MOUNTAINEERING IN INDIA
The Himalaya, Karakoram and Hindu Kush ranges extend from Namcha Barwa in the east to the borders of Afghanistan in the west. Political maps show them as parts of India, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan. A very large section of the Himalaya and an eastern section of the Karakoram, are in India. Broadly the Indian Himalaya consists of Arunachal, Sikkim, Uttarakhand, Himachal, Jammu & Kashmir and Eastern Karakoram. Though there are no 8000 m peaks in India except the Kangchenjunga, there are several peaks which are above 7000 m and a few of them are still unclimbed. A large number of peaks between 6000 to 7000 m are challenging and still virgin. Mountaineers in India have plenty of scope for exploration and conquest.
Also known as the Assam Himalaya, much about this area is not known. It streches from Gori Chen in the east to Namcha Barwa. Due to government restrictions not many mountaineers have been there. There are several high peaks like Gyala Peri (7150 m), Kangto (7090 m) and Nyegi Kangsang (7047 m), not many of which have been climbed from the Indian side. Some of them were approached from Tibet and climbed from the north. The only peak which has been regularly climbed from the Indian side is Gori Chen (6858 m). Its lower peak, Peak II, has also had some infrequent visitors.
F.M. Bailey and H.T. Morshead were the first explorers here followed by F. Kindon-Ward in 1939. H.W. Tilman also visited this area and wrote his report Assam Himalaya Unvisited . The book by F.M. Bailey No Passport to Tibet is an excellent reference. These slopes witnessed the full fury of the war in 1962. The Chinese troops came down the 'Bailey Trail' almost till Sela pass, which is why the area was closed to civilians for many years.
Sikkim shares a mountainous border with Nepal in the west and north and with China only in the north. All the early (pre-war) expeditions went through Sikkim to cross over to Tibet on their way to Everest. Francis Young husbands famous expedition to Tibet expedition also went through Sikkim.
Doug Freshfield was one of the first mountaineers to visit this area. His book Round Kangchenjunga is a classic record of all the peaks in Sikkim. In west Sikkim, peaks like Kabru (7338 m) were climbed in 1935 by C.R. Cook. Others like Kokthang and Rathong were climbed much later. Even now, many have not been climbed from the Sikkim side, e.g.: Talung.
Northern Sikkim consists of the Zemu glacier valley from which rises the third highest mountain of the world, Kangchenjunga. Paul Bauer and his German team repeatedly attempted to climb it via its western approaches before the Second World War. Ultimately the Indian Army team was successful in doing so, in 1977 and there have been several subsequent repeats. There are many peaks around Kangchenjunga, like Simvu and Siniolchu, which are tempting, open invitation to climbers.
Further north is Pyramid Peak, climbed by the Himalayan Association of Japan (HAJ) in 1993. In the vicinity are peaks like Jongsang and Chorten Nyima. Pauhunri with the pinnacle of Donkhya Ri upon it, is one of the chief attractions on the eastern side. There is a lot climbers can do in the Sikkim Himalaya.
Kumaon consists of three different valleys. They lie to the west of Nepal. Kumaon is generally confused with Garhwal. In fact Garhwal was once a part of Kumaon till the British separated it and gave it a different name.
The first valley, in the east, is the Darma Ganga valley. At its head are several peaks above 6000 m, technically difficult to climb. Peaks like Sangthang and Lalla We can be approached from here.
The Central valley in the Kumaon is the valley of the Milam glacier. Beside its eastern branch is an excellent climbing area of Kalabaland glacier. The peak Chiring We (6559 m) rises from the Kalabaland glacier and was climbed only once in 1979 by the Indian team led by Harish Kapadia. To its south, is Suitilla (6373 m) a most formidable and difficult goal. At the head of the Milam glacier are the enciting peaks Hardeol (7151 m) and Tirsuli (7074 m). Nanda Devi East has been climbed from this valley. Panch Chuli is the south eastern valley of this section in the Kumaon. It has five different peaks which were conquered with great difficulty, both from the East and the West.
