.
Finally, no report of generosity would be complete without acknowledging the constant and unwavering support The Himalayan Club has received from the Godrej family. From donating office furniture to sponsoring programmes and awards, the family has been both friend and benefactor to the Club. This support is seen not only in behind-the-scenes assistance but also in the pride with which the family participates during the Annual Seminar and the Kekoo Naoroji Book Award function.
Since 2012, The Himalayan Club has been institutional sponsor to the Sherpa Project. The team of Nandini Purandare and Deepa Balsavar has been visiting Darjeeling in order to interview Sherpas and families. This oral history project will culminate in a book about the climbing Sherpas of Darjeeling. Interviews have also been conducted with non-Sherpa colleagues and climbers and extensive research of periodicals, books and archival material is also going on. The authors hope to be able to approach publishers by end-2017.
A Book of Himalayan Maps will be published in February 2018 to commemorate 90 years of the HC. This book is being edited by Harish Kapadia, M.H. Contractor and Smruti Ranganathan and will be published by Roli Books.
Now we come to certain areas that require specific attention when talking about the recent history of the Club. I have categorized them into three groups : the position the Club assumes with regard to its responsibilities in certain discussions, particularly regarding the environment of the Himalaya; dissension between sections leading to a Review Committee Report and the problem of inducting new members.
The Himalayan Club and the Environment
Questions concerning the pollution and degradation of the Himalaya have been taken up by the Club through programmes and in many articles in the Journal from as far back as 1973. The Himalayan Club has also supported initiatives to create National Parks, has taken a pioneering role in pushing for a Peace Park at Siachen, has conducted seminars on the environment and has published essays on environmental protection.
With the intention to focus even more attention on the Himalayan environment and greater involvement with mountain communities, a seminar was held in Mumbai on 15 February 2008. At its conclusion, it was decided to formulate action plans for projects and programmes at the practical level which would also create awareness among members and outsiders. To this end, the Club invited Dr Jurg Meyer (until recently Environmental Advisor to the Swiss Alpine Club) and Aamir Ali to put forward concrete ideas. They came out with a Report in March 2008 titled ‘The Himalayan Club and the Environment’.
The report made several recommendations. One was to reformulate the original objectives of the Club and widen the aims to read (proposed additions given in bold italics):
To encourage and assist Himalayan travel and exploration, to extend knowledge of the Himalaya and adjoining mountain ranges and its local communities through science, art, literature and sport and to protect the environment.
In terms of action plans, the report proposed a phased approach. The first phase (2008 -2009) envisaged the setting up of an Environment Commission. (The Club had already set up four sub-committees of which The Conservation and Environmental Committee was one. It was suggested that this be expanded by adding a panel of consultants to the existing core group). This phase would also launch an International fund raising appeal.
The second phase of the plan (2010 – 2011) involved hiring a specialist who would be contracted for two years to work on situation analysis and project proposals. The phase would end with the commencement of one or two of the identified projects. The authors also proposed that a document be drawn up that would provide a road map of activities for the following 10 to 15 years.
The report recognized the inability of the Club to initiate another substantial commitment given its small member base and limited finances but it felt that the commitment of the leading members, the existing network of good connections and the positive image of The Himalayan Journal internationally would provide the boost needed to get things going. Meyer and Ali also stated the importance of framing environmental positions within the general guidelines of the Club. As a starting point to the possible programmes, some inter-Himalayan projects and regional projects in tourist areas were also identified. Finally, the report provided a detailed work plan and budget.
The Club’s Annual Report and Accounts for the year ended 31st March 2009 clearly stated a position :
Climate change, receding and melting glaciers, deforestation and unsustainable development are some of the factors that pose an immense threat to the Himalayan environment, its flora and fauna and the lives and livelihoods of communities living along its entire range. The Club recognizes that the time has come, as never before, to pay closer attention to all these factors and their potential impact on people and the environment. The Club also recognizes that its own internal resources and efforts have not been marshalled in these directions before, and that meaningful impact will take considerable time to set up. Nevertheless, it wishes to add its own hand to the good work that institutions, both public and private, as well as NGOs have been doing. Towards that end it intends to mount analysis work and information dissemination on the general subject through its membership and seminars etc.
