Indian Mountaineering Foundation at 60

Brig Ashok Abbey

IMF must play a ‘key balancing role in encouraging and promoting mountaineering, yet at the same time protect these majesticmountains from the wanton destruction unleashed by reckless human over-adventurism!

As a young India gained its independence at the stroke of midnight on 15 August 1947 and became a sovereign state, its primary focus in its formative years, was to give its citizens good governance, stability, opportunities to excel and an enabling atmosphere to pursue their passion. The fifties saw a young fledgling nation, full of national zeal and pride, emerging from the shadows of independence, yet abounding in patriotic fervour, asserting itself and firmly chartering its chosen path to attain long term economic growth and prosperity. With independence came the awareness of India’s vast and rich geographical frontiers, but it was the spectacular Himalaya to the north, with its vast potential for mountain climbing and exploration, which caught the fancy of the Indian youth and mesmerized them into its folds. It was therefore only a question of time, before young Indians were smitten by a strong desire to venture into, explore these majestic landforms and climb these challenging heights. In 1951, the match was lit and a firm beginning was a made when Trishul (7120 m)1, the legendary mountain of the Garhwal Himalaya was climbed by Gurdial Singh and Roy Greenwood. This indeed was a defining moment, in the mountaineering history of a young nation!

Mountaineering in India started in the true sense, with the formation of The Himalayan Club (THC) on 17 February, 1928 in Shimla. Driven largely by the British, with their deep passion for exploration and climbing, members of the club crisscrossed the Himalaya and adjoining mountain ranges, recording their incredible journeys and climbs for posterity in The Himalayan Journal (THJ). The fate and the future of THC’s existence sans the British, came under existential threat, when there was a doubt cast on the club’s ability to survive after the mass exodus of its British members in 1947. But the club survived and never looked back, fulfilling its founding objectives in full measure. Along with THC, mountaineering too survived and till date continues to be one of the most preferred high value mountain outdoor activity of the Indian youth.

After the ascent of Everest in 19532, which remains a landmark in the annals of world mountaineering, India too opened its first mountaineering institute. With the establishment of the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI) in Darjeeling in 1954, the Indian youth finally got an opportunity to formally train in mountaineering. While the first major Indian expedition had already been conducted in 1951 to Trishul, post 1954, a spate of mountaineering expeditions was launched to Kamet (7756 m), Saser Kangri (7672 m) and Nanda Devi (7816 m), essentially with the climbing nucleus from HMI. A good mountaineering beginning had thus been made in the middle of the 20th century.

Since the establishment of the HMI, a core group of civil servants keenly watched the response of the Indian youth towards mountaineering, which was indeed encouraging. Amongst them was Shri HC Sarin, ICS, later President IMF, who played a pivotal role in giving mountaineering a sound base in India. He was the First Secretary of the HMI and also the First Secretary of the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM), when it was established in 1965, in Uttarkashi. While the Indian Himalaya are undoubtedly one of the best climbing amphitheatres in the world, in neighbouring Nepal, in the 1950s, the seat of maximum eight thousanders, a frenzy of nations and mountaineers were scrambling to record first ascents on some of the highest mountains of the world.

After the 1955 first ascent of Kanchenjunga3 by the British, the desire to climb the high peaks in India began trending. Based on a detailed proposal submitted by a Bombay solicitor of the time, Shri Keki Bunshah, a mission-oriented Committee called the ‘Sponsoring Committee of the Cho Oyu Expedition’ comprising of Shri N R Pillai, Shri S S Khera and Shri Harish Sarin, all ICS officers, was set up in 1957, to support and give shape to India’s first major mountaineering Expedition. Mount Cho Oyu4 in 1954, had received its first ascent by an Austrian expedition led by Herbert Tichy. The Indians were now, the second nation to attempt it. This was a landmark expedition launched by India in 1958, the first in Nepal and the first to an eight thousander. The Indian expedition succeeded in making the second ascent of the Turquoise Mountain. Tragically though, India lost its mountaineering prodigy Major Nandu Jayal in this expedition.

