Saturday, May 23, 2015

Green Lakes| The Forests of the Zemu Valley

In November 2014, a small team from South Col Expeditions trekked the Zemu Valley in North Sikkim.  Other than the spectacular mountain views which surrounds the valley on all sides, I found the forests to have an amazing wealth of plant life. This short photo essay shows  the forests of the Zemu Valley :

For more photos of the Zemu Valley and the Green Lakes trek do visit

Friday, May 15, 2015

Nine Atop Everest: The Indian Expedition of 1965

The final pyramid of Everest
On May 19th 1965, two men spent the night at 27,930 feet – the highest camp on Mount Everest.  Next morning at 9.30 am, Capt A.S Cheema and Sherpa Nawang Gombu reached the summit. In the following nine days the Indians made three successful attempts on Everest and created a record which remained unbroken for seventeen years – they placed nine men on the summit of Everest in a single expedition. Nawang Gombu became the first  man to climb Everest twice in 1963 and 1965.

But, it had not been easy for the Indians and they had to fight hard for their success.

In 1960 a team led by Brigadier Gyan Singh fell 700 feet short of the summit.  In 1962, the expedition was led by Major John Dias. Capt M S Kohli who led the successful Indian team in 1965 was one of the unlucky climbers that year – along with Sonam Gyatso and Hari Dang, the team reached 28,600 feet.  A raging blizzard on 30th May 1962 pushed them back and the three climbers were lucky to escape with their lives reaching the highest camp at 10 pm at night, literally crawling through the snow!

Camp in the Western Cwn with the Lhotse Face beyond
Interestingly, before the Indian climb in 1965, only fifteen men from four expeditions had climbed Everest.

To commemorate this great climb, a series of events will be held throughout the country and in Kathmandu in May 2015. This will include screening of the 1965 Everest film, release of the Golden Jubilee stamp and the commemorative volume “Nine Atop Everest. The ten living members of the 1965 team will also be felicitated at the different venues.

Pumori behind the climbers

Friday, May 8, 2015

Kathmandu Durbar Square: After The Earthquake

In September 2012, I spend a couple of weeks in Kathmandu researching and photographing for the Indian edition of the Lonely Planet book on Nepal. It was the end of the monsoon so I was treated to spectacular evening skies, rolling clouds, crisp evening light and views of the monuments of the heritage sites of Kathmandu  in that grey-blue light of dusk.

My hotel in Thamel was close to the Kathmandu Durbar Square and very often I used to walk down in the early evening and spend some time on the steps of one of the temples soaking in the atmosphere and also taking some photographs.  The Maju Deval which is a Shiva temple and across the square from Kastamandap was one of my favourite locations. From here you could see life in Kathmandu unfold - the trinket sellers, the hawkers, the couples out for a date, the tourists visiting the square and rickshaws waiting for rides.

I had taken a South Col team to Mustang on a trek and on the day of the earthquake, Saturday 25th April 2015,  we were in the capital Lo Manthang.

On May 1st 2015, I finally reached Kathmandu after a long and difficult journey from Upper Mustang. That afternoon I walked through Thamel and reached the Durbar Square.

This is what I saw:

Near the entrance of the square I spotted this  house supported by wooden beams to prevent it from toppling over into the narrow Thamel street:

Next to this house further down the road was this beautiful wall painting. The house behind it had sustained cracks, but the wall was not damaged in the quake.

I entered the square from the western end and immediately saw that the great temple of Kastamandap was no more. The platform on which the temple stood had been taken over by soldiers and police supervising relief operations. Luckily the smaller statue of Garuda was not damaged.

I walked further and saw to my dismay that the Maju Deval temple on whose steps I had spent many an evening was razed to the ground. The platform remained and as I walked up those steps to the platform this was the view that greeted me:

The Gaddhi Baithak- the white building above was still standing but had sustained structural damage in many places. The Kumari Bahal on the right was miraculously spared but the Narayan temple next to it had vanished with only the platform left.

I came down and headed towards the Kumari Bahal and looked back west towards the square. A large vehicle was busy picking up the rubble and tossing it into a lorry to be taken out of the square. To me it suddenly  seemed that  the vehicle was attacking the lions of the  Kumari Bahal!