In 2009, a meet was also organized in Leh, Ladakh to promote an interest and involvement in environmental issues. Again, eminent mountaineers, scientists, environmentalists, ecologists and experts congregated to suggest strategies to save the heritage of the Himalaya and address issues related to global warming. The Club released three useful publications on the subject of acclimatization and precautions to be taken at high altitudes.
A good start one would say. However, there was nothing else as follow up. It must have been disappointing to the authors of the report and particularly to Aamir Ali because the enthusiasm, involvement and personal expense put in yielded little positive action. In fact all mention of the Environment Committee and action plans seemed to quietly disappear from Club notes and reports from the next year. Nor was the suggestion to expand the original objectives of the Club adopted.
While there seems to be no dispute on the importance of environmental issues, when push comes to shove, it appears that the Managing Committee and leading members are not convinced or of a single mind on the extent of the Club’s involvement in such issues. Far from amending the objectives of the Club, the question still being raised is : Should the Club take up such matters when there are experts and organizations already focussing on environmental problems in the Himalaya?
The problem however is no longer one of choice. At some point, mountaineering organizations, especially those with such goodwill and credibility as The Himalayan Club must find the will and manpower to concern themselves and accept their share of the responsibility. It is a sad fact that in a voluntary organization, the same few people are overburdened with work. Just keeping the Club going becomes a time consuming task, and while it is easy to make suggestions, not many volunteers jump up to offer their services. This is when the involvement of more members particularly those who hold such issues dear becomes crucial as does the induction of new members.
It is not heart or the dedication of members that is lacking. When in 2010, torrential rains and landslides submerged and destroyed entire villages in Leh, killing scores of people, the Club’s local secretary Motup Chewang and his team assisted tirelessly in search and rescue operations. The Club collected donations for a Rebuild Ladakh Initiative. Two villages – Kya and Skyui were adopted as also a local children’s hostel. Houses were rebuilt in the hamlets and 12 deserving families were identified by the village councils for added assistance. Extra rooms and bathrooms were constructed so that the families could start Home Stay schemes for trekkers and hikers. By 2013 reconstruction of the destroyed houses was complete and by 2015 the Home Stay rooms had also been built. For the children’s hostel, the Club constructed a ladies’ toilet block and repaired the institute’s broken down vehicles. The Club now supports The Ladakh Institute of Prevention which works in the field of assistance/ research/ prevention and healthcare in Ladakh.
On 25 April 2015 a cataclysmic earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale struck Nepal. The quake and its aftershocks killed nearly 9000 people and close to 22000 were injured. Villages disappeared without a trace, heritage buildings and monuments crumbled to dust. Climbers on Everest were trapped on camps 1 and 2 and pinned under toppled blocks in the Khumbu icefall. The small mountain country saw devastation beyond imagining.
The Himalayan Club immediately launched a fund initiated by Dr Godbole, local Secretary of the Pune section to help the victims of the earthquake. The fund received overwhelming support from members and then worked with the Government of India for permission to send the funds. Unfortunately due to strained ties between the countries it was difficult to directly transfer money. So The Himalayan Disaster Relief Fund was was created and the interest is now be disbursed every year to three or four families affected by natural disasters anywhere in the Himalaya. In two smaller initiatives, The Himalayan Club started the Nawang Topgay Fund and the Anand Ram Fund. Nawang Topgay, Tiger medallist and respected Sherpa instructor at NIM, known fondly to his students as ‘Guruji’, was living in penurious circumstances in Darjeeling. When the Club was apprised of his situation a small monthly amount was assigned to pay for his medicines and welfare. The assistance continued till his death in 2012. Similarly, when Anand Ram a Kumaoni porter died on a Club sponsored Ladakh expedition due to altitude sickness, the Club took up the responsibility of supporting his family and his children’s education. His wife Indra Devi now works as a school assistant in the local school. The two older children, Laxman and Anjali, live in hostel and study away from home supported by the Club while the youngest child Saurabh still attends the local school.
