The Legendary and Elusive Yeti

by Sankalan Baidya

How do we define the Himalayas? Umm… we will restrict ourselves to the existing name of ‘the roof of the world’ because we are not that poetic to churn out words that can be remembered down the history! The world already knows the stature of the Himalayas that tower to dizzying heights over the lush green pastures down below. For centuries or perhaps better said, millennia, this enigmatic mountain range has attracted hundreds of thousands of adventure seekers and has become the final resting ground for many of them.

Apart from the many geological and geographical duties of it, this mountain range hosts a range of secrets and legends that have attracted attention of people all around the globe. The fabled Shangri La is one of them. There is yet another unsolved mystery – the legendary Yeti.

From times immemorial, locals have been speaking about an ape-like creature that inhabits the areas of the Himalayan range where no mortal dares to tread but at times it shows up from nowhere and then disappear in thin air. Some tell stories of face-to-face encounters while others tell stories of only seeing the creature at a distance. Some claim of being helped and nursed by Yeti while other speak out horror stories of being attacked by the creature.

Some of the documented Yeti Sightings

Early 19th Century to Late 19th Century

1832: The first ever records about Yeti sightings comes from a book on B.H. Hodgon – a hill-walker. The book contains his experiences in Nepal and speaks of sighting a bipedal ape-like creature. Tall and covered in dark hair, this creature was discarded as an orangutan.

1899: The next was a report from Mr. Lawrence Waddell. According to Mr. Waddell, an ape-like creature was spotted by his guide and that they also saw big footprints. This time, the creature was ignored as bear.

Early 20th Century to Late 20th Century

This century has the maximum number of reported Yeti sightings. Here is a quick list of all sightings reported by different people:

1925: A photographer named N.A. Tombazi reported that he saw a big unknown creature that walked like humans, had no clothes on and was very dark in color. Tombazi was there with a British expedition team. He said that he spotted the creature some 1000 feet away from him but before he could photograph the creature, it just disappeared. Tombazi however did walk all the way down to the spot where he spotted the creature and saw 15 footprints, each one at a distance of around 2 feet and each print around 4” wide in the broadest area of the feet and about 7” long. He inquired about the creature with locals who told him that it was ‘Kanchenjunga demon’. Tombazi did not believe so and discarded the events thinking that he spotted some hermit.

1948: Peter Byrne came up with claim of having seen the footprints of the enigmatic Yeti in India. That’s all! Not much is known about his reports or claims.

1951: Some of the best known Yeti footprints that were photographed were by Micheal Ward and Eric Shipton – two British mountaineers – who found and photographed the footprints in 1951. At an altitude of 20,000 feet, these mountaineers found these footprints at Menlung glacier’s southwestern slopes lying between Nepal and Tibet. According to them, the footprints were 18” long and 13” wide at the broadest area of the feet. They said that they found the footprints in fresh conditions and after a mile of trail, they disappeared in hard ice. Many scientists went through the photographs and discounted them as ones left behind by red bear or languar monkeys. The explanation the scientists came up with was that the sun caused the meltdown of the snow and caused the prints to grow larger in size than they should actually have been.

1953: Reportedly Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay came across Yeti footprints while their record ascent to Mount Everest.

1954: John Jackson – a mountaineering leader photographed several Yeti footprints in Nepal along with several symbolic paintings. Many of these footprints could not be recognized.

1959: It is said that someone collected Yeti feces which was later analyzed. It is reported that the analysis revealed a special type of parasite that scientists failed to recognize. Same year news floated around the Yeti remains were smuggled to London by actor James Stewart during his return from India tour.

1960: Edmund Hillary returned on an expedition with Desmond Doig. The expedition was financed by World Book Encyclopedia. The climbers were equipped with infrared, timelapse and tripwire camera. The sole purpose of the expedition was to find the legendary and elusive Yeti. The expedition lasted for 10 months under the leadership of Edmund Hillary but the team had to return empty handed.

1970: Don Whillans – a British mountaineer scaled up the Annapurna and claimed to have witnessed an unknown creature. 1983: A Yeti expedition was led by Robert Fleming Jr. and Daniel Taylor. They scaled up the Barun Valley of Nepal and could only find the footprints of the creature.

Early 21st Century

2013: MiKe Rees – a British climber was scaling up the Himalayas where he found the footprints of creature and photographed the same.

Current Stand on Yeti

Scientists studied two hair samples that were collected from the Himalayan region. One hair came from an animal that was shot down by a hunter more than 40 years ago in Ladakh in western side of Himalayas in northern India. The other hair sample came from Bhutan in a Bamboo forest. It was found by film makers. Initial DNA study of the hair samples led the biologists to conclude that they were from an unknown Himalayan bear species that was never seen before and that people confused it as Yeti. However, further studies were carried out and it was found that the DNA in the hair samples were degraded and hence, could not be attributed to any bear species. However, based on the shape and color of the hair samples, they ended up concluding that they are from the known brown bears of the Himalayas and do not belong to any unknown bear species.

Oxford University’s genetics professor Bryan Sykes studied the hair samples in 2014 and ended up concluding that they belonged to an unknown bear species that could be a hybrid of the brown bear and the polar bear. His conclusions were based on the fact that the DNA extracted from the two hair samples had a 100% match with a 40,000-year-old polar bear fossil. Though Bryan Sykes came up with a nice conclusion, other researchers were not pretty convinced and they carried out further studies. Researchers from University of Copenhagen eventually discarded Sykes’ findings and said that the two hair samples did not belong to a polar bear. Sykes’ findings were further refuted by Dr. Ronald Pine from University of Kansas and and Dr. Gutiérrez. The studied the DNA samples and the hair samples cannot be attributed to any species of bear – known or unknown. In Zookeys journal they published a writing where they stated that the molecular data provided by Bryan Sykes are not informative enough and hence attributing the hair samples to any Himalayan bear species that is taxonomically unrecognized.

Yeti as a benign creature

In 1938 a story surfaced which involved the curator of Victoria Memorial in Calcutta (now Kolkata), India. It is said that Captain d’Auvergue (the curator) was travelling the Himalayas all alone struck by Mother Nature’s fury, he became snowblind. He was so badly exposed that he almost kissed death when he was rescued by a benign Yeti who nursed d’Auvergue for days until he became healthy enough to return home on his own. True or not, that’s a pretty fascinating story.

Yeti as a savage ape

In another story where the Yeti has been pictured as a ferocious savage ape, it is said that a Sherpa girl, somewhere in the Himalayas, was tending to her yaks when suddenly a black-haired ape-like creature attacked her and started dragging. She was so scared that she lost her voice initially but after sometime, managed to scream at the top of her voice. This startled the Yeti which let her go but instead attacked her yaks and savagely murdered two yaks. Later when the incident was reported, local police patrolled the area in search for the creature but could not find anything except the footprints.
So now, here are the questions for you:

  • Do you think the Yeti is real or just a creature of imagination bounded within the limits of legends and folklore?
  • If at all Yeti exists, do you think it is a benign creature willing to extend a helping hand to men in distress?
  • Do you think Yeti is just a savage beast that kills and hunts in cold blood?

Do let us know about your thoughts. Feel free to drop a comment. We will like to hear from you.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

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