Emboldened by the success of the Cho Oyu expedition India decided to launch a full-fledged Indian attempt to scale Mt Everest in 1960. This expedition too would have a specifically formed Sponsoring Committee. At that time, Sponsorng Committees for big expeditions were a time-tested tool; a system that had been tried successfully by the British Royal Geographical Society and the Alpine Club, for launching their pioneering pre-war Everest Expeditions in 1921, 1922 and 1924. Accordingly in 1959, the ‘Sponsoring Committee of the Everest Expedition’ was formed to launch the venture. The Indian 1960 Everest Expedition5, which was led by Brigadier Gyan Singh, made a valiant attempt, but unfortunately had to turn back, a mere 700 feet from the summit.

With a growing interest by the Indian youth in mountaineering and the successful conduct of the expeditions to Cho Oyu and nearly to Everest, the Sponsoring Committee continued to stay in existence, to undertake and support more such ventures. On termination of the 1960 Everest Expedition, the nomenclature of the Sponsoring Committee was changed to ‘Sponsoring Committee for Mountaineering Expeditions’, with the underlying spirit of promoting and launching mountaineering expeditions in India.

In 1960, senior members Shri SS Khera and Shri HC Sarin, seeing the response to mountaineering expeditions and sensing a keen penchant for mountaineering amongst the youth held a series of informal and formal meetings with other civil servants, The need to have a permanent body which could sustain and promote mountaineering on a long-term basis at the national level was discussed. At this time, THC was giving yeoman service to mountaineers in terms of providing necessary information, assistance and recording of ascents. It was still in the process of readjusting to the new dynamics, after departure of the British.

In November and December 1960, the Sponsoring Committee finally decided to shed off its status of a ‘Committee’ and constituted itself into a permanent organization on 15 January 1961, assuming the nomenclature of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF). The IMF was born!

In keeping with the aspirations of a young India and the fact that the expedition support base had to be large, resourceful, open-minded and flexible, involving all stakeholders, the body was deliberately kept out of the ambit of a government department. IMF was finally registered on 3 November, 1961 with its Headquarters in Delhi.

The first members of the Foundation at the time of its constitution were Shri SS Khera, Shri S Boothalingam, Prof MS Thacker, Shri AK Ghosh, Shri HC Sarin, Shri MG Raja Ram and Shri M Khaitan. Almost all were from the Indian Govt Service, with the exception of Shri Khaitan who hailed from a business background. This was also the first Executive Committee of the IMF, with Shri SS Khera, ICS, as President. Subsequently, in the First Annual General Body meeting held on 4 May, 1966 Shri HC Sarin, ICS took over as President and remained at the helm for 23 years.

After its formation, IMF continued to play a key role in promoting and launching mountaineering expeditions. The first major expedition launched by the Foundation was, the 1962 Indian Everest Expedition6 led by Major John Dias. The expedition came within 100 metres of the summit, but was beaten back by bad weather. This was followed by IMF sponsored expeditions to Panch Chuli III, II, V (6312 m, 6863 m and 6439 m respectively), Tirsuli (7035 m), Nanda Devi East (7434 m) and Nanda Devi (7816 m). In 1965, the 3rd Indian Everest Expedition7 sponsored by the IMF, led by Captain MS Kohli, IN made history, when they put nine climbers on the summit of Everest, a world record which stood tall for 17 years. In 1984, another IMF sponsored expedition led by Col DK Khullar, put India’s first woman and fifth in the world, Bachendri Pal on top of Everest 8. For over six decades, IMF has consistently conducted and promoted mountaineering in letter and spirit across the country and continues to do so with the same zeal and focus till date.

IMF is the Apex National Body for Mountaineering, Trekking and Sport Climbing in India. The primary objective of the Foundation is to promote, support, sustain and nurture mountaineering, which is its core activity, by giving necessary guidance and by providing a firm base for launching mountaineering expeditions. The Foundation also executes schemes for all Himalayan adventures including scientific studies and disseminates information. Today, it is a national repository of all matters pertaining to mountaineering in the Himalaya.