It is to be repeated, there is no lack of heart or dedication; however these initiatives have been the reaction to situations - responses to calls when support was needed. The Club is surely better placed to influence policy and changes on a larger scale if the decision is so taken and volunteers are found.
For the Club to assume this role however there is another crucial element that needs to fall into place : members need to work together and that cannot happen when there is dissension.
The Review Committee
Since 2008 some disquieting incidents have caused fractures within the organization. Allegations of misbehaviour were made against a senior member; relative to that a defamation case was made against another. A three - member tribunal of eminent judges, who had been empanelled to assess the case, withdrew after the terms of their mandate were violated. The proceedings were distasteful and while it is not relevant to go into details of the case, what is important is the fact (as always in such cases) that harm was brought upon the Club. Several international members even withdrew their membership. There were also accusations of ‘Big brother’ behaviour levelled against the Mumbai section and questions regarding the individualistic functioning of the Kolkata section. In consequence The Himalayan Club appointed a Review Committee to do a critical appraisal of its functioning. The review was conducted by Ravi Singh, CEO of WWF India.
The Report brought out in 2013 was called ‘Scaling Up : An Internal Review of the Himalayan Club’.
The first issue the Review Committee (RC) addressed was membership. Among other things it suggested the hiring of a full time Membership Officer and the creation of a Marketing team to supplement the efforts of the Membership Officer. It called for a Membership Manual defining terms of membership and Standard Operating Procedure to guide members and office bearers and a graded privileges programme for members. It also suggested the appointing of a marketing agency, a structured Social Media plan and making the website and all publications more visually appealing and accessible and creating a promotional brochure that would be widely distributed among trekking companies and tour operators and the developing of an Annual Events Calendar for the general public.
To boost activities, the report suggested that local programmes be supported and the present work of sponsoring mountaineering activities be aggressively pursued. As part of its function to dispense information, the report suggested that the Club develop a dynamic interactive e-base for exchange of information, expand its data bank, create a virtual knowledge centre and facilitate outdoors programmes.
In terms of Governance, the report advocated a more equitable gender representation in the Managing Committee and a reduction of the average age of committee members. Rotation of committee members in a phased manner to incorporate new members was also advocated and the creation of an Advisory Board of retired or older members.
The RC also suggested a more de-centralized approach to ensure that only financial and statutory functions take place at the Head Office, allowing for other sections to enjoy a greater degree of autonomy in inducting members and utilizing funds. To energize activities in all sections and support volunteers in new areas, a membership strategy and 2-3 year plan was recommended.
In the field of Conservation and Communities, the RC recommended a discussion on whether the focus of HC activities needs to be expanded and whether the Club become relevant at the national level in tackling environmental issues. It suggested that old and new members be involved and their interest solicited in taking up projects. It also suggested eco-tourism, climate change and working with mountain communities as other possible areas for the Club to be involved in.
The RC selected 14 members for in-depth review and feedback. General feedback was also solicited through a broad questionnaire to which 33 other members responded. The recommendations of the committee were based on these responses and certainly it appears that a larger discussion is required. However, it would be well to reproduce here a segment from the response of (late) Lavkumar Khachar who expressed the following thoughts :
The Indian membership might find the thought sobering that the largely British membership at the time of Independence might have transferred the Club to London : we would not be exercising emotions as indeed we are today. Like the highly prestigious Alpine Club, the Himalayan Club might well have operated from Britain. Politically, spiritually and emotionally too, the Himalaya and associated mountain ranges are not the propriety of India and so, on us rests the huge responsibility of operating the Club so that it is internationally recognized : we owe it to history, to ourselves and to the international community to set aside our differences and ensure that the Club continues to be accepted as being relevant in the years ahead. As such, the late Jagdish Nanavati and his associated climbers from Mumbai are to be thanked for having not only kept the Club and the Journal going, but also for having instilled considerable vibrancy into its functioning. But, far, far more is demanded if we are to strengthen the Club’s reputation nationally and internationally and not slip into the Himalayan Club becoming the Indian Himalayan Club or fracture into the Mumbai Himalayan Club, the Kolkata Himalayan Club, and so on.