The western valley of Kumaon is the Pindari valley, flanked by peaks like Panwali Dwar (6663 m) and Nanda Khat. This area is very popular with climbers. The Sunderdhunga valley branches off from the Pindari and leads to the southern foot of the Nanda Devi Sanctuary.
The Garhwal is a tract in the center of the Indian Himalaya. For many years mountaineers have visited and climbed in this area.
North Garhwal consists of peaks like Kamet (7756 m) and Mukut Parbat (7242 m). Many high peaks here have not been climbed. The famous Hindu temple of Badrinath attracts many Hindu pilgrims.
The valleys to the extreme west of the Garhwal region house some very easy, gentle peaks. Many students and early mountaineers have trained in these areas. The Swargarohini group can prove a bit troublesome though. Bandarpuch West and Bandarpuch (6316 m) have been climbed a couple of times. For a quick trip from Delhi this area is the most convenient.
Nanda Devi Sanctuary
The area from where the Rishi Ganga starts is the famous Nanda Devi Sanctuary, the centre piece of the Garhwal region. Until 1934 the gorge of the Rishi Ganga was the least known part of the Himalaya. The Nanda Devi range is a long one, about 75 miles in circumference, about 6000 m high, sheltering approximately 380 sq. km. of ice and snow. The Nanda Devi peak (7816 m) is the most beautiful peak in the Indian Himalaya. It was climbed in 1936 by Tilman and Odell and the shoulders of both its peaks were traversed by Japanese mountaineers in 1976.
The other noteworthy peaks on the rim of the Sanctuary, are Changabang (6864 m), Rishi Pahar (6992 m), and Bethartoli Himal (6352 m) etc. The Northern Sanctuary of the Nanda Devi was visited by an expedition from Japan and they climbed several peaks being first in the area after 40 years. The northernmost peak of the inner Sanctuary, Changabang, was climbed in 1974 by the Indo-British team led by Chris Bonington. Four days later, Harish Kapadias team climbed Devtoli (6788m), the inner sanctuarys southernmost tip. In spite of many successful conquests, there are still several unclimbed peaks here, particularly the Northern part of the sanctuary.
For preserving the fragile environment, this area is now closed to mountaineers. Only one army expedition was allowed to enter in the last 15 years. It is not known when and whether anyone will be permitted to climb here again.
The lovely dales of Kullu have been a major attraction area for those who prefer to climb difficult but low peaks. The south Parvati area has peaks like Dibibokari, Pyramid, Papsura and Peak 20,101 (6127 m). This area too, is open to all climbers with peaks like Mukarbeh and Indrasan (6221 m), and has a lot to offer hobbyists and serious climbers alike .
Kinnaur lies north of Shimla, in Himachal Pradesh. The National Highway leads through Kinnaur to Spiti. Recent changes in policy allow visitors entry to the area west of the road without official permission. Which means, high peaks like Jorkanden (6473 m), Manirang (6593 m) and several others are now easily accessible.
Above the eastern valleys of Baspa, Tirung and Leo Pargial (6791 m) rise many peaks above 6000 m. Kinnaurs architecture, its people and customs could each attract curious minds, interested travellers.
The area north of the famous Rohtang Pass road consists of the valleys of Lahaul. It has been open to mountaineers for many years now. Around the Bara Shigri glacier rise peaks like Kullu Pumori (6553 m) and Shigri Parbat (6626 m). Towards its north the Chandra Bhaga group (CB Group) has peaks like Minar (6172 m), Akela Killa (6005 m) besides others with different numbers, of around the same height. Phabrang (6172 m) and Mulkilla (6517 m) are the chief draws of the west side. Motorable roads lead to almost all the valleys here and the approached are easy and free of hassels.
