the-south-asian.com July / August 2006
7 of 7
50 years of Climbing –
Everest, K2, & Nanga Parbat
First published January 2004
A Farewell to Mammals, Men &
A Farewell to Mammals, Men & Mountains
: Ecological Nightmares
“… As we reach for the stars we neglect the flowers at our feet. But the
great age of mammals in the Himalayas need not be over unless we permit it
to be. For epochs to come the peaks will still pierce the lonely vistas, but
when the last Snow Leopard has stalked among the crags and the last Markhor
has stood on a promontory, his ruff waving in the breeze, a spark of life
will have gone, turning the mountains into stones of
of Silence, George B. Schaller]
ECOTOURISM & Military Bases:
in the 1980s, the term ecotourism means responsible travel to natural areas
that conserve the environment and sustain the well-being of local people.
The current ecological scenario at the base camps of K2 and the trek along
the Baltoro Glacier to Concordia have resulted in an ecological disaster.
This stems mainly from the average of 4 porters per person required to haul
food supplies for each trekker. The massive
litter problem has triggered a building of porter toilet cabins. The wife of
the Pakistan Ambassador to India, Mrs. Shahid Khan and Greg Mortenson
[Central Asian Institute, Skardu] are two well known persons involved in
More than 700 climbers have reached the summit of Everest itself, and it has turned into a sport of the wealthy. Permit fees average about $10,000 per person; expeditions have base budgets beginning at $300,000. There is a record of exploitation of the largely Sherpa porters which involves generally no helicopter rescues for the porters. This is the so- called "moral squalor". The many cut-price trekking companies pay cut-throat rates and fail to equip these workers well. On the other hand, porters are integral to the local economy. In the Karakorams in 1994, 27 out of 50 climbing expeditions went to the Baltoro, and 93 out of 128 organized treks also headed up the glacier to the spot known as Concordia and the K2 Base Camp.
Karakoram National Parks
Dr. George Schaller’s
survey of Pakistan’s wildlife in 1974 resulted in alarm bells. The low
numbers of various species were instrumental in the establishment of
protected areas to preserve them (Schaller 1979). To protect the Markhor in
Chitral Gol, and Marco Polo sheep (Ovis ammon poli) in Khunjerab, Chitral
Gol was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1971 and later declared a National
Park in 1984. Khunjerab became a national park in 1975. Central Karakoram
was not named a national park because of its low numbers of wildlife.
Further in 1993, Deosai Plains [3,500 square kilometers bordering India]
east of Skardu was also declared a National Park. The Central
Karakoram National Park comprising the Baltoro, Biafo, Hispar, and the
Concordia and K2 Base Camps are now National Parks. However monitoring and
implementing policies for waste collection is not well established. Shandur
in Chitral with its famous Polo matches in the summer attracts about 50,000
people, has also been declared a National Park. People attending have to
clear up the mess. The military bases in Siachen also leave their human
waste - litter and ammunition shells in the glaciers but there are no
ecological controls over the Pakistan
or Indian military. They are the problem.
The combined area of Karakorams is home to the Himalayan brown bear, Markhor and Ibex wild sheep and the snow leopards [about 300 left], all of which are declining in numbers, with the trophy hunters being the invisible khaki uniformed men. According to George Schaller, the authority on these rare animals: “ …The snow leopard’s whole life is devoted to remaining cryptic – hiding from people, hiding from its prey, until the final rush when it can catch something. To my knowledge snow leopards have never become man-eaters like the regular leopard or tiger or lion. In fact, they are so un-aggressive and so timid that I have heard of a number of cases where a snow leopard gets into a corral with the livestock and the herdsmen simply goes in with a club and beats it to death…"
– courtesy www.snowleopard.org
The snow leopard [
uncia uncia ] does not roar like the big cats of Africa and India. It
has a sort of a chuffing /sneezing sound that it emits to attract attention
during its mating. A good book to get more details is The Snow Leopard
(Penguin Nature Classics)
Edward Hoagland (Editor),
in which accompanied by George Schaller , Peter Matthiessen goes in search
of the Zen of snow leopards.
Marmots, which reside in
good numbers on the Deosai plains are a staple of snow leopard diet during
the summer. However Marmots get hunted heavily by locals for pelts, meat,
and oil. [Marmots constitute a "buffer prey" for snow leopards].