Well put Mr Khachar! Unfortunately, things seem to be perilously poised. The recent deepening of schisms between the Managing Committee in Mumbai and ex-committee members of the Kolkata Section have led to situations such as publishing of a parallel e-letter and setting up a separate Facebook page. If the groups harden their stands, it could lead to a confusing scenario for members and well- wishers of the Club. One hopes that wisdom prevails and common love for The Himalayan Club and interest in its continued growth lead to civil and productive discourse.
It is true that all institutions have their ups and downs but there is always hope when the will to change is displayed. Shortly after receiving the Review Committee report, an Implementation Committee was formed under the stewardship of the current President Tanil Kilachand with various sub-committees inviting experts in the fields of Membership, Marketing and Communication, Activities, Knowledge Management, Governance, Locations, and Conservation and Communities. A graded privileges programme for members is already underway and other committees have begun submitting action plans.
The problem of membership
Finally, the need to expand the membership base has been raised repeatedly for many years. Technology makes information widely available and various websites and e-groups including the Club’s own provide forums for exchange of information and sharing of experiences. Without any other tangible advantages to belonging to The Himalayan Club, it has been difficult to draw new members, particularly youth into the fold.
The Pune section, recognizing that youngsters were attracted to outdoor activities rather than indoor talks decided upon the strategy of conducting regular treks and hikes in the nearby Sahyadri region along with one expedition to the Himalaya every year. The annual Banff Mountain Film festival is also a big draw and the Club currently organizes shows in ten cities in India. Feeling the need to address the issue of membership on an urgent footing, the Managing Committee has developed a Membership Benefits / Privileges Programme. There is also an attempt to work with the Nature Conservation Fund in mapping the flora and fauna of the Himalaya.
As of 31 March 2016, The Himalayan Club listed 886 members. The Himalayan Journal Volume 71 was released in August of the year and volumes 35 and 36 of the e-letters appeared in the months of November 2016 and July 2017. New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Pune had an eventful calendar of activities.
Is a calendar of programmes and a splendid Journal enough to carry the Club along or is there a need to rededicate the Club to the spirit and soul with which it was founded and grew to eminence? The next ten years will be crucial to demonstrate whether the Club retains relevance and whether the concerns and suggestions of members resonate and transform it into the organization everyone wants to see. There are good people in the Club who work selflessly and thanklessly every day but this discussion calls for each member to assume ownership of The Himalayan Club and be involved. Are you up for it?
This article is a reflective review of the last 10 years of The Himalayan Club. For the first time, the history of the HC has been authored by a writer who has taken an unbiased view from the outside. Most importantly, she has challenged those who love and cherish The Himalayan Club. Are you up for it?
DEEPA BALSAVAR has been an armchair explorer. Ever a reader, she lives vicariously through the exploits of mountaineers and writers who bring to her humdrum existence, the thrills and perils, the disasters and the triumphs, the friendships and the losses that go with climbing in the Himalaya. Being a newish member of The Himalayan Club gets her one step closer to the action. Deepa is collaborating with Nandini Purandare on a project to chronicle the lives and times of the climbing Sherpas of Darjeeling.
Aamir Ali : The Himalayan Club at Eighty. HJ Volume 64
John Martyn : The Story of The Himalayan Club, 1928-1978. HJ Volume 35
Muslim Contractor : Such a Long Journey. HJ Volume 59
The Himalayan Club Reports and Accounts (2004 -2016)
An Overview of Club Activities : 2012-2016
Ravi Singh : Scaling Up – An Internal Review of The Himalayan Club.
Jurg Meyer and Aamir Ali : The Himalayan Club and the Environment – A Report. March 2008
‘Are Mountaineering Clubs also Environmental Organisations?’ Lecture presented by Dr Jurg Meyer. Feb 16-17, 2008, Mumbai
Aspie D. Moddie : Guidelines for Environmental Action. Extract from ‘Environmental Protection of the Himalaya’, published by Indus Publishing Company, New Delhi, for the Himalayan Club, 1994
Various Volumes of The Himalayan Club E-Letters https://www.facebook.com/groups/TheHimalayanClub/