Friday, May 18, 2012
The first of my recent projects was in response to a request for a mini portfolio of Four Himalayan Photographs. These are to be donated to a college art department as an alumni gift. The intention was that the group of photographs would be a teaching aid, a representation of my best work, and an adjunct my book Himalayan Portfolios; Journeys of the Imagination. The mat size selected, 20x24, would allow the pictures to be used as a dramatic wall display, or be hand held for study, or just hidden in the archives to be awakened by the horn call of a wandering adventurer.
THE OTHER GAME IN TOWN
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
THE PHOTOGRAPHIC ISSUE February 2012
The best images from the world’s leading climbing photographers
Greenshires Publishing, Leicester, UK
Although the work shown emphasizes the climbers, the world seen from a climb is beautifully illustrated by a near 180 degree panorama taken from Glyder Fach in the
Gearing Up by Tom Richardson
Cameras for Climbers, pp 68-71
In addition to the above pictures and essays, Tom Richardson, a mountaineer, photographer, trek leader and forthcoming author of a memoir Judgment Days, has provided a section on the different choices of cameras and equipment to be encountered in this rapidly changing world. By way of illustration, he devotes paragraphs to four persons: Tom himself, James Thacker, David Pickford and me. The last paragraph is as follows:
A retired research biochemist, mountaineer, and published photographer, Ken’s choice of photographic equipment may not be to everyone’s taste, but there is no doubt that he can produce beautiful results. Ken began mountaineering when he retired and during a dozen trips to the Himalayas captured them using an old fashioned basic Toyo 4 x 5 view camera (ABOVE TOP) with a black fabric hood – the camera mounted on a sturdy wooden tripod. You can’t get much further away from today’s point and shoot cameras, but patience is a virtue in photography and Ken’s results are simply breathtaking. Check out the pictures in his book Himalayan Portfolios – Journeys of the Imagination to see the results for yourself. Link■
VOLUME 30, # 1-2. Published October 2011
Sunday, December 25, 2011
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Anyone likely to stumble on this blog has probably already heard about the CBS 60 Minutes’ attack on Greg Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute (CAI). As Greg was kind enough to write a foreword to my book Himalayan Portfolios; Journeys of the Imagination I owe it to him to try and provide my own perspective on this disaster.
The Foreword. My interest in Greg's work goes back to an encounter in 2001 with one of his earliest schools in Pakistan. The school was at Hushe, the jumping off point for my trek to the K2 area. In October of 2006 I asked Greg to write a foreword. At that time the CAI was beginning to grow but Three Cups of Tea had not yet hit the mass market. Greg immediately responded with enthusiasm and gave me an outline of his linkage to the mountain photography of Barry Bishop, the father of his wife, Tara. The foreword that emerged (after several months) combined the story of the building of the bridge across the Braldu River and the creation of the first school at Korphe with his photographic interest. My book contains a picture of the turbulent, churning, exploding waters of the Braldu River taken on my first Pakistan trip — 1994, the year before the bridge was built. In conclusion Greg described my book as “a tribute to the mountains we both cherish” and a “source of restoration and hope.”
Inside the government school at Hushe
The heavy load of talk, travel and interviews must have left little time for long term planning. As I saw it, there was a need for an anthropological record of what had been achieved to aid future planning and an accessible data base of schools. Each school was a experiment in a new cultural context but based on the same premise (I wrote to him about that and cited the work of my friend Dick Salisbury who had created a data base of climbing expeditions in Nepal "Himalaya by the Numbers".) I worried about Greg’s move from the relative uniformity of Baltistan into the ethnic and cultural mix up of Afghanistan. His work must encounter constantly shifting political agendas, people who have reconstructed their past histories, and experts at diverting NGO funds to their own pockets. The CAI was changing into a bigger organization that could not be expected to work with the one-man-band approach that had been so successful in the beginning. Greg’s role needed to be redefined.