The presence of soldiers and police were everywhere and they were preventing people from getting into the square. Photographers and news persons were allowed and a film crew were shooting near this location below.

Two of the soldiers were resting at the entrance of the Bhagwati temple which had escaped the wrath of the quake.

A little further down walking towards the Hanuman Dhoka, the ticket counter had been damaged and the rear of the famous Shiva-Parvati temple was being again supported with wooden beams.

Next to the ticket counter,  this stone inscription was on the ground:

Thankfully, the group of temples near  the Hanuman Dhoka, the Jaganath temple, the Vishnu temple and the Kala Bhairab were intact though King Pratap Malla's column was damaged. The Hanuman statue had also escaped damage.

As I left the Durbar Square from the eastern end and entered the narrow streets of Thamel, I spotted this small temple - people were praying as they were passing by. I looked at the flickering flames and hoped that somehow Nepal would make it through this catastrophic disaster and rise once again.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Nepal Earthquake Relief Fund

Santaman Tamang is a partner and friend of South Col Expeditions in Nepal for many years now. His village in Nuwakot district comprising of around 200 houses has been totally destroyed.  To provide temporary shelter using tarpaulin sheets and blankets and basic food essentials like rice,  South Col Expeditions has decided to set up a Relief Fund to help the villagers of Sundara Devi VDC- Kaaule Bhangeri. Nuwakot. 

Most of the sherpas and porters who have been part of our previous treks and expeditions come from this village including Santaman, Rame, Shyam. Bhakta etc.

I give below Santaman’s account on reaching Kathmandu on 30th April 2015 from his village:

Yes, arrived in  Kathmandu  with empty tears in my eyes, struggling from broken roads, landslides, don't know what to do, no internet, no electricity, Phones are not working properly even in Kathmandu, met my lovely kids and wife sleeping in open field. They cried when they saw me but I had no tears left. Kathmandu where we live is o.k. Mind is not working properly too.

Tired of taking out the dead bodies from the broken houses, managing dead bodies, rescuing  the injured by helicopter and providing the roof plastic toppling as we have, Lost everything in my region, 95 % of all the remote poor area's houses made of mud and stone plus wood have  collapsed. No water, No electricity no food no roof, it is very hard to save the survived one and treat injured, 10 to 15% of population from my area must have been lost. Don't know how to rebuild the villages; I also lost my beloved father who brought me to this stage of life from among 2000 people in the recent period. Lost many relatives, friends, well wishers.  

The biggest natural disaster that has been seen by my generation occurred 25th April 2025 12 noon Nepal time is one of the worst days for me in my life. Luckily for me and two of my other friends survived in 3 seconds, were just about to participate in school program in the area. I had no camera to post some terrible scenes.

I really thank you for all my national and international friends, well wishers, helpers, my respected personalities and who knows me for your kind concern about my life and my people, I have no words how to say thank you in this time of my life, I devote myself to you all. For sure we will meet and see each other if we can live and do not receive another disaster.
Santaman Tamang
Your friend in Nepal Himalaya.

 In a meeting in Kathmandu on Friday 1st May 2015 Santaman gave me the immediate cost for relief materials for his village. It is summarized below. It does not include any costs for rebuilding the village houses only the immediate survival costs.

Place: Sundara Devi VDC- Kaaule Bhangeri. Nuwakot.
1. The number of houses is 200.
2. Approximate member of the family is 5 to 7 persons.
3. One family requires 3 bags of rice for one month.
4. Immediate requirements Rice 600 Bags for 1 month.
5. 60 Top linings.
6. 700 Pieces of Blankets.

7. 1 Bag of rice cost NPR 1500/-
Total cost for Rice is 600 bags X NPR 1500 = 9'00'000 NPR.
8. Cost of 1 Top lings NPR 3500/-.
Total cost for Top Lings is 60 X NPR 3500 = NPR 2'10'000/-
9. Cost of 1 Blanket cost: NPR 1000/-
Total cost for Blankets is 500 X1000 = NPR 5'00'000/-
So approximate relief fund requires sum of NPR 16'10'000/-
 Transportation Cost NPR 75'000/-
 So Total estimation is: NPR 16'85'000/- which is USD 16,850 OR INR 10.53 LACS.

