THE VILLAIN. The Life of Don Whillans. By Jim Perrin. Pp. 354, 36

b/w photos, 2005. (Hutchinson, London, £ 18.99).

Climbing biographers, and for that matter, auto-biographers, tend to follow two courses. One is to focus on the climbing and to almost totally ignore personal life, whilst the other is to view the individual in his or her entirety. The majority follow the former course, as indeed did Don's first biographer, Allick Ormerodd, but I find the complete study of a person very much more satisfying, though it is also very much more challenging for the writer, particularly with a character as complex as Don Whillans who already had legendry qualities in his early climbing career. Jim Perrin has chosen the latter course and has written an enthralling and very full biography.

As someone who knew Don well, had made some of my best climbs with him, had learnt a great deal from him and yet had come into conflict with him, it is difficult to be totally objective in writing a review but at the same time it does give me a deep insight into the man.

Let me start by stating that Don, in his prime, was probably the finest all round mountaineer, I have ever climbed with. He was a brilliant rock climber and had superb mountain judgement. He was also a very safe climber. On a mountain you couldn't have a better companion, but at ground level he was less easy to get on with and probably because of this didn't get the recognition from the establishment that he felt he deserved .

Perrin traces Don's early life and draws some interesting parallels with that of Joe Brown, with whom he formed his first and most important climbing partnership. They both came from Lancashire working class backgrounds, both became plumbers, both were brilliant climbers, but Joe, with an easier manner, more willing and able to fit in, got the opportunities which Don missed.

The book not only gives a sensitive insight into Don's early life, it also provides a fascinating account of those early days of Gritstone climbing in the Peak and then their ventures into Snowdonia, The Lake District and the Highland of Scotland. Don and Joe were spearheading a

working class revolution that took rock climbing forward in a way that it took the rest of the pack a good ten years to catch up.

When I started my own climbing career in 1951, they were already legendry, spoken of with bated breath. My challenge in the early fifties was to repeat some of their routes. I first met Don in 1958 on the South West Pillar of the Dru, so this is where I joined his biography. By this time he and Joe had fallen out as I was destined to do a few years later. There are always two sides to the story of disagreements or of almost any event and to deal with this problem Perrin has used extensive foot notes to give the various interpretations of what actually happened. The foot notes could almost make a book in themselves but I believe it is a technique that works.

Don probably reached his peak of climbing ability in the early sixties. After this period he seemed to lose interest in rock climbing and consequently took little exercise before going on an expedition, relying on getting fit during its course. This worked on the south face of Annapurna and Everest in 1971 and the spring of 1972 but it also created resentment amongst members of the team. It was for this reason that I left him out of my expeditions to the South West Face of Everest. It was a controversial decision which I think Perrin deals with fairly and fully.

By the mid seventies Don had lost his fitness levels so badly that although he continued to go on expeditions and to thoroughly enjoy them, he was no longer able to take a leading part. Perrin charts this decline perhaps going into more detail than many felt was really necessary - digging deep into his personal life. Yet once again, this was a study of the complete person, not just the Icon that Don most certainly was.

This must be the definitive biography of one of the most accomplished climber that Britain has ever produced - that of a complex individual who through his own personality, failed to achieve his full potential and the recognition that he craved.


MAD ABOUT THE MEKONG. Exploration and Empire in South-East

Asia. By John Keay. Pp. 294, illustrated, 2005. (Harper Collins,

London, £13.50).

The highest accolade a reviewer can pay an author is not in writing well of his book but in deciding that it belongs to the category of 'must

keep.' On my small but choosy shelves John Keay is a permanent resident. Mad about the Mekong was a test case. Did I like Keay because he likes the Himalaya or because he writes well on any subject? The long and sprawling Mekong, distant cousin of the Brahmaputra only has a brushing acquaintance with the Himalaya but on this French expedition to follow the river from Saigon to its gorge section in China, I soon found myself captivated by Keay's beautifully modulated prose : 'Brimming through low-lying farmland and slopping into innumerable channels and waterways, it here supports a vast population, from a galaxy of jaunty riverside towns, provides a carriageway for all manner of river craft and generally exhibits the benevolent features associated with deltaic abundance.' In the last two words Keay's talents are summed up : a burgeoning convergence of geographical eye and literary expression : 'The river reigns supreme as the world's most industrious earth deposits its (Tibetan) burden in a silk-glistening tilth of prime growing potential.' This is Keay at his very best.