Spiti is the most barren Trans-Himalayan area. In the east, the highest peak is the defiant Gya (6794 m), still unclimbed. The controversial Shilla (6132 m) stands proudly above this valley. In the west, are the Ratang, Gyundi and Khamengar valleys. Khangla Tarbo is one of the better known peaks here. Here, too, no permits needed!
Jammu & Kashmir Himalaya
West of Lahaul along the Chandrabhaga river, which becomes the Chenab, is Kishtwar. Now due to the political troubles there, it is not easy to reach there and a thorough knowledge of prevalent conditions is a prerequisite. To climbers, it offers treats like Brammah I (6416 m), Brammah II (6425 m), Sickle Moon (6574 m) and Hagshu (6300 m). It is one of the most challenging and difficult areas if ones entry and exit is safe.
Ladakh is sometimes called 'Little Tibet'. It has a landscape and culture similar to that of Tibet. Caravans used to pass through Leh on the way to and from Central Asia. Almost all the valleys of Ladakh are now open to foreigners. The area of Panggong lake has Kakstet peak (6442 m) and the highest unnamed peak in the world (6725 m).
In south east Ladakh, in the Rupshu valley there are peaks as high as 6600 m around the beautiful lake of Tso Morari. The highest amongst them is Lungser Kangri (6666 m) neighbouring, Chhamser Kangri (6622 m).
Entire barren valleys of Zanskar, south of Ladakh were once inaccessible. But now a road runs through its centre. Hundreds of trekkers cross over to Padam in Central Zanskar. This is rapidly becoming one of the world's most popular trails.
For serious climbers there are high peaks like Nun (7135 m) and Kun (7087 m). For the others are peaks like Zanskar 1 (6181 m) and Zanskar 2 (6175 m). All these peaks arouse interest and excitement.
The valley of Kashmir was known for centuries for its beauty. Caravans passed through it. In recent times, trekkers and campers flocked to it. Early climbers attempted the small peaks in the south. For instance, Kolahoi (5425 m) and Haramukh (5143 m). A large area around Sonamarg was visited by British climbers. The Climbers Guide to Sonamarg published by the Himalayan Club is an excellent reference book.
The valleys in the extreme north of India are those of the Eastern Karakoram. These form a special group in the Great Karakoram Range. It has some very high mountains, many of them still unclimbed some climbed only in recent years.
Records reveal that this area was visited in 1821. Dr. T.G. Longstaff went there in 1901. From 1914 to 1922 several Italian and European expeditions climbed here. Col J.O.M. Roberts undertook explorations in 1946. After this, the area was closed for many years. In the 1970s different Japanese teams crossed over from Bilafond la onto the Siachen glacier and climbed peaks like Teram Kangri I (7462 m) amongst others. The Japanese mountaineers were very active here, and climbed many difficult peaks. Then, once more, the area was closed to all for many years.
In 1984 members of a Japenese expedition became the first foreign mountaineers to be allowed into this area from the Indian side. They climbed Mamostong Kangri I. The following year an Indo-British team climbed Rimo III and a few other peaks in the Terong Valley. Some peaks on the Siachen glacier were climbed by the Indian Army. There are still several enigmatic peaks in the Siachen Muztagh like Saltoro Kangri I and II.
The second group of mountains in the Eastern Karakoram is that of the Saser Kangri. This particular peak was approached by Col. Roberts and finally climbed from the eastern side by an Indian team. A Japanese team made the first ascent of Saser Kangri II West (7518 m). The eastern peak of Saser Kagri II remains one of the highest virgin mountains in the area.
The third group is that of Rimo Muztagh. The famous Central Asian trade-route over the Karakoram Pass, goes this way. Chong Kundan I (7071 m) was climbed in 1991 by an Indo-British team. Chong Kundan II (7004 m) is still unclimbed.
The valleys of Eastern Karakoram are open to joint ventures between Indian and foreign mountaineers. Permits for climbing are readily available for almost any peak here.