Journey Of The Journal

Story of The Himalayan Journal

Harish Kapadia

The 35th issue of the Himalayan Journal (H.J.) was on its way when I joined the editorial team. Soli Mehta was proceeding to Nigeria for a few years and he was looking for an assistant. He had produced the previous two issues of the journal whilst he was stationed at Sudan, and, as he put it, had almost lost the issues in the post. So here I was, a part of this historical and famous journal without much editorial experience at all. It was reassuring to learn that R.E. Hawkins would also be joining with me. Hawkins had many years of experience in the publishing line, having retired as General Manager of Oxford University Press.

‘You don’t know what you are taking on, Harish’, Meheru, Soli’s energetic wife said ominously.

‘Late night work and dealing with all this paper has driven Soli mad’.

Then looking at my wife Geeta, she gave her advice, ‘Don’t let Harish gather any paper. My garage is full with manuscripts, articles and correspondence. Just throw them away or else these editors will ruin the peace in the house’.

But the ladies served us well in those initial days, quite literally, with lunches and dinners, while I received instruction and initiation in the art of editing from Soli. In fact, volume XXXV was in press and had been delayed by three years. Hawkins had made many changes to bring it in line with international standards. Our printers had not taken these last minute changes well and had put the journal aside. One of my first jobs was to cajole the reluctant printers. This was managed only after Soli left for Nigeria and the volume saw the light of the day after much prodding and persuasion. The next issue was also delayed forcing us to change the printers.

Early Days

The journal had come a long way. It was conceived in 1928, in the first year of the Club. The H.J., Vol. I (1929) records it as under, in the Secretary’s report printed on pp. 128-33.

 Club Proceedings

Report on the work of the Club in the year 1928, by the Honorary Secretary.(Sir Geoffrey Corbett)

The Annual General Meeting was held on the 25th February 1929. The President, Field Marshal Sir William Birdwood, Bart, took the Chair.

The Himalayan Journal’—Last and most important is The Himalayan Journal. The Committee has authorised Major Mason to produce the first number of the journal, and it is hoped that it will be published by the end of April. It will be welcomed, I am sure, not only as a record of the activities of the Club and its members, but for its great interest and scientific value.

The first editor, Kenneth Mason was a legend. He was a surveyor operating from Shimla. He later continued editing from England. At that time expeditions were few and were undertaken by distinguished personalities. With his stature and status, Mason gathered information about all explorations. He produced the first 12 volumes before the Second World War forced the stoppage of publication for few years. Then it was thought that this was the end of the H.J. for the first time, for such thoughts were to occur again.

In his last editorial (in Vol. XII, 1940, p. 137) Mason wrote:

As may be imagined, the Himalayan Journal has been edited and published this year under considerable difficulty and great pressure of other work. Some papers have had to be held over until 1941. There is little time in England now for anything but concentration on the task of ridding the world of the disgusting cruelty and sadistic brutality of the creed which permeates Hitler’s Germany.


The post-war editors, C.W.F. Noyce, H.W. Tobin and T.H. Braham produced nine volumes between them.

Noyce started with a flourish, writing in the editorial. ‘The journal for 1946 would inevitably be a “coming to life” number . . . . .’

But within a year H.W. Tobin, the next editor was predicting doom again.

But, alas, the swift evolution of the independent states of India and Pakistan brings in its train the early repatriation of nearly all active members of the Himalayan Club. And the hitherto simple access to the great mountains of India’s northern borderlands will be enjoyed only by those who will work in the new states. Consequently, unless, or until, mountaineering is taken up seriously by Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and others, the very raison d’etre of the Club will be no more.1

Nationalisation of the Club or its successor will mean production of its Journal by a national editor and a national publication. So it seems that volume XIV is almost certain to be a final issue. . . .

(H.J., Vol. XIV, 1947, p. 7)

On the death of Tobin in January 1957, T.H. Braham took over Vol. XX and produced two issues.