The Foundation has an elected President and a Governing Council, from its membership base. Selected mountaineering clubs and institutions pan India, also form part of the IMF. It primarily functions through task-oriented committees, which function independently. The Foundation is well represented, with five active zones, covering the entire country. The spirit of volunteerism, is the key in IMF functioning. In order to have maximum participation of active mountaineers and adventure enthusiasts in its folds, IMF has various shades of membership namely Individual, Associate and Affiliate members, which give IMF a well-represented spectrum of mountaineers and adventure enthusiasts.

The President of IMF, the senior most office bearer of the Foundation is elected by the General Body. Over the years, distinguished officers have headed this organization including NR Pillai, SS Khera, HC Sarin, Captain MS Kohli, Dr MS Gill, NN Vohra, Major HPS Ahluwalia, DVLN Rao and Col HS Chauhan.

Apart from promoting mountaineering and allied activities, IMF is wholly committed to alleviating national standards for climbing, enabling young Indians to climb better. In this ongoing effort, IMF works in close cooperation with National Mountaineering Institutes and training organizations of the Defence and the Central Armed Police Forces. The Foundation grants scholarships to needy students and also gives financial incentives to mountaineering clubs to encourage mountaineering.

One of the important responsibilities is the regulation of mountaineering in India, a role which was passed on from THC to the IMF, after it came into existence. IMF regulates all Indian and Foreign expeditions as per directions of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Govt. of India. Not only does IMF issue climbing permits, it also coordinates all aspects of climbing. IMF also maintains a national log of all climbs in the Himalaya. Post every expedition, IMF compiles relevant reports and has an institutionalized mechanism for verifying climbs.

The Foundation works in close cooperation with the Ministries of Home Affairs, Defence, Youth Affairs & Sports, Finance, Tourism and other Ministries of the Union Government, as also with the State Governments. IMF is a member of International Climbing Federation, International Federation for Sport Climbing and maintains a healthy interaction with national mountaineering bodies of other countries. At home, IMF works in sync with other like-minded organizations, with complementary objectives and interests, within the country such as the Adventure Tour Operators, THC, Responsible Tourism Society of India and other organizations.

In keeping with the aspirations of mountaineers and state governments wanting to promote mountaineering in their respective states, IMF has been instrumental in opening 430 peaks for climbing in the Indian Himalaya. Opening of new peaks and areas in the Indian Himalaya is an ongoing effort by the IMF.

Launching and coordination of Search and Rescue operations in the Indian Himalayas are a real challenge, due to extreme altitude, remoteness, vastness and inaccessibility of the Himalayan peaks. In case of a mountaineering accident, IMF has a pivotal role to play and coordinates with all stakeholders like the Army, Air Force, Police, ITBP, NDRF, SDRF, State Administration of the concerned State and Foreign Embassy, as required. It continues to strive for an effective response system to any mountaineering accident in the Indian Himalaya.

To enhance climbing skills of Indian climbers, IMF organizes regular Alpine style climbing camps. Winter climbing camps, are also conducted to encourage winter climbing. Over the years, IMF has also successfully organized a number of joint expeditions with foreign countries, so as to give young Indian climbers an exposure to contemporary international climbing standards and promote goodwill.

An important aspect of IMF effort over the years has been to preserve the fragile ecosystems in the Himalaya and keep the mountains clean. Towards this, IMF has generated tremendous awareness, launched regular campaigns and cleaning expeditions along with state governments and like-minded organizations, duly supported by mountaineers. IMF has also been in the fore front of skill development to generate employment. In this regard, capacity building, training for tourism sector, has been undertaken, in specific skill domains. Initiative to recognize prior mountain skills in the adventure tourism sector has also been fully supported by the IMF and has been a game changer for employment. In the recent years, IMF along with the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) is in the process of standardizing mountaineering equipment and training, so as to have uniform safety standards for equipment and training across India, at par with the best international standards in the world.