Added to the literary pleasure are his blunt, witty and opposite remarks on the traumas unleashed by the Khmer Rouge and American defoliation. These are juxtaposed against the mixed motives of the imperial adventures, both heroic and pathetic in their delusions of grandeur. The French commission, which took a pocket gunboat up the Mekong in 1866 to blaze a way to China, had to tranship to canoes, which in turn had to be abandoned for exploration on foot. The Mekong was the worst possible choice for those who sought markets upstream and the imagined glory that went with their discovery. Its profile was astounding with cataracts 16 kilometres in width and Giant Catfish 'whose tastes measure 43 centimetres long.' Hindsight enables Keay to highlight the ridiculous posturing of the European empire builders but inevitably in an English work the French are made to appear more absurd than the British. Garnier the flawed hero (known as Mademoiselle Bonaparte for his pipsqueak demeanour) though deputy leader was committed to genuine exploration while his superior officer adopted the cynical attitude that this was a political reconnaissance. (How else to account for the five tons of baggage that included cotton bales and brass wire with which to bribe the natives?) Garnier's Gallic pride did not blind him to the piecemeal approach of Paris compared with the systematic policy of London which went out of its way to honour explorers. In fact Garnier was awarded the

Royal Geographical Society's gold medal for his courage and tenacity. The deputy's passion to stick to the meandering Mekong would be the expedition's undoing.

A shorter tributary would have delivered them directly to China. Instead they risked entering the lawless Shan areas of Burma hoping to impress the British with French claims, but ending up being fleeced by the tribal warlords of what is today's opium triangle. Keay spells out the dark nexus between drugs and the CIA that arose ironically from the missionary instinct to moralise and civilise. The rod would set in when the starving Frenchmen were forced to barter medallions, intended for present to Catholics in China. (St. Gertrude was swapped for three cucumbers). Garnier's craze to stick with the river would later have more disastrous consequences and the French party was lucky after two years of hardship to get out of China alive. Driven by his dream of expanding French influence, Garnier went back as a conqueror, as he thought. But two weeks after declaring himself 'Grand Mandarin' in Hanoi the fantasy crumbled and he was butchered. The Himalayan Journal readers will find this book fascinating background reading to the modern Japanese and French claims to have both reached the source of the Mekong in 1994. (H.J. Vol. 58).


LEARNING TO BREATHE. By Andy Cave. Pp. 276, 34 pictures, 2 sketch maps, 2005. (Hutchinson, London, ISBN 0 09 180034 X, £ 18.99).

Rarely does it happen that a top-rate mountaineer is able to match his climbing finesse with his ability to tell the tale of his vertical world through his pen, measure for measure, if not more. Andy has achieved that rare grace with his first book where we witness a young boy graduating from the dark deep pits of mines to soar like a free bird amidst the loftiest summits of the world and how. Arguably, Andy Cave is one of the finest all round climbers in the world today. To read his hair- raising adventures is akin to experiencing them first hand, while hanging or dangling above several thousand feet of air (most often), situations that Andy has a habit of landing in repeatedly without fail.

It is difficult to imagine the union of two such extremely diverse topographical arenas like the 3000 ft deep Grime Thorpe mine-pit and the Himalayan summits in one man's life. Following his father's

occupation, Andy started his working life at the age of sixteen as a miner and entered the dark bottomless world, nurturing nevertheless dreams of snow-clad mountains and wild climbs, which would be his world eventually. At every opportunity, he would steal into the rock cliffs and ice walls around his country, meeting many climbers and learning his techniques through sheer grit and a tenacity that simply refused to quit despite all the accidents and mishaps, which came his way aplenty.

During the miner's strike in 1984-5, beleaguered by poverty, broken friendships and guilt, Andy finally decided to quit his job and take up mountaineering full time. At the same time, he also enrolled for pursuing higher studies that eventually earned him a Ph.D. in socio-linguistics. Unlike other climbing books, Andy devotes a large section to his earlier days in the mines and his family life, rather than focus only on the climbs, all peppered with humour and blended with a raconteur's ability to hold the reader's undivided attention.

Beginning with 1986, Andy went on to chalk several magnificent climbs all over the Alps and into some of the far-flung corners of the world that kept him constantly on the edge and on the move. Undoubtedly, his first ascent of the north face of Changabang in 1997 catapulted him into the top rung of the mountaineering world and an instant recognition to all aficionados of the sport. The spine-chilling tale of this expedition where death stalked the climbers every moment, making them suffer interminably through the worst possible weather and climbing conditions, provides the dramatic climax to this riveting story.

