INDIA AND EVEREST
1841: Sir George Everest, Surveyor General of India from 1830 to 1843, records the location of Everest.
There is no dearth of talent in the Indian press – NDTV’s new 24 by 7 TV news channel, for instance, shows us how sleek and sophisticated Indian journalism can be, on par, or even superior sometimes, to western TV journalism. 1848: Peak b is surveyed the British; the height is calculated at 30,200 feet from measurements taken 110 miles away.
But is there originality? We see more and more magazines do covers on yoga and meditation, as if it was a New Age phenomenon just entering India. New Age? Yoga and mediation have not only been part of India for millenniums, they were invented there and have lately taken the West by storm. It is as if most of India’s intelligentsia, which has been cut off from its roots by a westernized education and a Marxist journalistic outlook, is suddenly discovering the virtues of yoga.
1852: The Great Trigonometrical Survey of India determines the Peak XV is the highest mountain in the world.
Take also the recent craze for the 50th anniversary of Mount Everest. In ancient times, people from Asia, from India, Nepal, Bhutan, China even, use to worship lofty snowy peaks, because not only it was thought God dwelt in them, but man feared and respected the might, grandeur and magic of Mother Nature.
1856: Surveyor Andrew Waugh completes the first height measurement, declaring Everest to be 8840 meters high. (29,002 feet).
Indeed there is a presence in the Himalayas: one does not have to be a spiritualist to feel, when you climb to Kedarnath, or to Gangotri, that “something” inhabits these mountains which is greater than us. What is it? Some have called it God, some Shiva, some the mystery of Nature. Whatever it is, it is bigger than us, if only because in a second it can wipe us out – a snow storm, an avalanche – and we are gone.
1865: Peak XV re-named Mt. Everest to honor Sir George Everest, the Surveyor General of India. Everest is known as Chomolungma in Tibet and Sagarmatha in Nepal. While on a lecture tour in the United States, a reporter asks Mallory why he wants to climb Everest, and Mallory immortally replies “Because it’s there”.
“Because it is there” ? What a stupid – typically British – answer ! Nothing immortal about it. The Asian man worships from a respectful distance, but the Westerner wants to conquer. Not only that but he wants to be the first to conquer. However, to start with, he will have to measure: to us, the Himalayas are lofty, beautiful; and in the ancient times, no man or even nation in his own right mind would say that he or it owed a mountain. Indeed, Everest was as much shared by Nepal, India or China all these centuries, as there was no formal border at such a height. After measuring, the Westerner will want to name, preferably with a familiar appellation, so as to have a proprietary right on something which is not only so far above him, but also not belonging to him at all: Everest in Nepal, or K2 in Pakistan. Then, to have even more of a stake on it, he will want to send teams to conquer it. Was Mallory the first man to scale the Everest ? Did he actually reach the peak? Who cares? And what good it did to him: he died on the way down and did not even have a decent burial till someone discovered his body 50 years later. Was then Hillary the first to reach the top, or was it his Sherpa? Does it really matter ? Are Nepal and New Zealand going to fight over it (Hillary and the Sherpa did actually quibble about it)
1904: A member of Younghusband’s staff, J. Claude White, photographs the Eastern side of Everest from Kampa Dzong, 94 miles away. While not the first photograph of Everest ever taken, it’s the first to show any significant details of the mountain.
The problems today is that history books are still written by Westerners. Which means that they write from their own point of view and say what please them. This is the privilege of civilizations which dominate. Christopher Columbus is said to have discovered America. Was he really the first one ? Vasco de Gamma discovered the route to India. Max Mueller discovered the Vedas. Did he ? Maybe someone climbed Everest before Hillary. And he certainly wasn’t a New Zealander.
What is sadder though, in the case of the Everest anniversary, is how much the Indian press just aped, once more, the fads of the West. What does it matter to India who scaled the peak first. He was not even an Indian anyway. What matters more is that the Himalayas are the cradle of Indian civilization, the fountain of it spirituality, the sustainer of its climate and the mother of India’s rivers. But did anybody mention that ? Why did no magazine put forward another point of view -this one for instance – which makes for balanced and original journalism. Why can’t Indian journalism use Indian standards to judge and write about things which are Indians, or South Asian? Why always copy what the West does? If the West is intent on having a proprietary right on something it does not owe, why should the Indian press encourage such an unhealthy trend?
1913: Captain John Noel, a British military officer, travels to Tibet in disguise (at the time foreigners were forbidden in Tibet) to find the best way to approach Everest. He comes to within 60 miles of Everest, only to find his way blocked by an unexpected mountain range that did not appear on his faulty maps. Noel is able to view the top 1000 feet (300 meters) of Everest when it appears out of the shifting mists, a “glittering spire of rock fluted with snow”.
The flurry of ascents, ‘the fastest without oxygen’, ‘the youngest’, ‘the first Indian army team’… marking the 50th anniversary is another joke. Everest has become a commercial venture which is spoiling the ecological balance of the Himalayas, already under a lot of pressure. Why can’t the Nepal Government just ban any further ascents on Everest, which should again become Sagarmatha and just let Shiva roam again freely amongst the lonely and marvelous peaks of the Himalayas.