Jagdish Nanavati 1928-2011

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 04/07/2011
Jagdish Nanavati. Harish Kapadia

Notable Indian mountaineer, Jagdish Nanavati, who was well-known for his persistence in establishing the veracity of claimed ascents by Indian expeditions, has passed away in Mumbai.

Nanavati was President Emeritus of the Himalayan Club and a member of the Alpine Club for 45 years.

His service to the Himalayan Club and its mountaineers was considerable. When it moved to Mumbai it was on the verge of extinction, but he single-handedly rebuilt it from scratch, his own office remaining the Club office for nearly three decades.

However, to the international community he was best known as the 'scrutinizer' of all controversial ascents by Indian expeditions, largely those from the military or organized by the Indian Mountaineering Foundation.

Standing against considerable official pressure, he would prove, by careful scientific study of maps, photos, and route descriptions, that many notable claims were false.

Perhaps the most famous concerned the claimed first ascent of the Queen of the Garhwal, Nilkanth (6,596m), in 1961.

Nanavati felt it was obvious from the beginning that the team had been incapable of reading a map and that positions of camps and altitudes had been changed in the official report to make the ascent sound plausible, and then changed again when questioned.

The Indian Mountaineering Foundation conducted its own investigation at the time and concluded that the climbers had reached the summit. It took several decades before the truth was finally accepted.

In later years he would stand up against claimed ascents of such notable peaks as Sudershan Parbat (6,507m), in the Garwhal, Kabru Dome (6,600m) in Sikkim, Gya (6,794m) in Spiti and Nyegi Kangsang (6,983m) in Arunachal Pradesh, on the latter submitting a detailed study (45 pages plus supplementary notes) to the IMF, which had sponsored the expedition.

In all cases he proved conclusively that the climbers had either not reached the summit or were on the wrong mountain. His evidence was accepted by the Indian Mountaineering Foundation and the ascent claims quashed.

Nanavati was instrumental in introducing many young mountaineers to the hills, and was a guru to all, encouraging them to climb and trek.

One of these was Harish Kapadia, now the foremost authority on Indian mountaineering and long-time editor of the Himalayan Journal.
Kapadia calls him a real friend, an unique human being with a sharp wit, a philosopher and guide to the Himalayan World.

When friends were visiting a few days before Nanavati's demise, they were unaware that the end was so near. However, in characteristic style he hinted with the words, "it's time to pack up".

And a pillar of the Indian mountaineering community did; rather too suddenly.
 



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