“What a mighty up bearing of mountains! What an endless vista go gigantic ranges and valleys, untold and unknown! Peak rose above peak, summit above summit, range above and beyond range, innumerable and boundless, until the mind refused to follow the eye in its attempt to comprehend the whole in one grand conception.” Samuel Bourne in The British Journal of Photography
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Category Archives: Historical photography
Among the books on my shelf are two first editions of Himalayan classics on Nanda Devi (7816m), a beautiful mountain in the Kumaon Himalaya, India. I grew up in the hill town of Nainital and I could see this peak from the hill tops around town, so this mountain and these books have a special significance to me. The fist is The Ascent of Nanda Devi by H W Tilman (Macmillan, 1937) and the second is Nanda Devi by Eric Shipton (Hodder & Stoughton, 1936).
Bill Tilman’s The Ascent of Nanda Devi, a first edition, is signed by Charles Houston, the expedition leader. At the time Nanda Devi was the highest mountain ever climbed.
This is the view of Nanda Devi (7816m) on the right and Trishul (7120m) on the left from Kasar Devi near the town of Almorah in Kumaon. Trishul was first climbed in 1907 by A L Mumm, T G Longstaff and was the highest peak climbed at the time. The record was broken in 1937 with Tilman’s ascent of Nanda Devi.
I was looking through my beautiful copy of A L Mumm’s book Five Months in the Himalaya: A Record of Mountain Travel in Garhwal and Kashmir on his 1907 expedition to climb Trishul in In the Indian Himalaya. I realised that back in 2007 I had taken a very similar photograph of Nanda Ghunti (6309 m) and Trishul (7120 m). Here they are, the same view 100 years apart.
A L Mumm, T G Longstaff and Charles Bruce supported by three Alpine guides and a number of Gurkhas made the first ascent of Trishul in 1907. They climbed the northeast flank and reached the summit on June 12. The first ascent of Trisul (7,127 m), was the highest summit to have ever been climbed up till that point and the record stood for the next 21 years. This was the first expedition to use supplementary oxygen on a Himalayan expedition.
I took this photograph on my trek to Roop Kund and Kuari Pass during the 1500km trans Himalayan expedition. This camp was somewhere between Bedni Bugyal and the village of Kanol. I cropped my photograph to match the older version.
Mountaineering in the Himalayas – Views of Nanda Devi, Partly ascended by Mr Graham and other Himalayan peaks
This is from a report from probably the first European mountaineering expedition in the Kumaon Himalayas. WW Graham along with two Swiss guides, Emil Boss and Ulrich Kauffmann, went on an expedition to the mountains of Kumaon and Sikkim. He made the ascent of several peaks including Kabur 7315m; his claims were met with much skepticism.
This page from The Graphic newspaper was published in September 22, 1883 and show views of peaks Nanda Devi and Nanda Kot and the hill towns of Almora, Raniketh and Bageshwar.
Central Asia and Tibet : Towards the Holy City of Lassa by Sven Hedin (London : Melbourne : Hurst and Blackett ; George Robertson, 1903 2 v). My latest find at a local bookshop. Have been after this book for a while but they are well out of my price range. Got these at a fraction of the price. That’s why I love browsing through old bookshops. You never know what you’ll find.
Here are a couple of maps from the book
This one was torn out but thankfully still intact
Here is one of my most prized pieces in my collection. A map I bought off Ebay for 10 British Pounds a few years ago. I have finally managed to scan this map and piece it together in Photoshop. It was in bits when I bought it. It’s a large field map of Kumaon and British Gurhwal from 1850. I will upload a larger version of the map when I get a chance.
This has got to be one of the first Survey of India maps of the region. Closer inspection of the map shows some very interesting of evidence of an attempt by the British cartographers to rename peaks. Notice the names of the peaks in the Gangotri region such as the Bhagirathi Group and Shivling bear the names such as St George, St Patrick, St Andrew and St David.
Judging by the level of detail on the rest of the map there is now way the cartographers were ignorant of either the established names of these mountains or the religious significance of the region.
