On bumpy bus rides through the night from Delhi to Chandigarh, and then on to Shimla or Manali, as pine scent first wafted in at Solan; or on the Kathgodam Express, and then on an early morning bus to someplace in Uttaranchal, as the pine scent first wafted in at Haldwani; or while staying at government-run rest houses and wandering the hills aimlessly with my parents – the Himalaya have never been far from my consciousness.
Even after I met my life partner, the treks continued – we lived in tents, carried our loads, went two, three or four weeks without exchanging money or hearing a vehicle. Those were heady days.
As the years flew by, families grew but the desire to visit the mountains remained. So we and our friends sought out Harish Kapadia, a distributor for Raymonds with a shop in Mumbai’s Kalbadevi. This man was one of India’s most well-known and prolific Himalayan climbers. When not in the mountains, he sat on a white mattress in his shop, where we would visit him to drink cups of cutting chai and pore over maps to find Himalayan routes, best suited for “wives and children”.
A friendship took root, and soon, Kapadia, who was the tireless editor of The Himalayan Journal, said to me, “I need your help to move commas and cross Ts!” The journal turns 90 this weekend, and I have been its editor for a few years. It has been a fascinating journey to read about and publish stories of adventure and exploration by renowned devotees of the Himalaya and novices.
The Himalayan Journal was started in 1928, when the Himalayan Club was established. The first ever volume was published in 1929. There were some years of upheaval – during World War II and the Indian independence struggle – when the journal could not be published but this annual publication, which is now on its 73rd volume, is the most respected and authoritative source on the Himalaya.
Lost in translation
In the early days, one of the challenges was language. I was doing the noble job of correcting documented explorations for this English-speaking world of ours – being politically correct does not take away from the amazement (read amusement) of passages such as – “We had overjoyed for end of such thrilling trail. We were ecstasied as the first party able to recognize such virgin route after some terrible experimental effort. The Myth in Vogue in Badri is thal the same Prist offered Puja in both the Temples of Badri & Kedar. His time passed on the way and his domestic works were knocked out. Helpless wife remembered the Lord of Lords. Realizing the crisis of this devotee Lord Siva (Asutosh) himself stood erect as the Mountin Nilkanth in between the Temples. It is really difficult to justify the truth of the Myth.”
Even today I wonder what is lost in translation from English to English.
In my work at the journal, the learning curve has moved sharply. How does one learn? By reading, always reading – the American Alpine Journal, The Alpine Journal (UK), the Japanese Alpine Journal, but most of all, our own archives.
One of my favourite discoveries has also helped. Chancing upon old correspondence, we found a treasure in the form of two old steel cupboards in the Bombay Natural History Society’s library, which they had agreed to store for us many years ago when the Himalayan Club had no actual space. Going through their records to verify this, the BNHS library was only too glad to let go of them. Apart from precious old books and first editions were files of editor’s papers. Soli Mehta and, later on, Harish had kept meticulous notes over the decades and these have proved to be the best textbooks for any editor.
The great challenge as an editor of this journal continues to be the need to check facts, spellings and claims. Historically, the Himalayan Journal has acted as a watchdog monitoring false claims and mis-identification of peaks. Therefore, ethical considerations sometimes conflict with the need to keep diplomatic equilibrium – as an editor, I have to make hard decisions. Besides frustration on not receiving reports on time or when ads don’t come in and exasperation over giving up trips and travels for the demands of “paper trekking” are the ups and downs of the job.
The dream of getting Indian adventurers who do so much out of countless, nameless climbing clubs spread out all over the country to publish their reports remains just that – a dream. To get reports in local languages and have them translated is a direction I would like the Himalayan Journal to move in.
In volume 72, I carried the obituary of Subhas Paul who perished on Everest last year. He was a truck driver and mountain climber from the impoverished Bankura district in West Bengal. He wanted to summit Everest and travelled there in 2014 but as luck would have it, tragedy struck the Khumbu icefall and several Sherpas died, so all teams were withdrawn. In 2016, Subhas, having sold the little property he had as well as his small truck, made another attempt. He summited, but passed away from exhaustion on his way down. This unsung climber’s story was told only as an obituary.
Recognising such passion will itself go a long way in ensuring that mountaineering and exploration are brought into the mainstream of India’s consciousness. The Himalayan Journal should become the facilitator.
Nandini Purandare is Hon Secretary, The Himalayan Club, and Editor, The Himalayan Journal. The Himalayan Club is marking its 90th year on February 17 and 18.