Himraj and Rupin Dang
To be young, adventurous, and in Dehradun in the 1960s, recalling Wordsworth, ‘Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven!’ The Brits had just left, India still worked, and Hari was Anglophile (he really had a tough time being a hypocrite). When he visited the Doon, to write a story for The Statesman, John Martyn persuaded him to become a school master. What followed was a bountiful life, full of adventure and experimentation. Everest was a hard knock, the debacle of 1962 a harder shock that never went way, but life had its compensations. Hari found his lovely wife Renu (in spite of Gurdial Singh insisting he could not afford to get married on a salary of Rs 300 a month), and the adventure continued. Central to this adventure was a fabulous sense of place, being based in the Dehradun of those heady days. And there were many friends: the Harihar Lals, the Dutriaus, foresters and army officers, fellow teachers, none more supportive than the gentle Sheel Vohra. And shikaris and companions in the wild: Bhangu of Pelion, Dabbal Singh of Lata, and Munim Singh of Kanda.
By the time he was ready to take up higher responsibilities heading other schools, the template for the rest of his life was set. He had cultivated many intellectual interests in his Doon years, and he was going to pursue them all. He became a multi-faceted personality, as any who met him would recall, but it really started with the Athenians at the Doon; Cheetal, the magazine he edited for the WPSI out of Astley Hall; and the many contributions on mountaineering for the Himalayan Club. The engagement with inquisitive, growing young minds, was a boon, which really helped him grow in so many dimensions. A simpler, more narrowly-focused job, would never have encouraged this.
He loved mountains. You’d expect that from a mountaineer. Yes, he loved forests and rivers. You’d expect that from a shikari and angler. But it was his grand passion for Garhwal and the Doon valley that blew us away. From his journeys to his favorite Jaonli, to Har-ki-dun and Black Peak, and the adored Nanda Devi, he had seen the high mountains of Garhwal. We knew that from all the stories and articles.
But we did not know how deep and vast this love was, till it spilled out in every direction, and we, too, were consumed by it. Even in the fading years, once he was diagnosed with liver cancer, he would be counting Pied Hornbills with us in the sal trees at Thano and Phandowala; eating kaphal on the long road with unusual Pines from Kaddukhal to Surkhanda; driving out to Magra, Devalsari and Pathar khol, so we could walk up Nag Tibba and Lurntsu; walking up to Sat Tal above Tharali to see the lovely Jalandhri Gad across the Bhagirathi, where he had walked not so long ago with Rupin and his young family; setting us off at Barsu last Diwali, encouraged by his stories, from Dayara to Dodital via Lambidhar; fishing at the Aglar junction en route to what turned out to be a farewell visit to Chakrata; driving through Rajaji from Mohan to Dholkhand, Harnaul, and Beri Bara...a staggering collection of fresh memories to overlay the older ones, truly the maturation of an old and consuming passion.
In Hari Dang’s life there are other memories, other adventures, and other friendships, but this lifelong affair with Garhwal and the Doon valley was special. And it began with his appointment as a teacher at The Doon School.
116 T, 1964
At the end of my last term (May 1964), I joined the School’s first expedition to Jaonli (21760 ft) on the Bhagirathi-Bhilangana divide in Garhwal, led by Hari Dang. Ours was also the first ever expedition to the peak. Some of our merry band were headed to St Stephen’s and promptly became active in the college Hiking Club; others to careers in the army and the publishing world et al. The lasting impact of that trip was the bonhomie each carried into adulthood, especially those of us who reached camp high above the Jaonli glacier within cracking distance of the summit.
Unforgettable magical days and evenings on Jaonli… listening to Schubert’s Trout, the Emperor’s Waltz, the incessant Ravel’s Bolero or the opening bars of Beethoven’s 5th which Mr Dang whistled to bring his Labrador Ashvathama to heel. Or, at the glacier’s top end, after catching the transistor-borne news of Pandit Nehru’s passing, Mr Dang’s eulogy to “a great son of India…” Mr Dang led two further School expeditions to Jaonli, in 1965 and then 1966 when the summit was finally reached. We will miss you sir.