Apart from mountaineering and trekking, IMF is also the apex body for Sport Climbing in India. IMF introduced sport climbing in 1991, primarily to complement mountaineering and rock-climbing skills; this activity has evolved over the years and has now become an Olympic sport. In India, the sport has become extremely popular with over 25 national championships, conducted over the years. 39 medals have been won by various Indian athletes, in various international competitions. The sport continues to grow under the tutelage of the IMF.

Trekking is an inbuilt and an indispensable part of mountaineering and any mountain adventure. Although vastly unregulated in India, trekking in terms of numbers and volume is far bigger than mountaineering. IMF has prepared national guidelines for trekking and along with other agencies of the state, strives to promote safe and responsible trekking amongst Indians.

24 December 1980 was a landmark year for the IMF as the Foundation finally moved into its present home in the heart of the capital city, at its sprawling 2.66 acres headquarters located on Benito Juarez Road, New Delhi. Inaugurated by Smt Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India and dedicated to the nation, the robust stone and timber construction was christened as a ‘Beacon of Adventure’. Today, it is the nerve centre for Indian mountaineers with compact administrative offices, auditorium, equipment stores, dormitories, sport climbing wall, obstacle course etc. It also houses the Tenzing Norgay Mountaineering Museum. It is heartening to see the lively IMF campus, teeming with adventure enthusiasts, both Indians and foreigners, assisted in every way by a helpful IMF staff.

As IMF completes sixty years of existence and continues its timeless journey into the future, the challenges before the apex body are myriad. One of the biggest challenges is to stay in sync with the aspirations of the climbing generation of the times, remain relevant and yet keep alive the true spirit of mountaineering and the ‘art of climbing’. With commercial guided expeditions enticing a new generation of climbers and almost becoming a norm a new dimension to climbing has been added. IMF thus has to ensure that the art of planning and executing light weight, self-supported expeditions remain intact, relevant and foremost at all times. Such styles, where climbing skills are all important, need to be supported, promoted and given due recognition by the IMF. The Foundation also needs to increase its membership base with more inclusivity and active participation from the current, younger generation of climbers. IMF must reach out and have a pan India representation from every Indian state. In cooperation with other stakeholders, IMF needs to promote Indian Himalaya as an unmatched, climbing destination. IMF and the Himalayan states need to work together to make the expedition permit processes simpler, cutting bureaucratic tape and gravitating towards an efficient, single window clearance system, for all such activities. An effective Search and Rescue mechanism in the Indian Himalaya remains a key area to reassure the world mountaineering fraternity, that an accident response and rescue effort to a mountaineering accident or an SOS in the Indian Himalaya, will be swift and efficient. While headway has been made in this regard, more needs to be done. Coordination with state governments, armed forces and police for speedy evacuation remains a challenge for the IMF. Despite a security ridden scenario, IMF must continue to strive for better communication, mountain maps and navigation aids for mountaineering expeditions, which will greatly assist in a safe conduct, promote safety and assist in search and rescue operations.

One of the biggest challenges before the IMF in recent times is preservation of the Himalayan environment and protection of flora and fauna. Rapid global warming, coupled with mass tourism has increased pressure on the already fragile environment manifold. To keep base camp sites, higher camps, popular trekking trails and the mountains clean is a major challenge. IMF needs to firmly commit itself to ensure that our mountains remain environmentally sustainable in the long term. It has to play a lead role, build strategies, awareness with like-minded organizations and state governments, to multiply its effort and effectiveness.

The well-being of mountain workers and mountain communities is another area, where the Foundation needs to step up in a committed manner. As support of these communities is essential and form the bulwark of all mountain outdoor activities, their well-being and willingness to support such activities is quintessential for survival of mountaineering and allied sports, especially in the Himalayan region. IMF needs to forge partnerships with all communities for their long- term sustenance, upliftment and welfare.

