HISTORY OF TREKKING IN THE INDIAN HIMALAYAS DURING THE BRITISH RAJ
While armies,traders and pilgrims had for many centuries explored the Himalayas, organised trekking was closely associated with the pursuit of hunting for game that gained popularity in India in the later part of the 19th century. Maharajas along with their hunting parties used to go on long expeditions to hunt tigers,bears,leapards etc.This was the major reason for the dwindling number of many wild species at the turn of the 20th century. It was also not uncommon for the British to undertake a trek from Srinagar to Leh as part of their annual leave during the British Raj. Agencies were established in Shimla(The summer capital of the British empire) and Srinagar to specialise in sport-related activities – trekking, hunting and fishing.
In 1933 Ernest Neve revised the 15th edition of The Tourist’s Guide to Kashmir, Ladakh & Skardo to reflect the increasing interest in travelling to higher and more remote valleys. Crossing huge distances was no longer deemed to be extraordinary. Consider the case of Robert Fleming, who trekked for seven months from Peking to Kashmir and received not so much as a nod of acknowledgment from the reservations clerk when he finally checked into Nedou’s Hotel in September 1935 !!
In the 1930s a more modest style of exploration and climbing evolved in the Himalaya, typified by Eric Shipton, HW Tilman and Frank Smythe. Their expeditions in the Garhwal Himalaya were typified by travelling light, without complicated logistics, and often in the company of just a climbing Sherpa or two. Frank Smythe while returning from the famous Valley Of Flowers was discovered by Smythe in 1931, while returning after climbing Mt Kamet(7756m).
HISTORY OF TREKKING IN THE INDIAN HIMALAYAS POST 1947
The India/Pakistan partition meant it was no longer possible to trek from Kashmir to Baltistan(a region in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir). To the north, much of India’s border with China was restricted. After the war in 1962 travel was restricted in India’s sensitive border regions with Pakistan and China.
In 1974 the gradual lifting of restrictions allowed trekkers to visit Ladakh, Zanskar and Lahaul while permits were no longer necessary to trek in many of the northern regions of Uttarakhand.