Greg's Finances. The 60 Minuite program makes a number of charges, including the claim that Greg’s finances and the money donated to the CAI have become mixed in a bewildering way. On this I have no information. Knowing his schedule, I can well believe that finances exploded in ways that were beyond the competence of the CAI and Greg to handle. The problems are like and unlike those that arise when a star college professor writes a highly successful text book or develops a patentable product. In such cases there are the precedents of custom plus a history of legal opinions and IRS rulings that provide guidelines as to where the money raised should go. In Greg’s case the mixture is unique. I can only express my firm belief in Greg’s dedication. I am totally unconvinced that personal gain was a motive. However, the characteristics that make for success in building schools in remote areas are probably not those appropriate for financial management. I can only hope that a panel of friends and experts will resolve this matter with the CAI and present their solution in a way that can be easily understood by the public.
Fictionalization: The other main charge against him was that to a significant extent he had faked the stories in the book. I was completely baffled. It was said that he had not even been in Korphe in 1993. This did not make sense. Before the bridge was built there was only a cable linked the village to the main trail to Askole. There was no possible reason why Greg or any Westerner would visit the village. The account given in the book explains his encounter. On his way back from K2, debilitated and utterly exhausted, he failed to take the turn to Askole. That is to say, he continued onwards instead of turning right to reach the bridge across the turbulent Braldu River and to follow the right side of the Braldu to Askole. (Korphe is on the left side of the Braldu.) Going the other way towards K2 the branch towards Korphe would be passed without attention by a traveler walking as part of a group. Having followed the main route from K2 to Askole myself, I can attest that for a lone walker this error was completely possible. I have made such trail errors many times. In 1994 on the way to the Biafo Glacier we continued on the Askole side of the river, but I remember the other side of the river in 2001 as being a flat plain with few distinguishing marks except for some large climbing boulders that were probably near the bridge. If the area floods in some years the trail probably gets wiped out from time to time so the present markings would not be a guide to the situation in 1993.
In an interview with David Heald, Editor of Outside Magazine, Greg has affirmed that this mistake over the trail did happen in 1993, but he admitted that he was only a few hours in Korphe, not overnight as it says in the book. This was enough to see the poverty of the place and to realize that the health and education of the villagers was of no interest to the government. If he had not observed this neglect, why would he have returned? However, the main events in the book concerning the promise to build a school took place the next year. He reached Askole by way of the cable, met up with his fellow climber and they both continued to Skardu and the K2 Motel and from there to the USA. He admits that he did not then return to Korphe that year as it says in the book, but the following year. I assume the account of building of the bridge to replace the cable in 1995, thanks to Horni’s funding, is essentially correct.
Why? Greg claims that the fictionalization was driven by the need for compression. I conjecture that there was a draft that gave the visit as brief and placed the promise to build a school in the next year but the narrative became so involved that the text was re-cut. Greg claims the essential facts were preserved. (The question as to who suggested the departures from the truth — whether the Viking-Penguin editor, his co-author Relin or Greg himself — is irrelevant.) Bio-Pics, such as Gandhi, do this sort of fixing all the time to provide a coherent story and no one worries. Travel books, from Marco Polo onwards, and autobiographies are often loose with the facts. But, as a scientist I have difficulties: I have a gut horror of invented data. News reporters claim to meet higher standards. Journalists may omit some facts as irrelevant and they tend to seek out representative cases and voices to give shape to their story, but if they fabricate the roof blows off. The authors invoked this standard for Three Cups of Tea when they presented the story as reported by Relin. Why did they then depart from the journalism standard?
The question has been raised about the number of schools created and some failures and miscalculations have been cited, but there is plenty of evidence that schools do exist and that successes have been achieved. As Nicholas Kristof wrote in the New York Times. “The furor over Greg’s work breaks my heart.”….“But let us not forget that even if all the allegations turn out to be true, Greg has still built more schools and transformed more children’s lives than you or I ever will.”
Greg is not the first pioneer who has been damaged by his own idealism. As he tries to pick up the pieces after his surgery and work out a considered response to events I hope he will be able to follow his own words in the foreword to my book and turn to the mountains as “a source of restoration and hope.”
CBS 60 Minutes: Story
Bozman Chronicle: Story
Outside Magazine: Interview with Mortenson by Alex Heard, editor.
