By the end of the nineteenth century the peaks of the Himalayan range, whose height surpassed any of those in the Alps, had become the new “playground” for many western nations to enact aspects of power and masculinity. This particular period witnessed the arrival and attempts of many western climbing expeditions to “bag a peak.” My project attempts to specifically look at the German mountaineering expeditions in the Himalayan range between the 1920s and 1950s and bring together the complexities of colonial frontier politics and various dimensions of the expedition labour force, factoring in the intractably of the mountain-scape. Overall this project looks at the practice of mountaineering expeditions in the Himalayas and attempts to study high-altitude labour in the vertical frontiers of the empire.
The mountains were routes and spaces that were shared between the climbers and subordinate labouring communities, a relationship that was highly asymmetrical, but was bound together by social aspirations related to the project of scaling a peak. Various Himalayan communities – the Baltis and Chilasis of Kashmir, Bhotias and Sherpas of Eastern Himalayas– were recruited from their respective regions for work on the mountain. For the communities that were mobilized for carrying loads and opening routes, the mountains were seen as paths, resources, refuge and the peaks were the ‘abode of gods’. Questions of recruitment methods, compensation (given the high mortality rate of their work), contracts and nature of work arise through their engagement in the expeditions. These expeditions also held a special role in Anglo-German relations as cultural brokers between the two nations in the inter-war period. These well documented entanglements provide the opportunity to look at sources from beyond the colonial state and hold the potential to re-look at these “transcultural” encounters and hidden histories of labour at the fringes of the empire.