These editors were stationed in India and with some assistance from England (V.S. Risoe, G.C. Band and J.A. Jackson) recorded the expeditions to the highest of peaks in the Himalaya. This was the golden age of climbing and the H.J. recorded the events faithfully. The sport was still a British preserve and very few Indians participated in it. So when the last of the Britishers left India there was again a serious doubt whether the H.J. would continue at all. It was even doubted whether there would be any climbing activity by the Indians or a qualified editor or press available to publish such a specialised journal.

But the sceptics were again proved wrong. Dr. K. Biswas took over as the first Indian editor of the journal and the H.J. appeared every year under him from 1960 to 1966. The Club’s President, Lt. Gen. Sir Harold Williams was to write in the editorial to H.J., Vol. XXII (1959-60), p. 1.

An earlier number Editorial expressed the fear that unless mountaineering was taken up seriously in India that particular Journal might well be the last. This fear no longer exists. In the last few years there has been very marked enthusiasm for mountaineering in India and Pakistan and many successful expeditions…

The Middle Years

Another major crisis came when Soli Mehta took over from 1969 for a decade. This was the most crucial period not only for the H.J. but also for the survival of the Himalayan Club. The Club had lost its momentum. At Calcutta, where it was registered, there was insufficient team-work to manage the affairs of the Club after the last of the British members had left India. Soli literally produced the issues single-handedand posted them to all the members, whether they had updated their subscriptions or not. This took a heavy toll on the finances of the Club and in 1970 it almost looked as if the Club and the journal would fold up.

Soli hailed from Bombay and with his connections managed to convince the people in charge to shift the headquarters of the Club from Calcutta to Bombay where trekking and climbing flourished due to the proximity of the Western Ghats. So all the defeatist talks of closing down the Club and the journal were given up and a new era for both began in the early 70s. Since then the H.J., and the Club have not looked back. But if one early pioneer is to be thanked, then that has to be Soli Mehta. Without him it would have been difficult to continue the tradition. He returned to India from Nigeria in 1987 to take back the reins, but his untimely death in 1989 snatched away a prime mover behind the publication when he had many volumes still left in him.

Once the H.J. shifted to Bombay (now Mumbai) two important things happened. Gulab Ramchandani, the Club’s treasurer introduced a system by which the Life Members of the Club (and there were many) would pay for the cost of the journal. This made the Club’s finances look up. I remember one evening, at the Managing Committee meeting, the Secretary very seriously informed us about a proposition. ‘Maruzen, a leading company from Japan, wishes to reprint volumes I to XV of the H.J. and would pay a handsome amount to the Club. Would the Committee wish to consider this proposal?’

Before anyone could react, Gulab, in his typical fashion, removed his pipe and said, ‘Who is this Father Christmas? Say yes immediately!’ Starting with this, various supports started flowing to the Club and the H.J. was firmly established.

I started working on the H.J. with Hawk (as he was known to his friends). In fact, Hawk insisted on remaining the assistant editor after Soli left, for he believed that despite his seniority, only a mountaineer should edit such a journal. Hawk was a great teacher. If Soli taught me the art of enjoying editorship with samosas, tea and lots of laughter, Hawk had a different style. He taught me with question marks. If there was a doubt of any sort he would put a small ‘?’, and that was it. I had to run around to reference libraries or books to find the solution. Of course, if I failed he was there to sort it out. With two such different personalities, editing the journal was an education, till both of them passed away within three weeks of each other in 1989.

The learning was not easy and I made many mistakes too. In the editorial in volume 37 ‘Doug’ was printed as ‘Dong’ (sorry Scott!). In volume 41 Genevieve deSa, a lady mountaineer from Bombay, was quoted as saying, ‘So what, you are a guy,’ when defeated at climbing by a male. The printer had composed, ‘So what, you are a gay’.

I had overlooked it; the sharp eye of Hawk picked it up. Another Hawkins ‘pick’ was when he came running to my house to show me a mistake in the final proofs. I would have resigned if he had not spotted the last minute laterally inverted H.J. cover picture. But these mistakes and near mistakes made everything interesting, and the letters that we received (not always complimentary) made it worthwhile.

