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Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Because It’s There

Hari Dang’s book, published posthumously, rings with his extraordinary love for the Himalayas


Updated: January 19, 2020 1:54:24 pm
Himalayas, book on Himalayas, Indian Express news (Above) Hari Dang and his team, with Mrigthuni in the background (Suman Dubey); and Dang at Jaonli Base Camp

Title: Himalayan Rapture
Author: Hari Dang
Publication: Himraj Dang, Rupin Dang
Pages: 327
Price: ₹750

By Sudhir Sahi

Better late than never! Those who were familiar with his affection for and affliction by the high mountains would not be surprised by Hari Dang’s mammoth Himalayan legacy (plus colour photographs), now published more than half a century after it was written, by his sons Himraj and Rupin Dang. It’s like a second coming.

One remembers Hari Dang’s response to the call of the Himalayas, the “familiar fortissimo of departure for the high mountains, recalling only the separate notes as part of one bar; the shrieking crescendos of the brain-fever bird, the blossom of laburnum and jacaranda splashing gold and violet against the blue vacancy of the sky; the house overflowing with crates and canisters, Holdie’s dogs…”
If memory doesn’t fail me, my introduction to these delights dates to February 1959, in my first term at the Doon School when Hari Dang, freshly taken on board by headmaster John Martyn, mentored our tutorial group. One cold winter weekend, our spirits soared as ‘Holdie’ (popular schoolmaster RL Holdsworth) and Hari rushed us before the crack of dawn to Khara, the Jamuna logging camp and one of the mightiest mahaseer runs.

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Forever responsive to nature’s evolving moods, Hari renders them effortlessly: “The sudden elevation to the spring snowline left us in no doubt why we climbed each summer: for here a man’s warmth might do him some good, his vigour bring him some return other than frustration.” Or, on Nanda Devi: “Return to camp was jubilant, as the Sherpas serenaded the camp with their flutes, and smoke from the fragrant juniper fires rose against the mountain — blue without a cloud. Scraggy vegetation marched up the valley, and a lone splash of gaudy magenta marked a flowering rhododendron bush on a sun-washed ledge, incredibly remote from the proximate world of villages below it.”

Himalayas, book on Himalayas, Indian Express news What a litany of climbs is recounted in the first chapters — Bandarpunch, Chiring We, Nanda Devi, Everest, Jaonli and Black Peak, and trekking excursions with friends and pupils besides.

And then, “Mountaineers are somewhat like the archetypal seeker for they, too, rise on clouds of effort, if not of thought, and see the world below as sensible and harmonious. But they can and do go back, till the walls become too high, and close again, and shut out the view from the mountains. Happily, this road to the mountains is eminently both ways, and the traffic on it unrestricted.”

What a litany of climbs is recounted in the first chapters — Bandarpunch, Chiring We, Nanda Devi, Everest, Jaonli and Black Peak, and trekking excursions with friends and pupils besides. In the course of Hari Dang’s visits to the mountains, he grew “into the mountaineering tradition when the golden age of mountaineering had passed its zenith in the European Alps and was in its heyday in the Himalaya.” And now, that age has given way to the reality of unsustainable visitor footprint — the Neverest dilemma.

In February 1965, the hiking club of St Stephen’s bade godspeed to the third Indian Everest expedition, which became the first to reach the summit. Our guests included “Guru” (much-loved and respected schoolmaster Gurdial Singh), modest supremo of many accomplishments at Doon, who characteristically stepped aside within reach of the summit “to give a younger man the chance,” having earlier declined to lead the expedition, preferring the challenges of the route to the “dreary desert sands of administration”.

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By then, mountaineering in India had already suffered the loss of Nandu Jayal (the “Marco Polo of Indian mountaineering”) in 1958 on Cho Oyu, and John Dias had succumbed to cancer soon after leading the second Indian Everest Expedition in 1962. The 1962 expedition and John Dias’s uncommon leadership is recounted in great detail in this book.

Himalayas, book on Himalayas, Indian Express news Himalayan Rapture by Hari Dang (Published by Himraj Dang, Rupin Dang)

This year’s summit queue photo, showing a line of climbers waiting for their turn on the Everest summit, is now the commonplace story of the Third Pole, as Everest is sometimes known. The mystique is gone and for novelty, we must wait for someone to climb it upside down or, better still, reduce the traffic jam by streaking up the Lho-la, the lowest point on the West Ridge, gain the route of the 1963 American expedition of Tom Hornbein and Willi Unsoeld, and exit the top via the North Col to complete the Everest traverse… and no baggage, ensuring breezy walk-through formalities at Thyangboche and Rongbuk!

What options remain? In Ladakh, there is a case for sustainable tourism as a response to climate change. India’s northernmost region forms a substantial part of the drainage basin of the Indus, with mountain tributaries including the Zanskar, Nubra and Shyok. The Great Himalayan Range forms its broad southern perimeter while the Karakoram is the predominant feature to its north. The land is littered with signs of the ethnocultural cauldron that it once was, from the very earliest migrations and the arrival of Buddhism. With a tempered visitor footprint and an equitable local share in the gains from sustainable tourism, Ladakh could be a model worth emulating. Hari Dang would have loved to see that happen.

(Sahi is an international tourism consultant)

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First published on: 19-01-2020 at 12:32:47 pm

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