CNN: Interview with Alex Heard, Peter Bergan, Nikolas Kristof
New York Times: Story: Edward Wong on the Wakhan Corridor. “Two schools in Afghanistan, One Complicated Situation. “
Dawn: Article by Bapsi Sidhwa: “I stand by Three Cups of Tea” (Dawn is a Pakistan newspaper)
New York Times: Op Ed: Nikolas Kristof. “Three Cups of Tea’ Spilled”
Mortenson’s Medical Condition: doctors report
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Orange line: Our route, Pamir Highway and detour south.
Yellow line: Karakoram Highway.
A, Alichor; B, Bozai Gumbaz; F, Faizabad, I/I, Ishkashim/Ishkoshim; K, Kalaikhum; L, Langar; S, Sarhad (near Broghil Pass).
We made contact with the Wakhan Corridor when we followed the Pamir River to its confluence with the Wakhan River. At the point where the two rivers join to form the Pyanj River the elevation is about 9,500 ft above sea level. By the time the southernmost point in the river is reached the level is about 800 ft lower. For most of this section the river is broad and there are in many places islands used for grazing. This turning point is the end of the Wakhan corridor appendage to Afghanistan.The road follows the Pyanj River due north. As it flows north the river becomes more turbulent because the valley narrows and the level drops some 4,700 ft. Before the river swings to the southwest it takes a Z detour through a narrow gorge with near vertical walls. The photograph shows a trail along the Afghan side of the gorge. On the Tajik side the road in many places has been blasted out of the cliff face. At Kalaikhum (1,200m/3,934ft) we left the border and the river to climb over a high grassy plateau region and eventually reached our final destination Duschanbe.
The Gibraltar of the Hindu Kush. In Part 1 in discussing the consulate at Kashgar I noted that in 1891 Francis Yonghusband, on his way back to Gilgit from a grim winter of diplomatic isolation in Kashgar, made a detour over the broad Wakhjir Pass (4,847m/15,836ft) and to his surprise encountered Russian Cossacks. He was informed that this was Russian territory and politely ordered to leave. Cables were sent back and forth between Simla and London. In London Lord Rosebery, shortly to become Foreign Secretary, declared: “Bozai Gumbaz is the Gibraltar of the Hindu Kush.” There was no backing down. Gurkha troops were sent to Bozai Gumbaz from Gilgit and Younghusband, with his added troops, sat out the crisis on the Wakhan side of the passes through the Hindu Kush to India. (See Patrick French, Younghusband. 1994; Chs 6, 7.)
The Cradle of Our Race. The next major player in the Great Game was Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India from 1898-1904. He hsd become deeply suspicious of Russia’s motives while traveled extensively on Russia railways and in Afghanistan. There was however diplomatic progress. In 1893 the Durand line was drawn to establish the border of Afghanistan with India (still a festering issue.) In1894 Curzon probed the boundary by crossing the Wakhjir Pass, with permission from Kabul. He probably wanted to find out what in practice Russia was doing, but he took the opportunity to investigate the source of the Oxus. A river “believed to have rocked the cradle of our race.” He settled as the source a glacier towards the Hindu Kush that feeds the upper Ab-i-Wakhan River. By this choice he discounted Lake Victoria on the Pamir River, mentioned above, and also the Chakmak lake area that feeds the Murghab River. His account in the Geographic Journal (Aug and Sept 1898) led to a gold medal from the Royal Geographical Society.
The Innermost Heart of Central Asia. In the Soviet era the Russians seem to have accepted the Wakhan boundaries, however the source of the Oxus was still of interest in the postwar World War II period. In 1948 the noted climber Bill Tilman left the British Consulate in Kashgar, after indulging in a little climbing with the outgoing consul Eric Shipton. He aimed to brighten up the travel to Gilgit by detouring from China into the Wakhan valley by the Wakhjir Pass and exit by a pass through the Hindu Kush. On the Oxus question he wrote: “Speaking as a Mountaineer, the only fit and proper birthplace for this mighty river of most ancient fame is the ice-cave…at the innermost heart of Central Asia.” Unfortunately he trusted in the remoteness of the area and did not worry about Afghan intransigence. He was arrested and imprisoned as a spy by the local authorities. He was eventually escorted to a high and inconvenient border pass and discharged into the newly created Pakistan – minus his notebooks and passport. (See W. H. Tilman. Two Mountains and a River. 1949. Ch 13,14, 15. Tillman is my source for the Curzon visit.)
