of the Himalaya

by Francis Younghusband
is the first title in our collection
of Travel Classics, Solvitur Ambulando.
It came into being under frozen cover of winter as
befits an author who derived so much enjoyment
from other snowy landscapes, and in the
same year as we commemorate the
one hundred and fiftieth
anniversary of his

Wonders of the Himalaya

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Wonders of the Himalaya


Original title : Wonders of the Himalaya
Author: Sir Francis Edward Younghusband

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Títle of the Spanish edition:
Por el Himalaya. Exploraciones por Asia Central, Karakórum y Pamir

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First edition published by La Línea del Horizonte Ediciones: December 2013
© This edition: La Línea del Horizonte Ediciones, 2013
www.lalineadelhorizonte.com | info@lalineadelhorizonte.com
Ph: +00 34 912 940 024

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Introduction copyright © Ricardo Martínez Llorca
Biographical note © Adolfo Muñoz and Ricardo Martínez Llorca
Introduction, English translation © Laurel Berger
© Print edition layout and cover design: Víctor Montalbán | Montalbán Estudio Gráfico
Digital edition layout © Valentín Venzalá

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Jacket photographs:
Francis Younghusband by William Quiller Orchardson and Kunlun Peak by Robert Shaw

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ISBN ePub: 978-84-15958-21-5

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All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form, except as permitted by law, without the written permission of the publisher.

Wonders of the Himalaya


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Introduction: Ricardo Martínez Llorca




Chapter 1, ©Ernst Schäfer. German Federal Archives adorno de separación Chapter 2, Dharamsala, 1905. India Illustrated adorno de separación Chapter 3, Unknown adorno de separación Chapter 4, ©Maria Ly. Flickr adorno de separación Chapter 5, Mayor E. Molyneux, 1924 adorno de separación Chapter 6, ©NASA adorno de separación Chapter 7, © Hashoo Foundation adorno de separación Chapter 8, © Ignat adorno de separación Chapter 9, Francis Younghusband, by Sir William Quiller Orchadson adorno de separación Chapter 10, Unknown adorno de separación Chapter 11, Unknown adorno de separación Chapter 12, @ Kogo adorno de separación Chapter 13, Robert Shaw, 1871



Classics of travel and adventure writing that comprise a veritable tour of the world from a fresh perspective.

Other titles

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Sir Francis Edward Younghusband Sir Francis Edward Younghusband (May 31, 1863, Murree, Pakistán — July 31, 1942, Lytchett Minster, Dorset, England).

Sir Francis Edward Younghusband (b. May 31, 1863 in British India, d. July 31, 1942 in Dorset, England) was among the great British figures to explore the Karakorams and the Himalayas. In recognition of his achievement, the Royal Geographic Society awarded him its gold medal. He was the youngest member to be inducted into that organization and later in his life would go on to serve as its president.

A career officer, Younghusband set off on Central Asian and Himalayan expeditions soon after joining the Queens Dragon’s Guard in the regiment at Rawalpindi, now part of Pakistan. This was during the era of the Great Game, when the discovery of Himalayan routes and passes were of vital importance to England and Russia’s imperial ambitions of England. In the wake of his first mountain exploits, he carried out various missions for the Political Service in India and led the British invasion of Tibet, which resulted in the occupation Llasa and the Anglo-Tibetan Treaty of 1904 and in turn the flight of the XIII Dalai Lama to Mongolia. Explorer, officer, spy, geographer, journalist, mountain climber, author, professor, Younghusband was an extraordinary character who in the last years of his life promoted the World Congress of Faith, which he founded in 1936. He believed in spiritualism and in the common values of other religions, and drew on their teachings to conceive a new faith based on ideas of holistic nature, including the existence of the planet Altaïr as the radiant focal point of a new humanity.


We are told to “live dangerously.” And we are told to lead “the strenuous life.” That day I had lived dangeously enough to satisfy a Nietzsche and strenuously enough to satisfy any Roosevelt.


If the word “adventure” still exudes a fragrance, then some of its most alluring aromas circulate around the person of Francis Younghusband: will, chance, romanticism, creation...This year marks the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of his birth. He was barely twenty years old when he set out in search of what he called “the true spirit of the Himalaya,” perhaps a state of plentitude, of oneness with existence, a condition that has been described at length by explorers of snow peaks. Between 1886 and 1889, he led two expeditions for which the Royal Geographic Society immediately awarded him its gold medal. In this beautiful and moving account, never before published in Spanish, Younghusband relates the details of this early adventure. Written forty years later, the book conveys with serenity the passion of his youth and the satisfaction he derived from those majestic Himalayan landscapes.

