Machhapuchhare the sacred mountain of Nepal is a rarity in a country that has embraced mountain tourism. Nepal has many peaks that are higher, but Machhapuchhare is the only one that has remained pristine, and off-limits to all. The reason is almost as strange as the fact itself.
In 1957, a British Army officer, Lt. Colonel James Owen Merion Roberts, organized the first official expedition to climb Machhapuchhare. They failed by 45 meters, due to bad weather. Roberts, himself, was not even part of the two-man team final assault. He elected to take the support team back to base.
After the expedition, Col. Roberts made an unusual request of the Nepalese Government. He asked them to have the peak restricted, and thus make Machhapuchhare a mountain that would remain forever unconquered. Surprisingly, the Nepalese Government granted the request. It’s tempting to think that Roberts made that request because his expedition had failed, but that is apparently not the case. He fell in love with the mountain. He had also developed a love for the Gurung people, who live close to the mountain and revere it. Today, the mountain is regarded as sacred, and therefore forbidden. Roberts’ contribution to that status has been virtually forgotten.
Roberts was also responsible for opening up Nepal’s remote mountains for commercial mountaineering and trekking. He founded the Mountain Travel trekking agency, the first such organization in the country. He was the first to coin the term “trek”. For that, he is still fondly remembered as the “Father of Trekking” in Nepal.
He sounds a little like a model for Rudyard Kipling’s book, “The Man Who Would be King”, only half a century too late.
Machhapuchhare the sacred mountain, is unique in other ways. It is easy to see, even from passing buses. Unlike many of its remote neighbours, it can be seen from the closest town, Pokhara. The picture attached to this blog was taken from there. A five-day “Mardi Himal” trek will take you close to the mountain, but no further.
While it never became clear why Colonel Roberts wanted the peak to remain inviolate forever, it is hard to fault his initiative. So many Himalayan mountains are despoiled every year by climbers and tourists.
It is, perhaps, significant that while Nepal’s many other mountains generate much-needed revenue for the country, the Government still honours Roberts’ request and Machhapuchhare the sacred mountain, remains untainted by the touch and egos of humans. It quietly watches over the world from its sacred, solitary height.
Thank you, Colonel Jimmy Roberts.