J. B. AUDEN: A CENTENARY TRIBUTE. Edited by B. P. Radhakrishna, Pp. 322, 2003. Soft cover, (Geological Society of India Memoir 56, Geological Society of India, P O Box 1922, Gavipuram, Bangalore 560019. ISBN 8185867615, $ 45).
Several years ago, when I was writing a biography of the Swiss/ Himalayan geologist, Augusto Gansser, I asked him who his hero was among the geologists who had worked in the Himalaya. Gansser (himself a giant of Himalayan geology) simply said, 'John Auden.' Later, B. P. Radhakrishna, President of the Geological Society of India, kindly wrote to me that the Society intended to publish a volume as a tribute to John Auden. It is a delight to see that this volume has been published. The volume includes a detailed biography of John Auden by Radhakrishna, his family life by Anita Money (Auden's daughter), and a collection of eight geologic papers by Auden published from 1933 through 1981. These classic papers include: 'On the Age of Certain Himalayan Granites' (1933); 'Vindhyan Sedimentation in the Son Valley, Mirzapur District' (1933); 'The Geology of the Krol Belt' (1934);'Traverses in the Himalaya' (1935); 'The Structure of the Himalaya in Garhwal' (1937); 'The Bearing of Geology on Multipurpose Projects' (1951); 'Geological Report on the Seismicity of Parts of Western India including Maharashtra' (1969) and 'India's Former Crustal Neighbours (1981).
The history of geology in British India is a fascinating and significant part of the history of world geology, and deserves more research. The Geological Survey of India (GSI), established in Kolkata in 1851, is one of the oldest geologic surveys, and geologists working for this institution during the second half of the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth centuries not only mapped a great part of Asia, but also contributed to the development of the science of geology, including the concepts of Gondwanaland (an ancient super continent), the Tethys Sea, and collision of continents to produce high mountains.
John Bicknell Auden was born at York, U.K., in 1903, the eldest son of Dr. George Augustus Auden, a physician, and the elder brother of the famed British poet, Wystan H. Auden. He went to Cambridge to study geology, graduated in 1926, and straightway joined the GSI at Kolkata. The first two years, Auden worked out the geology of coal fields near
Kolkata. However, it was during 1928-1939 that his fieldwork in the Himalayan regions of the Punjab, Garhwal, Kumaun, Sikkim, and Nepal brought him prestige as an original contributor to our understanding of the tectonic evolution of the highest and youngest mountain range on Earth. His papers were published in the Memoirs (if they were full articles) and in the Records (if they were brief reports) of the GSI. His maps, cross- sections, descriptions, and interpretations have remained, to this day, a modern geologic tone partly because his papers helped to shape the modern understanding of the Himalaya.
For example, his 1934 paper on the 'Geology of the Krol Belt' remains a cornerstone of the stratigraphy and structure of this part of the Lesser Himalaya in north India (Kumaun-Himachal), and subsequent studies by numerous other geologists have mainly refined Auden's descriptions. We owe the first designation of an large-scale thrust fault, which has brought the Higher Himalayan high-temperature metamorphic rocks (granite gneiss) atop the Lesser Himalaya low-temperature metamorphic sedimentary rocks, to Auden's 1935 paper ('Traverses in the Himalaya'). This thrust fault was called the Main Central Thrust by Gansser in 1939. The first sentence of his 1935 paper, 'It is realized that there is often danger in early generalization from incomplete observations such as are made on traverses,' is typical of Auden as a careful observer and cautious interpreter. Mark Twain's famous quote that in science 'one gets such whole-some return of conjectures out of such trifling investment of facts' would hardly apply to Auden.
World War II (1939-1945) brought an end to Auden's Himalayan work. During the war he was a pilot and a mineral surveyor in India. In 1940 Auden married Shiela Bonnerjee, a granddaughter of W. C. Bonnerjee, the founding president of the Indian National Congress, which led India to its freedom from British rule.
After his two daughters (Anita in 1941 and Rita in 1942) were born, Auden had to retain two households, one at Kolkata and the other in London for the sake of the girls' education. In 1947, India got its independence and Auden got his doctorate degree from Cambridge. In 1949, Auden acted as the last British Director of the Geological Survey of India for only two months. (M. S. Krishnan became the first Indian Director of the Survey). In 1953, Auden took premature retirement from the GSI and was the last British geologist to leave that wonderful institution. For the next two decades, Auden worked as a geologist for organisations
such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation and visited several other Asian countries, including Korea, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkey. For these projects, Auden applied his geologic skills to construction engineering, and his 1951 speech ('The Bearing of Geology on Multipurpose Projects') at the Indian Science Congress in Bangalore epitomises this phase of his career.
Auden's last publication ('India's Former Crustal Neighbours') was actually a lecture he delivered in 1981, when he was awarded the D. N. Wadia Medal of the Indian National Science Academy. Wadia, an eminent Indian geologist, was Auden's senior colleague at the GSI, and they had co-authoured several papers. In this lecture, Auden remarked that geologists who reconstruct the paleogeographic position map of India in geological past stopped in the Cretaceous Period (145-65 million years ago), but we know a lot more about India. On the basis of comparison from animal fossils from the Tethys marine sediments, Auden placed Iran and Arabia as India's northwestern neighbours during the Palaeozoic Era (540-245 million years ago).
Auden's bibliography (pages 45-46) lists 33 articles, reports and book reviews he published on the Himalaya and India. By today's standards of 'publish or perish' in academic circles, this number of publications seems to be modest. However, the originality and impact of Auden's scientific work was indeed admirable. He was one of the greatest geologists who have ever set their eyes on the Himalaya. Auden died in 1991 in London, and to honour his wishes, his ashes were immersed in the Ganges, which originates in Garhwal, a region of the high Himalaya he had mapped in his youth.
Producing this volume with several large geological maps drawn by Auden is a costly venture. The year 2003 was the centenary anniversary of Auden's birth, and the Geological Society of India should be commended on bringing out this fascinating memoir to celebrate the great life and works of a humble geologist. There are only two photographs of Auden in the volume. His photos were 'for passport purposes,' as Auden once wrote to Radhakrishna in reply to request for photos!
(Note: An earlier version of this book review was published in the Journal of Earth Sciences History, volume 23, number 2, 2003, USA. I have slightly modified it to avoid the geologist's jargon for Himalayan Journal.)
MOUNT EVEREST 1935 -THE FORGOTTEN ADVENTURE. By Tony Astill. Pp. 359, black and white photos, sketches and maps. (Available from good outdoor shops and Cordee www.cordee.co.uk
, or from author at firstname.lastname@example.org
and tel. [+44] 2380293767, £35.00).
