Perhaps, one of the most sensational sightings of Yeti footprints in recent times – which created quite a stir on social media – was the tweet released by the Indian army to its nearly 6 million followers on April 19, 2019, in which they claimed that a mountaineering expedition of the Indian army had seen and photographed Yeti footprints measuring a gigantic 32x15 inches. The tweet read:
For the first time, an #IndianArmy Moutaineering Expedition Team has sited Mysterious Footprints of mythical beast 'Yeti' measuring 32x15 inches close to Makalu Base Camp on 09 April 2019. This elusive snowman has only been sighted at Makalu-Barun National Park in the past. pic.twitter.com/AMD4MYIgV7— ADG PI - INDIAN ARMY (@adgpi) April 29, 2019
The Makalu Base Camp in eastern Nepal is located at an altitude of 4870 m (15978 ,feet), at the base of the majestic Mount Makalu - the fifth highest peak in the world at 8485 m (27,838 feet). This part of the remote Himalayas was closed to the outside world until the 1950s, when British mountaineer Eric Shipton first trekked into the region. Since then, it has remained relatively inaccessible and little-known, except to a handful of keen trekkers - a perfect place for a solitary beast like the Yeti to hang out.
Incidentally, it was Eric Shipton who had clicked the first photograph of Yeti footprints in 1951, when he was leading an Everest expedition, to survey possible routes to reach the summit. In the Menlung Basin at 19,000 feet, they had found a series of tracks of a biped – around 13x8 inches in size – which went on down the glacier for about a mile. Shipton’s fellow mountaineer Tom Bourdillon wrote on the underside of one of the photos, “I am quite clear that it is no animal known to live in the Himalaya, & that it is big.”
Intriguingly, the photographs shared by the Indian army show that the alleged footprints of the Yeti are in a straight line, with no stagger to the right or left, as would be expected for a bipedal animal. It’s almost as if the Yeti was doing a catwalk across the snow-covered terrain for the upcoming winter collection. The strides, however, are giant, and the imprints in the snow are deep, indicating that it was made by a massive, biped, not known to exist anywhere in the world.
Whenever the topic of Yeti footprints come up, fingers are inevitably pointed at the Himalayan brown bears as the possible culprit, and this time it was no different. But, we should “bear in mind” that bears are not bipeds. They usually get around on four legs particularly on steep, snow-covered mountain slopes. They stand up on their hind legs only to forage or to defend themselves. On the other hand, almost every recorded footprint of the Yeti has been that of a biped. Besides, what kind of brown bear would leave footprints that are 32 inches in length? The largest brown bears in the world are the Kodiak bears that inhabit the Kodiak Archipelago in southwest Alaska. The largest recorded wild male Kodiak bear weighed 751 kg (1,656 lb), and had a hind foot measurement of 46 cm (18 inches)  which is significantly smaller than the 32-inch tracks at Makalu.
We have no option but to admit that the humungous tracks at Makalu were not made by any beast known to man. In which case, the only option is the legendary Yeti - that stealthy, solitary, bipedal monster, that lurks in the unexplored, foreboding, snow-covered terrains of the Himalayas, about whom stories and folklores have circulated amongst the Sherpa communities for generations.
The Sherpa people are not unduly worried about the scientific skepticism about the Yeti. It is woven into their folklore and is a part of their daily lives in these rugged, high, mountains, where they eke out a living primarily through yak rearing, potato farming, and by leading mountaineering expeditions on these treacherous slopes. They know these landscapes like the back of their hand, and are, to be fair, the only experts of this region. There have been countless sightings of the Yeti or its footprints amongst the Sherpas. Some have heard the peculiar whistling and guttural noises the Yeti makes during its nocturnal adventures, or smelt their vile, pungent body odour. They generally describe the Yeti as an ape-like beast with a conical head, long hands, a human-like face with a flat nose, body covered in reddish or black hair. While it generally walks upright, sometimes it has been seen scampering over the mountain slopes very quickly using both its hands and feet.
The Sherpas believe that the reason why the Yeti cannot be seen very easily is because it’s primarily a nocturnal animal. It has certain supernatural powers and can disappear at will. In fact, it is considered to be a bad omen to even see a Yeti. Some claim that if a Yeti sees you first, it will cast some kind of a spell that will prevent you from moving. Then the Yeti will devour you. Any Sherpa will tell you that your best bet is to run downhill, as fast as you can, the moment you spot a Yeti. If the Yeti chases you down a sharp incline, the wind will blow the long hair into his eyes and momentarily blind him, allowing you to escape. In general, the Yeti is not hostile to humans, though. It is best left alone; if you don’t bother it, it won’t bother you. The Yeti mainly feeds on small fauna such as frogs and small mouse-hares called pikas, found widely in the Himalayas. However, they are known to attack and kill yaks. The Sherpas believe that organized expeditions to capture or hunt the Yeti will never bear fruit. The animal can disappear at will and it is only by accident that it is seen.