Our brief say at Khorog, the capital of the large eastern Gorno-Badakhshan egional, provided a morning when there was no immediate departure. It was a moment to review, to ask the question: What had we not expected? As tourists it was easy to see only the wonderful setting. There was a pleasant garden with a view across the river. To the left was the confluence with the Gunt Rriver, to the right the new suspension bridge to Afghanistan. But what were we not seeing?
Our first surprise; The Russian Influence: both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are still firmly bound to Russia. The normal post-Regan narrative in the USA is that these former components of the USSR remembered the Soviets as oppressors. But the separation was in 1991 and the pain of most of those who suffered has died with them. The next generation remembers the Soviet period as providing work and economic stability. With separation the factories closed. Now large numbers have to travel to Russia to find employment and the remittances sent home are an essential part of their economies. Russian is still the necessary common language of the region. The USA ships almost half its essential military supplies to Afghanistan via air from Bishkek and by road from western Tajikistan, but, in general, it keeps as low a profile as possible and provides some cultural support.
The economic condition of Tajikistan has not been helped by the civil war that began in 1992 a year spurred on by Islamic beliefs and clan loyalties. The Pamir region starved in 1992-3 as the result of a blockade. Russian troops moved back to the Afghan border. A cease fire in 1996 and a peace agreement in June of 1997 left Tajikistan one of the poorest countries in the world. As might be expected, the drug trade flourishes.
Women shopping at the Afghan market near the Khorog bridge. Afghan selling boots.
As to the place of education: A letter just received by my wife (Betty) from a former student from Pakistan described his summer visiting his family, wandering in the Hindu Kush, locating Sufi shrines and taking a university course. He writes: “The course on Allama Iqbal's Urdu poetry was a treat in its own.” … “Though things [in Pakistan] look really bad and sound even worse, I have my hopes pinned on the students studying in the universities. They are very passionate and want to see Pakistan prosper and they are willing to work hard and smart for it. I could sense the frustration these kids had with the current state of affairs. I understand that action is harder than just talking but a lot of students have taken the initiative to improve their worlds in their own way and I can see the rest following soon. Honestly it is hard to explain but it was very encouraging to spend a couple of months in the university.”
May we also be encouraged.
Betty and I attended the above Barfield Lecture at Yale in May. It had been enthusiastically organized by two students: Anna Kellar and Mari Oye. We talked to them afterwards. At Yamg on August 12 as we were waiting for lunch what should happen but that the same two enterprising students walked into the guest house. Tajikistan was providing them with the chance to use their Yale studied Farsi (the Tajik language is a form of Persian.) Anna's perspective on her trip is contained in her blog for August 2010. (Also, check out the watermellon song. )
Thursday, October 28, 2010
As the Panj river junction was approached the river narrowed and became more turbulent and grass was at last visible. We did not know it at the time (August 11, 2010), but the turbulence of the river reflected the delay in summer snow melting. The levels of all the rivers were exceedingly high. This delay was a substantial factor in creating the floods in Pakistan which were just starting to take place. We learned about them later. The notion that something might be abnormal came to us suddenly as we rounded a curve in the road into a side valley.
An important Pamir web site by Robert Middleton : link.
Middleton is a co-author of Tajikistan and the High Pamirs.
Friday, October 15, 2010
Four factors promoted our interest in a trip to the Pamirs.
— When writing the essay for Himalayan Portfolios: Journeys of the Imagination I had become intrigued with the role the Pamirs played in the 19th century struggle between British India and Russia known as the Great Game. One major player in the drama was Francis Younghusband who later became a major force on the Everest Committee. The Great Game came to a provisional accomodation in 1893 when the boundary of Afganistan was drawn to leave a thin extension of Afghanistan, the Wakhan Corridor, as a buffer between the Russian and British spheres of influence.