The journal was being read, referred to and commented upon. But in the early 80s we had new printers, The India Printing Works. Its owner, Anand Limaye, believed that one must consume cups of tea equivalent to the number of pages printed, sandwiches to be eaten always in proportion to the number of photo plates and the panoramas always equivalent to the working lunches taken! With new designs and the offset process introduced, the printing side saw a major change. With the new printers, the quality began to look up. Not a single issue was delayed more than a month. We agreed on a simple rule. If the journal was delayed for more than one month the printer had to climb a peak in the local hills. To his credit he has not climbed any peaks yet.

Over the years H.J. has seen some major changes. If the volumes produced by Mason were very restrained and dignified, the Soli Mehta era saw the inclusion of light-hearted articles, some poetry and a broadening of subjects. The cover has changed from the ordinary collage to black and white photographs and now to photographs in colour. Panoramas, fold-out maps and sketches have remained the H.J.’s specialty, as only an Indian printer can afford the labour charges to do them.

The first four volumes of the H.J. (1928-1932) were published by Thacker, Spink and Co. (Calcutta and Simla). From volume V (1934) Oxford University Press became the publishers of the H.J. OUP are still the publishers of the H.J. (1998), thus completing 50 years (and 45 volumes) of continuous association.

The H.J. volumes are produced and printed by the editors on behalf of the Himalayan Club, and the publishers are given the final copies to distribute. Baptist Mission Press printed many volumes at Calcutta, and then in Bombay, Mouj Printing Bureau printed a few volumes till the H.J. settled with the India Printing Works for the last 17 volumes.

In the Nineties

After Soli’s death, M.H. Contractor joined me as an assistant editor. We introduced many new ideas such as ‘Illustrated Notes’ to cover current expeditions, mentioning their achievements in a paragraph and giving a visual for the same. As a policy we welcomed articles from non-English climbers as well. The Japanese, Polish, Koreans and Europeans had done a host of climbs and we specially began recording them by even rewriting the piece if required. We occasionally had to sacrifice English excellence to retain the original flavour as a record for posterity. The journal, of course, continues to be well served by the British and other English writers. Various series of articles were also introduced, like one on the geology of the Karakoram peaks by Prof. Ardito Desio. A series of articles about the H.J. itself was published by Aamir Ali. His articles linked the relevance of the past issues to the present day climbing scene. The series when completed may form a concise H.J. (Vols 1 to 50).

By the 80s, climbing high mountains became a routine affair, sometimes too monotonous to record. We printed articles reminiscent of the past from old stalwarts, about climbing psychology or Jungian philosophy (related to climbers) and articles about the environment as related to the climbers. With many ‘Book Reviews’ and much ‘Correspondence’ the H.J. remains a complete record of activities related to the Himalaya.

With times, things changed in producing the Himalayan Journal too. Enthusiastic editors like M. H. Contractor moved to US for greener pastures and the editorial team now consisted of Monesh Devjani and Huzefa Electricwala. In 2003, when the Himalayan Club completed 75 years the editors issued a CD consisting of details of all the past Himalayan Journals.

Authenticity and Controversies

We made it a point to check everything that was received. Every peak name was recorded as given on the latest available maps (Kangchenjunga with a ‘g’ and the Himalaya without the ‘s’) and all heights were checked. New names which were in accordance with the guidelines of the Survey of India were accepted and many such names have been incorporated on recent maps due to their usage in the H.J. More importantly, unsuitable names rejected by the H.J. were kept out.

Sometimes the H.J. had to act as a watch-dog on claims and mistakes. Some mistaken claims, like that of the ascent of Panch Chuli III, IV and V (1964) were corrected after 28 years. Some cases of misidentification of peaks (Papsura, Dharamsura, Angdu Ri in the Tos valley) were re-recorded changing the history of those peaks. Articles published in the H.J. about wrong claims on Nilkanth, Sudarshan Parvat and Kabru Dome are now well-recognised. Many ethical considerations and comments evoked a strong response. All this was hard work, involving correspondence and presenting the material to the reluctant errant climbers.