Eighteen years ago I had the good fortune to visit the east side of Everest. Winter snow delayed our crossing of a high pass called the Langma La, so we had lots of spare time to gaze eastward, across the Arun valley, to a tantalising group of peaks called Nyonno Ri. Bet no- one's been there, I thought, dreaming of hypothetical ventures into unknown territory. Likewise the tempting cluster of peaks closer to Everest, stretching from Rongbuk to Karta on the west side of the Arun, which in my ignorance I assumed to be unclimbed. Of course, as nearly always happens in the Himalaya, I was wrong: someone had been there. And that someone, needless to say, was Eric Shipton.
Shipton's 1935 Everest expedition was not really an Everest expedition at all. It was an excuse to indulge in a wide-roaming orgy of peak-bagging probably unequalled in Himalayan history. One member of the team, the distinguished paediatrician and collector of Ruskin paintings, Charles Warren, was asked shortly before he died whether it was really true that the team had climbed fifteen peaks over 20,000 feet. 'I think you'll find,' he replied politely, 'that it was actually twenty-six'.
Organised at a tenth of the cost of the blockbuster bandobasts despatched to Everest in 1933 and 1936, the 1935 expedition was the only pre-war 'show' not to be graced with its own book. Now Tony Astill has put the record straight, using his own exhaustively-researched narrative to link copious diary extracts from different team members. The book is illustrated copiously with black and white photographs, many of them previously unpublished, and is rounded off Ted Hatch's masterly maps, which summarise graphically the sheer breadth and scale of the team's achievements.
On Everest itself, the only real achievement was to confirm that climbing above 22,000 feet in heavy unconsolidated monsoon snow was not a good idea (the time had not yet come for Mr Messner's window-of- opportunity rapid-dash approach). But around Everest the team made numerous ascents, including famous peaks such as Lingtren. In addition they reached two summits in the Nyonno Ri group and, even at the end of a four months campaign, they managed to knock off a couple more
summits on the Tibet-Sikkim border on their way home. And Michael Spender surveyed large tracts of previously unexplored country, drawing some exquisite maps which appear as endpapers in this edition.
On a historical note, this expedition sowed some fruitful seeds. It introduced one Tensing Norgay to Himalayan climbing. It also included Edwin Kempson, the schoolmaster who would later inspire his pupil Michael Ward to go and climb the Khumbu Icefall. And it included a New Zealander called Dan Bryant, who made such a good impression on Shipton that he had no hesitation in inviting another New Zealander called Edmund Hillary to join him and Ward on Everest eighteen years later.
These, and others, all have their voice in Astill's book, speaking vividly through some wonderful diary entries. As you might expect from a poet's brother, Spender is one of the most observant, and his acerbic account of being stuck for days alone in a godforsaken, flyblown, indifferent Tibetan village makes a refreshing contrast to our modern over-romanticising of that country. Also amusing are his - and everyone's - frequent, obsessive references to food. The Shipton regime was an ascetic one; but, food gripes aside, it was clearly also an inspiring one: this was a journey of enchantment and we are fortunate that Tony Astil, in this scholarly labour of love, has documented it so handsomely.
(Review was first published in Climber , UK)
INTO THE UNTRAVELLED HIMALAYA - Travels, Treks and Climbs. By Harish Kapadia. Sketches by Geeta Kapadia. Pp. 256, 14 colour and 34 b/w photos, 23 sketch maps, 2005. (Indus Publishing Company, New Delhi Rs. 400).
Success in life, it is said, is the progressive realisation of a worthy ideal. Fairly early in his life Harish Kapadia realised that mountains were definitely a grand ideal to pursue. Exploring the lesser known and unknown Himalayan peaks and valleys for over four decades now; his high altitude pursuits have taken him to some of the remotest regions, taught him many useful lessons in life and won him many admirers and friends. It has also brought him international acclaim including the highly prestigious the Patron's (Royal) Medal from the Royal Geographical Society; the first by an Indian in over 125 years. A prolific writer and editor of the prestigious Himalayan Journal, Harish through his earlier writings has taken us across peaks and passes, opened up high-unknown valleys and led us into the unexplored hidden Himalaya.
As he enters the sixth decade of his life, an age when many of us will hang up our boots and start churning out sagely advice, mostly unsolicited, to anyone who will listen; Harish tells us that he is far away from doing any such thing. In the book under review, he describes his exploits in the last decade, a ten years period, which has been very momentous for him - both personally and professionally. During this time he had to take a call on relinquishing his family trading business and devote all his time to his mountaineering passion. It has also been the period when he won international acclaim and honour. It was also a time when his two sons came of age and left home to seek their own destinies. This book is dedicated to the memory of his younger son, Lt. Nawang Kapadia, a mountaineering enthusiast and a Gurkha Officer who went down fighting terrorists in Kashmir while saving a comrade. A glorious act indeed and in the finest traditions of the Indian Army.
In Into the Untravelled Himalaya we accompany Harish on his travels, treks and climbs in regions spread across the length of the Himalaya and beyond to the high Tibetan plateau. Himalayan Geography, indisputably, links India and Tibet and therefore China. Many of our major rivers originate in Tibet and both India and China are on the threshold of being economic and military superpowers. During his travels into Tibet, Harish also shows that links between the two ancient civilizations run deep and extend to shared cultures, religions, politics and history including wars and conquests in the past by Mongols, Sikhs and British. Interestingly, with an eye on history, the author commenced his last journey to Tibet a century later - exact 100 years to the day - to Sir Francis Younghusband's march into Tibet with the British troops, which was a decisive gamble played by Lord Curzon in the Great Game.
The author shares with us the joys of traversing through the benevolent Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan whose history, politics and destiny is interwoven to her giant neighbours to the north and south. He brings out why its national priorities, even in the capitalist world of today, are towards preservation of its unique cultural heritage and increasing gross national happiness for its people as against blindly chasing material
gains. There are sweet moments experienced and memories of past relived while gently exploring Sikkim under the gaze of mighty Kangchenjunga. In his travels to Arunachal Pradesh, an area not visited by him hitherto, he explores the Tawang tract and the Tsangpo-Siang Bend, where mighty Brahmaputra enters the Indian Territory. He also weaves together an interesting historical narrative of the late 19th century British explorers to this area, pays homage to the sacrifices of the Indian Army in 1962 war and compares the social changes sweeping across the land. All these are described in his inimitable prose, shooting straight from the hip sans any irrelevant metaphors but backed by detailed maps, solid research and reference footnotes.
The Dalai Lama says that the advantages of living a good life are that when you get older and think back, you'll be able to enjoy it a second time. After many 'misspent' years of Himalayan climbs and as age weakens the body but not the spirit, Harish admits, there are more gentle treks and shorter climbs now with friends; many of them acquired in those years of shared hardships undergone during strenuous mountain climbs together. It is a delight to read the accounts of his 'Bagpipe Treks' undertaken with varied friends, including many renowned names in mountaineering. These jaunts to beautiful and often unexplored places in Uttaranchal & Himachal show us the simpler joys of camaraderie and reliving past memories, while simultaneously enjoying the experience of being in the midst of Himalaya, savouring unique cultures and interaction with the local people.