Another challenge is to alleviate our national climbing standards. Young Indian climbers need to be trained, encouraged and supported, to climb challenging routes on new peaks, in new areas and small teams, preferably in Alpine style or in a self-sustained manner without excessive external climbing support on the mountain. IMF also needs to look at emerging new dimensions of mountain activities, such as ice climbing, trail running, mountain running with an open mind with a view to integrating them with the main stream activities. A crucial aspect is the instilling of the correct mountain ethics and values in the current generation of Indian climbers. The number of false claims and incorrect reporting, with regard to peaks is a matter of grave concern and is an indicator of the need for a strong ethical foundation in which IMF, along with all senior mountaineers and National Mountaineering Institutes, has a crucial role to play.

In the short term, IMF has to overcome the Covid 19 challenge, which has had a devastating effect on mountaineering and allied activities over the past two years. The Foundation’s functioning and activities too have been adversely impacted, including government funding and support for activities. Mountain workers, mountain communities, adventure tour operators too have suffered, with many having lost their only source of livelihood. As the pandemic rages, foreign expeditions, Indian expeditions and training activities have virtually stopped. Therefore, IMF has to continue issuing necessary advisories, guide mountaineers and trekkers and reassure the world, that India is a safe climbing destination.

As the Foundation gets on in age and surges ahead in the 21st century, its fundamental responsibility remains to promote and regulate mountaineering, simultaneously ensuring environmental sustainability of the Himalaya. While a lot has been achieved in the past six decades, a lot still needs to be done. It must adapt to change and stay relevant to the times. Phenomenal growth of mountaineering, trekking and allied adventure activities has brought to fore its own nuances and has put the fragile Himalayan environment under great stress, almost to the brink of irreversible destruction. Therefore, the path ahead for the Foundation is challenging to say the least. IMF must play a ‘key balancing role’ in encouraging and promoting mountaineering yet at the same time protect these majestic mountains from the wanton destruction unleashed by reckless human over-adventurism! “I dedicate this organization to India’s resurgent sense of adventure and our confidence in the future” is what a former Prime Minister of India said about the Indian Mountaineering Foundation. IMF forever strives to live up to that trust and responsibility.


In the 60th year of Indian Mountaineering Foundation, India’s apex mountaineering body, its current President, Brigadier Ashok Abbey presents a detailed note on this August institution. Apart from explaining the organization’s objectives and administration, he touches upon the mountaineers’ dreams and aspirations, the endangered Himalaya and thus the challenges the IMF must face and resolve in order to stay current and relevant.

About the Author

Brigadier Ashok Abbey is a highly experienced mountaineer, who has been actively climbing for over 40 years and continues this pursuit. He has climbed extensively in the Great Ranges, namely the Himalaya, Karakoram and adjoining mountain ranges. He was President of The Himalayan Club from 2010 till 2015. Currently, he is President of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation.

The floating marvels of Loktak Lake—its globally unique ecosystem of phumdi, a heterogeneous mass of vegetation, soil and organic matter (Dipti Bhalla Verma and Shiv Kumar Verma)

The floating marvels of Loktak Lake—its globally unique ecosystem of phumdi, a heterogeneous mass of vegetation, soil and organic matter (Dipti Bhalla Verma and Shiv Kumar Verma)


  1. THJ Vol 17. Page 112. Roy Greenwood ‘Trishul’
  2. THJ Vol 18. Page 9. ‘Everest 1953’
  3. THJ Vol 14. Page 33. George Band ‘Kanchenjunga Climbed’
  4. THJ Vol 14. Page 131. Herbert Tichy ‘Cho Oyu 267450 ft’
  5. THJ Vol 22. Page 3. Brig Gyan Singh ‘Indians on Mount Everest’
  6. THJ Vol 24. Page 2. Suman Dubey ‘Everest 62’
  7. THJ Vol 26. Page 3. Lt Cdr M S Kohli, I.N. ‘Nine atop Everest’
  8. THJ Vol 41. Page 20. Col D K Khullar ‘Indian Everest Expedition’



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