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Focus

Nov 11, 2013

Mussoorie hosts Sixth Writers’ Mountain Festival

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The Outdoor Journal

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Amidst the sprawling estates and picturesque valleys of Uttarakhand, Woodstock School celebrated a weekend of outdoor literature

Woodstock School, one of the most renowned institutions in South Asia, organized their Sixth Mussoorie Writers’ Mountain Festival from November 7th to 10th in Mussoorie, a small but scenic hill station in the northern state of Uttarakhand, India. The event saw an array of international climbers, authors, poets and musicians sharing their experiences and works in fields varying from mountaineering to wildlife to Indian folk theatre.

British author William Dalrymple spoke to a packed auditorium on day one about his new book, titled Return of the King: Afghanistan Then and Now. Based on the first Anglo-Afghan war, the book gives a vivid description of the British retreat from Afghanistan in 1842, which led to the death of thousands of English and Indian troops. He also linked the story back to Mussoorie explaining how one of the former Afghan rulers Amir Dost Mohammad was for a time under house arrest in the hill station.

The day progressed with three talks on outdoor education and experiential learning by John Gans, Executive Director of the National Outdoor Leadership School (Lander, USA), Mark Vermeal of Outward Bound and Professor Simon Beames, an outdoors educationist and writer from the University of Edinburgh.

American alpinist, adventure writer and documentary filmmaker Freddie Wilkinson screened a film titled ‘The Sanctity of Space’ on his Moose’s Tooth peak ascent in the Ruth Gorge in Alaska. The screening was followed by British climber Maria Coffey who recalled her experience in dealing with loss after her partner Joe Tasker died on Everest in 1982. In order to come to terms with his death, she hiked through China and Tibet to the north east face of Everest, something she described as a “pilgrimage”.

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Image © Woodstock School

Later in the day, Indian authors Allan Sealy, Omair Ahmad and Mamang Dai read extracts from their writings, while Indian director Neela Venkatraman screened her film on writers in Mussoorie — Hill, Vale and Many a Tale. Another film also premiered during the meet – Leopard: 21st Century Cat, by filmmaker Romulus Whitaker, much of which was shot in Uttarakhand, North India.

On the second day at the festival, doctors Jeph and Kaaren Mathias talked about how they became the first team to navigate the entire length of the Mekong River (after climbing 5,900 mts) from its source in the Tibetan Plateau through China’s Yunnan province, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. What makes the trip intense but interesting at the same time is their decision to leave their three kids back home with their grandparents before embarking on the expedition. Kaaren says even today she doesn’t regret the decision. “It was tough to leave my kids but I knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I didn’t want to let it go.”

The event maintained its tempo with Polish mountaineering legend Krzysztof Wielicki, the first man to to climb Everest, Kangchenjunga, and Lhotse in the winter, telling stories of his climbing days in the Himalaya, while other highlights included animated films on folklore from Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh and a session on the folk theatre of Uttarakhand by Dr D R Purohit, renowned Indian folklorist.

But the talk of the day was Polish documentary filmmaker Jerzego Porebskiego’s tribute to Jerzy Kukuczka, the second climber to ascend all 14 eight-thousanders in the world. Pitted as “the greatest Himalayan mountaineer ever” by climbing legend Reinhold Messner, ‘Kukuczk’a is an awe-inspiring journey through Jerzy’s life as an alpinist.

This year’s festival culminated with the second Mussoorie Half Marathon on the last day, that saw runners make their way up to Everest House from Mall Road and back to Woodstock School.

Place: Mussoorie, Uttarakhand


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