Learning to Breathe is, overall a tale told well by one who has mastered the art of story telling. It is a lively and remarkable memoir of a remarkable man and his world, penned with deep insights about two diametrically opposite groups of people. It is also a tale of dreams, hopes, strengths and the limitless endeavours of the human spirit that goads us on against the worst adversities in life.

Here then we have with us a fine story of not only some of the finest technical climbs but also about life and its meanderings through the eyes of one who has seen it all and is still gasping for more. All told and embellished with typical British humour and laconic wisdom that is certain to keep the reader riveted and amused all through for years to come.



ENQUIRIES. By Bill Aitken. Pp. 168, 2004. (Indus Publishing

Company, New Delhi, Rs. 150).

The Himalayan Journal is sixty volumes old. Over the years several famous climbers, and more importantly for a journal, several important mountain writers have contributed to its pages. Now too, there are writers and then there is Bill. The prolific Bill who seems to be able to weave a story from just a thin thread, a short walk or a funny conversation. But Bill knows his mountains and loves them. He has been an active contributor to the Journal for many years now.

What better way to celebrate sixty years of the journal than a book of articles by Bill written for the HJ? The book is broadly divided into excursions (he makes every trip sound like a picnic doesn't he?) and enquiries. Beautiful sketches by Geeta Kapadia dot the pages. The essays and stories revolve around his travels in the Indian Himalaya, his love for Kumaun, Garhwal, the Nanda Devi Sanctuary apparent. Travels in the Himalaya, ranging from Arunachal to Spiti on a motorcycle, oh what a life!

I want to be Bill Aitken when I grow up.


ONE MORE STEP : An Autobiography. By M.S. Kohli. Pp. 322,

Ilustrated, 2005. (Penguin Viking, New Delhi, Rs. 495).

To some the public image of Captain Kohli is of an extrovert sardarji beating his chest on putting nine men atop Everest and, since that achievement, contributing little else to the mountains that made his name. As his autobiography demonstrates this is a travesty of the truth. Mohan Kohli's dedication to the mountains has been that primarily of a naval officer and gentleman - genuine, consistent and unclouded by the career demands of (for example) bureaucrats who have to oil their way to the top. It is true that because of his long association with the Indo Tibetan Border Police he had ready access to the range that was denied to the civilian climber.

This was the result of happy chance that uncannily has dogged the heels of this God fearing Sikh. His remarkable long innings as climber

and administrator proves beyond doubt that it has been his brains rather than his brawn that has made him deservedly a father figure in the field of Himalayan mountaineering. Also his twenty books in English explode the myth of another Milkha Singh, the simple Punjabi soldier who is promoted on the strength of his sporting achievements. The envy Captain Kohli's fame has earned him becomes understandable when you read this simply told story of his life. From birth it seems destiny smiled on this boy born in the foothills of the North West Frontier. His family was lined up for massacre when Ayub Khan, a friend of Kohli's farther (and future president of Pakistan) arrived just in time to save them. Uprooted by the trauma of Partition and made refugee in Delhi he studied hard and from his student days exhibited natural leadership qualities. What marvellous character these Punjabi refugees displayed. Surely they can afford to be boastful of their success from such harrowing beginnings. And what better name for Mohan Kohli's family run hotel in Delhi (complete with climbing wall) than The Legend?

What many see as a failing in men of destiny - the size of their ego - is in fact the secret of their success. Without a strong ego in dealing with fellow mountaineers, you couldn't put nine of them atop Namche Bazaar let alone Chomolungma! Kohli's self-belief as this book shows derives from a sincere faith in the beneficent hand of Providence rather than reflect the urge of someone mad for power. It is this unusual blend of simple faith with a pragmatic flair for organising that sets Kohli apart and explains why he was always in demand as a leader who would get the job done intelligently and efficiently. Here was one officer you could trust with the most exacting missions.