What makes the Yeti footprints shared by the Indian army all the more interesting is that, very similar footprints had been seen nearly 80 years ago by Major Bill Tilman in 1937, as noted by the mountaineer and author Graham Hoyland in his book Yeti: an abominable history. Graham Hoyland was the 15th Briton to the climb the Everest - a feat he accomplished in 1993. In course of thirty or so trips to the Himalayas, he heard many tales of the Yeti from the Sherpas. He wrote a promotional article for his book, titled, “Top 10 yeti and abominable snowman sightings”, which has some interesting nuggets of information, including Major Bill Tillman’s account. This is what Tillman had noted in his diary:
“While contouring round the foot of the ridge between these two feeder glaciers, we saw in the snow the tracks of an Abominable Snowman. They were eight inches in diameter, eighteen inches apart, almost circular, without signs of toe or heel. They were three of four days old, so melting must have altered the outline. The most remarkable thing was that they were in a straight line one behind the other, with no ‘stagger’ right or left, like a bird’s spoor.
A four-footed animal walking slowly puts its hindfoot in the track of its forefoot, but there are always some marks of overlapping, nor are the tracks immediately in front of each other. However many-legged it was, the bird or beast was heavy, the tracks being nearly a foot deep. We followed them for a mile, when they disappeared on some rock. The tracks came from a glacier pool where the animal had evidently drunk, and the next day we picked up the same spoor on the north side of Snow Lake.
The Sherpas judged them to belong to the smaller type of Snowman, or yeti, as they call them, of which there are apparently two varieties: the smaller, whose spoor we were following, which feeds on men, while his larger brother confines himself to a diet of yaks. My remark that no-one had been here for thirty years and that he must be devilish hungry did not amuse the Sherpas as much as expected! The jest was considered ill-timed, as it perhaps was, the three of us standing forlorn and alone in a great expanse of snow, looking at the strange tracks like so many Robinson Crusoes.”
I found it fascinating that the Yeti tracks seen by Major Tillman, more than 80 years ago, were also in a straight line, one behind the other, with no deviation towards the left or the right. This exactly matches the nature of the footprints spotted by the Indian army in Makalu, except that the Makalu prints were much bigger at 32x15 inches, while those seen by Major Tillman were 18x8 inches. If the tracks seen by Major Tillman were those of the “smaller variant” of the Yeti, it stands to reason that the footprints at Makalu must have been left behind by the “larger variant” which feeds on yaks.
Graham Hoyland clarified in his article that, based on his interactions with the villagers across the Himalayan range, from Arunachal Pradesh to Ladakh, there seems to be three types of Yeti:
First, and largest, is the terrifying dzu-teh, who stands eight feet tall when he is on his back legs. He can kill a yak with one swipe of his claws.
There is the smaller chu-the or thelma, a little reddish-coloured child-sized creature who walks on two legs and has long arms. He is seen in the forests of Sikkim and Nepal.
Then there is the meh-teh, who is most like a man and has orangey-red fur on his body. He attacks humans and is the one most often depicted on monastery wall paintings. Yeh-teh or yeti is a mutation of his name. He looks most like the Tintin in Tibet yeti.
Based on Hoyland’s classification, the Makalu footprints would have been those of the eight feet tall dzu-teh (although I suspect this one was probably an oversized monster amongst the dzu-tehs). One of the stories narrated by Hoyland provides an important clue to understand the true nature of the Yeti from the context of Indian mythological traditions. This is the earliest Western account of a “wild man” in the Himalayas given by Brian Houghton Hodgson in 1832. Hodgson was the Court of Nepal’s first British Resident, and the first Englishman permitted to visit this forbidden land. He wrote in his diary:
“Religion has introduced the Bandar [rhesus macaque] monkey into the central region, where it seems to flourish, half domesticated, in the neighbourhood of temples, in the populous valley of Nepal proper [this is still the case]. My shooters were once alarmed in the Kachár by the apparition of a ‘wild man’, possibly an ourang, but I doubt their accuracy. They mistook the creature for a càcodemon or rakshas (demons) and fled from it instead of shooting it. It moved, they said, erectly, was covered with long dark hair, and had no tail.”
The fact that the Nepali shooters called the Yeti a “Rakshas” made me sit up and take notice, for the Rakshasas have been vividly described in the two Indian epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. They are generally described as demonic, fierce-looking, nocturnal beings, some of whom are man-eaters. When the entire world goes to sleep, that is when they emerge from their lairs and stalk the forests for prey. They have huge bodies covered in red hair, and are enormously powerful. Humans are no match for their strength. They inhabit dense, remote, forests and the inaccessible slopes of the Himalayas. Their strength and powers of illusion are dramatically enhanced during the twilight hours – dawn and dusk - which is when they are to be avoided at all costs. They can use their magical powers to disappear, fly across the sky, assume ferocious forms, and, in general, play all kinds of tricks on the fragile human mind.
The Mahabharata has a number of stories about these man-eating monsters, but the most interesting ones are those which involve a tussle between a Rakshas and the prince Bhima – who was a demi-god and arguably the strongest man in the world of his time. Once Bhima and his brothers were passing through a dense forest at night, in which dwelt a Rakshas called Hidimva. Bhima’s brothers had fallen asleep while he stayed awake to guard them. This is when the Rakshas got the strong smell of human prey, wafting though the forest like a spring-break barbecue. The text states:
“Possessed of great energy and prowess, he (Hidimva) was a cruel cannibal of visage that was grim in consequence of his sharp and long teeth. He was now hungry and longing for human flesh. Of long shanks (limbs) and a large belly, his locks and beard were both red in hue. His shoulders were broad like the neck of a tree; his ears were like unto arrows, and his features were frightful.”
