Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Eric Shipton, Modern Alpinist Extraordinaire

If the last post on tips for trekking in the Shivalik Hills inspired you, perhaps you’d like to know more about famous climbers and explorers in Asia.  One of the greatest was Eric Shipton.  To mark his achievements, we’ve named a room in his honour at Himalayan Hideaway.

Born in Sri Lanka in 1907, Shipton discovered the allure of mountains at 15 when he visited the Pyrenees with his family.  When he was 21, he went to Kenya as a coffee grower, and first climbed Nelion, a peak of Mount Kenya, in 1929.  He met one of his future climbing partners in Kenya - Bill Tilman, who also has a room named after him in the Hideaway.  In 1931, Shipton and Frank Smythe were among the first climbers to reach the summit of Kamet, the second highest mountain in the Garhwal region, (Nanda Devi is the highest).  At 7,816 metres, this was the highest peak climbed at the time.  With Tilman, Shipton discovered the access route to the Nanda Devi sanctuary through the Rishi Ganga gorge in 1934.  

Mount Everest expeditions
Shipton was also involved with several of the Mount Everest expeditions.  In 1933, he and Smythe climbed to the First Step on the Northeast Ridge (8,400 metres) before turning back.  Two years later, he led an Everest expedition that included the young Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay, who would go on to greater glory.  Shipton was also on the 1951 expedition which laid out the now famous route over the Khumbu Glacier. 

Proof of a Yeti?
It was also in 1951 that Shipton photographed what he claimed were the footprint of a Yeti.  Whether or not it was a practical joke continues to be debated.  The photographs certainly caused a commotion – the footprint was 33 cm wide!  The footprint was most likely the result of the imprint of a snow leopard superimposed on top of that of a mountain goat.  Shipton never confessed to having played a joke on his fellow climbers, nor did he mention it in either of his books, The Mount Everest Reconnaissance Expedition (1952) and Upon That Mountain (1956).

A different way of climbing
The bitterest disappointment of his life was that he was not made leader of the 1953 British Everest expedition in which Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first climbers to reach the summit.  The decision to make John Hunt expedition leader was most likely because Shipton preferred small groups of climbers rather than the large contingent of climbers, Sherpas and porters that was part of the typical Everest expedition.  Shipton and Tilman once joked that they could plan a Himalayan expedition “in half an hour on the back of an envelope.” Their no-frills style is now the standard:  lightweight, low impact, self-propelled, culturally sensitive, and motivated by the sheer joy of exploration.

Shipton continued exploring and travelling throughout his life.  In 1976, he was in Bhutan when he became ill.  Upon returning to England, he discovered that he had cancer.  He died in March 1977; he was cremated in Salisbury and his ashes were scattered on Fonthill Lake.

If you’d like to explore the Shivalik Hills or simply relax in harmony with nature, Himalayan Hideaway is the perfect getaway. For more details, contact our Delhi office (Phone: +91-11-26852602, 26968169, and e-mail:;

Tags: Himalayan Hideaway, Himalayas, Eric Shipton, Mount Everest, Frank Smythe, Bill Tilman, Tenzing Norgay, mountaineers, climbers, explorers, Shivalik Hills

The Importance of Tree Hugging

In light of the recent disaster in Uttarakhand, it’s important to remember the importance of the peaceful environmental protest known as tree hugging.  This movement, known as the Chipko movement or Chipko Andolan, has its roots in the Garhwal region.

The beginnings
The movement began in the early 1970s as village women realised that something had to be done to stop the rapid deforestation of the area.  By hugging the trees to prevent them from being cut down, the women were asserting their traditional rights to the forest and protesting the commercial logging operations that jeopardised their livelihoods.  The deforestation not only decreased the villagers’ firewood and fodder, it also damaged the soil and destroyed the water sources in the hills.  The movement spread across the region and soon more women began to protect trees from the timber merchants.  By the 1980s, it became the inspiration for non-violent environmental protests worldwide, such as tree sitting and tree villages.  In addition to being one of the first environmental protests in the developing world, Chipko demonstrated the clout of people power.  Chipko also made it clear that fighting to preserve the eco-system was not restricted to the rich and famous.  In fact, in this case, protecting the environment is literally a matter of life and death for the villagers and the poor because they are usually the first victims of a natural disaster.  Chipko, by the way, means “to stick” in Hindi. 

Pioneering woman
While many of the leaders of the movement were men, the true warriors were women like Gaura Devi.  She refused to back down, even going so far as to stand in front of a man holding a gun and telling him, “This forest nurtures us like a mother; you will only be able to use your axes on it if you shoot me first.”  She died peacefully in 1991 and stories of her bravery are still told.  There is now a Gaura Devi Award for environment protection, as well as a campaign to posthumously award her the Bharat Ratna.

The ground realities today
Unfortunately, the victories of the Chipko movement seem to have been short-lived.  Villagers have laboured to re-grow forests and continued to protest against the unplanned development in the region, but their efforts have been in vain.  Meanwhile, environmental experts continue to sound the warning that deforestation and construction damage the soil’s ability to hold water, resulting in the devastating landslides seen in June.  They maintain that development in the region must respect the terrain and the fragility of the Himalayas.  It may seem odd to think of a mountain range as being unstable, but the Himalayas are the result of the collision between two plates and this process continues today.

How you can help
If you’d like to help Uttarakhand rebuild from the damage wrought by the rains and floods of June, there are two organisations we endorse – Goonj ( and Save the Children (  Both have worked tirelessly to assist the villagers to get back on their feet.

Still a haven
In the meantime, we’re grateful that Himalayan Hideaway and the area around it were spared the devastation of June.  If you’re looking for a getaway in Uttarakhand, our lodge is the perfect place to breathe clean air, bird watch and take in stunning landscapes.  Our Delhi office (Phone: +91-11-26852602, 26968169, and e-mail:; will be happy to assist you in making the arrangements.

Tags: Himalayan Hideaway, Himalayas, Uttarakhand, Chipko, Gaura Devi, ecology, environment, people power, disaster relief