— A second reason was the account by Greg Mortenson of his struggle to build a school near Bozai Gumbaz in the Whakan Corridor described in his recent Stones into Schools (now available in paperback.)
— A third reason was the result of looking at satellite images of the Afghan-Pakistan region. The one thing that stands out amidst the mountains is the hook of the Afghan boundary defined by upper ancient Oxus (see map in previous blog.) Why is this river so much more visible than the Indus? The sources of the Oxus have been assigned to a lake in the Little Pamirs that is drained by the Pamir River and to a glacier that feeds into the Whakan River. The two rivers join to form the turbulent Panj River that eventually, after more additions, becomes the Amu Darya that makes its way to the dead end of the Aral Sea.
— Lastly, it seemed that the culture and history of the region could have a great deal to do with future events in Afghanistan (Betty's department. Betty is my wife.)
Our road trip began in Bishek and took is south across Kyrgyzstan. The last part was through a high-altitude grassland smudged with occasional flocks of sheep and cattle and small gatherings of isolated yurts. We stayed at a yurt camp near the ancient fortress and caravansary of Tash Rabat that is separated from the wider grassland by the Dragon Mountains. Near the Chinese border there were snow capped peaks (the Celestial Mountains, Tien Shahn), but they were obscured by a haze of loess dust that was unrelated to the dust churned up by the enormous Chinese trucks that travel the highway. The highway was, no doubt, once paved. The process of crossing the border involved multiple check points each of which involving a ritual of multiple passport inspections. We were checked and rechecked both before and after passing through a winding section of no-mans-land. A long dusty descent invigorated by miles of road construction brought us to a final inspection, with photographs added to the file, and to Kashgar.
In reading the narratives of British visitors to Kashgar the Chinese name for the region, Xinjiang, tends to be replaced by ‘Chinese Turkistan’ or ‘Tartary’, but Kashgar was its own center of power, hence the term Kashgaria. Local Uyghur nationalists call it Uyghurstan or Eastern Turkestan thus linking it with other Turkic regions rather than to China or Tibet. Silk Road traders came through Kashgar because it was the junction of the branches of the road that flowed to the north and south of the Taklamaken desert.
It is not easy on visiting Kashgar to imagine the old city with 50 foot high mud walls as it was in 1940 when the noted climber and writer Eric Shipton was sent there as British Consul General or in 1946 to 48 when he served a second term (in Mountains of Tartary.) His task on the second occasion was to hand over the Consulate to India and Pakistan; they were newly independent and unclear how they should deal with their new responsibility to look after the interests of wandering traders from Ladakh and Hunza. By October of 1949 the Chinese Communists had taken over from the Nationalists and the consulates in Kashgar had a new set of problems to deal with.
The Consulate building remains; it is now a restaurant. The massive willow tree that must have dominated the garden still stands. The former Russian consulate is also a restaurant.
Both consulates date back to the Great Game period. When Francis Younghusband in 1887 made his epic journey across China that led him to the north side of K2 and to Srinagar by way of a high Karakoram pass he was surprised to find a Russian Consulate in Kashgar. When he invited the Consul General to tea the consul arrived with 16 Cossack carrying Russian flags. Younghusband had a second notable encounter in 1891. He was sent to Kashgar and from there proceeded to Bozai Gumbaz in the Pamirs where he encountered a force of 30 Cossacks and an unambiguous declaration that this was Russian territory. This convinced all concerned that Russian expansion was a serious matter. The borders of Imperial Russia were close to Kashgaria, Chinese power was weak and the British territories were on the other side of high passes. (See Tournament of Shadows, Meyer and Brysac, 1999; Younghusband, Patrick French, 1994)
The rule of the Tsar gave way to the Soviets and the Soviets were intent on rearranging Central Asia. Peter Fleming (the literary uncle of James Bond) in “Report from Tartary” described the political situation when he arrived at the Consulate in 1935. He set out from Peking traveling to the south of the Taklamaken desert to reach Kashgar at a time when the situation in the province was almost totally unknown to the outside world. There were, in fact, a series of warring factions that included Manchurians, White Russians, Turkis and Tungans. The Soviets were deeply involved: there were Russian advisors in Kashgar and Umruchi and the national government exerted little control. Kashgar was run by a local warlord in cahoots with the Russian Consulate aided by the advisors and the warlord's secret police. When in 1940 Eric Shipton arriving for his first stint as a consul he found the Soviets equally present. It was wartime and it was uncertain whether the Soviets were friend or foe. The Chinese Republican government in Nanking was still very far away.