On his first expedition, he departed from Peking, crossed the Gobi Desert, discovered the Mustagh Pass and made his way to Kashmir. This was the principal trade route between Yarkand and India, all five thousand five hundred kilometers, which no European had travelled since Marco Polo’s day. Just a few months later, in 1889, he set off on his second expedition, the present volume, to locate a route through the uncharted Karakorams and the Pamir Pass (he was particularly keen to explore the Saltoro Pass and the Shimshal Pass). Crossing Hunza and returning to India by way of Gilgit and Ladakh, he was overjoyed by the sight of Mount Everest. Years later, he chaired the committee that organized the earliest assaults on that mountain (in 1921, 1922, and 1924) and which claimed the lives of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine.

A multi-faceted, contradictory, and passionate figure, Younghusband’s biography is filled with gray areas and perplexing episodes characteristic of one who lives at the edge. His role in the invasion of Tibet and the massacre of its people under his leadership, his spiritual preoccupations which launched him on a quest for a new religion, and his eccentricities are all of a piece with the rare individual who in these pages gives voice to his passion and determination to fully live.

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The last great imperial adventurer.
Patrick French

The Secret of the Himalaya

The Secret of the Himalaya

Once more the Himalaya is shrouded in mysterious haze. The mountains have receded in the distance. I have pierced them through and through. I have stood under their highest heights. I have faced their sternest precipices. I have traversed their greatest glaciers. I have visited their remotest peoples. For the mystery they wore I went among the mountains. When I returned to the plains of India did I come back disillusioned? Did I find the hard facts and realities below what I had imagined? Was my ardour chilled, and did I never care to go again among them? Or, through the mystery, had I discovered some secret that was worth the knowing, and worth the toil and danger I had gone through to perceive it?

Such a secret I believe I found. And of it Shukar Ali was the embodiment. He had the hardest struggle for life. Owing to the cold and lack of rain his homeland produced but little. To earn a livelihood he had to follow caravans to Central Asia. For a mere pittance he had to trudge on foot across the highest passes, often in the teeth of icy blizzards, and when the altitude reduced vitality to a flicker. What were the hard realities of life he knew full well. What were its ills he had experienced in plenty; and of the good things life can give there were few he ever saw. Yet he did not add up the ills on the one side and the good things on the other, then strike a balance, decide which outweighed the other, and be comforted or depressed according to the result. What he did was to face the ills with courage and force himself to rise above them. And constant triumph made him bear a smiling face.

And this is the manner of the Himalaya also. Kashmir is an example. Its history is one succession of petty tribal wars and religious persecutions. Floods inundate the valley. Cholera has claimed its victims in hundreds a day. Famine has caused the death of thousands. Fire has destroyed whole quarters of a town. Earthquakes shake the very mountains. Scarcely ever is Kashmir without a scourge of some kind. And yet it is not on these evils we dwell when we think of Kashmir. For men are facing them squarely and rising triumphant above them. They have put down the internecine strife and established order. They have regulated the floods; checked the cholera; provided against famine; fought the fire; and withstood the earthquakes. And not only men, but animals, birds and insects, plants, and the very atoms of which mountains are made strive and struggle to turn chaos into order and make good prevail over evil. The struggle of the animals and plants with the climate alone —the frost and the heat, the ice, snow, and rain— is terrific, and their suffering terrible. And in addition animal struggles with animal and plant with plant, and animals and plants with one another. Yet in the heart of this desperate struggle some agency must be at work subduing the chaos to order, moulding the shapeless to form, and creating beauty from horror; for good purpose is everywhere evident. From the rotting trunk of the decadent tree pure flowers and ferns spring up in abundance. And, net result of it all, so fair is the face of Kash-mir that from countries most distant men journey to see it.

As we look at the Himalaya from such distance that we can see things whole and in their just proportion, the pain and disorder, squalor and strife, vanish into insignificance. We know that they are there, and we know that they are real. But we know also that more important, and just as real, is the Power which out of evil is ever making good to come. That there is a Power at work in the whole making for higher and forcing good out of evil is the true secret of the Himalaya. And the sign of its triumph is stamped on her face.

So the Himalaya remains to us a joy of which we never tire. The ill is but the evanescent. What stays for always with us is the grandeur, purity, and light. And these have power to draw us everlastingly to Heaven.

The Grammar of Resurrection

An encounter with the English adventurer Sir Francis Younghusband (b. 1863, Murree, India, d. 1942, Lytchett Minster, England) -- or at least the Younghusband whose acquaintance we make in books like this one -- introduces us not to certitudes but to certain ideas of the intuitive order. One such notion holds that realist ideology is just as burdened by psychic disturbances as is, say, romanticism.

Where reality rules, chance, one of the main forces that drives the natural world, is denied passage. In a romantic universe, however, chance is ever present and is allowed to operate unbound. Like all good explorers, Younghusband chose the Romantic’s perspective in which the world around him is not just one big pest house. Through the moral authority conferred by his text and the flights of fancy that punctuate his emotional life, he cut himself off from reality. Early in his wanderings as a young man, a period he revisits in Wonders of the Himalaya, Younghusband had an inkling that chance was all of a piece with adventure and the creative impulse and nature; indeed, in later years, chance represented, for him, the very essence of spiritual life.

