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The Name Game

Shisha Pangma (8046m), The Crest Above the Grassy Knoll

by Dipesh Risal


ong before the first sightings of the Cen­tral Himalaya by intrepid colonial adven­turers, the Newars of Kathmandu woke up everydaytothesightofthefonnidableGanesh, Langtang, Jugal and Rolwaling himals to the north of their Valley. Surprisingly, the Newars never Found it necessary to name these ranges, let alone the individual peaks. They generi-cally called the whole panorama Chwaphu Ghu (snow-hill). Similarly, except for iso­lated Kirat peak-names in eastern Nepal, and other than a few that cany thenames of deities, the mountain people elsewhere in Nepal do not seem to have christened the mountains that form the backdrop to their country.

It is thus clear that, for all diat is made of the Himalaya in the ancient Sanskrit scriptures (see, for example, Himal's mast­head sloka). the Newars and other mid-hill-people were spiritually andculturally detached from the snow mountains. The same, of course, is not trueof the Tibetan-speaking communi­ties such as the Sherpas, perhaps because they live amidst the mountains rather than astride them. These groups do have individualised names for peaks.

About 70 percent of mountains in Nepal today are known by their Tibetan/Sherpa local names, including three of die eight "Eight Thousanders" of Nepal. ChoOyu (8201m) is Tibetanfor "Goddess of the Turquoise", Shisha Pangma (8046m, in Tibet) means 'The Crest above the Grassy Knoll", and Lhotse (8516m) is, literally, "South Peak".

It is not height but prominence in shape that seems to have determined the importance and christening of peaks that have Tibetan labels. Sherpas consider Khumbui Yu La ("The God of Khumbu") as more sacred than any other mountain. The mountain stands tall above the villages of Khunde, Khumjung, Thangboche and Phortse, like a guardian angel. Among the Tibetan suffixes that keep recurring in the nomenclature, 'tse' and 'ri' denote "peak" (Baruntse, Langtang Ri), while 'Kang' de­notes "Snow" (Gyachung Kang, Kang Rimpoche).

While Tibetan names are common around the Sherpa heartland of Khumbu, as

onemoves west, Sanskrit-based names tend to take over for the taller peaks and ranges. This may partly be due to the fact that, in the West, the Himalaya spreads deeper into the south, where Sanskrit-based cultures dominate. The Hindus who migrated eastwards, as well as pilgrims, must have had arole in the naming of Kailas (Kang Rimpoche), Gauri Shankar and Gosainthan {Shisha Pangma). This religious association is even more evident in the moun­tains further west, in Garhwal, home to the pilgrimage sites of Kedamath and Badrinalh, and to holy massifs such as Rishi Pahar, Hanuman, Shivling, Devthali and Devisthan.

In the early 1900s, the Survey of India provided four of the Himalayan "Eight Thousanders" with non-traditional Sanskrit names: Dhaulagiri 8167m, from dhavala (white) plus girl (mountain); Manaslu (S163m),from/na«aj(intellect or soul), means "Mountain of the Soul"; Nanga Parbat (8125m), theNakedMountain; and Annapurna (8091m), Goddess Rich in Sustenance. It is not clear whether the Survey's pundits/ex­plorers coined these names or researched for local usage. That the name Dhaulagiri occurs togetherwidiNilgiri ("Blue Mountain"), lesser peak of the Annapurnas across the Kali Gandaki, suggests the latter.

Certainly, there is enough disagree­ment about the meaning and origin of peak names, including that of Makalu (8463m). In 1884, the Survey explorer named the moun­tain "Kama Lung", deriving it from the ad­joining Tibetan district of Kham It is possible that the name Makalu came from a transposi­tion of the original Tibetan words. Makalu might also have been a corruption of Maha-Kala, which in Sanskrit means "Great Weather", characterising the fierce qualities of the Hindu deity Shiva, who controls the weather. Geographer Harka Gurung refers to apilgrim site below the peak named Mahankal.

As the highest mountain of the Himalaya and the world, perhaps it is not surprising that Chomplongma boasts of the greatest number of callingcards. Altogether 24 different names have been noted, although most are obscure and/or unlikely. Some of die improbable and colourful names accorded to Chomolongma: Byamalung, Devadhunga, Jomolangma-higansri, MitJiik Dguthik Byaphur Longna and Lho Chadzimalungpa, the last one mean­ing "The Southern District where theBirds are kept". Most of these names were reported by early explorers who said the names were pro­vided by monks in Lhasa.