The highlight of the book is undoubtedly the accounts of author's climbs and travels in East Karakoram; a region at the crossroads of ancient trade routes, it stands high like a geographical fulcrum and was the nucleus of the 19th
century Great Game between the imperial powers. Harish takes us through the bleak landscapes littered with bleached bones of animals and humans that fell to the hardships of the treacherous terrain and to places associated with 19th century explorers. So at the Karakoram pass we remember the indefatigable Andrew Dalgliesh of The Central India Trading Company who was murdered there by an Afghan and at Leh we pay homage at the grave of Ferdinand Stoliczka. In a slight personal twist regarding the latter, a few years ago, I drove for five hours from Delhi to see Stoliczka's Bushchat, Saxicola macrorhyncha, a rare endemic bird about the size of a sparrow, found in the dry wastelands of Western India that was first described to science by this 19th century Russian naturalist and is therefore named in his honour.
While in the rugged East Karakoram, Harish does not however forget the real 'Kings ofKarakoram'- the humble mules! Through a masterly treatise he delves deep into the lives of these hardy animals that - as in the centuries past - continue to play a vital role in the success of any travel, exploration and climbs in these desolate heights. As this region once again regains strategic focus, Helicopters to maintain the supply lines to remote posts and the ubiquitous gasoline Jerry cans that turn the wheels of the military convoys are also vital necessities now, laments the author.
Beyond enjoyment for mere sport, we mountaineers have a duty to see that the pristine mountain places are saved from environmental degradation. I am sure the future generations will not forgive us if we short-change the fragile Himalayan environment in return for a few short- term economic gains. Harish takes us through the saga of Siachen, environmental side affects of this two decades old war in the high altitude and efforts by many to give the peace and the region's environment to recover a chance. With both countries agreeing to a ceasefire and holding on to a fragile peace, a short-term objective may have been achieved, he says, but there's a long path to travel before the proposed trans-boundary Peace Park is a reality and the fragrant roses bloom again in these icy wastes. Harish is passionate in his plea to the Governments and people of both countries that 'Nations, which do not understand and respect geography are condemned by history'.
The book with detailed sketch maps of remote regions, photographs and beautiful sketches by Geeta Kapadia is a must have for every serious worshipper of the Himalaya.
CDR. K. B. SINGH
THE CULT OF PURE CRYSTAL MOUTAIN. By Toni Huber. Pp. 297, 7 b/w photos, 2 maps, 1999. (Oxford University Press, New York, Rs.1395).
From where did the snow lion come? It came from the glaciers of Tsari. It brings joy to the world by just coming To show off its turquoise mane.
Tibetans beliefs go much beyond the surrounding mountainscapes they live in. May be because of living in areas which are harsh but sublime
they have developed a cult of Nature worship which is mountain based. They believe, like the quote above that 'Proud white snow lions with turquoise manes are mythical beasts' dwell on the great snowy ranges of Tibet. The snow lion and mountain are used as an emblem by the exiled government of the Dalai Lama. Snow lion also represents the hermits and yogins who meditate in far away caves and retreat to high mountain wilderness.
The sacred mountain of Takpa Siri, as known to Tibetans, translates roughly as 'Pure Crystal Mountain'. It is one such abode of snow lions, of both the mythical and the human kind. Tsari, the remote part of southeast Tibet has long been a place for symbolic and ritual significance to people of Tibet. 'It has served as a centre for Tantric meditation and yoga, a site for mountain deity worship, and not the least, as one of Tibet's outstanding natural venues for popular pilgrimage'.
This book is a comprehensive account of the Tibetan life in Tsari, their beliefs, tantric and esoteric traditions and popular traditions of a major Tibetan pilgrimage. This is a pioneering work and a different view of Tibet and its people and mountains. For trekkers and mountain lovers the traditions of the pilgrimage around Takpa Siri should be of great interest.
Tsari lies in the Pemako area which is holy in Tibetan Buddhism - one of the holy sites for pilgrimage, the other being Kailash peak in western Tibet. Takpa Siri, is a mountain of 5735 m standing on a long ridge, and Tibetans undertake a kora (circumambulation) around this peak. They believe that because of four water bodies (rivers and lakes), four passes and four peaks here, this area and the peak is an abode of the gods. They perform two types of koras. The Kingkor is a shorter but higher route,which can be performed yearly. The Ringkor is a long circuit, which was undertaken every 12 years. Elaborate arrangements were made for the latter pilgrimage as thousands of pilgrims would descend along the Tsari chu to the Lopa country (the present day Arunachal Pradesh, India) and trek along the Subansiri river back into Tibet. This was an arduous journey in an unknown and wild terrain.
After the political changes, the Chinese forbade all pilgrimages after 1956. The Indo-China war of 1962 divided the Ringkor route across the McMahon Line (the present international boundary) and this tradition was lost. However no sooner restrictions were eased by the Chinese in 1982 than the shorter pilgrimage restarted , symbolising the human spirit which could not be forbidden by political masters. Takpa Siri lived in hearts of Tibetans for all those years.
Undertaking parts of the Ringkor pilgrimage from the Indian side in 2005, we found the going hard, up and across wooden ladders, traditional hanging bamboo bridges and snakes and malarial flies infested jungles. It is wonder how these Tibetans, not used to walk in such forests, bought peace with Lopas and with their help passed on this route. When I asked a Lopa, 'what if the Tibetan government did not pay tribute for a safe pilgrimage?' 'We will cut them to pieces'! Was the fierce reply. Today there a few elders alive who had undertaken this pilgrimage and recall the traditions and routes. Following the pilgrim trail we could gather much physical information, but the true essence of the pilgrimage to Takpa Siri is provided by Huber's book.
In this book Huber has recorded the vast fund of knowledge about Takpa Siri before it is lost to mankind. He brings out inner feelings and devotion of pilgrims, trying to analyse and explain their inner urge to obtain merit. This is a wonderful record of oral history.
If they abandon the oral guide to Tsari, The pilgrims are liable to turn into sightseers.
Without the eulogies of the Tsari pilgrimage circuit, They just gossip about the theft of the monastery's yak.
The western concept of a map is piece of paper which represents 'the earth's surface, to include, among others, cognitive and social maps, the complex electronic maps of computer systems, and mathematical maps.'. The Tibetans, like many ancient cultures have used a variety of mapping systems for navigating their 'world-space' (shingkham) and these are used for pilgrimages, such as for Takpa Siri. These are narrative maps. They are handed down for generations and now perhaps for the first time are published in this book as a definitive record. The book also records journeys and explorations by westerners like F Kingdon-Ward, George Sherriff, Frank Ludlow and 'highly trained observers (that is, spies, as were (F.M.)Bailey and (H. T.) Moreshead)'. (italicsmine).