On high mountain peaks, he found all the aspects of himself that gave his life meaning. He was a commissioned officer and a leader of miltary expeditions; a solitary traveller (in the sense that on many occasions he travelled unnacompanied by other Europeans); a conquistador of freedom and self-reliance. He became a writer so that he could share with others the dual passions that he thought sufficient to justify the existence of the cosmos: Beauty and religious faith. And in the process, he transformed himself into a multi-faceted yet contradictory character whose grandiosity lead him into barbarity.

Younghusband commenced his travelling life as a disciplined military man, anxiously awaiting permission to take up residence among treacherous mountain passes. He ended his days promoting the Gaia hypothesis (which theorizes that the Earth is possessed of a universal cosmic spirit) and affirming his conviction that cosmic rays had the power to transform Man’s soul. His spiritual theories were conceived at five or six thousand meters above sea-level, among the great peaks, where breathing is hard and the thinness of the air reduces us to half of what we are and nature strips us of our pride and demands all-out effort. This idea of effort would become another key to his work, his ideology, his religion.

Today, tour outfitters organize journeys which cover ten thousand kilometers in twenty days, the amount of time it took Younghusband to locate a mountain pass that connects two contiguous valleys in the Himalayas. Any physical obstacle, any boulder, hunk of ice, storm, any hazard at all, was transformed at a glance into an object of wonder. Other wonderous things included the company of the hardy admirable men with whom he communicated -- or so one gathers from his accounts -- in the universal language of the eyes.

And it was to these men that Younghusband conceded the privilege of being the region’s true discoverers. Although he is recognized as the first European to have crossed on foot the Pamirs and the uncharted mountain ranges that surround the Baltoro Glacier, he wasn’t the first to explore those routes. That privilege belonged to the Asians. The explorer’s spirit, full of respectful energies and energetic respect, was the privilege of the few and the best: Francis Younghusband and the unsurpassable Richard Burton. Like Burton, who credited the Africans with the discovery of Africa, Younghusband maintained that the Himalaya and the Karakorums were discovered by Baltis and Gurkhas and sherpas. In an era of Western imperialism, when it was commonly accepted that the center of the universe was not far from the imaginary line that ran from Paris to London, Younghusband’s comradeship with the inhabitants of the lands he visited, as he recalls in this memoir, showed great daring (even though he may have fallen prey to a vague desire for camraderie that followed hard on the heels of his previous imperial fervor). The memory of that fellowship combined with his avid desire to be a good man led him to step away from the role of gentleman-explorer with his vassals.

Midway through the book, in little more than a paragraph, Younghusband deals with an incident that perhaps best reveals his character and explains his need for flight. In 1888, Younghusband, barely twenty-four years old, had just returned to England after a seven-month journey in which he crossed on foot the most massive mountain range on the planet, standing on glaciers in boots so worn that the bare soles of his feet were exposed to the snow and ice. In recognition of his bravery, the Royal Geographical Society awarded him its gold medal and elected him as its youngest Fellow. Assuming his place in an unbroken lineage that stretched from Livingstone to Mallory, and from Burton and Speke and Mummery to T. E. Lawrence, Younghusband entered the society’s lecture theatre and delivered a full account of his exploits.

But at the end of his talk, he found himself in a bind that took him by surprise. Doctors of science, specialists in all manner of geography-related disciplines, fired questions that hit him with the force of condemnations. As he later recalled, “The geologists wanted to know if I had observed the rocks; the botanists, if I had collected flowers; the glaciologists, if I had observed the motions of the glaciers; the anthropologists, if I had measured the people’s skulls; the ethnologists, if I had studied their languages; the cartographers, if I had mapped the mountains.” Plagued by guilt-- a sentiment forgiveable in a young man -- Younghusband went back to India determined to never again commit such sins of ommission.

But he did -- or at least his memory did. Because Wonders of the Himalaya, which gives geography short shrift, forms part of a set of memoirs in which what really matters is filtered through the mesh of time. Previously Younghusband had reflected on his experiences in accounts of journeys and in books on the customs and British foreign policy in India, Tibet, and Kashmir. Later he would write extensively about his metaphysical theories, his mystical visions in the high mountains, and his belief in telepathy, free love, and pantheism. On that last score, his best work was the creation of the World Congress of Faiths in 1936.

