My wife and I have been watching a six-part biopic about Sir Edmund Hillary, who with Tenzing Norgay, were the first climbers to reach the summit of Mount Everest, known to the Nepalese as Chomolungma, Mother Goddess of the World. Over the years, I became aware of Hillary’s charitable activities in Nepal, but never learned much about the man. The film paints a multidimensional portrait of an interesting individual.
Early in the film, young Hillary discovers climbing, and steals a library book about the Shipton expedition to Nanda Devi. I had never read it, though I had it on the shelf. I pulled it and began reading.
My edition, which incorporates an account of a later expedition by Tillman, has an introduction by the late American climber, Charles Houston, who accompanied Tillman in 1936 on the first successful expedition to summit.
Back in the nineteen thirties, approaches to remote mountains were sometimes difficult. Nana Devi was particularly well guarded by a ring of peaks that surrounds the base, and encloses a unique area that is known as the Sanctuary, protected today as a national park. I was struck by Houston’s description:
It was Kipling country…the stage for the Great Game, played for a century by Russians and British for control of India. We believed that Kim had sat on the rim of the Nanda Devi Sanctuary.
From Introduction, Nanda Devi, Exploration and Ascent.
Houston, late in life, became the first Country Director for the Peace Corps programs in India.