In fact that they have named them after Christian saints and this right in the middle of the one of the holiest of Hindu pilgrimage sites. It is an obvious attempt to ‘Christianise’ the names of these peaks. Luckily they didn’t go the way of Everest which was called Sagarmatha in Nepal and Chomolungma in Tibet.
Charles Allen notes in his book A Mountain in Tibet that the early British explorers tried to name Shivling after a Governor-General: “The British called it Mt Moria, in honour if the new Governor-General, Lord Moira. But to the Indians it was Mahadeo ka Ling, now known more simply as the Shivling mountain.”
I glad that the traditional names were the ones which endured and the peaks are still called names like Bhagirathi, Shivling, Meru, Kedar Dome, Satopant, Thale Sagar, Sudarshan Parbat, Srikanth, Thale Sagar, Thelu, Sato Panth, Chandera, Vasuri Parvat – instead of St Andrew, St David etc.
Two photographs of Gangotri, one taken by Samuel Bourne in the mid 1800’s and the other taken in 2005 from nearly the same location, almost 150 years apart.
Notice how much the Gangroti Glacier has shrunk in volume; for more on that see the note below.
The false-color image above shows the Gangotri Glacier, situated in the Uttarkashi District of Garhwal Himalaya. Currently 30.2 km long and between 0.5 and 2.5 km wide, Gangotri glacier is one of the largest in the Himalaya. Gangotri has been receding since 1780, although studies show its retreat quickened after 1971. (Please note that the blue contour lines drawn here to show the recession of the glacier’s terminus over time are approximate.) Over the last 25 years, Gangotri glacier has retreated more than 850 meters, with a recession of 76 meters from 1996 to 1999 alone. (Source: NASA)
Samuel Bourne, photographer (1834-1912)
Samuel Bourne, a professional photographer from Nottingham lived and worked in India from 1862 to 1869 . He was an outstanding landscape worker of his time. He also made a number of expeditions, starting with a ten-week tour in the Himalayas, followed by other much longer ones. It is said that on one of his journeys he employed as many as fifty servants to carry the vast array of equipment, liquids and personal effects for the tour.
Writing in the British Journal of Photography, 1864, he recorded the pain and pleasure of his work: “With scenery like this it is very difficult to deal with the camera: it is altogether too gigantic and stupendous to be brought within the limits imposed on photography….”
“My anxiety to get views of some of these fine combinations of rocks and water often induced me to leave he regular track, and put myself and my instruments innthe greatest danger by attempting an abrupt descent to some spot below….to command a fine picture. Though this was only accomplished with immense difficulty, sundry bruises, and great personal fatigue under a scorching sun, I was in every instance rewarded, always returning with pictures which the more sontented gazer from above would scarcely believe obtainable. But this toiling is almost too much for me, and, I must confess, it at the time greatly outweighed the pleasure.” In a later article he writes of the power of photography to change the way we look at things: “…it teaches the mind to see the beauty and power of such scenes as these… For my own part, I may say that before I commenced photography I did not see half the beauties in nature that I do now, and the glory and power of a precious landscape has often passed before me and left but a feeble impression on my untutored mind; but it will never be so again.” He must have been a pretty hard task-master! In the British Journal of Photography (October 1866) he describes his reaction on discovering that there had been several loads abandoned by coolies: “This was getting serious, and I viewed vengeance against the rascals who had placed me in this difficulty…. Taking a stout stick in my hand I set out in search of them… I walked in… (one of the houses) …and soon discovered my firneds hiding beneath a charpoy or bed, and dragging them forth made them feel the “quality” of my stock, amid … cries and lamentations….”
Bourne made well over three thousand negatives during his travels in the East. His work may be seen at the India Record Office, London, and at the Royal Photographic Society, Bath England.
More of Samuel Bourne’s photographs can be viewed on the BBC’s website and if you are interested in purchasing a book of his photographs Photographic Journeys in the Himalayas 1863 – 1866 by Samuel Bourne Compiled & edited by Hugh Rayner