When the Chinese first came to Tsari in 1950s they wondered why people lived here at all. There was no farming and no cultivation. The Tsariwa replied that this was a great 'power place'. The Chinese promised
to change everything by a colonial version of modernity. Still there is no cultivation in upper Tsar and the promised public schools and clinics are missing. But people still live there by power of Takpa Siri.
Why are such arduous pilgrimages undertaken, where many perish? What merit do they hope to gain in this material world? This is a perennial question for any pilgrimage, be it Hindus trudging across Himalayan passes or Muslims rushing to Mecca. Tsariwas and their beliefs provide the answer : . The pilgrimage rises the person from gross (admiring mountains only, like we mountaineers do!), to subtle (to feel the spirit behind such hardship) so that one becomes sublime.
(At Tsari) paranormal powers are bestowed in various ways:
Directly in person those who are advanced and superior, And visions of bodies and images to those who are middling, And also as lakes, rock mountains, and trees to those who are lowest.
As the likes of this do not exist anywhere else, This (Takpa Siri) is a magical place for sure.
CHASING THE MONK'S SHADOW. A Journey in the Footsteps of Xuanzang. By Mishi Saran. Pp. 446, 2005 (Penguin Viking, New Delhi, Rs.495).
Travelogue writers often have a pattern: they are usually following an irresistible impulse and simultaneously charting a personal journey of growth that runs parallel to the more prosaic one. They talk about people they met, difficulties they encountered and insights they gleaned, all of which, by the end of the journey, have helped transformed the traveller. The success of such a travelogue lies in the extent to which the reader has been able to journey along with them.
In Chasing the Monk's Shadow, Mishi Saran traces the journey of the Chinese monk Xuanzang (remembered from school history books as Hiuen Tsang). 'An Indian woman with a China craze, a Chinese monk with an Indian obsession' is how she describes their connection and she sets out from Hong Kong in May 2000 some 1400 years after the monk. Anyone with the slightest interest in history and the most rudimentary imagination must have wondered what that journey must have been like for Fa Hsien or Ibn Batuta, or Marco Polo. I certainly did, often; and so took up the book with a sense of great expectation. To be a young woman travelling through some of the most troubled spots in the world today - Central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India - How did she do it? What did she encounter? What was she looking for? I was most intrigued. But I have to say fairly disappointed in the first half of the book - the writer seems unsure and uninformed about what she is looking for.
She says it was an attempt to find out who she was and her place in the larger scheme of things. 'On the road between India and China, perhaps I could find a history that belonged to me, a past and a present,' she wishes but appears to be satisfied with just being in the places the monk had been and the book is too busy chronicling her bureaucratic miseries to grip. China, one of the most fascinatingly opaque places in the world today, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, countries that are redolent with history, ringing faint bells in my mind are mere stops on the way. There are a few adventures that stick, like the time she is propositioned by a Russian soldier in charge of a camp at the Bedel pass in Kyrgyzstan, or the Uighur women that she meets but I got no sense of these places and people either in the monk's time or now.
It doesn't help that the monk is extremely taciturn about what he sees. Often his descriptions are bland statements of how large the kingdom is or that the people are 'brave and impetuous, but their appearance is common and rustic (talking about Punjab)'. His biographer, the Shaman Hui Li, is somewhat more forthcoming but I really missed the sumptuousness of Xuanzang's adventure I had imagined. We get a whiff of it - the kings, the bandits, the vast deserts, the bolts of silk - but they tell me nothing that I couldn't have made up myself. And I do believe that life is always stranger than fiction!!
Things get significantly better when the monk and Saran arrive in India. Everything becomes warmer, more colourful, more confusing and dense and both writers are surer of themselves by now. Saran's quest for her own place in India has livened up by now - she takes in all exciting if touristy sights and sounds of her native country (she was born in Allahabad) and sees them through the prism of both the monk and her own eclectic upbringing. And it is a huge journey, from Kashmir to Kanchipuram and from Assam to Gujarat. The mind boggles at how Xuanzang did it all those centuries ago though we are informed in the
book of the deep respect and patronage he elicited everywhere he went. Saran has a much easier time here but it is when she heads to Pakistan and Afghanistan that her mettle is truly tested. Some of her experiences are close to what I saw in Pakistan earlier this year - the shared history and culture of the two countries, the hospitality and the innate grace of many you meet there, the two different worlds that exist there.
But it is Afghanistan that is the most heart wrenching. The bombed out country with the wonderful people; the scavenging mobs of international aid workers, the conundrum of the Taliban...I remember going to Kabul in 1986 and I was in tears as I read Saran's descriptions. She too seems overwhelmed by the emotions and fatigue that her journey has given rise to. It is then that you get a real sense of the monk as she finds him putting his experiences into words and seeing that there is no way to encapsulate what he had been through. He pares down his words leaving only the bare essentials. And it is then too that you begin to appreciate what Saran has been trying to do with her words. The monk and she and through them, I, had been bound together in an experience. I only wish it could have been richer and snappier.
RATNA PATHAK SHAH
I'LL CALL YOU IN KATHMANDU, The Elizabeth Hawley Story. By
Bernadette McDonald. Pp. 249, 32 b/w photographs, 1 map, 2005.
(The Mountaineers Books, Seattle, $ 24.95).
Chronicling a life of chronicler is always a difficult task. Neither general society nor climbing community is much interested in the life of persons who are never in the limelight. But this unspectacular task is perfectly tackled by Bernadette McDonald in the life story of Ms. Hawley. The job was more difficult as Elizabeth Hawley was never known for narrating her personal life to anybody. This shy, taciturn and at times sharp-tongued lady always was only interested in recording the details of all climbing expeditions taking place in Nepal and adjoining Himalayan ranges. She officially settled in Kathmandu initially as a foreign correspondent of Reuters, and her concentration and dedication to mountaineering was supreme.
Bernadette McDonald approached her with best possible references of long standing friends of Ms. Hawley. And fortunately, in the very first meeting could tune up with her. Though Elizabeth was relectunt initially about the idea of talking about herself rather than mountaineering, she started opening up with Bernadette. She took this rare opportunity of looking into the life of one of the most enigmatic figures in mountaineering community.
The book brings out various aspects of Ms. Hawley's nature in a kaleidoscopic manner. Her fiery independent youthful vigour, which she retained through out her life, comes as the most important part of her personality along with her inquisitive, studious and analytical nature. The relentless follow up of even the smallest details has helped her tremendously in setting the records straight. She comes out as a guiding angel for the mountaineers who need to know all possible details about their mountain. The same has helped the historians' world over.