I would request all my South Col trekkers, my friends, well wishers of Nepal to contribute whatever is possible to this fund.   As time is of essence, cheques or bank transfers should be made to my own account until we can set up a dedicated account for this purpose. The account details are below:

Please email /sms / or FB messenger/ me for bank account number
IFSC CODE: UTIB0000411 (FOR NEFT transfers)
PHONE: 9831054569

Thanks for your patience and support and some photos of the village are below:


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Nicholas Roerich and his love affair with Kangchenjunga

Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947) is best known as a painter but he was also a prolific writer. He produced five books the most famous being Altai Himalaya and Shambala.

Roerich was also predominantly a "mountain artist" and I have been quite surprised to see the number of paintings he did of Kangchejunga and the Himalayan ranges from Darjeeling and also Kalimpong. After a long expedition in Asia from 1923 to 1928, the Roerich family settled in Darjeeling and it was during this time that most of these paintings were done. Roerich later moved to Naggar near Manali in Himachal Pradesh and passed away there in 1947.

Some of his most outstanding works on Kangchenjunga are below:

Many of these works are available as prints on the internet. Do visit

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Magical Khumbu

Ama Dablam

This is the first April after many years that I will not be in the Khumbu - doing a trek either to Kala Pattar or Gokyo or both! There has been a lot of writing on different blogs about the different expeditions and their entry into the Khumbu There was a long spell of bad weather and snow and this both delayed and cancelled the infamous flight to Lukla! That has now improved though it is still raining/snowing every afternoon!
Lukla airport

Many of the teams are there to trek to Everest base camp and that magical high point Kala Pattar, while the more intrepid get ready to make an attempt on Everest itself.

Namche Bazar and Kwangde

The Icefall doctors have completed their new route through the Khumbu icefall and the expeditions begin to move through Namche Bazar. After the mandatory two acclimatisation days, they head onto base camp through Tengboche, Dingboche, Lobuche and Gorak Shep.

There is a feeling of longing of wanting to be there - is that beautiful pink rhododendron just below the Sagarmatha National Park headquarters - it it in full bloom again? The trail comes up in vivid colour with those enormous peaks piercing the clouds as the trekkers climb up the famous Namche hill - a nemesis for many!

Rhododendron tree near Jorsale

So what will I be doing this spring? Heading to Mustang the fabled forbidden former kingdom of Lho tomorrow and then in May on a sixteen day circuit of Manaslu!

And the Khumbu? It will be November this year!

Kangtega and Thamserku from Luza

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Malli Mastan Babu R.I.P.

The disappearance of Indian climber Malli Mastan Babu in the Andes on March 24th 2015 provoked a lot of consternation  in the Indian climbing and trekking fraternity. Despite efforts being made to organise a helicopter  rescue for him as well as sending out search parties to find him, it was not to be.

As the newly set up facebook page "Rescue Malli Mastan Babu" commented " Mountains claimed its favourite child - RIP Malli Mastan Babu".

 In retrospect, it is interesting to look at some of the records which Babu made:

  1. He was the one of the  fastest  men to climb all the seven summits in the seven continents in 172 days, Jan 19 – July 10, 2006)!
  2. He was the only climber in the world to climb  seven summits on seven days of the week and one in each calendar month!
  3. He was also the only south Asian climber to achieve the seven summits climb!
  4. As an Indian he was the only mountaineer  to climb the seven summits and he was also the first Indian to summit Mt. Vinson Massif, the tallest peak of Antarctica and  Carstensz Pyramid, the tallest peak of Oceania.
  5. He was also the only climber from Andhra Pradesh to summit Mt. Everest!

Interesting Babu had a brilliant academic record - he was an  IIT engineer  from Kharagpur in 1998 and IIM graduate from Kolkata in 2004! But unlike his management colleagues from IIM who pursued a corporate career Babu pursued his passion with single   mindedness of purpose and utmost dedication!

R.I.P Malli Mastan Babu - a great loss for the climbing community and your country India.

Photographs courtesy the Facebook page "Rescue Malli Mastan Babu".

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Green Lakes Trek: North Sikkim, Outlook Traveller April 2015

The photo essay below was published in Outlook Traveller April 2015 issue.

For the full essay please do visit

For more details about the Green Lakes trek do visit and for photographs of the Himalaya do visit


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