The library of the Himalayan Club, a unique cultural institution in Simla, 1928-1946

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Date: Fall 2003
From: Libraries & Culture(Vol. 38, Issue 4)
Publisher: University of Texas at Austin (University of Texas Press)
Document Type: Article
Length: 8,872 words

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The Himalayan Club was established in 1928, and its highly regarded library in Simla was an integral part of its activities from the outset. After a few comments about Simla, where the library was located until 1946, as background information two stimulating observations about the Himalayas by servants of the East India Company in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries are noted. Then a short history of the rise of curiosity in mountains within Western civilization is presented. This history highlights the ideas that generated this development and the formation of mountaineering clubs in Europe, North America, and the British Empire. Subsequently, after summarizing the story of the establishment of the Himalayan Club and its membership, the collection of the library and the journal published by the club are examined in some detail. Books by author-members on exploration, mountaineering, and natural history in the Himalayan region constitute an outstanding feature of the collection and are specially noted. The functioning of the library also is explained, and an overview of the post-Independence era is presented. ********** The Himalayan Club was established in 1928. Its highly regarded library has been an integral part of its activities from the outset. Located for approximately two decades in Simla (now Shimla), North India, it is now housed at the India International Centre, New Delhi.

Though the British had been fascinated by the Himalayan region since the late eighteenth century, it was not until over a century and a quarter later that a club was formed specifically as an institutional focus for this interest. This essay considers the first phase of the Himalayan Club and its library from the time of its establishment in Simla in 1928 to its move to New Delhi in the mid-1940s.

Simla is part of a cluster of hill stations in North India that were established above 6,000 feet in the area acquired by the British after the Gurkha Wars of 1814-15 between the rivers Kali to the east and Sutlej to the west. The first house built by the British in Simla, then a small village in the foothills of the western Himalayas, was erected in 1819.

By the mid-1800s Simla had become the official summer capital of India and also of the province of Punjab. After 1912, when New Delhi became the capital of India, the government of India continued to conduct its affairs in two capitals--in New Delhi during the winter and in Simla during the summer. (1) Employees of the East India Company and later of the government of India, who in both instances consisted of educated professional people, either vacationed or lived and worked in Simla. From the outset at least some of these people had personal collections of books. The much cooler climate of the mountains was conducive to reading, and leisure time was available as well. Eventually, the complementary demands of work and leisure contributed to the establishment of several different types of library.

Among the major libraries in Simla by the beginning...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A111202835