A look at legendary maps from The Himalayan Club, a group documenting mountaineering since the 1920s

“To the pass between the Siachen and the Rimo, reached and crossed for the first time by my expedition, and nameless until now, I have given the name, 'Col Italia'. I hope that the Survey of India will accept it, in recognition of the contribution made by Italian travellers and scientists to the knowledge of the Karakoram."

- Professor Giotto Dainelli

Like the many explorers who were drawn to the Siachen glacier in the Eastern Karakoram since 1875, Professor Giotto Dainelli, too, found himself amid these high mountains in 1930. It was his second visit, having previously travelled there as part of the De Filippi Expedition in 1913-14. The allure of these pristine surroundings was too much for Dainelli to resist. This was a time when the Siachen was a playground for mountaineers and explorers, rather than the soldiers who haunt it these days.

Like his predecessors, the Italian explorer sketched a map based on his wanderings, which was published in the fourth volume of The Himalayan Journal in 1932. It was to be a reference for others like him who were driven by the thrill of discovery while exploring these remote parts.

In 2002, Harish Kapadia visited the same region after the India-Pakistan conflict had tapered to an end. Siachen had been at the heart of the confrontation and had earned the tag of the ‘highest battlefield in the world’. Dainelli would have been happy to know that his discovery had been recognised as ‘Col Italia’ after all, which Kapadia crossed as part of an Indo-Japanese team and also mentioned in his account.

This time around, Kapadia’s team set off exploring other areas in the vicinity of Siachen, such as the Teram Shehr Plateau, and two members made the first ascent of the Padmanabh peak (7,030 metres). In turn, they continued filling in the blank spaces on the map, just like Dainelli did, to seduce the next set of explorers.

When The Himalayan Club was founded in 1928, it was decided that the explorations and climbs would be documented in an annual publication called The Himalayan Journal. The expanse of the mountains in the north made it quite a task to keep track of the activities in these regions. The journal was then the perfect repository of these scrambles in the land of rock and ice.

Legendary Maps from The Himalayan Club celebrates 90 years of the club’s existence and is a document that not only highlights some of the most epic climbs in the Himalayas, but also features rare maps, which have so far been buried in the 62 volumes of The Himalayan Journal. The book is a result of tedious hours spent poring over these old editions by Kapadia, MH Contractor and Smruthi Ranganathan.

A look at legendary maps from The Himalayan Club, a group documenting mountaineering since the 1920s

A map of the Gangotri region, featured in Legendary Maps from The Himalayan Club

“The maps were more important than the articles here,” says Kapadia, “The articles were edited to make them relevant to the maps — a challenging task nonetheless, when you have to cut down 3,000 words to just 300 while maintaining their essence.”

The larger task was to scan the maps, some of which dated back to 1928. The entire exercise took a year and a half. By the end of it, the original plan of 90 maps had to be reduced to 55.

“We wanted the book to be enjoyed by common people too, not just climbers. We also wanted to look at different areas to give an overall view of the regions of the Himalayas. By the end of it, we had covered the entire belt, from the Karakoram to the eastern Himalaya of Arunachal Pradesh,” he says.



Most accounts in the book come from a time when mountains drew parties, who were venturing out into the relative unknown. Exploration was as much a part of the expedition as the climb itself; the march in as taxing as the trudge to the summit.

While the ascent of some of the 8,000-metre mountains, such as Everest and Annapurna, have been well documented, it is the accounts related to the lesser-known mountains of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Sikkim in the book that make it enlightening.

Kapadia took over as editor of The Himalayan Journal in 1979 — an honorary position he held until 2010. While climbing was his forte, he learnt the finer nuances of editing pieces from his predecessor, Soli Mehta, and RE Hawkins, a retired general manager of Oxford University Press.

himalayan maps

(Left to right) Kenneth Mason, Harish Kapadia and Soli Mehta

“Hawkins was a great teacher. He used to live five buildings away and he would come in the mornings, drop some papers off with question marks all over them and simply walk away. He rarely solved these queries for me, so I had to then refer to sources or perhaps visit one of the libraries to find the answers,” Kapadia recalls.

“They were great characters and made work a lot of fun. For instance, one Sunday morning, Mehta announced on his arrival that all editing work would be promptly finished off before the evening. Contractor and I were prepared for some serious business, but then, Mehta left as promptly as he had arrived, having forgotten his spectacles at home. No work was done that day,” he says, as he laughs.

The Kolahoi routes

The Kolahoi routes

The articles for each edition were picked carefully, keeping in mind the merit of the climb, in addition to its authenticity. “We often had to verify climbs. Jagdish Nanavati (Former president of The Himalayan Club) was an expert at it and must have challenged the claims of some 35-odd expeditions, spotting aberrations through little technicalities in photos and accounts. So, it took a great amount of effort over almost a year before we could come out with an edition,” Kapadia says.

The Ravi Basin

The Ravi Basin

Over the years, Kapadia has contributed over 25 articles to The Himalayan Journal. The one that remains close to his heart and which has also made it to the book is ‘Tsangopo - The Final Exploration’, where the team attempted to trace the source of the mighty Brahmaputra. They walked as far as the S-bend in Arunachal Pradesh, where the river enters India and becomes the Siang — a tributary of the Brahmaputra.

Kapadia writes: “The small rivulet originating near Manasarovar lake thus completes its journey in eastern India, as a large river thousands of miles away. It is a river, which posed several riddles since 1715. We were happy to conclude this exploration now in 2003."

That, in turn, could only be the start of another exploration for another party in the future.

Legendary Maps from The Himalayan Club is published by Roli Books

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Updated Date: May 01, 2018 16:54:01 IST

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