Ms. Hawley had her share of controversies in life. Her differential treatment to climbers according to their status in mountaineering community became the bone of contention for few. But the doyens of mountaineering such as Sir Edmund Hillary or Reinhold Messner have always come to her support denying these accusations. She also comes out as a loyal friend who stood with them at the hour of need.
Though Elizabeth Hawley never visited the mountains in a true sense, she herself built a mountain of information, which the future generations will surely benefit from. The community of mountaineers will always be in debt of Bernadette McDonald for painstakingly researched and very well written biography of a unique woman.
EXPLORING THE HIGHLANDS OF HIMALAYA. By Harish Kapadia.
Pp.248, 81 photos, 29 maps and sketches, 2006. (Indus Publishing,
New Delhi, Rs 650).
Any reviewer of a Himalayan guidebook by Harish Kapadia faces the pleasant prospect of being made privy to first hand information on little known areas thanks to the author's enthusiastic concern to record the entire scene. Kapadia's extensive coverage however is a privilege he has earned the hard and costly way. So costly in fact that this book is dedicated to his younger son who as a newly recruited Indian army officer,
heroically sacrificed his life defending his motherland. Despite this personal tragedy, Harish retains a characteristic imperturbability that conceals a mix of tough climbing leader and genial companion. My lasting memory of Harish's winning persona, that combines self-discipline with a rare sense of the humane, is how when descending from Pinnath in our unkempt state he stopped at the first isolated Kumauni homestead and chatted up an exceedingly apprehensive old lady sitting at her door. Within minutes this chubby alien figure from Mumbai had her eating out of his hand. And even better for those of us lean and hungry followers, Harish's magical charm soon had us eating out of hers!
Exploring the Highlands of the Himalaya with its cover shot of Kedarnath dham's scintillating surround of greenery contrasting with the back cover image of Korzok gompa taken against the austere serenity of Tso Moriri lake, reveals both the varied wonder of Himalayan options and Kapadia's reaction to the dazzling shade card on view. The illustrations are superb and make up for the somewhat generalised treatment of the layout and lifestyles found along the range. It is a daunting assignment to cover the entire spectrum of Himalayan human aspirations where regional imperatives can vary quite violently according to the interplay of history and geography, religion and politics. Even as I write the world's only Hindu kingdom in Nepal is being dismantled for a secular alternative. Notwithstanding Sir Chris Bonington's warm foreword recommending the comprehensive nature of this work, some infelicitous phrasing obscures some meanings, as for example in suggesting Garhwal was a British creation or that the water of the Yamuna is held in as high esteem as that of the Ganga. Perhaps the problem lies in finding an editor presumptuous enough to think he can advise the editor of the world's not only most prestigious journal on the Himalaya but its most readable.
Students of the Da Vinci code of symbolism might read into the front and back cover photographs evidence of the unspoken aloofness that distances the Hindu from the Buddhist sphere (though as in Lahaul some villagers have acquired a dual identity, albeit from motives of economic advantage.) Kapadia makes no bones about his Hindu preferences but like most explorers he is an original who defies the easy pigeon-holing of type most of us feel comfortable with. From a conventional Gujarati business background Harish's adventurous instincts have taken him beyond the traditional trading routes (across the seven seas) and made him an unrivalled master of the Himalayan field. If on occasion his interpretation of the sociological realities (like the conversion within living memory of Kumaun's Bhotias by the medieval brahmanical convenience of categorizing these Tibetan borderers as 'lapsed Rajputs') is simplistic, his open mindedness is revealed in naming his two sons after Sherpas. The very fact that his late son Nawang should have joined the Gurkhas is evidence of the eclectic nature of the Kapadia exploratory genes. His concern to establish a Peace Park in the killing snowfields of Siachen reminds us of the benevolent individualism of another Himalayan explorer Sir Francis Younghusband. When the latter remarried in his old age, it was to an English woman whose son had been shot by a German officer. After the war she had traced the enemy officer responsible and adopted him as her own son.
The chapters move from Arunachal to the Eastern Karakoram and are enlivened by sketches made by Geeta Kapadia (the author's wife) plus quotations to prove Harish's good literary taste. Even better confirmation of this is for each chapter to be concluded by passages from the classic explorers of each region along with their bio data. A third of the book is devoted to informative appendices including the current fashion of acknowledging religious tours as a draw to the less athletic admirers of the range. The maze of rules for foreigners applying for permission to climb is enquired into but omit the secret of how to avoid a heart attack. (Go for a bypass operation via a joint expedition with Sri Kapadia!) Obviously in a sweeping survey of this nature much is left out and some critics might deplore the making much of the mythological travels of the Hindu philosopher Shankaracharya to the exclusion of the later well- attested traverses of the Himalaya by the Buddhist monk Atisa Dipankar. However we cannot rule out the possibility that Harish's involvement with the range may be a result ofpurva sanskaras (journeys in a former life) and therefore 'he kens what he is talking about!'
To counter the plethora of accolades his long mountaineering career has earned him and ensure his indestructible Tilly sunhat is never dislodged by any incipient halo, there are those unerring snipers (like the editor of the stimulating monthly Himavanta) who help maintain the balance in the friendly rivalry between claims to further Himalayan lore. One extraordinary omission in this compendium of useful information is acknowledgment of the existence of lively local climbing clubs in the subcontinent outside the aegis of officialdom. In including a chronological
table Harish has valued the painstaking pioneering work of Shambhu Nath Das in this field.
Most non-Indian readers are alive to another creative aspect of Harish, his idiosyncratic English usage that can be alarming to the grammatically inflexible if hilarious to others. In an earlier self-devouring googly of reverse spin Harish had written 'I suffered injuries that nearly crippled me and sadly lost few friends.' (Cheer up, Harish, next time you may have the satisfaction of losing more!) The counterproductive perils of being literal in English are best illustrated by two famous notices in an East European hotel. The first outside the restaurant read 'Our motto: Serve you right' and the second announced that the lift was out of order: 'The management regrets that its customers are unbearable!' It follows that the use of 'highlands' in the title may prove perplexing to those unfamiliar with the author's republican treatment of the Queen's English. If as claimed the book is a look at the human element rather than the peaks, then 'lowlands' or 'midlands' might have been more apposite.
In a manual of this nature substance is more valuable than style, and in Exploring the Highlands of Himalaya, Harish has sought to encompass in a single volume a resume of the entire physical and social spectrum of this formidable, fascinating and fast-changing terrain. It is unique in that for the first time the guide happens to have walked to all the places and met all the people he writes about. (The subjectivity will obviously benefit in later editions from inputs of other observers).
