Sunday, August 10, 2008

Yeti: Familiar Strangers

Discovery Truth (SciFi Channel) will broadcast findings of recent expedition. (See Reuters)

Yeti (Himalayan Bigfoot)
By Rohit Sharma (, edited by WQ

The Himalayan Mountain range, the highest on earth, is rightly referred to as the “roof of the world.” There is a mystery called the Yeti in our attic. The Tibetan word means “magical creature.” It is a supernatural enigma in the shape of a bipedal, hair covered, ape like man.

The Himalayas span the borders of India, Nepal, Bhutan, and Tibet (now part of China). They are remote and forbidding. Large stretches around its rough valleys and peaks are uninhabited. The highest mountain in the world at 29,028 ft., Everest stands half in Nepal, half in China. It is from Nepal, however, that most attempts to climb it and the surrounding mountains are made.

Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, is immersed in the Yeti lore. The legend is a commercialized money maker as part of the thriving tourist industry with religious elements and fantasy woven in for most of the Nepalese population.

The first reliable report of the Yeti appeared in 1925 when N.A. Tombazi, a Greek photographer working with the British geological expedition in the Himalayas, was shown a creature moving in the distance across some lower slopes. The creature was almost a thousand feet away in an area at an altitude of roughly 15,000 ft.

“Unquestionably," Tombazi would later say, "the figure in outline was exactly like a human being, walking upright and stopping occasionally to uproot or pull at some dwarf rhododendron bushes. It showed up dark against the snow and, as far as I could make out wore no clothes.”

The creature disappeared before Tombazi could photograph it and was not seen again. As the group was descending, however, the photographer went out of his way to see the ground where he had spotted the creature.

Tombazi found footprints in the snow and later reported, “They were similar in shape to those of a man, but only six to seven inches long by four inches wide at the broadest part of the foot. The marks of five distinct toes and the instep were perfectly clear, but the trace of the heel was indistinct…”

There were 15 prints. Each was one and a half to two feet apart. Tombazi then lost the trail in thick brush. When the locals were asked to name the beast he’d seen, they told him it was a “Kanchenjunga demon.” Tombazi didn’t think he’d seen a demon, but neither could he figure out what the creature was. Perhaps he’d seen a wandering Buddhist or Hindu ascetic. As the years went by and other stories surfaced, Tombazi began to wonder if he’d seen a Yeti.

Further evidence suggestive of the existence and importance of Yetis is a Yeti Mandir (shrine), where locals leave gifts to appease its savagery and encourage its protection of nature. For Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, and Bön lore state that Yetis, or yakshas, are generally benevolent non-human beings, sometimes classed as nature-spirits, who protect natural treasures. The term is used for a broad class of creatures, not a single specific species.

Yeti reports usually come in the form of tracks, pelts, shapes seen at a distance, and rare face to face encounters with the creatures. These face to face encounters have never been experienced by researchers looking for the Yeti, but rather by locals who stumble onto the creature during their daily lives.

Tracks are a different story. Some of the best were found and photographed by British mountaineers Eric Shipton and Micheal Ward in 1951. They found them on the southwestern slopes of the Menlung Glacier, between Tibet and Nepal, at an altitude of 20,000 ft. Each print was thirteen inches wide and some eighteen inches long. The tracks appeared fresh, and Shipton and Ward followed the trail for a mile before it disappeared in hard ice.

Some scientists who viewed the photographs could not identify the tracks as being from any known creature. Others, however, felt it was probably the trail of a langur monkey or a red bear. They noted that tracks in snow that have melted in the sun can change shape and grow larger. Even so, the theory of a monkey or bear as a source seems unlikely because both of these animals normally move on four feet. The tracks were clearly that of a biped.

Shipton’s and Ward’s reputations argue against a hoax on their part, and the remoteness and altitude of the trail’s location argues against a hoax on the part of others.

Shipton’s footprints were neither the first nor by any means the last discovered by climbers in the Himalayas. Even Sir Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa guide, Tenzing Norgay, on their record ascent of Everest in 1953, found giant footprints on their way up.

Amazing encounter
One of the more curious reports of a close encounter with a Yeti occurred in 1938. Captain d’Auvergue, the curator of the Victoria Memorial in Calcutta, India, was traveling the Himalayas by himself when he became snow blind. As he neared death from exposure, he was rescued by a nine foot tall Yeti, who nursed him back to health until d’Auvergue was able to return home by himself.

In many other stories, however, the Yeti has not been quite as benign. One Sherpa girl, who was tending her yaks, described being surprised by a large ape-like creature with black and brown hair. It started to drag her off, but seemed to be startled by her screams and thus let her go. It then savagely killed two of her yaks. She escaped with her life, and the incident was reported to the police who managed to locate footprints.

Several expeditions have been organized to track down the Yeti, but none have found more than footprints and questionable artifacts such as scalps and hides. The London Daily Mail sent out an expedition in 1954. American oil men Tom Slick and F. Kirk Johnson financed trips in 1957, 1958, and 1959. Perhaps the most well known expedition went out in 1960.

Sir Edmund Hillary, who was the first Westerner to summit Everest (after his Sherpa guide) in 1953, lead the 1960 expedition in association with Desmond Doig. The search was sponsored by the World Book Encyclopedia and was well outfitted with trip-wire cameras, as well as timelapse and infrared photographic equipment. Despite a ten-month stay, the group failed to find any definitive evidence of the existence of Yetis. The artifacts they examined, two skins and a scalp, turned out to belong to two blue bears and a serow goat.

At the time both Hillary and Doig wrote off the Yeti as mere legend. Later, however, Doig decided that the expedition had been too big and clumsy. They didn’t see a Yeti, he agreed, but they also failed to observe such known animals as the snow leopard, which without a doubt exists.

Three Yetis
After spending thirty years in the Himalayas, Doig believes that Yetis actually exist. There are three predatory animals in the Himalayas. The first is what the indigenous Sherpas call the dzu teh. These are large, shaggy animals that often attack cattle. Diog concludes that this is probably the Tibetan blue bear -- a creature so rare it is known in the West by a few pelts, bones, and a single skull.

The second predator is called thelma, which is probably a gibbon (a well known species of ape), which Diog thinks may live as far north as Nepal even though it has never been spotted passed the Brahmaputra River in India.

The third Yeti is called a mih teh, the true "Abominable Snowman" of legend. It is described as a savage ape-like creature covered with black or red hair who lives at altitudes of up to 20,000 ft.

Thus far there is no conclusive evidence to support the existence of this Yeti. There is, of course, no way to show or disprove that he exists either. If this snowman indeed lives in the frozen, barren, upper reaches of the Himalayas, areas so remote that few humans dare to tread, it may find its refuge safe for quite a long time to come.

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