Later when the Chinese Communists came to power the Russian advisors seem to have gradually departed. There were various uprisings. There was a brief attempt to set up a Turkik Republic in Khotan, but the overall consequence seems to have been a steady influx of Han Chinese. The Great Leap Forward beginning in 1958 led to starvation in central China and this encouraged the Han migration into Xinjiang. In 1960 this pressure caused Uyghurs to flee to the Soviet Union. A major migration of Han Chinese started in 2,000 as an 'Open the West' campaign. The immigrants were deployed to ensure that they were a dominant force in each regional subdivision and along all major routs. The influx of Han Chinese has consolidated the native population under a Uyghur identity and brought together groups that were formerly diverse. They have learned to speak the same coded language. The Chinese recruited cadres of Uyghurs that would be loyal to the government.
There are crumbling bits of the city walls of Kashgar left, but the narrow lanes of the old city in front of the Id Kah Mosque were obliterated when the area was flattened by the Chinese administration to make a ceremonial plaza. This action promoted not ‘harmony’ but riots. When Colin Thuberon visted Kashgar in 2003 the plans for the clearing were on display (Shadow of the Silk Road.)Such tension between the native population and the immigrant Han Chinese came to the boil in Urumchi, the other major city of Xinjiang, in 2009. Rioting natives were met by vigilante Han mobs. The influx of Han Chinese has consolidated the native population under a Uighur identity brought together groups that were formerly diverse.As result of these migration policies Kashgar has become a modern Chinese city with a major Han presence analogous to the dual community situation in Lhasa, Tibet. Kashgar does have some attractive older streets and these were not far from our Tarim Petroleum Hotel where we stayed. They were used as location sets in the filming of the Kite Runner. These older streets form a regular tourist area, though the activites are locally driven. However, we are still trying to puzzle out why someone was being paid to follow us around and take photographs of us taking photographs. The photograph shows our watcher pretending to be interested in photographing bread. Since returning I have been reading The Uyghurs, Strangers in Their own Land by Gardner Bovington (Columbia UP, 2010.) His discription of the Chinese divide-and-rule policy fully explains why no one, including our guide, was willing to comment on the present political situation. The parallels to Tibet are not accidental.
To the Pamirs
The next stage was to reenter Kyrgyzstan by the Irkestam Pass--further to the south than our departure route.. The loess haze had departed, an unusual event, and for 200 km we passed by a paved road through desert hills layered in shades of red, yellow and purple. At the pass we once more went through multiple checks before entering a 7 km no-mans-land where we studied the long line of trucks enduring to endless wait until our new land cruiser's arrived. Beyond the border we entered a new realm of high altitude pasture, the Alay valley.To the south a long line of snow capped peaks, the Trans-Alay range of the Northern Pamirs, arose abruptly from the grassland. Somewhere hiding in this vast landscape the Main Pamir Fault marks the line where the older basin rocks underthrust the northern Pamirs. This is also a suture line where the Northern Pamir terrain became attached to the Asian mainland. To the west along the border range is Lenin Peak (7,134 m /23,406 ft).
To this peak is attached an important example of the political reidentification made necessary by the break up of the Soviet Union. In Tajikistan Lenin Peak is now officially named after the Ismali physician and philosopher Ibn Sina, better known in the West as Avicenna (980-1037.) He belongs to the golden age of Islamic enlightenment. His vast achievements include an encyclopedia The Canon of Medicine, but he also contributed to astronomy, algebra, trigonometry and discussed the nature of experimental knowledge. In Dushambe he is represented by a statue. Most remarkably, the Russian built Opera House was featuring an opera about his life.
TO FOLLOW SHORTLY
Part 2: Journey to the Tajik-Afghan border.