Monday, November 19, 2012

More Writers' Festival

I attended a few more sessions of the Writers Festival, but had to miss some of the later sessions. On Sunday morning the first Mussoorie Half Marathon was held. Runners gathered at Picture Palace, ran to Everest House at the far western end of the ridge, and back to the finish line at the Woodstock School Gate. Over 200 people registered to run, include a number of students and staff.

Change and Crisis in the Himalaya

Ishita Khanna is an environmental activist who has spent ten years in the remote valley of Spiti in northeastern Himachal Pradesh. She founded the NGO Ecosphere, which works for responsible tourism and use of scarce resources. She was thrilled to be asked to join in the festival, as she doesn’t consider herself to be a writer. Ecosphere is developing passive solar housing, neutralizing carbon footprints, and helping people to travel responsibly. It is important to protect natural areas and to give back to the community.

The two short films she showed would fit in well with the Woodstock School CARE program. Tourists from Hell was a humorous look at what should and should not be done. A Fable from the Himalayas is a magical tale about a mountain boy who finds the solution to Global Warming from a monk. You can see it at

Intrigue, Politics and Mountains

From the “Great Game” referred to in Kipling’s Kim to modern-day espionage, the Himalayas have frequently played a role in intrigue. Harish Kapadia, a well-known Mussoorie climber and author, spoke about the burdens of bureaucracy in getting permits. He has gone to the Siachen Glacier multiple times, an area that foreigners can access only with great difficulty. His final thought:  “If mountains can’t stop you, bureaucracy shouldn’t!”

Captain M.S. Kohli was involved in a very difficult USA/India cooperative spy mission in the 1960s following the Sino-Indian Border Conflict of 1962. Capt. Kohli, a long-time mountaineer, was pulled from the Indian Navy to serve with the Border Patrol. They had decided to place equipment in the Himalayas that could detect Chinese nuclear test detonations. This involved two transceivers, an antenna, and a nuclear power supply. The process of installing this system was nearly a comedy of errors. A total of eight expeditions attempted to place the equipment. The first mountain tried was Nanda Devi, but a major blizzard took down the equipment. Eventually the equipment was installed in 1967 on Nanda Kot. By the time it was functional, satellite imagery had improved so much that it was outdated. Capt. Kohli himself had many close calls during the various attempts. 

Captain Kohli releasing  Writing Outdoors: A Natural Reader

Lunch was served outside in the beautiful Hanfil Centre grounds.

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