womens overland-himalayan expedition1
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The 1958 Womens Overland Himalayan Expedition

ovaltine-1958-expeditionRecently a friend mentioned to us about a little known overland expedition completed by 3 ladies in 1958 to the Himalayas in a Land Rover, needless to say we were intrigued. It turned out that our friend was a close family friend of one of the said ladies, Anne Davis.
So with some digging and through further conversation, we confirmed the adventure was officially known as the Women’s Overland Himalayan Expedition 1958, with backing from Land Rover and the classic drink maker; Ovaltine.
The idea came to the ladies (Anne Davies, 35, Eve Sims, 25, and Antonia Deacock, 26) during a coffee afternoon whilst waiting for their three husbands having a planning meeting for an expedition. The three gents were serving officers in the British military with a shared interest of mountaineering. With these chaps heading off on regular adventure trips backed by the UK military, the girls decided we can do that too, and so the plan was born …

 

1958-explorers-ovaltineWith the full support of the husbands, over a six month period, the ladies meticulously planned their route and equipment needed for the trip. Eve and Antonia had to pass their driving tests first, then with backing from their husbands and various ladies in high places helped to finance the expedition and gain sponsorship from Ovaltine and Land Rover, whom provided the vehicle plus a five day driver training course and advice on roadside repairs.
The destination was to be the small country of Zaskar, which lies beyond the Greater Himalayan Range between India and Tibet. The fact that there was very little written about Zaskar or the Zaskari people in the library of the Royal Geographical Society made it sound enticing, especially as Anne’s husband, who had twice been to neighbouring Lahoul, had heard strange tales of Zaskar. It seemed to be one of the still unknown Himalayan lands.
The ladies decided to split the expedition in to three smaller units, trip out, climb a virgin mountain peak of 18,500ft, and the trip home. In total the journey would be 16,000 miles!

 

With a tent at the side of the Landy as sleeping accommodation the three adventurers set forth taking the route through Western Germany, Austria, Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, Iran and Pakistan to India. From Belgrade, to Pakistan, road quality was poor with the Iranian roads being particularly terrible allowing two speeds, either at 10 m.p.h., when the Land Rover would gently roll from one corrugation to another, or at 35 m.p.h. where they would ride the bumps, feel cooler from the breeze but run the risk of breaking a spring if they hit a dried up wadi.

ovaltine-expedition

Covering mountain crossings, ancient cities, deserts and salt plains the ladies and land Rover took it all in their stride, suffering with only one breakdown due to a fuel pump. This was stripped, cleaned and refitted by the trio and to their surprise, the truck fired up and ran sweet thereafter. Anne commented, “that’s one for the men-folk who think we can only use a nail-file successfully”.
After 42 days, and arriving in India, the ladies met a few contacts in New Dehli who proved to be invaluable. With a rejection for a border crossing in hand, one female contact arranged a meeting with the Indian Prime Minister who pulled a few strings allowing the team to cross a usually closed border in the Himalayan region, this was where the Faithful Land Rover was allowed to rest for the return trip, as the group now advanced on foot assisted by guides and pack mules.
The expedition was now into its second phase, by foot; treacherous climbing of gorges, glaciers and peaks, crossing dangerous bridges and even in a wooden box with cable and pulley transfer over a ravine, whilst the mules took a eight mile hike to the next bridge and back again.

 

ovaltine-1958-expedition

The group now started their ascent to the unnamed peak, fording snow melt rivers and suffering from altitude sickness the girls cracked on. Finally standing on the virgin summit of the 18,500 ft. peak they decided to call it’ Biwi Giri’ (Hindi for Wives’ Peak), and it is still known by that name today.
At around this point of the expedition the team picked up on news about the middle eastern revolutions in Iran and Lebanon, this meant their return route may be cut. After giving it some thought the ladies decided to press on hoping the arab politics would improve before their return. They were now going to be cut off from the outside world for several weeks as they descend into the region of Zaskar,. They walked for 21 days to Padam, the capital of Zanskar, now part of Tibet, the highest inhabited region in the world, where they were the first European women to be seen by the locals, this was a 300 mile round trip walk.

 

If you want to know the full trip story, read the book that was written by one of the adventurers, Antonia Deacock;
Follow the link below ;
No Purdah in Padam: The Story of the Women’s Overland Himalayan Expedition, 1958

 

OR watch the original film footage of the trip below and interview footage …

zaskar-1958

 

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