Established in 1928 to promote the exploration of the Himalayas through “science, art, literature and sport”, the Himalayan Club is celebrating the 80th anniversary of its founding in 2008. In the first half of the 20th century every expedition to the Himalayas was assisted by the club and, over the years, its members have included many eminent mountaineers, including Sir Edmund Hillary.
Anniversary celebrations include talks at the World Wildlife Fund centre, Lodi Estate, New Delhi on 14 March by Sir Chris Bonington (mountaineer), Harish Kapadia (mountaineer) and Bill Aitken (author), and a film on Sir Edmund Hillary by Michael Dillon.
On 15 March, a film on the Himalayan club will be screened at the Teen Murti House Auditorium.
For details and invitations, contact Maninder Kohli at firstname.lastname@example.org
For membership details go to: www.himalayanclub.org
Excerpts from an interview with Suman Dubey, President, the Himalayan Club
What do you feel has been the club’s singular achievement in the 80 years since its inception?
The Himalayan Club’s singular achievement has been to help open up Greater Himalayan ranges, which include the Hindu Kush and the Karakoram ranges, to climbing and exploration—much more so in the early years. After Independence it has been to provide a forum where climbers can get together, get information, share experiences. It is an international institution—roughly a third of our members are from overseas.
Now that there are many more clubs and institutions, we are shifting our focus—our core interest is still climbing—but also look at other things like the environment and helping the mountain communities.
So after 1947, it has been more of a forum?
Many of our members, whether Indian or foreign, keep climbing. And they do very interesting climbs.
So much of the Himalayas has already been explored—is the Himalayan Club’s mandate becoming less relevant with the passage of time?
There are tens of thousands of peaks in the Himalayas. All the well-known ones have been scaled but there is more than one way of scaling a mountain. So people are climbing the well-known peaks by different routes. They explore the more difficult routes, and try and raise the standard of climbing.
And, secondly, not just go for the higher peaks—there are tens of thousands of not-so-high peaks which are as or even more interesting. Then there are still the unexplored or the seldom visited areas. So a lot remains to be seen and done.
What Himalayan regions are still relatively unexplored where the club is focusing its activities?
As a club we don’t focus on anything, we encourage our members to go out and do things. In India parts there are fewer and fewer such areas—there are places in Ladakh and in the upper Himachal. The Northeast is still unexplored for various reasons—historical and political.
In addition to exploration and mountaineering, the Himalayan Club’s mandate also includes extending knowledge of the mountains through science, art, literature and sport. How has the club been doing this?
The club is not an all thinking, all pervasive body. It is a club—which means it is an assembly of all its members. Now, among our members are scientists, climbers, bird watchers. So we say come and join us, bring to us your skills, your experiences. In this way the club encourages its members.
Is the interest in mountaineering among Indians on the rise or is it waning?
Mountaineering is not spectator sport. Unlike in cricket, you don’t get to see a Tendulkar climbing. So in that sense it is not a popular sport. But it is competitive in that people want to be the first to climb a difficult mountain. Essentially, it is a sport that is driven by the people themselves. So it attracts a certain kind of people.
In India, we now have two new developments—firstly, mountain regions have opened up thanks to roads. Secondly, the people living there are taking greater interest in their own lives and activities. So there is growing interest, but it is never going to be a mass sport. Where there were hundreds of people going, now there are thousands. It is a demanding and physically challenging endeavour. You have to be fit, you have to be able to withstand high altitudes, and it is not cheap.
How supportive is the government—the Centre or the state governments?
They help some expeditions, but not that much. We don’t look for government support, we are a private club.
How is the club addressing concerns about the environment and the ecology of the Himalayas?
We are a small body and climate change is a huge problem. When our members go to mountains, they must behave appropriately—no littering, no woodcutting, no exploitation of resources. Don’t exploit the mountains for anything that denudes them.
Overall, what’s the mood going forward?
Mountaineering is just one of the adventure sports—there is river rafting, skiing, paragliding. All of this has a great future. At the same time we worry that we must do this in the proper way—without harming the environment, without destroying forests, without contributing to the recession of glaciers, without harming the wildlife or the flora of the mountains.
Our members engage in all kinds of sports but the Himalayan Club is primarily about mountain walking, climbing, exploration and the scientific investigation of birds and plants of Himalayas. A lot of our emphasis is on information, on publications and on our journals. We are increasingly going online. We would like to see more young people join us and contribute.