After a few twists and turns in the story, Bhima became engaged in a terrible hand-to-hand combat with the Rakshas, with both of them rolling on the ground and wrestling each other, emitting loud growls. It is at this point that Bhima’s younger brother Arjuna woke up from his sleep and advised Bhima to kill the Rakshas without much delay, since its power of illusion will get enhanced at daybreak.
“What need, O Bhima, for keeping the Rakshasa alive so long? O oppressor of enemies, we are to go hence, and cannot stay here longer. The east is reddening, the morning twilight is about to set in. The Rakshasa become stronger by break of day, therefore, hasten, O Bhima! Play not (with thy victim), but slay the terrible Rakshasa soon. During the two twilights Rakshasas always put forth their powers of deception. Use all the strength of thy arms.”
Eventually, Bhima prevailed over the Rakshas and slayed him by breaking his spine. At another time, Bhima fought with a Rakshas called Vaka, who has been described as follows: “Of huge body and great strength, of red eyes, red beard, and red hair, he was terrible to behold, and he came, pressing deep the earth with his tread.” Clearly, the man-eating, nocturnal monsters of the Mahabharata were covered with red hair, just like the smaller variant of the Yeti which attacks humans.
The Mahabharata also tells us that the Rakshasas generally inhabited dense forests, particularly those located on the remote slopes of the Himalayas. There are multiple passages in the Mahabharata which confirm this. For instance:
"This Himalaya is inaccessible, and abounds with Yakshas (dwarfs) and the Rakshasas, and searching about for me, they will be distracted." 
"Protected by them, and also watched over by the Rakshasas, these mountains (Himalayas) have been rendered inaccessible." 
"So Rakshasas and Pishacas (shapeshifting spirits who can possess humans) protect the Himavat (Himalayas), the best of mountains." 
What we can conclude from these ancient accounts is that, the Yeti phenomenon is intimately tied up with the scary monsters of the Indian epics called Rakshasas. While some of the Rakshasas of the epic tales correspond to the smaller, man-eating, red-haired Yetis called meh-teh, there are others which are not man-eaters, and probably correspond to the larger variant of the Yetis, the dzu-teh, which is covered in dark hair and feeds on yaks.
Unfortunately, since most scientists and academics these days derisively dismiss the ancient legends as being the stuff of fantasy, we find ourselves in a tricky situation where we cannot explain the numerous sightings of strange and bizarre creatures such as the Yeti, Bigfoot and others, even though similar creatures have been mentioned in the ancient sources.
The whole Yeti phenomenon, it appears, must have been going on in the Himalayas for thousands of years, which is how it became a part of the folklore of the Sherpas. It is only after the mountaineering expeditions begun in the early 20th century that the phenomenon received wider publicity. Of course, the Yetis these days are a lot more secretive and prefer to live in seclusion, as compared to the bygone ages when they were seen much more easily. It is difficult to guess why this is so. Are they as spooked out by humans as we are by them? Do they think of us as vicious, merciless, predators who will capture them or destroy their peaceful lives? We can’t tell until we can somehow initiate conversations with them. Some Sherpas think that the Yeti have their own language, and the whistling and growling is a part of their communications. Some believe that they are protectors of the mountain terrains, and, in such an estimation, they are in agreement with the Mahabharata, which calls them the “protectors of the Himalayas”.
But who are they protecting the mountains from? And what exactly are they protecting? Is it possible that they are the guardians of some hidden caves and passages that lead to the subterranean realms of the "spirit beings" and the underworld “gods”, who were regarded by the ancients as the stewards of the ecological balance of our planet? Perhaps they want to deter humans from coming too close to these camouflaged entrances so that they don’t stumble into them by accident? It’s not impossible, I would think. And who better to deter unwanted intruders than some monstrous cannibals of great strength and magical abilities – with a foul body odour to boot.
1 Eric Earle Shipton (1907-1977), Photographer, Yeti footprints in the Menlung Basin, https://www.christies.com/en/lot/lot-4966479
2 Wood, Gerald (1983). The Guinness Book of Animal Facts and Feats. Enfield, Middlesex : Guinness Superlatives, taken from Wikipedia, “Kodiak bear”.
3 "NEPAL: Myth and Folklore of the Yeti", Earthstoriez, https://www.earthstoriez.com/nepal-myth-folklore-yeti/
4 Graham Hoyland, "Top 10 yeti and abominable snowman sightings", https://www.grahamhoyland.com/yeti-sightings/
5 Mahabharata 01.155, https://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/m01/m01155.htm
6 Mahabharata 01.157, https://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/m01/m01157.htm
7 Mahabharata 01.166, https://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/m01/m01166.htm
8 Mahabharata 3.178.8839
9 Mahabharata 3.139.7073
10 Mahabharata 8.45.2467