Overview of foreign expeditions. Around 35 expeditions from various countries visited the Indian Himalaya during 2003. This was perhaps the smallest number of visiting teams in the last few years. Many expeditions cancelled after the threat of the SARS epidemic in Asia and the war in Iraq. Out of these 35 or so, around 20 teams attempted routine ascents of standard peaks that are nowadays considered commercial expedition targets, such as Satopanth, west ridge of Shivling, Kun, Stok Kangri, and Dzo Jungo (the last two named were climbed by 11 expeditions). Satopanth (7,075m), the highest of the Gangotri peaks, received its first French ascent by Pierre Malherbe and Jean-Noël Urban, who climbed to the summit in nine hours from their 6,000m camp. Forty-four-year old Urban then made the first ski descent of the mountain, removing his skis only for one section of narrow icy ridge.
Jammu and Kashmir received only three expeditions, but the Gangotri area remained as popular as ever, with 15 teams attempting different peaks. The most popular objective was, surprisingly, Thalay Sagar, with five expeditions, but Bhagirathi III and Shivling were also attempted by three teams each. The success rate was rather poor, many teams being thwarted by the bad weather that characterized both pre and post monsoon seasons.
Bureaucratic restrictions near and around the Nanda Devi Sanctuary created problems for various climbing teams. When these teams with permission from Delhi reached their starting points, some of them had to travel back to Dehra Dun, which is now the new capital of Uttaranchal State, to seek fresh permission from the State (local) Government.
Uttaranchal proposes to levy additional peak fees, as is done in Sikkim, which may cause severe financial hardship to visiting expeditions. Expeditions to Jammu and Kashmir still find it difficult to climb mountains due to bureaucratic problems such as the requirement of local police officers and liaison officers to join the team. Overall, as far as the foreign expeditions to India were concerned, this was perhaps a low point of the last few decades.
Harish Kapadia, Honorary Editor, The Himalayan Journal