Monday, April 4, 2011

Faces of Everest, by H. P. S. Ahluwalia

Faces of Everest is a directed history of climbing Everest by Indian mountaineer and climber H. P. S. Ahluwalia. It covers every expedition that has attempted the mountain up to 1977, and is a pretty good summary of the original national siege-style bottled-oxygen climbs that were the norm until then. 1978, of course, turned over the apple cart with Habeler and Messner's ascent without supplementary oxygen. You may remember Ahluwalia from his 1965 ascent of Everest as part of the 1965 Indian expedition. He wrote about that experience, as well as his near-fatal injury during the Kashmiri war and his subsequent long recovery in his book, Higher than Everest. One of the assets of this books is Ahluwalia's personal research, especially his delving into the archives of the Survey of India at Dehra Dun and his interviews with climbers.

Ahluwalia dispels several myths about the early history of Everest, and I especially appreciated finding some of this out from a well-respected Indian writer. He shows a comparison of the 1733 D'Anville map and the 1926 Survey of India map of the Everest region, which are strikingly similar. The D'Anville map bases its information about the region of Tibet on a survey requested by Chinese lamas at the behest of Jesuit missionaries. The D'Anville map includes a mountain, or possibly a range named "Tchoumou Lancma" (which is quite phonetically close to the Chinese Qomolangma) in approximately the correct location. It's too bad no one has ever turned up the original Chinese survey. Additionally, though it's a great story to think of Radhanath Sikhdar running into Andrew Waugh's office (the Surveyor General) to proclaim the discovery of the world's highest mountain, Ahluwalia tells us Sikhdar was posted to a different office in Calcutta in 1849, the same year that surveyors were making the observations of the peak. (This might not be correct. Online sources state that Sikhdar was transferred in 1851, and did his Everest computations there.)

Faces of Everest helped me fill in a lot of the holes in my Everest expedition knowledge. He includes full reports for all the expeditions, and that means I got to learn quite a bit about several expeditions that don't have much written about them in English, including the 1973 Italian, the possible 1952 Russian, the 1969/70 Japanese, the 1975 Japanese women's expedition, and 1971 and 1972 international expeditions. I worry a bit about the details, since he does get some details incorrect about other expeditions, such as the 1976 Joint British & Nepalese Army Expedition, and Maurice Wilson's attempt. He includes details of the three Indian expeditions to Everest, including his own, and he also gives good coverage to the two Chinese expeditions of 1960 and 1975. In addition to his history, Ahluwalia includes appendices on climatology of the region, lists of accidents and ascents, and a short timetable history. The photographs in this book (including his own), by the way, are an interesting set, and worth a look.


  1. The map provided to the Jesuit missionaries by the Chinese appears in Michael Ward's "Everest: A Thousand Years of Exploration."

  2. I appreciate your opinion. If you wish to offer some constructive criticism, I'll happily give it full consideration. Dhanyavad!