With his time consumed by official expeditions and appointments there is little mention of the Himalayan Club in his story. Inevitably residence in Delhi would draw him closer to the Indian Mountaineering Foundation and his thinking in turn would be conditioned by its utilitarian objectives more than by the individualist appeal of the freelancing Mumbai based club. The detailing of his career makes for absorbing if humourless reading (he describes the IMF as a 'sprawling complex' !) One can understand why so many in government service gnash their teeth at the Captain's seeming adroitness in always being in the right place at the right time for plum commissions. Time and time again circumstances conspired to catapult him to a meaningful role in a prize posting. As the record shows these postings sought him out rather than

the reverse. The public's perception of Kohli as a 'good Establishment man' falls short of a full assessment. He is that rarity in any sport, a winning team captain, more polite than politic about his superiors but vigorously involved with the welfare of his subordinates. His skill in listening when in fact he is canvassing his own views suggests a person of unusual managerial skills. It is a measure of his practicality that he disagreed with the top brains in the country about the feasibility of placing a spying device on Kangchenjunga and a sign of his confidence in himself and his companions that he guaranteed he could place the same device atop Nanda Kot. A similar confident assessment of his team's chances on Annapurna III would prove Tilmans prediction of its unclimbability wrong.

If the pioneering of trekking in the Himalaya is claimed to be another feather in his cap, (while he was serving with Air India) - so be it. His vivid introduction to the Amarnath trail should convince any doubters of his commitment to trekking. How many of us experience divine intervention as a life-saver on our first trip! As a born survivor, Kohli's hair raising escapes are enumerated and easily outnumber the claim of cats which only boast nine lives. As a communicator and facilitator of Himalayan matters Kohli's example is hard to beat. Now in retirement his fertile mind continues to harvest ideas and his latest inspiration is to encourage the creation of adventure parks in each state (paid for by parliamentarians unused discretionary grants for their constituency) to prepare youth for the higher ground. It is this capacity to see beyond the despair of the unemployed youth and offer them a realistic opportunity that characterises Mohan Kohli's never-say-die approach to problems.

It is singularly brave for Captain Kohli to go public and acknowledge his role as leader of some highly sensitive CIA sponsored (and uneco- friendly) expeditions to plant a nuclear device on Nanda Devi and other peaks. One imagines he would have made an excellent diplomat but destiny for once demurred and preferred his good friend Sir Ed Hillary for that role. Their joint concern to set up the 'Himalayan Environment Trust' to attune mountaineers internationally to the need for environmental conservation is beginning to bear fruit, returning some of the blessings the mountains have heaped on them. This is a handsomely produced book (with some vintage illustrations) by India's best publisher to indicate how Captain Kohli commands respect even in a generation less familiar with the dramatic ascent of 1965. One More Step is a valuable

record of how far officially sponsored mountaineering has come in free India in the short space of fifty years. It is also an inspiring chronicle of how a mountain devotee can successfully combine his passion with a happy family life.


JOY OF THE HIMALAYA. A Pictorial Tribute to Indian Himalaya. By

J Ramanan. Pp. 127, 60 b/w plates and 30 colour plates, 2004. (J

Ramanan, Tiruchirapalli, price not stated).

'In my hundred ages of the gods I could not tell thee the glories of the Himalaya. As the dew is dried up by the morning Sun, so are the sins of mankind by the sight of the Himalaya.' This verse from the Skanda Purana quoted in the jacket of the book aptly summarises the beauty of the Himalaya. One cannot find a person more qualified than J Ramanan to chronicle their splendour pictorially. His passion for photography equals his passion for the mountains and this transmutes into heart- aching beauty. His lifelong affair with the camera started in 1967 and he has won over a 100 certificates of merit and medals for his photography. He is an architect by training and the symmetry and clear lines are also evident in his photographs.

The book begins with a short autobiography. Four portfolios of black and white photographs, dedicated to his mentor, friends and patrons, follow this. In the author's words, 'The essence of still photography is to capture the scene, story, mood, texture, rhythm - everything in a single frame and reproduce them in correct tonal ranges.' The compilation does full justice to this statement. Most of the photographs are of mountain scenery and interspersed amidst them are some of plants, flowers and nature in its different moods. Towards the end of the book is another portfolio with 30 colour plates. This section has some stunning photographs capturing the magic of the alpenglow and some poetic human portraits. Each portfolio begins with a few quotations and these are interesting in their Catholicism. But this is only the first impression. A second look reveals the photographer's mastery of his craft. The montages are breathtaking insofar as the technicalities of photography go.

Sir Francis Younghusband said, 'The mountaineer returns to his hills because he remembers always that he has forgotten so much.' This is

exactly what draws mountain aficionados to books on mountain photography. They want to recollect what they have seen before in all its beauty and verity. Some picture he has experimented with mixing a scene from say a beach below a Himalayan peak and others. The photographs of the Shore temple at Mahabalipuram with the Panch Chuli peaks in the background some how leave one cold and slightly disturbed. I want to remember my mountains with the smell of the pine resin and the invigorating chill, not with the smell of drying fish or the salty spray.