Meanwhile Harish has produced a handbook to treasure, both human and statistical, a rare compilation of hard won information that in our age of easy transport options is unlikely ever to be equalled. Readers will bless the author for providing a sympathetic introductory overview of the physical challenges and the redoubtable character of the villagers found along the range. It is essential background reading for any student of the Himalaya.
ON THIN ICE. By Mick Fowler. Pp 223, 74 colour photographs, 13 maps
and sketches, 2005. (Baton Wicks, London, £ 18.99).
'The sequel of any book is not as interesting as the first part' and 'good climbers are poor writers' are the two myths in the world of mountain literature. Mick Fowler manages to dismiss both with his new book On Thin Ice. It is difficult to decide whether he is an extraordinary mountaineer or a better storyteller. Both of these qualities are equally apparent and the reader is benefited in the deal.
True to the belief of his fans and contemporaries who voted for him as 'the Mountaineer's Mountaineer', he has achieved spectacular alpine style climbs in the far-flung mountain ranges of the world. The attraction of the book just does not end there. It begins with his journey from the home, continues with the funny episodes of his travel to mountains and remains with the reader even after his climb is complete. It is not only the end but the means to achieve are equally thrilling and entertaining.
Generally climbing memoirs tend to be monochromatic and dull. The machismo, the grind mill of finishing one difficult pitch after another, the struggle with the elements and the flag waving from the top sometimes becomes too much to read even for die hard mountaineers. Mick's writing comes as a pleasant surprise. His self-decrepitating humor, his attitude and perspective and the joy of climbs and wanderings make this book a compulsive read for any adventure lover. He breaks the monotony by skillful interweaving of non-climbing stories and observations about his teammates and strangers. Most importantly he comes out as a caring and respectful climber about his partners and friends.
His writing is matched with equally stunning photographs. The choice and selection adds to the flavour of the text and makes it more interesting. The maps and illustrations are adequate but my choice will be the sketch of one of his bivouacs, The Torture Tube, on page 63. Though Mick is very modest and constantly underplays his achievements, the international climbing community has rightly judged his worth. Siguniang's hard ice climbing in China won him two prestigious awards for the finest alpine achievement of the year. On a personal note, I was thrilled to read about his exploits on the Arwa Tower, as I was part of the team, which first published the photographs of this stunning mountain in the Garhwal Himalaya. His skills deserved the first ascent.
In this era of super-alpinism Mick is considered as one of the most successful exponent of high standard lightweight mountaineering. The promises he had shown with Vertical Pleasure are fulfilled and the world of mountain literature has now become richer with On Thin Ice which in the future shall be considered as a classic in a class of its own. Just like his climbs!
THE DUST OF EMPIRE. The Race for Mastery in the Asian Heartland. By
Karel E. Meyer. Pp. Xxxiv +252, 2004. (The Century Foundation, Public
Affairs Books, New York, US $15, Soft cover, ISBN 1-58648-241-6).
After a successful book on the history of the Great Game in Asia during the nineteenth century (Tournament of Shadows, 1999, reviewed in the Himalayan Journal, volume 59), Karel Meyer, a journalist by blood (his father and grandfather were journalists too) is back with this new book covering almost the same geography but with a more recent history and implications for the current affairs in the world.
The title of the book is taken from Charles de Gaulle's phrase: 'They are the dust of empire,' which he uttered in the 1960s when France's former colonies in Africa sought independence. Meyer applies this expression to the west - central Asian countries that were once the scene of the Great Game between Britain, Russia, and France. Some analysts argue that this region is subjected once again to a New Great Game by world powers, after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
This book, published after the September 11 terrorists' murderous act and destruction in the US, and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq by the USA, is especially valuable as it provides historical and cultural perspectives on Asian heartland - Russia, the new Central Asian republics, the Caucasus and Caspian region, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. These nations are 'exotic, romantic, strategic, complicated, dangerous, obscure' for most Western people, but as Karel Meyer notes, history and culture do matter. He quotes the Persian poet Rumi, 'Whoever travels without a guide / Needs two hundred years for a two - day journey.' In the end ('What is to be done?') the author calls for mutual understanding, cooperation, and peace among peoples rather than one - nation or one - religion solutions, and violence and military adventurism to 'right every wrong or reverse every adversary' (quote from President John F. Kennedy in 1961).
This book rooted in scholastic research and historical knowledge is well written and makes a rich but easy read not only for the general public interested in political history but also for people travelling in and exploring the High Asia.
HIMALAYA. By Michael Palin (with photographs by Basil Pao). Pp. 288,
9 maps and sketch maps, 135 photographs, 2005. ( Phonenix UK
paperback edition, London, GBP 8.99 ).
For some, to take up an extended weekend of three-four days seems like an impossible feat, and yet there are others who just flip pages of an atlas and decide journeys spilling over two years, passing through seven countries and covering well over 2000miles of aerial distance! Such is the background under which Himalaya was envisaged by Michael Palin and his BBC filming team.
As Palin describes in his introduction - 'This account is based on notebooks and tape recordings kept at the time (of the journey from May 12 2003 to April 17 2004). Apart from missing out some rest days and days at airports, I've presented the journey as a continuous narrative, because that, in effect, is exactly what it was.'
An itinerant's ultimate dream (or maybe even the worst nightmare, given the political conditions in some parts), Palin's ramblings through the Himalaya begin in the historical Khyber pass in Pakistan, right into the controversial regions of Chitral and Gilgit, which are near impossible places to visit for Indians (small benefits of being a BBC crew)! From here he takes you through some mystical regions getting all the way up to the base-camps of Everest and K2 (Concordia), plunging down to the world's largest river island of Majhauli (650sq. km.) and finally ending in the Bay of Bengal in Bangladesh, at the mouths of the Ganga and Brahmaputra, offspring of the mighty Himalaya! En route the team meanders to parts of Nepal, Bhutan, several regions of India, including a meeting with the Dalai Lama in Mcleodganj and further to Lhasa in China occupied Tibet.
Interestingly, the Himalaya to Palin is a long, tangled mass of white- tipped mountains, hanging like a raised eyebrow above India. And this supercilious and sardonic tone runs right through this part coffee-table part trivia compendium. Shocking as it may seem, there is little complimentary he has to say in favour of the remote valleys he has the
rare fortune of visiting, besides they being noisy, dusty or forlorn, or there is scything black humour and constant comparison with the 'whiteman's western world'. The selection of route also leaves you guessing regards the true limits of the Himalaya and the reasons for such far-flung regions in Tibet, China and Bangladesh being included under this title. Although the photography by Basil Pao is brilliant and draws you in and mesmerises you, the 'self-obsessed' presence of Palin in over 70% of the images is a sheer irritant, after a point.
