Preface by Kenneth Hanson, Author and Photographer
FOREWORD Greg Mortenson
Ken Hanson’s photographic portrait of the high Asian mountains is a compilation of two decades of passionate work. This masterpiece is a rare treasure for all mountain aficionados to cherish.
When I looked in Ken’s first portfolio at the 1994 photograph of the turbulent Braldu Gorge, it had a special relevance. In September 1993 I had retreated from a climb of K2’s west ridge and stumbled exhausted to the isolated Karakoram mountain village of Korphe situated on the south bank of the Bradlu River opposite the village of Askole. Such Balti villages at the frontier of civilization have been the staging grounds for mountaineering expeditions for the last century. The compassionate Muslim villagers nursed me back to health with paiyu cha—salt tea laced with ten year old rancid yak butter. One crisp autumn morning, when I saw 84 shivering children in a dusty field writing with sticks in the sand, I made a rash promise to help the villagers build a school. The school would be a memorial to my sister, Christa, who had died of severe epilepsy a year earlier. It took me a year to raise the $12,000 needed, but only after I had sold everything I owned. When I returned in 1994 to begin to build the school, the villagers explained that first we must construct a bridge across the river.
Thanks to a generous Swiss benefactor, Dr. Jean Hoerni, I obtained the extra money needed. In 1995 the villagers built a 284 ft. cable bridge over the roaring Braldu River and we then laid the foundations to the school. But it was not until 1996 that I really began to learn about the world I had entered. One day the Korphe nurmadhar (chief), Haji Ali, forced me to sit down. I was handed a bowl of steaming paiyu cha. “The first time you share tea with a Balti you are a stranger.” he said. “The second time an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea you become family and for our family we are prepared to do anything, even die. Dr. Greg, you must take time to share three cups of tea.” Gradually I learned to listen to the villagers and accept their guidance. When Korphe school was finally finished in 1996, it had been built for half the amount it would have cost the government. Meticulous accounts had been kept. From this humble start arose the Central Asia Institute (CAI).
With support from the mountaineering community, more schools were built. By 2007, the CAI had established 58 schools and educated 24,000 students, half of them girls, in remote villages of the Karakoram and Hindu Kush. After infinite cups of tea, and spending 65 months over 34 trips to Pakistan and Afghanistan, I am convinced that the essential task is to make sure that the girls are educated. We can drop bombs, build roads or put in electricity, but until the girls are educated there will be little positive change. Women’s education is the key to improve health care, reduce infant and childbirth mortality, and create local opportunities to bring peace to regions of turmoil.
In July of 2001 Ken Hanson was delighted to find the CAI-sponsored school in the village of Hushe. It proclaimed the commitment of those that had built it—scarlet painted wooden trim to every window and doorway, a neat gateway, and clipped grass within the courtyard. The residue of a miserable government school with a small blackboard still existed in a back alley. What very few understood that July was the full tragedy of the neglect of education by Pakistan’s Government. Since 1980, burgeoning Wahhabi madrassas, funded by oil money, had filled the educational vacuum in Pakistan. An estimated 25,000 madrassas help spawn a militant ideology and hatred. The implications only became apparent after 9/11/2001
It might seem that in this destructive situation there would be no place for the beautiful photograph. But one of the unexpected privileges of my marriage in 1995 to Dr. Tara Bishop was access to the book and photograph collection of her late father, Dr. Barry Bishop. The collection is now in the house of his widow Lila who lives a block away in Bozeman. He was the National Geographic Society (NGS) photographer on the first American Everest Expedition (summiting on May 22, 1963). Later he spent two years with his wife and daughter in Jumla, on the edge of the Dolpo region of Nepal, studying trade routes for a PhD dissertation. He later became the Chair of the NGS Research and Exploration Committee. In September 1994, Barry was killed in a tragic car accident in Idaho on his way to speak at a San Francisco fund raiser for the American Himalayan Foundation (AHF). The AHF and the U.K. Himalayan Trust, both created by Sir Edmund Hillary, have pioneered school and health projects in Nepal. A year later I met Tara at the AHF annual dinner. Our meeting was preordained—we married six days later.
When life gets chaotic, I retreat to Barry’s voluminous library. Among his books is a rare volume that contains the superb black-and-white photographs by Vittorio Sella taken on the 1909 Duke of Abruzzi expedition to K2. Ken’s photographs, like those of Sella, provide a stabilizing perspective. They bring joy down from the mountains and remind me of the compassionate villagers whom it is our privilege to know. Thank you Ken for this magnificent tribute to the mountains we cherish. I hope many others will find this present volume to be a source of restoration and hope.
All Photographs on this website are Copyright Kenneth Hanson.
All reproduction rights reserved