The Expedition


The intention to mount a conservation expedition in 1974 began in summer 1973.  At the start on the Michaelmas term at Cambridge University, project selection started in earnest.  There were a host of worthy projects, but only a handful which mapped adequately onto the available time, skills and realistic levels of finance.  Once the Hangul project had  been selected it was then a matter of planning and resourcing.

The first task was recruitment of a suitable team.  This was achieved by advertising around Cambridge, followed by shortlisting and final interview of volunteers.  A first class team was rapidly assembled consisting of a biological project team of four, two cinematographers, two engineers, a medic, a nurse and a logistic team of two.  Click here for a photo for the recruitment poster.

More than a thousand letters were sent appealing for support for the project, asking for both cash and materiel.  This was a major effort, but it paid off in reasonable time.  The money and materiel raised by the appeal, added to the personal contributions of the expedition team, was sufficient to enable an overland option.


After final preparations, Operation Hangul left Cambridge in June 1974 in two vehicles, a 12 seater 2.6 litre petrol Land Rover and a 35cwt petrol Bedford CF van, both packed with people, equipment and supplies.  There was a problem with the Bedford’s wheels, which delayed its arrival at the rendezvous in Belgium for some 36 hours.  This posed no great problem, except that there was a second rendezvous in Salzburg to pick up some of the team who had been on vacation.  Before the days of mobile telephones, there was no reliable way to communicate with them, other than poste restante, for which there was insufficient time.

Luckily, they awaited the main party’s arrival and the expedition set off from Salzburg complete, but late.  The route from Salzburg continued down across the border into the former Yugoslavia at Villach and then on down the main road via Lyubljana, Zagreb, Belgrade, Nis and Skopje to the Greek border, where it turned East towards Istanbul via Kilkis, Xanthi and Komotini.  Crossing the Bosphorus into Asia, the expedition drove East to Ankara, Sivas, Erzincan and Erzurum to the border with Iran at Bazarghan.

Having arrived at Bazarghan in darkness, it was astonishing in the bright morning sun to look to the North to see Mount Ararat - a sight never to be forgotten.  Entering Iran, the Land Rover engine (distributor drive shaft, also drove the twin pinion mechanical oil pump, stripped it phosphor bronze drive gear) stopped and the expedition had three interesting days in Marand while the engineers solved the problem.

From Marand the route included Tabriz, Zanjan, Qazvin, Karaj, Tehran, Amol, Babol (by the Caspian Sea) and Mashhad then crossing into Afghanistan West of Herat.  It then followed the main road to Kandahar and on to Kabul.  At Ankara and Tehran the expedition had called on the British Embassies, but for reasons of time, did not do so in Kabul.

Passing through Jalalabad and the exceptional Kabul Gorge, the expedition headed for Pakistan, entering over the fabulous Khyber Pass.  From the magnificent hill country around Peshawar, the expedition drove through Rawalpindi and Lahore to the (then) only border crossing on that border between Pakistan and India, at Wagah.

Crossing into India, the route headed to Amritsar and then to Jammu and then high up over the Pir Panjal range of mountains, the first Himalayas.  Just South of Anantnag, the road North reaches the watershed.  On a clear, sunny day, the view from this point North into the Vale of Kashmir is breathtaking.  The huge valley, dotted with lakes and rivers, looks from there like a garden of plenty.

The final staging post was Srinagar, where the expedition lodged in a houseboat on Dal Lake while making the final preparations before starting the fieldwork.  After completing the local government formalities and final provisioning, the expedition once again headed north into the Dachigam Sanctuary area and set up base camp beside the Palipora Bridge across the Dachigam River.  A small selection of photographs of the journey are shown on the accompanying photo pages.


The fieldwork phase consisted mainly of one to several day survey trips on foot high (7000 to 12000 feet) into the Zaskar Mountains in and immediately around the Sanctuary (there had been little or no confirmed evidence of recent Hangul population elsewhere in the region).  Near the end of the fieldwork phase, most expedition members took a short break to see more of the area.  Most went northeast to Leh in Ladakh (and were among the first handful of foreigners to be allowed to travel there since partition of Indai and Pakistan in 1947.  Others went to Gulmarg to the South, which has the highest golf course in the world.


John Buxton and Colin Clarke had been filming a documentary of the expedition.  At the end of the Hangul survey field phase, there was a need for more footage.  The main expedition party  returned home by the same overland route they had come - but on the return there were no significant mechanical problems and the journey was completed much quicker.

Meanwhile John Buxton and Dewar Donnithorne-Tait stayed on in Kashimir for a further week or so filming additional material for the documentary.  They subsequently returned to UK by air.

© Dewar Donnithorne-Tait 2015