Being a die-hard Himalayan enthusiast, Palin's slighting overtone for the locals (former royalty or simple village folk) and their lifestyles, and lack of attention to the crucial minutiae, including whether the Himalaya span across 1500 or 1800miles, absolutely lead me to lose some my appetite for this book. One can argue that it could be the author's style of dry and black humour and a certain superior air brought in by former achievements. However, that may not endear all to the book or to the Himalaya, depicting it in a certain shade of grey!
On the positive note, the pictures are definitely engrossing and narratives of some journeys and events, absolutely breathe-taking and compelling. Abrupt as it may read in places, this book has the forceful flow of the Brahmaputra and the magnetism of the Himalaya, itself!
TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH. Visions of a changing world: 175 years of exploration and photography (Royal Geographical Society). By Robin Butlin and Jonathan Bastable (editors). Pp. 240, many colour and b/w photos, 2005. (Bloomsbury, London, GBP 35).
On the web site, the Royal Geographical Society invites all to contribute photographic material to its archives. About its own collection, it subtly mentions that 'remember we were born almost at the same as photography was invented'! In this book, to celebrate 175 years of the Royal Geographical Society the statement is amply proven with a stunning and valuable collection of photographs.
The book takes us through the progressive development of exploration of the world, aptly called as the 'Golden Age of Exploration'. From the jungles of Africa comes the stories of heroic struggles by Dr Livingstone, from the Poles, Captain Scott, Himalaya, Sir Francis
Younghusband and Sir Edmund Hillary and so on. No corner of the world is left uncovered. From Machu Pichhu to the Great Wall of China all areas are covered.
For the readers of the Himalayan Journal, the explorations of F. Kingdon-Ward would be of special interest. Some of his rare and beautiful pictures have never been published before. The travels of Pandit Nain Singh, the first Indian to be honoured with 'Patron's Medal', are given a special place. So is the first ascent of Everest, people of Nepal and rare pictures of lakes and glaciers of Himachal Pradesh amongst others.
The book begins with an article by Dr Rita Gardner, Director, RGS about the modern outlook and current facilities available at the RGS headquarters in London. The RGS with the Institute of British Geographers was founded in 1830 and is one of the largest and most active societies in the field today. It holds in its archives enough material to keep researchers busy for a life time. And the best part is that now all this vast material is open to the public. This book is a collector's item and an apt tribute to this great institution.
AN END TO SUFFERING: THE BUDDHA IN THE WORLD. By Pankaj
Mishra, Pp. 432. 2005. (Paperback, Picador, US$15, IRs. 275), 2004
(Hardcover, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, US $ 25).
During a recent trip to India, on the flight back from New Delhi to the US, I was sitting next to an Indian gentleman, who was an engineering student in an American university. He came from the state of Bihar. We began to talk about many things including my fascination with the great Indian minds such as Gandhi and Tagore. Then I asked him: "Is there a famous person from Bihar that I may know of?" He paused for a moment and said: "Do you know the Buddha?" What a nice coincidence! I showed him Pankaj Mishra's book, An End to Suffering: The Buddha in the World, which I had bought in New Delhi a few days before hoping to read it on the plane. The book includes a map of historical places relevant to the Buddha's life. We reviewed the map: Lumbini, where the Buddha was born as Siddhartha Gotama of the Shakya clan possibly in 563 B.C.; Bodh Gaya, where he was enlightened at the age of thirty-five; Sarnath, where he first preached the Buddha Dharma; and Kushinagara, where he died at the age of eighty possibly in 483 B.C.
The story of the Buddha, a prince who left his palace to find the truth of life and death, has been (and will be) told numerous times, and many have fantasized of following "in the Buddha's footsteps." In the seventh century, the Chinese monk Hiuen Tsang actually realised this dream and travelled on foot all the way to India. This historical journey has been narrated in the French Orientalist Rene Grousset's In the Footsteps of the Buddha (1929, English translation, 1971). In 1999, Richard Berstein, a Time magazine's journalist in China, retraced Hiuen Tsang's route to India and documented this journey in Ultimate Journey (2001) blending the past with the present. The Vietnamese Zen master Thick Nhat Hanh has published Old Path, White Clouds: Walking in the Footsteps of the Buddha (1991), which is an authoritative story of the Buddha, based on the classic Pali and Chinese scriptures but written in a popular language. In 1998, the University of Hong Kong held an exhibition of the Buddha's statutes and images, documented in a beautiful volume, In the Footsteps of the Buddha: An Iconic Journey from India to China (1998). American journalist Molly Emma Aitken has compiled the impressions of various travellers and pilgrims to the Buddha's places in Meeting the Buddha: On Pilgrimage in Buddhist India (1995). And yet, fascination with the Buddha's history and geography remains powerful and never ending. Pankaj Mishra has tried it for himself and the product is another illuminating book with its particular features.
Back in 1992, Mishra, then a new graduate in English literature from Delhi University, moved to a small Himalayan village (Mashobra) in Himachal Pradesh to read, observe, travel, and write about the Buddha. He rented a cottage from a Mr. Sharma, who published a Sanskrit magazine. For the next couple of years, this Himalayan cottage served a home base for Mishra to embark on journeys through books, places, people and his own life in order to understand the Buddha's life and teachings.
What sets apart Mishra's book is that this is the journey of a young intellectual brought up in a middle-class Hindu family in modern India to rediscover the Buddha whose religion, although originated in India, is more prominent in other Asian countries from Sri Lanka and Tibet as far east as Korea and Japan. Mishra mentions the Hindu view of the Buddha as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, but is quick to add that the Dalits (the Hindus converted to Buddhism to escape the cast restrictions in Himachal Pradesh) resent this view and the Buddha himself did not claim it. Mishra then attempts to present a historical Buddha rooted in the Indian geography and extensively researched in modern times by Orientalists, explorers, philosophers, and monks.
Another interesting feature of Mishra's book is that it juxtaposes the Buddha Dharma with the modern thought, especially with that of the author's favourite German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Mishra has managed to weave together a story of the Buddha with implications for our age and generation dealing with stresses and nihilism of daily life, on an individual scale, and with the strife and militarism of international relations, on a global scale. Mishra finds that the Buddha is as much a contemporary teacher as he was 2500 years ago.
In the end, Mishra does not convert to Buddhism (that is irrelevant even for the Buddha), but what is significant is that he finds the Buddha's solution to end suffering very much valid and relevant: Awakening from our ignorance and delusions, and adopting a life ofcompassion in place of endless selfish desires.
This is a Himalayan spiritual book blended with history, geography, and modernity. I am glad that I picked it up from a street bookseller in downtown New Delhi. This book also establishes Mishra, a young Indian writer, in the world's literature scene - thanks to the Buddha and the Himalaya.
NANDA DEVI - A Journey to the Last Sanctuary. By Hugh Thomson.
Pp. 125, 32 colour photos, 13 b/w photos, 3 sketch maps, 2004.
(Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, GBP 19.99).
