Asia, India, Himalaya, Overview

Publication Year: 2008.

Overview. The year 2007 saw reduced mountaineering activity in the Indian Himalaya. An important reason was the stiff charge enforced by two state governments whose states contain large numbers of peaks, i.e. Sikkim and Uttarakhand (formerly Uttaranchal). In addition to expedition fees imposed by the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, these two states insist on additional fees and stiff conditions, which have put off many climbers. As a result there was not a single expedition to the east (Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh) and few expeditions to the Uttarakhand area. [Things are improving in Sikkim, as described by Roger Payne in his article about Sikkim starting on page 112 of this Journal—Ed.]

There were 113 IMF-reported expeditions (61 Indian and 52 foreign). Of these, about 70 were to routine peaks. For example, Stok Kangri, a peak which can be climbed in about three days from Leh, received as many as 25 expeditions in 2007. This peak has often been climbed illegally, but now the IMF has opened a branch office in Leh, so expeditions register here and are more likely to pay the requisite fees.

The requirement for having “X-Visa” stamped on one’s passport has been done away with in the case of 113 peaks (a list is available on the IMF website). For these peaks the IMF has a single-window clearance and will even collect fees for paying the state governments. For all other peaks old requirements and formalities continue.

Three expeditions visited the eastern Karakoram, which takes much organizing and clearances. With much fanfare the Siachen area was declared open for trekkers, but Pakistan immediately registered a strong protest. At present only one team, consisting of military cadets, has visited the most sensitive parts of Siachen. No trekking is yet allowed in the area. However, the practice of allowing joint Indian and foreign expeditions to the Siachen Glacier continues.

Expeditions to Kalanka and Changabang were beaten back by freak storms in September and October. However, expeditions to difficult peaks like Arwa Spire and Arwa Tower were successful during May. Some notable climbs were the ascent of Kulu Makalu, Mukut Parvat East Peak, Manirang, and Menthosa, all by Indian mountaineers. The west ridge route on Nilkanth, pioneered by Martin Moran in 2000, was repeated by a Himalayan Club, Kolkata, team. It was an energetic climb, with members proceeding from the last camp to the summit and back with two bivouacs. They had excellent weather and made full use of it. The cryptic message on reaching the summit, as agreed earlier, was “The Himalayan Club is smiling,” which it was!

The Indian Mountaineering Foundation organized seven expeditions. Two were ladies’ teams. The IMF expedition to Changuch, an unclimbed mountain rising above the Pindari Glacier, ran into extremely bad weather. After waiting for a few days after the first clearing, the team decided to climb along the Pindari Icefall to a higher camp. An avalanche landed on their camp, killing two Sherpas. A third Sherpa was rescued, but will spend at least one year recuperating. Similarly, an Indian-Australian expedition to a 6,350m peak rising above Col Italia could not get far, as the Thangman Glacier was in flood and impossible to cross. The same glacier had earlier been crossed, with great difficulty, by an Indo-American expedition that climbed Chong Kumdan I. Nearby Mamostong Kangri was climbed by two teams: an Indo-French expedition,which climbed it by the normal route, and the Vikas Regiment of the Indian Army, which made a variation approaching from the east. For the first time there was an Indo-Bangladesh expedition, which climbed Rubal Kang.

Several trekking agencies, particularly those that take students to the mountains, are unregulated in India. This year two deaths of young people on routine treks have raised controversy. On the initiative of one of the parents, the High Court in Mumbai has ordered the government to frame rules for such agencies. This could be a welcome step that Indian mountaineers have been waiting for.

Many changes are evident in the Himalaya directly due to global warming. Lower villages are receiving less snow, and villagers complain that there is not enough snowmelt for irrigatation. At certain villages flowers and fruits now have to be planted a thousand feet higher than before because of rising temperatures. And glaciers, such as the Chong Kumdan, are certainly receding.

A trekking team including myself was permitted, for the first time, to trek near the tri-junction of India, China, and Burma—the easternmost point of India. Considering its sensitive nature, as Indian and Chinese forces had clashed here, this was a significant development. We located Chinese inscriptions on a huge rock that was mentioned in the Geographical Journal in 1910 by Ronald Kaulback, who was a member of F. Kingdon-Ward’s party. Further research is needed to completely decipher these writings, but it is an important discovery.

During the year two notable books were published. Heights of Madness by Myra MacDonald considers the war on the Siachen Glacier. She was a reporter with Reuters who flew over the glacier in poor weather, met army officers, and talked with those involved in the war. Later she did the same on the Pakistan side. The other book is by leading British author Charles Allen. Kipling Sahib illuminates Rudyard Kipling’s life in India. It was released at JJ School of Arts in Mumbai, where Kipling was born.

Finally, the (British) Alpine Club’s 150th anniversary was celebrated in the Indian Himalaya by organizing a small expedition to the Kagbhusandi Valley. The team climbed two peaks, despite plenty of snow on the ground. One of the peaks was named “AC 150,” fitting to the occasion (see Dave Wynne-Jones’ report later in this Journal). On the way to the mountains we stopped at Auli, a ski resort above Joshimath. From there, in front of Nanda Devi, Mark Higton called the London police. To avoid penalties—it was the last day to do so—Mark provided his credit card number to pay the fine for a traffic violation in London. The operator murmured in amazement at the end of it all, “No one has paid us traffic fines from high Himalaya, Sir!”

Harish Kapadia, Honorary Editor, The Himalayan Journal

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