But as he puts his memories in order, he ignores the very things that those learned men in London cared so much about. To summarize: A geological survey is an obstacle to entering into deep communion with nature. Attempting to collect flowers where lichens are the only plant life is an absurdity, all the more so when one’s main concern is life at a height of five thousand meters. Glaciers are avatars along the road, and as such they must be approached with something like respect, although in this instance the word ‘respect’ falls short. As for people’s skulls, their form and contents matter far less than the feelings in their owner’s hearts. And given that one’s ignorance of their languages gives rise to regrets about one’s failure to penetrate the human condition more deeply, it’s easy to conclude that one ought to learn them. But to know a language is not the same as to master its philology, which is what those learned men had asked him about. That leaves us with cartography, a science so limited that, as Borges noted in one of his best-known fictions, were maps to be as precise as the ambitions of the adventurer, those maps would have to be drawn to actual size.

And so he would throw off those intellectual fetters in subsequent expeditions, many of them political missions conceived without pity or mercy and that were an excuse, for him, to raise funds. Over time, Younghusband didn’t so much see the light of day but the light from the torch he carried. And this sense of being unfettered, of cutting himself loose from realities (which at certain moments might have made him more human) and his desire to guide himself by his own inner flame also helped him to experience a kind of freedom. Freedom is a difficult word to define but its opposite is easy to recognize. It plays a vital role in the life of the explorer, affecting not only his spirit but his public image. Where the first is concerned, it allows him to feel in harmony with the grand symphony of which he is both composer and performer. As to the second, it sparks envy in those who consider themselves realists. Perhaps dirty envy is one of the most psychotic byproducts of realism since it inevitably and agressively pits what we are against the idealized beings we’d like to be, not to mention the balance we wish we had in our checking accounts and the accomplishments on our curriculum vitaes.

To master the gift of freedom, to be free from envy, and to be blessed with boundless reserves of energy are among the qualities we attribute to the adventurer of legend. To that list we should add secret passions, a fondness for breaking rules, a scoffing at laws, a firm code of ethics with made-up norms, a sense of being at home wherever one goes. And so that the connection to ordinary reality will slip though his hands like a clump of sand, the explorer must fight against the deeply-rooted belief that time exists in a single dimension. To this end he travels to countries where they have no use for the tedious attributes we consider part and parcel of what it means to be human: our limitations, our ties our prohibitions, our censure. Given the choice between all that, between the sense of safety that these walls we’ve constructed provide us with and the unknown, Younghusband, iin pursuit of an object he knew little about, chose the unknown.

True to the course of a life that eschewed straight lines, Younghusband would go on to be appointed president of the Royal Geographical Society. But not to insist that the society must fill in the blanks on its maps while mopping its brow. Or that explorers must return from their expeditions with saddlebags replete with rock, plant, and bone specimens. In fact, from his rostrum, Younghusband would promote and organize the most important feats of mountaineering of all time, including -- as chairman of the Mount Everest Committee -- George Mallory’s assault on the highest mountain in the world.

As an officer, he completed his meteoric rise by becoming the British government’s representative in Kashmir. Nevertheless, there was a dark episode in his career, namely his role in the invasion of Tibet. Between 1903 and 1904, the British army left Sikkim with the intention of settling border disputes. In a military operation stained with gratuitous violence that took the lives of many Buddhist monks, the soldiers arrived in Lhasa leaving hundreds of corpses in their stead. (Some sources place the overall death toll as high as 5000.) Thirty years later, when his sentimental education had suffused him with love for the whole world, Younghusband came to regret this incident. He was also visited by madness and by an incomprehensible spiritual obsession -- or rather, an obsession with faith and with proselytizing about that faith -- which included the belief in a redeemer who lived on the planet Altair and broadcast his spiritual wisdom via a kind of telepathy. Still, those notions do have a certain poetic justice -- after all, as Plato, speaking through Socrates, observes, it’s impossible to deny the existence of the gods if one has recognized the consquences of one’s actions (ie. Mount Everest, K2, the Muztagh Pass, the Baltoro Glaciar, the Pamir Mountains, the Gobi Desert). And all this in an era when just a few of the great mountaineering pioneers -- figures like Albert Mummery and the Duke of the Abruzzi -- were beginning to doubt if the great peaks really were as inaccessible as they seemed.

Written forty years after his first journey, Wonders of the Himalaya is a text that exists for one reason only: to return to freedom. And with this recursion to an idealized state, to adventure, Younghusband convokes the ghosts of his best years and in his mind’s eye sets them to dancing. But as our dreams each night will attest, emotions experienced in imagination are no less intense than those perceived through the five senses that ostensibly keep us tethered to reality. For this reason, Younghusband feels as free as he did when he was young, before the advent of those episodes steeped in so much sadess and rage, episodes that are not the subject of this book. And that is why, in the name of liberation, he seeks recourse in the power of literature. Because literature isn’t style -- in fact, it is often confused with an excess of style, much like the feeling of freedom, of chance, of travelling in pursuit of an aim that is in essence unknown.

If to travel is to live, then to read and write is to revive the past.