Climber recalls days with Edmund, hunting for yeti
Siliguri, March 30: Nearly half-a-century ago, Bhanu Banerjee accompanied legendary climber Edmund Hillary to a Himalayan expedition in pursuit of the Abominable Snowman and came back with some incredible memories.
“Every single moment of the expedition is still fresh in my mind. The fact that I was with Sir Edmund Hillary, listening to first-hand tales of the Everest Conquest, was extremely fulfilling,” said Banerjee.
The aim of the 1961-62 expedition, however, was not the highest mountain on earth, but the mythical creature, yeti. World Book Encyclopedia had sponsored the Himalayan Scientific and Mountaineering Expedition.
“We wanted to find out if the yeti existed or not,” Banerjee said. “We went from one remote village to another up to 19,000ft and returned assured that the yeti is just a myth,” Banerjee said.
“It was just hearsay,” the 72-year-old climber added. “We went to all the places covered by previous expeditions. We interviewed elderly people, cowherds, shepherds and the Sherpas; yet, there was not a single soul who could say he had seen the yeti. Always it was not he, but his father living in a different village who had actually seen the creature. We would then go and find the father, who would ascribe it to his father.”
A student of St Paul’s School in Darjeeling, Banerjee first met Hillary in Calcutta in 1960. “I used to freelance with a newspaper there. I was studying shorthand and accountancy in college when Desmond Doig, the then assistant editor of the daily, asked me if I was interested in meeting Hillary. I immediately agreed,” he added.
In Calcutta, Banerjee also helped Hillary shop for an expedition. “The shopkeepers would not charge money at the very mention of his name,” Banerjee said, recalling Hillary’s popularity.
Their friendship grew gradually. The last time they communicated with each other was at Christmas in 2007. “It was a brief communiqué and his handwriting had changed a lot. He said: ‘We are okay.’ At other times, he would have elaborated,” Banerjee recalled.
Hillary died this year on January 11.
Banerjee was in Siliguri today to take part in a day-long celebration to mark 25 years of the conquest of Mt Koktang by North Bengal Explorers’ Club. Neeraj Rana, the principal of the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI) in Darjeeling, Nima Tashi, former deputy-director of field training at HMI, and Tapan Pandit, a mountaineer, were also present.
North Bengal quota
The West Bengal Mountaineering and Adventure Sports Foundation will provide scholarships to six youths from north Bengal who want to pursue mountaineering courses at any institute in the country. “We will try to raise the number to 10 soon,” said Amulya Sen, an adviser to the foundation, which is a government body.