When an Indian army officer presented an article which was printed in the H.J. claiming a wrong ascent of a peak, the then editor Soli Mehta wrote to the Chief of the Army a strong letter, which ended with;

We have always taken the report of climbs by the Indian army as absolutely correct, even if no photographs or details could be sent due to security reasons. With such incidents it will destroy the credibility of the claims that follow and make us the laughing stock in world mountaineering circles. We view this very seriously.

We normally don’t expect post-mortems and committees to sit in judgment over every claim that emanates from the forces. Of course, summit photos would put the claim beyond doubt, but unfortunately the reproductions submitted with articles (at least to the H.J.) are designed to be of least interest to the climbers who follow. The nonsense about strategic area and secretive clasping of anything of interest close to one’s chest (including maps) is quite obsolete in these days of satellite photography. Let the Chief of Staff allow his officers to be mountaineers first on the mountains and leave the fairy tales for the gin and tonic evenings in the officer’s mess. General, are you listening?

The legacy of such strong action coupled with meticulous research has been responsible for the authenticity and accuracy of facts recorded in the H.J.

Based on the H.J. experience, Soli Mehta and I wrote a book Exploring the Hidden Himalaya in 1988. This was published to celebrate 50 years of the Himalayan Journal.

No mention on the H.J. would be complete without its index. D.F.O. Dangar undertook the indexing for most of the issues. After his retirement and death, Dhiren Toolsidas continued the task and produced a Consolidated Index to Volumes 1 to 50.3 Index to Volumes 1 to 60 was compiled by Nandini Purandare, thus collating available references in one booklet. It is to many such enthusiasts, past and present (and I am sure in the future) that H.J. owes its existence and continuation.

As an editor I have received much help from other editors. H. Adams Carter of the American Alpine Journal had always been quick to respond. Successive editors of The Alpine Journal have had very cordial relations with us. The editors of various mountaineering magazines and past editors of the H.J. are always there to help. Much correspondence and information is exchanged and some articles are reprinted. All the materials received, letters and photographs are bound and indexed in different sets titled Editor’s Papers for each volume and added to the Club’s library. It already contains some valuable material for future researchers.

In the 21st Century

The Journal continued its journey, rather vigorously as we approached the 21st Century. It was time for celebrations. First the Himalayan Club celebrated 80th year of its existence. The journal published many articles and memories of our elderly members. There was much nostalgia and many happy moments were recalled. This was published as a special issue of the Himalayan Club Newsletter, which was distributed widely. This also became the last independent Newsletter to be published. In future it was incorporated in the Journal and all the news were now in one publication. For current news a new publication, in digital format in keeping with times, E Letter, was started by the club.

In first decade of the new century the journal was completely revamped. The printing technology had changed and due to strong advertisement support the journal could afford to spend more. Thus Vol. 61 onwards, the Journal appeared in a new improved format. Pages were better, many colour pictures were introduced and the layout was specially arranged. In the contents, Aamir Ali up-dated history of the Club, Trevor Braham recalled his early association with the Club and more and more articles on ‘other aspects’ of the Himalaya, apart from climbing were being covered. Soon the all the volumes of the Journal were digitalised and hosted on the Himalayan Club website. This allowed for better research and easy reference.

With the world going digital there was a change in the way we produced the journal. Soon articles were accepted only in digital format (except old members who were not comfortable with computer). Once an article was received after editing, it would fly as e mails to assistant editors and to authors if they needed to re-check. Photographs were received by e mail, maps were drawn on computer and the each page was digitally designed by our long serving designer, Aparna Joshi. All queries were solved over e mails or more information obtained from the authors or through internet search. When everything was ready it was sent by e mail to the printer. No more regular visits to the press! The final checking was still on paper but the modern technology allowed the printing and binding to be completed with a fortnight!

