Magazine article Geographical

In Conversation: Elizabeth Hawley Is the Undisputed Unofficial Authority on Nepalese Himalayan Climbs. She Has Been Compiling Detailed Records of Expeditions since She Settled in Kathmandu in 1960. Lisa Choegyal Talks to This Formidable 80 Year Old about Life in Nepal and Her Long-Standing Friendship with Sir Edmund Hillary

Magazine article Geographical

In Conversation: Elizabeth Hawley Is the Undisputed Unofficial Authority on Nepalese Himalayan Climbs. She Has Been Compiling Detailed Records of Expeditions since She Settled in Kathmandu in 1960. Lisa Choegyal Talks to This Formidable 80 Year Old about Life in Nepal and Her Long-Standing Friendship with Sir Edmund Hillary

Article excerpt

What first brought you to Nepal?

I first visited Nepal from India for a couple of weeks in February 1959 on a two year, around-the-world trip that took me to Eastern Europe, the Middle East and South Asia. Bored with my job as researcher and reporter with Fortune magazine in New York, I cashed my savings and travelled for as long as they lasted. Nepal had been in my mind since reading an article in the New York Times in 1955 about the first tourists to the kingdom. With my media contacts, the Time-Life Delhi bureau chief asked me to report on Nepal's politics. It was a most interesting time. I was one of only four foreign journalists present when King Mahendra handed over the first parliamentary constitution, which paved the way for modern general elections and introduced democracy to Nepal. When I returned to the USA, I remember thinking, "This isn't the real world." I craved some remote undeveloped place with nice scenery, friendly people and a better climate than my native Chicago. Fascinated by Nepal's politics and the idea of an isolated state emerging into the 20th century, I decided to live in Nepal for a few years. Thus I returned to Kathmandu in 1960 accredited as a part-time correspondent for Time-Life, and two years later for Reuters News Agency. I still live in the same house, and have no plans to leave.

What was Kathmandu like in those days?

There were very few cars in the valley, no streetlights and the roads were mostly unpaved. I rode about town on a bicycle. Telephones were scarce, and all international communication was by telegram. There were very few shops in which to buy provisions. Not at all like it is today.

What started your interest in mountaineering data?

It was almost by accident. I've never climbed a mountain, or done much trekking, although I did walk to Helambu in 1960 and have been on a couple of treks in the Everest region. While working for Reuters, I began to report on mountaineering activities and that's how I got started. In those pioneering days of first ascents and mountain exploration, there was a lot of media interest in expeditions, more than today. Since 1963, I have been meeting every expedition to the Nepalese Himalaya, both before and after their ascents, including those who climb from Tibet. I keep biographical details of every expedition member, Nepalis as well as foreigners, and list such facts as who went to what altitude when and any unusual incidents. My education as a historian means that the collection of data and statistics appeals to me, although I consider myself a reporter rather than a writer. As well as collecting data, I receive requests for specific information, particularly about Everest summiteers (to date 1,371 people in 1,971 ascents), and even had a telephone call from an astronaut who was soon to take a shuttle passing over the mountain. …

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