In memoriam: Few who scaled the summit

A New York Times journalist pens heart-wrenching mountain­eering literature about tragic events in which people lost family and friends

In memoriam: Few who scaled the summit
summit of the gods: At 8,611 metres, K2, a part of Karakoram Range, is the world’s second-highest mountain
In the post-monsoon climbing season of 2008, 11 mountaineers died on K2 (8,611 metres), the world’s second-highest mountain. Wh­enever tragedy of this mag­nitude strikes, there are several post-mortems of the reasons behind the deaths in mo­unta­ineering circles. But arguably the most balanced and, at the same time, spellbinding port­rayal of the developments that led to the disaster came not from a mountaineer but from a journalist. Graham Bowley, who works for The New York Times and is now a foreign cor­respondent for the ne­wspaper, based in Afg­hanistan, spent a year travelling to seven cou­ntries to interview the survivors and the families of those who died to piece together the background to the tragedy.

The story appeared in print as a fascinating book, No Way Down: Life and Death on K2. It became a New York Times best-seller and was translated into several languages. In India, it won the prestigious Kekoo Naoroji Book Award for Hima­layan Literature for 2010-11. The award, instituted in mem­ory of mountaineer and explorer Kekoo Naoroji (1915-2003), is given annually out of a cont­ribution made by the Godrej Foundation, a public charitable trust. The jury for the award has included, at various times, Suman Dubey, Bill Aitken, Ru­kun Advani, Rivka Israel, Rama Goyal and Bernadette McD­onald (author of books on legendary mountaineers Charles Houston and Tomaz Humar).

Naoroji was a member of the Mumbai-based Himalayan Club and was its honorary secretary in 1971, vice-president from 1983-85, and president from 1986-92. Born in Karachi in undivided India, he studied at the Uni­versity of Bombay and Uni­versity College, London, and worked at ICI and Godrej & Boyce. Passionately interested in the outdoors, he had a love for wildlife conservation, music, theatre and literature, as well as mountaineering. In the summer of 1952, he spent 11 weeks in central Garhwal. He kept a diary on the trip, which, along with his account of another major Himalayan trip, to Sikkim in 1958, was published as a book, Himalayan Vignettes, in 2003 by his son. The Sikkim trip was remarkable for Naoroji reaching a height of nearly 6,000 metres at a time when Indians were yet to take to the sport of mo­untaineering. More important, basic knowledge about diet, clothing and the effects of altitude were as yet unknown, and climbing and trekking gear was heavy and primitive.

When Naoroji died, on December 17, 2003, his ashes were taken to various locations in the Himalaya, from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh, and also to the summit of Everest. Fittingly, it is the Himalayan Club, to which Naoroji comm­i­tted so much of his time and effort, that has invited Bowley to give a multi-media presentation in New Delhi on October 27 at the WWF Auditorium on Lodhi Road at 6.30 pm.

Bowley, who travelled to the K2 base camp for the book, will discuss the compulsions that drive mountaineers to such deadly mountains and also the process of writing mountain­eering literature as well as about tragic events in which people have lost family and friends. Bowley himself has had a ch­equered career, initially working as an economist for the British government before becoming a journalist and reporting as a foreign co­rrespondent for the Inte­rnational Herald Tribune. He is now working on a book about Rupert Murdoch.

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