Jackson. Pp. 256, 2005. Indus Book, New Delhi, Rs. 400).

This is an excellent book for several reasons. It covers two generations and manages to bridge both successfully. It is probably the best book on the Everest area despite not attempting to summit the mountain. It is a mine of useful and laid back information thanks to the author's wide-ranging interests. Seldom do we find such intelligent visitors as the author and his wife Eileen who relate easily to the locals wherever they go and can identify bird and plant species at the drop of a hat. It is a pleasure to have guides such as these who, forever willing to learn are just as ready to teach. Above 18,000 ft they introduced beginners both foreign and Sherpa to the bliss of skiing and in Jackson's response to the 'thrilling nuances' of the sport can be detected his own and the

book's great strength : 'the soft sibilant swish.......... perfect coordination

of mind and muscle...... the heart beating strongly.' Above all Adventure

Travel is excellent for the human warmth it radiates. It is a kind of thanks offering to the Himalaya for providing so much pleasure : 'they had much fun and gained great satisfaction and that is what going to the mountains is all about.'

Too often expedition accounts ignore the lives of the porters on which the success of the outing depends. Jackson forges friendships with Sherpa father and son, taking a personal interest in their welfare. It is noticeable throughout how reluctant he is to deride what is good for others. Thus that ghastly concoction butter tea he describes as 'definitely an acquired taste.' This is not the glib diplomat's skating round unpleasant realities but a sympathetic understanding of how real and disparate is human

appetite. Such maturity from the author's philosophy founded on elemental contact : 'a longing to know more about such remote corners of the world and the whole broad sweep of the Universe.' It is this broad sweep that characterises Jackson's affair with the Himalaya. He is an all-rounder interested in everything that comes his way. He matches science with intuition and his account of Yeti lore must be the most comprehensive and valuable yet published. For example he notes that a rolling boulder and grass springing back from the weight of snow can produce 'tracks'. Typically he is 'loathe to giving a definite opinion either way.' In an age when Geoffrey Boycott, the cricket commentator, has an opinion on everything, Jackson comes across as something of a saviour of Yorkshiremen's reputation! It is his open mindedness that makes him an outstanding traveller sympathetic to strange ideas and alien customs. If only Jackson had been born a US presidential candidate.

Both the publisher Indus and 'prodders' (Harish and Geeta Kapadia) are to be commended for insisting Jackson should pen his feelings for the Himalaya : 'nostalgic smells, smoky atmosphere and sincere hospitality.' This book is a tonic because it reminds us that the nobility of the Himalayan range is ultimately a symbol and echo of what is finest in human nature.


WHERE THE MOUNTAIN CASTS ITS SHADOW. By Maria Coffey. Pp. 192, 2003. (Hutchinson, London, £ 16.99).

Chocolate Fingers

DickRenshaw got frostbite during their descent from Dunagiri. Dick had removed his gloves to hammer in an ice peg and tie some ropes together. Later he was sitting in his sleeping bag, eating a piece of chocolate when he realized that he had finished the piece and was nibbling at the end of his own fingers, which were now as dark and frozen as the chocolate had been.

Mountaineers, who flirt with death at the highest points in the world, risk a lot more than their own fingers and their own skin. Families in the wake of a climbing accident are left feeling cheated and confused, questioning the ethics of what many consider a purely selfish sport.

Maria Coffey's book, Where the Mountain Casts its Shadow asks taboo and often hard-to-digest questions for climbers across the world. She recounts near-death experiences and gives voice to bereaved families and loved ones. In 11 short essays, she talks from an insider's perspective about the personal cost of climbing. It is an area of thought and study that has been extremely taboo in the mountain world and in that lies the significance of this book.

Definitely, some of the arguments and insights rung true for me, and got me thinking about the 'backstage activity' of mountaineering so to speak. When tragedy strikes, what do loved ones go through? Why would anyone choose to invest in a future with a high altitude climber? What does it mean to injure oneself up there? Or lose a limb? What does tragedy mean to fellow climbers? Also, the inevitable debate about which is more important for a climber : the freedom and dangers of the mountain or the responsibility of a relationship, a family. But sometimes these essays however, are full to the brim with personal accounts and incidents that are not always interesting. They tend to get repetitive; making the same point over and over again.

