Dec 03, 2022 I Nick Redfern

The Abominable Snowman/Yeti: How About a New Search? And What About the Story and History?

Only about a week ago, I was speaking with a friend in the field of Cryptozoology (or, as I prefer to call it, "Monster Hunting") on the subject of the Yeti/Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas. There's no doubt the creatures need a collective new injection of visibility. So, today, I figured it would be a good time to give the creatures a new bit of life, so to speak - and to look at the history of the mysterious phenomenon. So, let's begin. Bigfoot is certainly the most famous of the world’s many and varied hairy man-beasts. Running a close second, however, is the Yeti, also known as the Abominable Snowman. The specific region in which the legendary beast is said to roam is the Himalayas, a vast, mountainous expanse that dominates Nepal, Tibet. In the same way that the United States appears to be the home of several distinctly different creatures – such as the huge, lumbering apes of the Pacific Northwest and the smaller skunk-apes of Florida – so there appears to be more than one kind of Yeti. Reportedly, they range from man-sized creatures to enormous giants, close to twenty feet in height. Of course, claims of such extreme and extraordinary heights must be treated cautiously. They may well be distorted accounts of encounters with animals of smaller stature, but no less impressive, perhaps around 12 to 13 feet tall. 

There is another Bigfoot parallel, too. Native American tradition tells of ancient awareness of the hairy beasts of the United States. Likewise, tales of hair-covered giants roaming the Himalayas also extend back into the fog of time. Take, for example, the stories of the Lepcha people. They are amongst the oldest of the various tribes that inhabit Sikkim, situated in northeast India. Their presence, however, extends to Tibet – and specifically to the heart of Nepal. It’s not surprising, then, that they may have encountered Yetis during the course of their travels and expansions. Indeed, Lepcha lore tells of goliath-sized, hairy humanoids that lived high on the Himalayas and that used rocks to kill their prey, such as goats. In terms of the relatively modern era, it was in the 1800s that matters became particularly intriguing. In the early 1830s an expedition was launched to the Himalayas by a skilled mountain-climber, Brian Houghton Hodgson. According to Hodgson: “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.” None of the team expected to encounter giant, hair-covered hominids on the Himalayas, but that was exactly what they encountered. Particularly baffling to the team, the creatures they saw – typically at a distance – walked solely on its hind limbs. 

(Nick Redfern) The Yeti: Let's give it some more publicity!

Just one year before the turn of the 20th Century, Laurence Waddell’s book, Among the Himalayas, was published. In the book, Waddell described how a number of Tibetans had told him of huge, hairy, ape-like animals that moved like people and which lived in the mountains. Waddell put little faith in the accounts, despite having personally come across some intriguing, large footprints in the snow. The reports from Hodgson’s team, coupled with that of Waddell, provoked short waves of interest; it wasn’t, however, until the 1920s that matters heated up.The Everest Reconnaissance Expedition was launched in 1921, under the leadership of Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Howard-Bury, of the British military. No-one on the expedition anticipated coming across anything unusual, but that was exactly what they found, in the form of huge, human-like footprints, thousands of feet up in the snow-covered mountains. When word of the strange discoveries began to spread, a newspaper reporter, Henry Newman, decided to look into the matter for himself. It didn’t take long, at all, before Newman had collated a respectably-sized body of material on the legendary mountain roamer, which he famously dubbed the Abominable Snowman – somewhat of a mistaken distortion of the term used by the locals, metoh, meaning “filthy.” 

Without doubt, it was the decade of the 1950s that really caught the imagination of the media and the scientific community. Britain’s media was hot on the trail of the creature, as were respected mountaineers, including Sir Edmund Hilary and Eric Shipton. Although interest in, and reports of, the Yeti dipped in subsequent years, the controversy was revived in 2014, when a professor of genetics at Oxford University, England, revealed his findings, which suggested the Yeti was actually nothing stranger than a bear, possibly one that was part-polar bear and part-brown bear. Within the field of cryptozoology, the most likely candidate for the Yeti is Gigantopithecus, a truly gigantic ape that science tells us has been extinct for tens of thousands of years. That the immense beast dwelled in the very areas where Yetis are seen to this day suggests a distinct, but astounding, possibility that Gigantopithecus may still be with us.

It should be noted that there is another type of Yeti that haunts the Himalayas - a veritable giant. It's known as the Nyalmo. Bernard Heuvelmans, one of the most important figures within the field of cryptozoology said that during the course of his research into the Yeti of the Himalayas, he had learned of no less than three distinct kinds of creature that roamed the vast mountains. “This opinion,” said Heuvelmans, “was confirmed in 1957 by a Tibetan lama called Punyabayra, high priest of the monastery at Budnath, who spent four months in the high mountains and brought back the surprising but valuable information that the Tibetan mountain people knew three kinds of snowmen.” There was the rimi, a man-beast of close to three meters in height that dwelled in the Barun Khola valley, in eastern Nepal, and which was specifically omnivorous. Then there was the rackshi bompo, a beast of roughly human proportions, and which Heuvelmans said “must be the Sherpas’ reddish yeh-teh or mi-teh which leaves the footprints 20 to 23 cm long that the Daily Mail expedition…found in such quantity.” Finally, there was the imposing and terrifying Nyalmo. Heuvelmans came straight to the point: “The nyalmo are real giants, between 4 and 5 m high, with enormous conical heads.” He continued: “They wander in parties among the eternal snows above 4000m. In such empty country it is hardly surprising that they should be carnivorous and even man-eating.”