In last two decades the Journal had reached a status where we had more articles and material then we can ever publish. Many leading mountain personalities and authors were happy to contribute. The long list included Charlie Houston, Sir Chris Bonington, Tom Nakamura, Roger Payne, Brig Ashok Abbey, Bill Aitken, Rasoul Sorkhabi……. just to mention very few names.

There was a question of succession of me as the editor. I had served for decades, not necessarily by choice. Muslim H. Contractor who should have rightfully succeeded me well in the early nineties chose to settle in the US and our efforts to produce the Journal through e mails did not work out well. Monesh Devjani was longest serving Assistant Editor but he moved to Bangalore and we lost another opportunity at succession. Several persons helped at different stages and for different volumes but it was more as help, or at best, fumbling to get a new team together. Nandini Purandare at this juncture became a strong support, with her sincerity and command over the language compensating everything else. Soon we had Rajesh Gadgil, a young enthusiastic mountaineer from Mumbai joining the team. These two brought in much needed support and new ideas. Vol. 66 was the last one I produced and retired as the editor. Keeping with the tradition that a person with strong mountaineering knowledge should be the editor, Rajesh Gadgil took over the rein. Nandini, though senior, agreed to lend full support, now as the Associate Editor, a new designation for the first time in the history of the Journal.

I wrote my last editorial after editing the Journal for 35 years. It ended with;

As a cricket commentator once mentioned that people should retire when they are asked, ‘why do you retire’ instead of ‘why don’t you?’ Thus after this long innings I hand over the charge to a younger person but of course be available for any help required. HJ will positively march on.

I would like to dedicate my editorial efforts, first to my late soldier son Lt. Nawang Kapadia who died defending the Himalaya in Kashmir in 2000. He read many of the volumes I produced and graciously allowed me to sit more at my table instead of trekking and playing with him. Secondly I dedicate my efforts to the Himalayan Club and its members.

Over the years many times I was thoroughly exasperated with the Himalayan Journal. Nothing seems to be working out, articles did not arrive, there was a postal strike, the printer had delayed the matter and everything seemed to be falling apart. With the pressure, all other aspects of life—business, family, other interests, and worse, even actual climbing and trekking—took a back seat. Finally a day came when a climbing friend introduced me to someone as a ‘paper trekker’, and I told myself, ‘This is it, no more issues of the H.J.!’

But a review, a letter or a comment can change everything. Come October and a new volume was in my hand as the measure of success. All the ‘exasperation’ vanished and was forgotten. Mrs. Mavis Heath, an old time friend from Soli’s time, wrote. ‘With failing eyesight I am advised only some limited hours of reading in a week. I reserve them for the H.J.!’ With such supporters, criticism and various controversies I know that our efforts were noted. With renewed vigour I started with the next issue. I am sure many editors of the H.J. and of other journals have gone through these phases. Ultimately, one actually enjoys them!

Once I was driving to London airport with Johanna Merz, then the editor of the Alpine Journal.
‘Do you like doing the H.J.?’, she inquired.

‘Well, it is lots of hard work, very time consuming, sometimes very tedious, but overall I like it’.
As an after-thought I added, ‘Actually I enjoy doing it’.
Mike Westmacott (then President of the Alpine Club) who was in the back seat remarked;
‘You wouldn’t be doing it if you did not enjoy doing it’.
There is no denying that! And the current editors will go through the same, as the journey of the Journal continues.

Notes & References

1. Fulfilling his predictions in a different vein the H.J. has seen Hindu, Muslim, Parsi and Christian editors.

2. The Baptist Mission Press, where the H.J. was being printed at Calcutta, closed down suddenly. Soli had great difficulty in retrieving the printed forms from the press after the closure. The forms were sent to Bombay for binding and publishing. Soli procured and edited the manuscripts for volumes XXXII to XXXIV from Calcutta. These were sent to Bombay for printing and publishing. Lots of papers flying around!

3. Volume I to XXXV are numbered in roman letters. We changed it to a more convenient form from Volume 36.

Harish Kapadia