One particularly thought provoking account was of a young woman whose father had died before her birth, a victim of a climbing accident. She says that though she has no memories to associate with, and thus has nothing to 'miss', she does feel cheated of a father. She said something that struck me as true and important. That a high altitude climber can gain a sense on being only from the mountains, of the mountains, and when he or she has a family, this personal need is secondary. But a family is a responsibility that has been opted for. Risk taking maybe the source of life but cannot be so at the cost of others. You can take a risk for yourself, not beyond that. A continuous thread of debate, through the book, is that of whether or not climbing is run purely by 'selfish' motives. The debate is, in essence, not resolvable but it leaves hanging an important and (I'm told by the book jacket) largely taboo question for mountaineers and their families.

Though they got me thinking, one feels that Maria Coffey's essays could have been told in more interesting ways. I felt bombarded with large amounts of names and people and incidents that I lost track of, almost always. Single incidents and more stories would have been interesting. It feels at times like a documentary film that's pushed its luck with individuals recounting information.

A large number of incidents are used to drive home the one point she is trying to make but at many instances, one feels that the number of examples she gives are in fact, detrimental to her argument. We have no personal connection with the climber or family in discussion (primarily because, she has just recounted five others like this one) and beyond a point, I began to lose sympathy with similar incident after similar incident.

11 short stories in my opinion would have been more effective.

Maria Coffey began writing 16 years ago and since then she had published a further nine books. Coffey had to face one of the hardest realities of the sport when her love, Joe Tasker, disappeared on the NE ridge of Everest in 1982. Not surprisingly thus, she has concentrated on climbers who have been on the Everest. She examines what compels climbers to return repeatedly and why, despite the costs, our society continues to laud them. The fact that Coffey herself is a climber and thus understands the sentiment fully is the reason she is able to talk without bias and with a correct understanding.

Learning of Joe Tasker's death stripped away my desire to live for the future. I lived from moment to painful moment, an intense vivid and extreme existence where nothing mattered and anything was possible. That intensity, I now realize, was Joe's legacy to me. It compelled me to follow his example, taking from life, what I wanted and needed, shaping it to my dreams, experiencing it to the fullest, knowing that the end can come suddenly, without warning. Joe's death jolted me alive.

This leaves questions in my mind, both the beautiful madness and the harsh reality of climbing high altitude are placed in a kind of versus situation. What is more important? Or does that question matter when faced with the freedom of the mountains?


MOUNTAINS OF THE MIND. A History of Fascination. By Robert Macfarlane. Pp. 306, b/w illustrations, 2003. (Granta Publications, London £ 20.00).

Forget mountaineering as a sport, merely wandering in the tall mountains and traversing glaciers was considered the realm of lunatics till a few centuries ago. Given the fact that humans have had mountains

as part of their landscape since the beginning of time, it is a really surprising to discover how they have been avoided through the history of civilisation.

Robert Macfarlane takes us through this wonderfully detailed journey from the beginning of the 15 th century until the 20th, exploring the changing relationship between men and mountains. Beginning from a time when mountains were the abode of gods, demons, dragons and unfathomable magic until the present when mountains are perceived as the shrines of inner peace, tranquility and absolute beauty.

Macfarlane raises some very pertinent questions as to why human approach has changed from looking at mountain landscapes as being aesthetically repellent to now, when millions are drawn to them each year, often risking their lives. In Mountains of the Mind, the author actually seeks to answer these and other questions with as much clarity as the subject will allow.

The book takes an extremely lucid and analytical approach to seek answers. Mixing personal experiences with culture and soul searching, the author produces a very engrossing account of the various facets that have shaped current attitude to mountains. A wealth of writings from diverse sources forms the structural frame work of the text. The book itself is divided into nine chapters, of which seven explore the history of approach to different aspects of mountains. These chart out changing attitudes toward landscapes, snow, ice, rock, glaciers, altitude etc. The book weaves together a fabric of changes that have come about in approaches towards geology, science, general exploration and how they, in turn influenced the cultural outlook of England and Europe towards mountains and mountaineering. The various motivations from the joy of fear to the pride of conquest to the pleasures of the sublime are dealt with in a most readable and engaging prose.

The book also introduces the reader to the mindset of the different eras through references and quotations of the best writings on each issue, of the relevant time. In fact the amount of research that must have been undertaken by the author really surprises me. The subjects, the authors and their quotations, though are so interspersed that their presences does not break but rather seems to flow with the basic narrative.