The Markhor [Capra falconeri cashmiriensis], its Latin name betrays its Kashmiri origin, is another unique and endangered high altitude species of sheep with its typical corkscrew horns. For an excellent account of wildlife conservation in Pakistan see: http://www.un.org.pk/undp/sgp/green-pioneers/chap-13.htm. For articles on Markhor, the Brown bears and the Mountain Pheasant see: Ch.2 Getting to the Bear Facts- by Vaqar Zakaria and Anis Ur Rehman, Ch.3 In Search of the Elusive Pheasant – by Rob Whale. 'Markhor is a Persian word meaning 'Mar=snake , khor = eater . However Markhor are mountain animals and live off grasses, tree shoots [they can climb trees] and nuts /acorns on the forest floor and off the mountain ranges from the Karakorams, Kashmir and Afghanistan to Baluchistan. They are extremely agile on the rock faces. There are several varieties of Markhor inhabiting different mountainous countries/areas. The horns are extremely varied - one variety having the horns in the form of a tight screw - and another extreme having horns of a very open spiral. Between these extremes there is a variety of twisted horns.
The Himalayan pheasants are one of the most beautiful but shy species of birds in the world. Coveted for their brightly colored plumage, they are now endangered. In Pakistan, these birds are found mostly in the remote northern areas, which boasts of five different species of pheasants. Out of the 49 species of pheasants world wide, six are found in Pakistan. These are Blue Peafowl, Kalij, Koklass, Cheer, Western Tragopan and Monal. Forty kilometres from Abbottabad, towards Shinkiari, is the small village of Dhodial, which is the headquarters of the Dhodial Pheasantry, the largest of its kind in Asia. In this facility, pheasants are kept and bred over an area of four acres by the Department of Wildlife, NWFP. Among these, the Western Tragopan, with its brilliant red neck and black and white speckled plumage, is one of the most magnificent pheasants in the world.
The Pheasants are an indicator species and a fall in their population mirrors an adverse change in the mature forest habitat. Rob Whale, a Welsh ecologist, worked in India on the endangered Indian Tragopan. His work in India attracted the attention of the World Pheasant Association in Pakistan who eventually got him over to work in Pakistan, in Abottabad and Palas, a remote valley in Kohistan in North West Frontier Province NWFP.
Proposed Large Dams
The proposed Gurez Dam
on the Kishenganga River, Kashmir is threatening the ancient remains of the
Dard culture by the forced displacement of 25,000 Dard-Shina inhabitants. It
will also stop the flow of this river into the Jhelum river in the Neelam
valley in Pakistan .It is funded [$500million – 300 megawatt] up to 85% by “Skanska”,
the Swedish construction company. Such is the relentless march of modern
other controversial dam in this area on the Pakistan side of the Line of
Control is the proposed Bhasha (Diamar) Dam (4,500 MW) near Chilas - again a
Shina speaking area. Opposed by the people of Chilas, it could bring a large
portion of Karakoram Highway under water and destroy the natural habitat of
some species. Already the Mangla and Tarbela Dams have reduced the supply of
water to ecosystems such as the Indus Delta and caused damage to the
mangroves there. More dams are proposed - one near Naltar- about 20 miles
from Gilgit and another near Skardu. Other sites in the Karakorams are Dasu
(5500 MW), Indus river at Bunji (2900 MW), Thakot (2400 MW) and Rakhiot
The following Karakoram areas have been identified as potential sites for hydroelectric dams.
- River Kharmang and its tributaries
Shyok Region -
River Shyok and its tributaries
Skardu Region -
River Braldu, Bashu, Shighar, Indus and their tributaries
: River Indus and regional tributaries of Indus river
Gilgit Region - :
River Gilgit, Naltar, and their tributaries
Hunza Region - :
Rivers Boladas, Hunza, and their tributaries
Rivers Ishkuman and Ghizar, and Ghizer Regions their tributaries
- Rivers Khunjerab, Kilik and their tributaries
Chilas Region -:
Rivers Indus and its tributaries
Astore Region - :
Rivers Astore and its tributaries
With a notorious seismic record of an earthquake every three minutes
especially around the Southern areas near Nanga Parbat i.e. Chilas, Bunji,
Rakhiot, it is hoped that the powers that be will have factored such
constraints /parameters in their “development” plans.
