The mountain experience

Dr P Ravi Shankar


I was beginning to feel disheartened. I had been walking for the better part of 15 minutes along the road leading to the International Mountain Museum (IMM) and the modern exhibition hall, which I had seen on the web page, was nowhere in sight. Then around a bend I saw the Manipal hospital bus parked near a gate and saw our driver talking to the security guard. I had reached my destination!

The main exhibition building was a good five minutes walk inside the compound. The modern architecture reminded me of Chandigarh designed by Le Corbusier. The main hall is designed at two levels and the entrance is at the first level looking down into the hall below. The hall was carved into different sections. Immediately on entering there was the ‘People of the mountain’ section. The mannequins representing a Slovenian couple caught my eye. I had always been interested in the Sherpas, the indomitable climbers and the exhibits depicting their lifestyle, all very tastefully arranged fascinated me. The Puns, Magars, Gurungs and Chhantyals were all represented. The Thakalis, the people of the Thak Khola in western Nepal, fascinated me.

The exhibits were from different sources. Some had been donated by different Alpine clubs and societies from all over the world. Looking at the profusion of exhibits it was difficult to believe a report published in May 2003, which had highlighted difficulties in obtaining exhibits. At that time the museum was busy hunting for clubs and organisations to donate exhibits.

The next section was the ‘Mountain exhibition gallery’. The highlight was the beautiful photographs by K Ohmori of the Japanese Alpine club. The mountains looked inviting and beautiful. The photos of Manaslu, Everest, Annapurna I and Dhaulagiri I were scattered in the hall. The section on landscape change in Lamjung district 1962-2000 by Dr Harka Gurung was interesting. I had passed through many of the mentioned villages on my treks in the Annapurna region and the change wrought about by the years was apparent. The pace of change though was much slower than the frenetic pace in the cities. Dr Harka Gurung had also been instrumental in establishing the museum in Pokhara.

The formation of the Himalayas by the collision of the Indian plate and the Eurasian plate was very well depicted. Ekai Kawaguchi, a Japanese monk had visited the Thak Khola on his way to Tibet. I had seen the houses where he had stayed in Tukuche and Marpha. The sketches, notes and drawings of Kawaguchi were on display. Prime minister Surya Bahadur Thapa formally inaugurated the museum on February 5, 2004. The Rimpoche of Tengboche monastery in the Everest region, Nawang Tenzing Jangbu, held a puja to mark the opening. Prominent mountaineers Wolfgang Nairz of Austria, Tone Skarje of Slovenia and Appa Sherpa had attended the ceremony.

The museum is situated on a six-hectare site at Ratopairo near the airport and the Himalayan eye hospital at the southern end of the Pokhara valley. The location has been carefully chosen to give a panoramic view of the Annapurnas. The first floor of the museum has a gallery with picture windows and comfortable chairs for the perfect mountain view. But unfortunately it was hazy on the day of my visit! Murphy’s law is an undeniable part of life!

There was a ‘profile’ of all the mountain peaks above 8,000 metres in the world. Physical description, the different approaches to the summit and the various expeditions which had reached the top were all detailed. The first 8,000 m peak to be climbed was Annapurna I by Maurice Herzog and Luis Lachenal in 1950. Their equipment and photos were on display. The equipment appeared terribly primitive by today’s standards. The equipment used by the Japanese expedition to Manaslu and by Junko Tabei, the first woman to climb Everest was also on display.

The Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA) spent more than US $ 1 million for the construction and operation of the museum. The museum was originally scheduled for completion by the end of the year 2000. However, lack of funds delayed the plan. His Majesty’s government, the China/Tibet Mountaineering Association and the Indian Mountaineering Federation supported the project. SANPAKU, a Japanese support group lent considerable support. A local fund raising committee raised money from business houses and the people of Pokhara.

The trekking peaks of Nepal and the mountaineering equipment section were interesting. The evolution of the ice axe and boots were well traced out. Modern climbers use ‘Crispi’ boots above an altitude of 7,000 m to protect themselves from frostbite. The ropes and knots reminded me of my days as a cub scout at school. ‘Amchis’, the medicine men of the mountains and their rich collection of herbs and potions was featured. Glacial lakes and the threat of glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF) were covered in detail. Having visited many glacial lakes during my treks in the Annapurna region I could appreciate their beauty and fragility!

The ‘Technology and development section’ was on the first floor. It was first exhibited at the 6th Nepal Educational and Environmental Book Fair in May 2002 under the name ‘Hamro Sundar Pahari Gaun’. At the conclusion of the fair, the section was gifted to the museum.