The book deals with the really troubling questions of death in mountaineering and explodes the myth of such romance. On the repeated attempts by inveterate risk takers, in spite of the known dangers he says:

In a situation like this there is an inescapable sense that some bad magic or mesmerism has been worked: that a love of the mountains has become something akin to brainwashing. It is an example of the dark side of mountaineering, a reminder of its potentially huge costs. There is no undeniable need to put one's life at risk on a mountainside or cliff. Mountaineering isn't destiny, it doesn't have to happen to a person.

I now almost fully acknowledge that there is nothing inherently noble about dying in the mountains: indeed that there is something atrociously wasteful about it. I have largely stopped taking risks.

And again:

For me now, as for the vast majority of mountain goers, the attraction of mountains is far more about beauty than about risk, far more about joy than fear, far more about wonder than pain, and far more about life than death.

The book begins with the author's discovery of Mallory's 1924 Everest attempt and his personal introduction to the joy, the romance of exploration and adventure. It ends with a detailed account of Mallory's attempts on Everest. The book thus leads to its culmination in exploring the cultural and historical baggage that has dominated the sport of mountaineering. Mountains of the Mind is a great first book by the 29- year-old Robert Macfarlane.


Short Reviews (by (Ms) Nandini Purandare)

LANDS OF EARLY DAWN - NORTH EAST OF INDIA. By Romesh Bhattacharji. Pp. 350, 21 colour photos, 2002. (Rupa & Co., New Delhi, Rs. 395).

There has been a great paucity of information available on the North East of India. Romesh Bhattacharji, a career bureaucrat, while on posting

in Shillong has travelled extensively in Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Manipur and Tripura. Here is a book that covers these travels. Any visitor to the North East will concur that the issue of pressing importance is the rapid depletion of forest cover and wild life. (Cherrapunji is a desert today, it was the greenest wettest spot on earth, didn't we learn?) He covers this issue with care and concern. The politics of the region is also complex and he weaves brilliant imagery into his narrative of the mundane. And then a charming chapter on how the people of these rainforests cross their rivers and another on the plane ride from Delhi to Dibrugarh. But don't be fooled. It is an extensively researched and well written book.

FOOTPRINTS IN THE SNOW. By Brigadier G.D. Bakshi, VSM, Pp. 167, 12 colour photos, 10 b/w photos, 2 sketch maps, 2002. (Lancer Publishers & Distributors, Rs. 495).

General Zorawar Singh led six campaigns across the Himalaya to conquer Ladakh, Baltistan and invaded Western Tibet. This book, in form of a tribute to this amazing General, tells his story with military precision. It is a book on military strategy by Brig Bakshi and his regiment, J&K Rifles, tracing its origins to the Dogra Regiment raised by Zorawar Singh. He researched and wrote this book while posted in the war-torn Kishtwar area, which was also the home base of Zorawar Singh during 1821 to 1841. Definitely recommended reading for military historians and enthusiasts. It is heartening to know that during high risk postings, the Brigadier has made the effort to research and put together a wonderfully told tale of an amazing man. And yes, as noted in the foreword, the book is also a milestone in that it marks the first in a series of great Indian Commanders, thus moving away from repeated Anglo centric studies of the Mountbattens and the Montgomeries, and also moving away from history as told to us by the Anglo Saxons.

KAILASH-MANASAROVAR. A day-to-day account of the journey to eternity. By K.L. Sharma, Pp 128, 16 colour photos, 3 sketch maps, 2005 (Indus Publishing Company, Rs. 165).

K.L. Sharma, a Government official, has served as liaison officer for the Kailash Manasarovar yatra in the past. He is a mountain and

trekking enthusiast and has written a good, practical and slim guide to anyone wanting to do theyatra. Geography, health tips, formalities to be completed.. .you will find it all in this ready reckoner. It covers the Indian as well as the Tibetan side. Adding value to an otherwise dry guide book, is the devotion and religious knowledge that the author imparts which is necessary, considering this is one of the most holy treks in the world and is expected to raise ones level of consciousness. The author terms the yatra as 'a practical experience in spirituality'. And he has written a definitive guide for it! How one wishes that there could be step by step guide for devotion and belief!

WEST BENGAL MOUNTAINEERING HANDBOOK (1960-2000). By Kankan Kumar Ray. Pp.180, 2002. (Privately published, Kolkata, price not stated).

