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Doc stumbles on Hillary expedition boat at Manas

- Craft donated to park for wildlife conservation after trip

Jorhat, June 15: Thirty-seven years ago the boat had hogged headlines along with six others of its class. Today, it lies abandoned and all but buried under an overgrowth of grass and shrubs at Manas National Park, its glorious adventurous past forgotten.

But there is hope yet for the jet boat, which was part of the Ocean to Sky expedition led by Sir Edmund Hillary in 1977, with a nature lover stumbling upon it and taking up its cause.

Abhijit Neog, a Guwahatibased doctor by profession and the son of a former senior forest official of the state, recovered the boat a fortnight ago from near the forest office at Bansbari range of the park.

“I remember taking rides on this boat when I visited Manas with my father during my childhood, but I was surprised when I found this fast-moving vessel lying in ruins. I took up the matter with the park authorities who promised to take all necessary steps to preserve this piece of history,” Neog told The Telegraph today. He said the park’s field officer, A. Swargiyary, had promised to extend all help.

The Indo-New Zealand expedition, comprising 16 members with Sir Edmund Hillary as the leader, took up the Ocean to Sky expedition in 1977.

They used New Zealand-made Hamilton jet boats to travel from Ganga Sagar, the mouth of the river near Calcutta, to high up into the Himalayas over three months. The party’s subsequent climb to an unnamed peak, which they called Akash Parbat (Sky Peak), was achieved without Hillary, who succumbed to altitude sickness. Six Indians were also in the team. The seven specially designed jet boats used in the expedition had 16ft-long reinforced fibreglass hulls and were fitted with 250 horsepower V8 automobile engines capable of moving at high speed even in shallow waters. After the expedition, these jet boats were donated for wildlife conservation, and Manas received one of these priceless treasures.

Swargiyary told The Telegraph that the particular boat was delivered to the park probably in the early 1980s and was of great use for the forest guards as it could run at great speed in shallow waters. “The boat can run in three-inch deep water and pick up speed up to 90km per hour,” he said. The boat has a special engine and there was only one mechanic at Barpeta Road who could tend to it. “The boat became useless after the mechanic died a few years back,” he said. The park authorities probably forgot about the boat after the engine stopped working and left it to its fate, Swargiyary said, adding that they would take all necessary steps to preserve the boat.

“I came to know about this boat only after Abhijit Neog took up the matter with me. We have already recovered the engine from a separate location and I have instructed the range officer of Bansbari to shift the boat elsewhere,” he said.

The forest official said he would send a proposal to the authorities to construct a shed near the park’s head office so that the boat could be displayed and preserved for visitors. A similar boat used during the expedition was donated to Corbett National Park and has been preserved and kept on a raised platform for visitors with a plaque mentioning its heroic feat.


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