Historian Baburam Acharya, as early as 1938,debated the issue of "Sagarmatha or Chomolongma" in a well-re searched ar­ticle in Sarada magazine. He claimed to have come up with substansive evidence that Sagarmatha was, in fact,along-standing name among the Kirati-speaking people of east Nepal.

Name Calling

Whenever mountaineers in the Himalaya found that peaks in the vicinity of their expedition had no name (more likely they failed to ask), they went on a christening spree. Most of the names bestowed by Western climbers are de­scriptive in nature — Wedge Peak near Kangchenjungha, Roc Noir in Annapuma Himal, and so on. When he climbed up to the Lho La while attempting Chomolongma in 1921, George Mallory saw a 7161m peak to his right. He decided to name it "Clara Peak" after his daughter. But the Sherpas, finding the name alien, preferred "Pumori", literally, the Daughter Peak.

By 1983, the Nepali Government had decided to put a stop to this international name calling. That year, a Committee toNanie Mountains and Tourist Spots was formed, with Harka Gurung as chairman. The Com-

42 HIMAL . Mar/Apr 1993


mittce came up with names for 31 peaks around the country. "Our first criteria was that as far as possible, existing indigenous names be used Failing that, we created names which were descriptive of the mountain in some way, or else gave names with local significance," says Prachanda Man Shrestha, a Tourism Ministry official who was in the Committee.

The Twins (7350m & 7005m), to the north of Kangchenjungha, were assigned the popularKirati name of GimmigelaChuli. Gla­cier Dome (7193m), near Annapurna One, was rendered Tarke Kang (White Peak), and Cross Peak (6431m) in East Nepal, was re­named Taple Shikhar after Taple, the popular historic King of the area. Altogether seven peaks weregiven the names of nearby glaciers or rivers, seven of adjoining regions, seven original names were restored, and ten new names were created.

The Committee's work has been lauded by those who know mountains and mountaineering, but it was involved with only certain prominent massifs in popular moun­taineering regions. Many lesser-known peaks of Nepal still retain their 'foreign' names. For example, a cluster of 5000-60O0m peaks around Saipal (7031m) in West Nepal still bear the names Fimkopf, Grateck, Schiefer

Ganesh Himal, with Pabil (7102m) at left.

Spitze and Schwarze Wand Saitze — tongue twisters all.

Dothemountains,thusrechristened, retain their newly acquired names? The Min­istry of Tourism has not carried out a follow-up on the work of the Committee. So, apart from Ministry of Tourism publications, and a few foreign purists, the climbing journals and mountaineers continue to use many of the original names. For example, the Committee Tenamed Jannu (7710m), the famous satellite peak of Kangchenjungha, Kumbhakarna. But the old name continues in use by mountaineer­ing journals.

Atpresent, about 2 percent of moun-tainnamesinNepal are of'foreign' origin. Of the 439 peaks above 6500m in Nepal, almost

half have no names at all. They are referred to by numbers such as P.7739 or P.7514 to indi­cate their height. Similarly, many peaks of individual peaks are denoted by Roman nu­merals, as in Annapurna 1-V, Ganesh I-VI, and so on. If there are local names for any of these peaks, they have not been popularised, except for Pabil (Ganesh IV, 7102m). Ganesh III, in fact, is Salasungo and in Dhaulagiri Himal, many local names like Mula Kang, Sherbong and Jeyre Meyre have been noted. Hopefully, each of these 'nameless' peaks will acquire their popular and/or indig­enous names, ones that are easy on the tongue and that local inhabitants can relate to.


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Mar/Apr 1993 HIMAL , 43

Abominably Yours,

Standing on a high ridge and cocking an ear against the wind, I can hear the distant thunder of approaching Development. A short way down the frothing wild rapids of the gorge where the Bamn meets the Arun, they are going to build a hydropower plant.

The Infant Arun is a scaled-down version of" the monstrosity originally planned at Num, but from what I can gather from my activist friends In Kathmandu, El Nino here has a terminal case of gigantitis. So if I speak with more passion about this subject; excuse moi. This project is right up my river.

The Fat Cats of Kathmandu have always believed Big is Beautiful and Profitable. High dams equal Big Bucks, while mini and microhydros aTe for the birds. Egged on by co-conspirators out West, it looks like the Fat Cats will get their way once more. Only this time, the blunder is going to cost many times beyond Kuiekhani, that overpriced beaver dam on a brook near Kathmandu.