This privately published book covers expeditions to the Himalayan peaks from state of West Bengal (including Kolkata). Peaks have been listed in alphabetical order with heights in feet and metres and areas with latitudes and longitudes. The author, a government employee, was honorary secretary of the Himalayan Club at Kolkata and has interacted with many climbers. This is a tribute to mountaineering community in West Bengal and would be a useful reference. Publication of an enlarged edition with all climbs to the Himalayan peaks (expeditions not only from West Bengal or India) would be a useful guide as well.

CENTRAL ASIA - A TRAVELLER'S COMPANION. By Kathleen Hopkirk. Pp. 292, 16 b/w photos, 2 sketch maps, 1993. (John Murray, London, £ 13.99).

Central Asia is the flavour of the season for many travel buffs. For several reasons. one of the more important ones is the political events of the last century that broke up the huge Soviet 'empire' into smaller countries, more open to the west. On the other hand is China, emerging as a great power, but still wary of curious outsiders. Another point of interest, that makes the region unique, is its religious and ethnic diversity. But most of all, the Silk Road is the very epitome of adventure and romance for any traveller. Kathleen Hopkirk has travelled in this region for thirty years. Her book is not a traveller's guidebook alone. It is a study of the sociology,

politics, economics, culture and history of a stretch of 2000 miles, from the Caspian Sea to China. The vibrancy of this minute by minute changing region is very difficult to capture but here is a book, among many on the region, that makes a readable page-turner.


by Gregory McNamee. Pp. 262, 2000. (Sierra Club Books, San

Francisco, £ 11.95).

How exciting that the mountains inspire all kinds. That books to be read and reviewed are not merely accounts of expeditions. This book is far from that. Editor McNamee has sourced from mountain folklore, essays and travelogues from 18th/ 19th centuries, poetry, old and new and of course, the dramas of terror in real life...accounts of survival. He divides his collection broadly continent wise and each section opens up a world of delight depending on your mood. You can begin at the beginning enjoying Henry David Thoreau's travels in Maine and ascent of Katahdin or you can turn to Charles Darwin's account of his travel in the Andes. My favourites are the tribal tales from Africa but then you will find Whitman and Muir, Chekov and Conan Doyle, Twain and Hemingway and even Bertolt Brecht, all tied by their fascination for mountains. It is a compelling anthology and no small credit to this editor who begins with a beautiful introduction. This introduction is an essay, for which alone, I would buy this book.

TIBET - PANORAMAS. By Jaroslav Poncar. 51 colour and b/w panoramas, 2004. (Edition Panorama)

After my four extensive travels around Tibet, I am almost inclined to believe that either Tibet was created specifically for panorama photography or else panorama photography was invented with Tibet in mind - Jaroslav Poncar.

Feast your eyes. Here is a superb collection of panoramas shot by this German photographer with an introduction by John Keay. The book is published with German and English captions. The landscapes are stunning, the production German perfect.

MERCATOR. The Man who Mapped the Planet. By Nicholas Crane.

Pp. 348, 16 colour, 22 b/w illustrations, 2002. (Weidenfeld &

Nicolson, London, £ 20.00).

500 years ago, in 1512, Gerard Mercator was born to a poor family in the flood plains of Europe. He grew up to be the pioneer of modern geographers, a cartographer at the most exciting time, when so much of the new world was just being discovered. This is his biography and is nothing but exciting as all stories of this age are wont to be. However Nicholas Crane has not compromised at all where technical descriptions of his mapping techniques are concerned. Mercator was, after all the inventor of 'projecting' the spherical world into a two dimensional map. The title of his pioneering geographical work, the Atlas, is now a synonym for a book of maps. When America was born and being named, Mercator was part of it all, he mapped that continent and saw it grow. A book worthy of study and comment by expert cartographers, particularly as the development of all cartographic techniques has been recorded in this book. It is not merely a biography.

ECOTOURISM AND ENVIRONMENT HANDBOOK - A READY RECKONER FOR THE TOURISM INDUSTRY. Edited by Mandip Singh Soin. Pp. 130, 2004. (Mininstry of Tourism, Government of India).

This is a directory on everything-you-wanted-to know-about- ecotourism-and-did-not-know-where-to-look. For private circulation, it is a handbook with lists of environmental organizations, do's and don'ts for eco tourist operators, NGOs, filmmakers, landscape architects, eco products and where to source them etc. Very useful, but not, unfortunately, for sale.

SURVEY OF THE ENVIRONMENT. 2005. (Hindu Publication)

This annual issue covers details about the tsunami and its effect on the environment and biodiversity. It also covers wild life and energy issues and controversies such as the pollution on the Siachen glacier.