Conclusion: Survival of the fittest?
As Tenzing said after
having to sleep in different tents in 1953 --
Well, other peoples other
customs. Nothing more to say about it…”
To paraphrase Tenzing’s
wisdom for this essay: other readers, other values, and conclusion. Unless
one wants to turn these mountains into “stones of silence” as Schaller puts
it. The Italians who climbed K2 first in 1954 [Achille Compagnoni and Lino
Lacedelli] both paid the price [cost?] to K2. Their chilblained fingers had
to be amputated. Messner had the toes of his feet amputated due to frostbite
and Wielicki pushed on despite his almost fatal injuries. Alison Hargreaves
the diminutive Scottish woman was lost in a deadly embrace by the murderous
winds on K2. The bar in the game of mountaineering continues to be set
higher. The game is no longer about how many hours one can shave off a new
route to K2.
The game, nearby in Siachen’s glaciers, is about poor Indian and Pakistani soldiers dying in a war- a war fueled by cynical power hungry corrupt politicians, colonial style army generals[with colonial style batmen polishing their shoes, uniforms, and houses] and western arms manufacturers, all bent on posturing / self-aggrandizement. It is about conserving nature; the bombing in Afghanistan by USA has completely stopped migrating winter birds from Russia into Pakistan via their stop-over routes in Afghanistan. To quote Messner again: “If the world's leaders could spend a few days climbing a mountain together, then things would go better.”
Like Hamlet, who lost
faith in himself and God, Death the grim reaper does not care if humans or
cockroaches or snow leopards climb the mountains. The killer winds of K2
will still blow off any creature. If Markhor sheep and pheasants are
becoming extinct, and global warming is melting the polar ice shelves and
glaciers at a furious pace, nature will be as happy with a planet full of
rats or the rapturous symphony of its biological diversity. Nature’s sole
reason to exist is the preservation of its gene pool.
The next war will not be about Kashmir, but a civil war on the issue of water in the cities of South Asia. Barely 70 years ago [a human beings lifetime], tigers were being hunted as trophies by the British and the Maharajas. It appears that the human species has become a viral species, devouring everything including itself, its offsprings. Nothing in life is free; not mountaineering, neither the game of civilization / progress; war has a cost; namely collateral damage/ legalized murder. Peace also has an associated price/ cost; as Europe starts to find out and South Asian countries begin to grow up and explore peace seriously and not just posture]. Does peace with nature have a price tag? You bet, as the Americans say.
The problems are not
economic but about morality. About a terrible moral squalor and greed that
put Tenzing in a separate tent, the Sherpa without a helicopter rescue,
Balti porters without any family security, or the dead poor in wars as
“collateral damage”. Someone said that these days, in order to live like a
human being, one has to become a saint. Because the alternative is to
indulge in Orwellian media. Gunter Grass said that capitalism was bent upon
a suicidal course- nothing is sacred to its appetite- to the logic of
Capital – to reproduce itself. The Hindus believe that these are the dark
ages –“Kalyug” as the Vedic writings claim. The bells are tolling for all of
us, not just the snow leopards. There is a price for everything. John Berger
writing in “Pig Earth” about the disappearance of peasantry as the Great
Survivors offered a few words to ponder & reflect over. Without a
comprehensive approach to all these issues, discussing any mountaineering
achievement is hollow and selfish. For they are built on the heap of dead
Sherpa bones and Balti porter families and the most horrible extinction of
mother nature’s creatures.
" ... The earth shows up
those of value and those who are good for nothing" - a peasant judgment
quoted by Jean Pierre Vernant, Myth et Pensee Chez le Grecs, Vol. 2 Paris
"Others have labored and
ye are entered into their labors" - (St. John 4 - 38) - John Berger
" ... The earth shows up those of value and those who are good for nothing" - a peasant judgment quoted by Jean Pierre Vernant, Myth et Pensee Chez le Grecs, Vol. 2 Paris 1971
"Others have labored and ye are entered into their labors" - (St. John 4 - 38) - John Berger
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