This area is not going to be same again. The langur tells me land sharks from the lower hills are buying up the forests from Hiley through Tumlingtar to Khandbari. On the Khandbari ridge, the cloud forests ablaze with rhododendron are now on fire — torched by foolish villagers staking claims. Do not take any chances if the Arun Highway alignment is not yet clear. Burn down the whole mountain.

Even baby langurs know that Baby Arun is bad economics. But not the Prime Mover in Kathmandu. Even.if the boys from the Bank ladle out nice soft loans and smiling ambassadors offer condition-loaded grants, El Nino is still going to be the most expensive project in its class ever con­ceived.

So I let off a blood-curdling Tarzan yell and swung from vine to vine down to Num to ambush an advance team of Arun pediatricians from the Bank of Megalomania. And there they were, already at the scene of the crime, showing around development merchants composed of turbine manufacturers, tunnel vision specialists, helicopter charterers, and suppliers of cement. Did I detect drool glinting in the late afternoon sunlight as they eye the innocent white water?

It looked like everything has been decided without Homo sapiens nepalensis having been consulted. Me Tarzan. You

Jane. This Democracy.

Another time, I

watched from behind a soon-to-be-submerged boulder as a road engineer arrived in a flurry of helicopter rotors; Sovereignty of the valley seemed to have been transfened over to his consultancy firm. While upstream, he mapped the far side. He then crossed across and surveyed the near side. He barely had time to grab a couple of pebble samples before the evacuation helicopter arrived.

Further south, the megalomaniacs from the Bank had established a beach-head at the Tumlingtar airstrip. As they picnicked over beer and five-star lunch packs, I sneaked up behind a banmara bush to listen in on the logistics of die project. It sounded like an apocalyptic version of the Vietnam experience. Giant Chinook helicopters capable of lifting 25 tons at a time are to ferry construction material to seven "forward bases" near Num.

All in all, this airborne assault will cost fifty million dollars. Ah-hah. So Arun Three, die Big Swindle, is being preceded by a heliborne Baby Swindle. I look up at the circle of villagers that had gathered around to observe. Their eyes are wide open but they cannot see die looting that has begun, nor will anyone guide them on how to partake in it.

After doing some basic arithmetic, and even after wildly inflating the tonnage to be lifted, I calculated that the job of getting the stuff to Num could be done for about half of the cost budgeted for the helicopters, by relying on the ageold Himalayan heavylift cargo methodology - portering.

Using hardy Arun Valley porters, you would do the job cheaper. What's more: the money would be pumped right into the village economy rather than be siphoned off by some Singaporean helicopter charier. The only cheaper and more environmental-friendly alternative would be to air-drop the cement and turbines from C-l 30 Hercules aircraft over Num, Bosnia-style.

Carrying cement bags or even dismantled turbines will be a piece of cake for the Himalayans, who have a glorious

tradition of being able to carry anything over any hump. Three-ton lorries were once lifted by porters over the Chitlang Pass and into Kathmandu Valley. Nepal's first hydropower plant at Pharping, in the Valley's south, had its turbines, tail-races and dynamos lugged over by an army of porters. But I guess that was a time when money came out of the wallets of nasty oligarchs, with no multinational develop­ment bahks to dangle juicy megawatts before weakling politicians.

Donning a golf cap, I hastened undercover to Dhankuta and established contact with bhariya thekedars, contractors who arrange for porteTs to carry anything from kerosene tins to hyper-ventilating trekkers. Negotiations began in earnest, once they knew me multi-crores I was offering. A bag of cement weighs fifty kilos, and the well-built Arunian hillman carries double mat and charges by die kilo —two hundred rupees a day to carry to Num. From where the trail bifurcates from the road at Sedua, it would take the porter five days up to Num and three days back.
There is a porter surplus in Pallo Kirat, and severe undercutting among the bhariya syndicates. The thekedars assure me that they are up to the job, and they will import from as far as the Far West if there is any porter deficit.

Two hundred and fifty crorcs, just for the whirly birds! For a fraction, die Dhankuta thekedars are willing to mobilise. This would be Lhc largest develop­ment windfall ever, and the best way for Kathmandu Valley to pay back village Nepal for the decades of bralnnaloot. And just watch the Fat Cats and meir cohort of international accesso­ries starve, while the villages light up.

Either that, or sing a lullabye and put Baby Arun to sleep.

44 HIMAL , Mar/Apr 1993

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