(Nick Redfern) Giant apes from ancient times

Heuvelmans asked of the Nyalmo: “Do they really exist, or are they just a myth?” He admitted to having heard of accounts of Yetis with feet around 45 to 60 cm in length, but was careful to qualify this by stating that: “…the evidence is far too slender for us to draw any satisfactory conclusions. Possibly the nyalmo are an invented addition based on the belief that yetis increase in size the higher you go.” Loren Coleman says: “When [Sir Edmund] Hillary went to the Himalayas to look for the Yeti, he and his collaborator, journalist Desmond Doig, noted that there were several unknown primates said to be there still undiscovered in any formal way. Among the varieties was one called the ‘Nyalmo.’ Hillary and Doig learned of the Nyalmo in north-central Nepal. It was said to be ‘giant-sized (up to twenty feet tall), manlike, hairy, and given to shaking giant pine trees in trials of strength while other Nyalmos sit around and clap their hands.’” The matter of the curious behavior of the Nyalmos – to which Coleman refers – was most graphically told by one Jean Marques-Riviere. It was in 1937 that the details of Marques-Riviere’s account first surfaced, one that was eagerly picked up on by Bernard Heuvelmans. According to Marques-Riviere, he had occasion to speak with an Indian pilgrim who personally encountered a group of Nyalmo in the wilds of Nepal. Crypto Journal describes the extraordinary encounter in a fashion that suggests the beasts have a high degree of intelligence and may even have some form of spiritual belief-system:

“The creatures were standing as they formed a circle and were chanting, as if they were doing a religious ritual or something of that sort. One of the Yeti-like creatures was enthusiastically beating a hollow trunk of a tree, like a man hitting his drums to create some music. The others continued their ‘chants,’ but their faces seemed to be filled with a sad expression. With this sight, the adventurers thought that the creatures acted like typical persons and that they should not be feared. But eventually, fears set in due to the creatures’ massive build, they decided to walk away stealthily to avoid conflict.” What may very well have been a description of the huge, and reportedly extremely dangerous and violent, Nyalmo came from Charles Stonor, a former assistant curator of the London Zoo, England, who embarked on a quest for the truth of the Yeti in December 1953, an expedition that was organized and funded by the British Daily Mail newspaper. While in Darjeeling, Stonor was told of a creature known as the Thloh-Mung that, with hindsight, may very well have been the Nyalmo. The story told to Stonor went like this: “Long ago there was a beast in our mountains, known to our forefathers as the Thloh-Mung, meaning in our language Mountain Savage.

Its cunning and ferocity were so great as to be a match for anyone who encountered it. It could always outwit our Lepcha hunters, with their bows and arrows. The Thloh-Mung was said to live alone, or with a very few of its kind; and it went sometimes on the ground, and sometimes in the trees.” The account continued: “It was found only in the higher mountains of our country. Although it was made very like a man, it was covered with long, dark hair, and was more intelligent than a monkey, as well as being larger.” It seems that, to a significant degree, the beasts were fighting for their very survival: “The people became more in number, the forest and wild country less; and the Thloh-Mung disappeared. But many people say they are still to be found in the mountains of Nepal, away to the west, where the Sherpa people call them the Yeti.” Now, to more recent times:

On October 31, 2010 – appropriately Halloween, of course - a team from the British-based Center for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) embarked upon a truly ambitious expedition to the Garo Hills of Northern India in search of a legendary, hairy, man-like beast known as the Mande-burung. Or, in simpler terminology, the Indian equivalent of the United States’ Bigfoot and the Abominable Snowman of Tibet. The five-man team was led by Adam Davies – the author of the monster-hunting-themed book, Extreme Expeditions – and consisted of Dr. Chris Clark, Dave Archer, field naturalist John McGowan, and cryptozoologist Richard Freeman; the latter a former keeper at England’s Twycross Zoo and the author of the book, Dragons: More Than A Myth. Jonathan Downes, the founder and director of the CFZ, said of these strange and elusive animals: “The creatures are described as being up to ten feet tall, with predominantly black hair. Most importantly, they are said to walk upright, like a man. Walking apes have been reported in the area for many years. These descriptions sound almost identical to those reported in neighboring Bhutan and Tibet. Witnesses report that the Mande-Burung - which translates as forest man - is most often seen in the area in November.” Downes continued: “The Garo Hills are a heavily forested and poorly explored area in Meghalaya state in the cool northern highlands of India. The area is internationally renowned for its wildlife, which includes tigers, bears, elephants and Indian rhino and clouded leopards.”

(Nick Redfern) Monsters in the mountains

Downes added: “The Indian team will be led by Dipu Marek, a local expert who has been on the trail of the Indian Yeti for a number of years and has, on previous occasions, found both its nests and 19-inch long ‘footprints.’ The expedition team has also arranged to interview eyewitnesses who have seen the Mande-Burung. Camera traps will be set up in sighting areas in the hope of catching one of the creatures on film.” As for what these creatures may actually represent, Downes had a few thought provoking ideas: “The Mande-Burung may be a surviving form of a giant ape known from its fossilized teeth and jaw bones, called Gigantopithecus-Blacki, which lived in the Pleistocene epoch around three hundred thousand years ago. This creature is, of course, extinct. However, much contemporary fauna such as the giant panda, the Asian tapir and the Asian elephant that lived alongside the monster ape, still survive today. It is thought by many that Gigantopithecus also survives in the impenetrable jungles and mountains of Asia. Its closest known relatives are the Orangutans of Sumatra and Borneo.” And, I would say that all of these creatures are a form of Yeti. It's just the names and the locations that are different. But, as I see it, the Yeti is still with us, but, perhaps, in different areas. Anybody up for a new expedition and hit the mountains in search of a Yeti? If such a thing did happen, the Abominable Snowman would be the talk of the planet!

Nick Redfern

Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.

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