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History - Alpine Journal

History - Alpine Journal

ROGER CROSTON Prisoners

ROGER CROSTON Prisoners of the Raj The death of Heinrich Harrer in January 2006 brought the retelling in obituaries around the world of one the great adventure stories of the 20th century - his escape with Peter Aufschnaiter from internment at Dehra Dun and years of sanctuary in Tibet. Aufschnaiter and Harrer had been together on the 1939 reconnaissance of Nanga Parbat, however, they were not the only prisoners to escape the Raj, a few of whom are still alive. The survivors' recollections and other material, unpublished or less well known than Harrer's Seven Years in Tibet, reveal more information about the expedition's preparation and the adventures of fellow internees' escape attempts over the Himalayas. The attempts to climb Nanga Parbat, at 8126m the world's ninth highest peak, are well documented. Following Merkl's 1932 expedition the mountain was regarded as 'German'. By 1938, 29 lives had been lost on the Rakhiot route, prompting Paul Bauer of the Munich Alpine Club (AAVM) and leader in 1938, to seek a better route from Diamir. In consequence, in 1939, at Bauer's request, Peter Aufschnaiter assembled a lightweight expedition comprising himself, Max Reuss and two others, with a full-scale attempt proposed for 1940. In January 1939, Bauer wrote to the Foreign & Political and to the External Affairs Departments, New Delhi, proposing the expedition. A letter to the Foreign Office, London, noted the other climbers as Ludwig Vbrg and Andreas Heckmair, who with Heinrich Harrer and Fritz Kasparek had first climbed the Eiger's north face in 1938. However, at short notice, Harrer, Hans Lobenhoffer and Ludwig 'Lutz' Chicken replaced Ruess, Heckmair and Vbrg. This selection of the final team was the result of a lengthy, complicated and difficult power struggle between Bauer and the authorities. For a detailed account of this episode see Peter Mierau's wellresearched book Nationalsozialistische Expeditionspolitik , published just this year. Regarding permission, the North West Frontier Province government raised no objections and agreed that a liaison officer was unnecessary 'provided rates for coolies and supplies are fixed through Agency in advance and that Aufschnaiter can speak Hindustani sufficiently well to deal with coolies... ' However, hastening to depart, the expedition members left Europe without visas. Aware of this, and keen to help, Kenneth Mason, first editor of the Himalayan Journal and friend of Aufschnaiter, wrote to the India Office, London, in April: 213

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