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60 Years of Mountaineering in India

By Nalni Jayal

Nandu Jayal (4th from left) and Tenzing (5th from left) with Sherpas at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling

On 23 June 1951, Gurdial Singh, Roy Greenwood and Dawa Thondup reached the summit of Trisul, 23, 360 feet. It was the first major summit by an Indian climber and it marked a watershed in Indian climbing – an achievement by itself – and an inspiration to others  – the first achievement by an Indian expedition on a major Himalayan peak. 

Tenzing’s ascent of Everest two years later provided a further and a tremendous boost to Indian climbing, and led to the setting up of the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI) and the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF). Tenzing would have joined Gurdial on Trisul had he not been booked by the French Nanda Devi expedition.

Nandu Jayal (Nalni’s cousin) was also with the French Nanda Devi expedition as liaison officer that year. The opulent well-equipped French expedition and the shoe-string expedition of Gurdial, found themselves camped together a couple of times on their way to and from their respective mountains; the faithful Tenzing, evidently as good an economist as a climber, ensured that some surplus French goodies found their way to deficit areas.

Trisul had been climbed by Tom Longstaff in 1907. Gurdial’s achievement earned him the friendship of Longstaff. The climbing of Trisul began a new chapter for Indian mountaineering, but the wide world of mountaineering in the world was also on the move. The fifties was the decade of the ‘Big Ones’. The first 8000m had been climbed in 1950, Annapurna. Everest and Nanga Parbat in 1953, and before the end of the decade, 13 of the world’s 14 peaks of over 8000m had been climbed.  The 14th was Shisha Pangma (Gosainthan), which was protected by its inaccessibility.

 In earlier decades, from the early forties to the early sixties, mountaineering was a total experience. We were drawn to the icy majesty and beauty of the tall peaks to pit our sinews against the challenge they offered. To discover ourselves and our companions brought together in small friendly groups in a spirit of camaraderie and a shared curiosity. To communw with Nature and marvel at the profusion of flowers, plants and trees, the birds and animals and the splendour of rocks and spires. To respect and admire local people and their rich cultures evolved from living for generations in a beautiful but harsh environment. Such was the ethos that propelled us to the mountains year after year, not to earn fame and fortune.


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