Often when I read a particular book I say, if its that good, a movie will be made. I'll wait for the movie. In fact I go for the Himalayan Club film festival to take in all the adventure I can, visually. But then, I see this book, of a mountain I had glimpsed at when on a trek in Ralam valley, the beautiful Nanda Devi. So, I read it. It is a very good book, not about an expedition or a heroic rescue, not about the ecological issues that Nanda Devi has been the focus of, not about death or accident but about a beautiful idyllic trek to the sanctum sanctorum of the sacred and vibrant mountain. Truly one of the last sanctuaries, some of the last few thousand acres that humans have not taken into their fold, this mountain beckoned the author when it opened its gates briefly in the year 2000.
The author says in his introduction : following the recent books marking the fiftieth anniversary of the 1953 ascent of Everest, this is also a chance to hark back to an earlier and gentler mountaineering world, that of Eric Shipton and H.W. 'Bill' Tilman in the pre war period. Shipton and Tilman roamed happily in the Garhwal in a spirit of innocent adventuring that has now been lost; Nanda Devi was their greatest achievement. If Everest is a mountain that has become littered with the corpses and detritus of previous expeditions, then Nanda Devi remains the epitome of the inviolate mountain - which perhaps what mountains should be about.
The trek into the Sanctuary was led by John Shipton, son of Eric Shipton and Narinder Kumar, one of India's most formidable mountaineers. It had quite a star cast of a team, including George Band of the 1953 Everest team and Ian McNaught Davis, President of the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation among others. Thomson was in the presence of legends and he used the opportunity to spin a good tale.
Using all his skills as a award winning documentary film maker, the author introduces his team mates like characters from a film. He takes his time, bringing them in, one by one, with humour and affection. Within this story he weaves his own experience, reading Milton's Paradise Lost while on the road, bringing in literary allusions to the paradise that he walks within. All that you need to know about the mountain is all there, its swirl of politics, its history, legends and stories, Shipton and Tilman's travels, other expeditions including a brief but frank account of the death of Nanda Devi Unsoeld and how things can go really wrong in the mountains.
But what makes the book special is the style. Harking back to the old days when writers were not ashamed of sentimentality.. .of fantasy.. .for example, looking for the place from where to view the shy Changabang mountain, the author says Shanka was looking rattled. Like the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, he was sure he had left the mountain somewhere around here. But then he pulled it out of his hat, from the middle of a path that had fallen away in a landslide and so confused him. With the precision of a sniper's rifle we had a clear view up the gorge of the Rhamani glacier to Changabang.
Also interesting is the analysis of the 'cult of the taciturn' or the 'hard man of few words who gets the job done', the supremacist climbing culture vs the gentle, have fun while you explore, achieve 'less', lie under the stars, make friends, enjoy. From Eric Shipton, to the author, many agree on the latter approach. That's why I enjoyed the book. I also enjoyed it like I said because of its screenplay style. Swimming pool at the Oberoi, Delhi cut to meeting with Bill Aitken cut to meeting the team cut to getting there and then the walk.
Its like sitting at camp by a fire, sharing stories, intimate, one-on-one, soft and quiet. Hugh Thomson also whispers little tales about nuclear devices planted in the mountain and such exciting things. He tells us tales of Peter Boardman and Joe Tasker climbing Changabang. He talks about sacred mountains and his distaste for what Everest stands for. He whispers his fears about walking through the fearful gorges and canyons, narrow ledges and chimneys. Some critics may say that the style is a bit scattered and subjective so the reader may find it confusing as history, landscape, philosophy, team mates are all part of the same big picture that this book is. And besides, campfire stories are a bit like that, scattered, disjointed.
Most appealing of all is that it is possible to have simple approach to life without being spiritual or jargonistic. The author concludes his book with this thought:
And I remembered an old koan of the Buddhists, the first to venerate Nanda Devi, which tells the story of an old sage instructing his pupils: 'when I was young' he says, 'I believed that a mountain was just a mountain. Then when I began the long process to nirvana, enlightenment, I realized that there was much more to a mountain and that it was a symbol of many other things. But now that I have achieved nirvana, I realize that a mountain is indeed just a mountain.
MYSTERY, BEAUTY AND DANGER. The Literature of the Mountains and Mountain Climbing Published in English before 1946. Robert H. Bates. Pp. 229, 33 b/w photos and sketches, 2001. (Peter E. Randall, New Hampshire, nps).
Robert Bates, a well-known American mountaineer and academic during 1930-1950 has in this book, examined attitudes towards the
mountains over the ages. A scholarly work, it traces these attitudes researching mountain literature from the mediaeval times when mountains were dark and terror filled to two hundred years later when visiting mountain areas were par de course for well-heeled gentlemen. In the nineteenth century, poets such as Shelley and Wordsworth waxed eloquent about valleys but could not reach beyond. After that came the huge interest in the Alps when finally, mountain climbers became writers in their own right. The golden age of alpine exploration is the core of this book, while Bates feels that after the turn of the century, writing became more technical and account like.
The exaggerated accounts of the early climbers, the imagery of the poets, the lyrical outbursts of 'watchers from afar' have been well documented. And then of course you get a glimpse of the delightful descriptions by Tyndall, Whymper and later A.F. Mummery and Geoffrey Winthrop-Young. The book is best described in the words of Bates 'It is clear that mountains, one of the great sources of inspiration, affect the climber and the non-climber very differently. They have caused each to produce accomplished work; and under their influence large numbers of amateurs have produced writing that, for brief intervals at least, shows they are moved by strong bursts of inspiration.' The book is clearly about how mountains move men.
JAMMU-KASHMIR-LADAKH. By Parvez Dewan, Pp. 588, 53 colour photos,
16 sketch maps, 2004 (Manas Publications, New Delhi, Rs. 995).
This veritable encyclopedia on Ladakh is part of the three-volume set as mentioned above. Although not ethnic Ladakhi, Dewan has spent his entire adult life in the state, as part of civil service postings. He has a deep insight of the sophistication of culture of this glorious region and is, as he himself declares, probably the first to write a comprehensive book about Ladakh, Gilgit, Balistan, Chitral, Hunza, Kargil from an indigenous point of view.
Dewan himself, talks a lot about his own contributions. Actually, the acknowledgment and credit section at the beginning of the book are an excuse to describe the author's own efforts for development of tourism in the region. Be that as it may, there is no doubt that his intent is true and research, flawless.
The book begins with a well documented and written history of each region, detailed and separate. Great stories, one can pick up and read without necessarily ploughing through the whole book. Zorawar, the Dogras, the Tibetans and finally the British. Post independence status and the subsequent Pakistani and Chinese invasions have also been documented. The Kargil section lucidly describes the recent war and its fallout. The Islamic influences of the other regions, bloody riots in Balawaristan, the Karakora