1. Legendary maps from The Himalayan Club (Edited by Harish Kapadia)
  2. Art of Freedom - The Life and Climbs of Voytek Kurtyka (Bernadette McDonald)
  3. Ascent - A Life Spent Climbing on the Edge (Chris Bonington)
  4. Chris Bonington Mountaineer - A Life Time of Climbing the Great Mountains of the World (Chris Bonington)
  5. The Ogre - Biography of a mountain and the Dramatic Story of the First Ascent (Doug Scott)
  6. Life in the Himalaya - An Ecosystem at Risk (Maharaj K. Pandit)
  7. Karakoram - Climbing through the Kashmir Conflict (Steve Swenson)
  8. The Magician’s Glass - Character and fate: eight essays on climbing and the mountain life (Ed Douglas)
  9. The Climbers (Jim Herrington)
  10. My Life In Climbing (Ueli Steck with Karin Steinbach; translated by Billi Bierling)
  11. Only Two For Everest - How a first ascent (Riddiford) and Cotter Shaped Climbing History (Lyn McKinnon)
  12. Beyond The Mountain (Steve House)
  13. China’s India War - Collision Course on the Roof of the World (Bertil Lintner)
  14. Norton Of Everest (Hugh Norton)
  15. Limits Of The Known (David Roberts)
  16. Strangers No More (Sanjoy Hazarika)
  17. Virgin On Insanity - Coming of Age on the World’s Toughest Mountains (Steve Bell)
  18. My Old Man And The Mountain (Leif Whittaker)
  19. Sabse Uncha Pahad (Tarun Goel)
  20. Tibet In Agony - Lhasa 1959 (Jianglin Li)
  21. Short Reviews



General Editor Harish Kapadia (with M.H. Contractor and Smruthi Ranganathan).
Pp. 240. B/W photos and Maps. (Roli Books, New Delhi, 2018, Rs. 1500/-)

Legendary maps from The Himalayan Club

Maps, to misquote Shakespeare, are such stuff as dreams are made on. Staring at the glitzy computer- generated 3D realization of a Google Earth satellite photo is all very well, but you can’t beat the magic and mystery of an old fashioned pen and ink map. During my early days of Himalayan expeditioning I used to spend hours poring over orographic sketchmaps, with their bold black ridgelines, dotted glacier boundaries and snaking rivers, dreaming, plotting and wondering – wondering what those valleys actually looked like when you got there, wondering where you might cross those rivers, wondering just how accurate the maps actually were.

Even thirty years ago, when satellite photos were not generally available, these simple sketches were still the raw material for our exploratory adventures. Back in 1928, when The Himalayan Club was founded, there were, for large tracts of the Himalayan and Karakoram, no maps at all. Even in 1950 the French had first to find Annapurna before they could climb it. And, Google Earth notwithstanding, much of the finer detail is still undiscovered – Himalayan climbing remains essentially a process of exploration.

Who better to celebrate that ongoing journey of exploration than Harish Kapadia, leader of countless expeditions from Himachal Pradesh to Arunachal Pradesh, and for many years editor of The Himalayan Journal, assisted here, by Muslim Contractor and Smruthi Ranganathan? The book is unashamedly nostalgic, printed on delicately mottled paper, with monochrome photos in a warm sepia tint. The maps and mountain sketches are accompanied either by the editors’ commentaries or by original articles from the Journal. Legendary names include Bill Tilman, Trevor Braham, André Roch and Kapadia himself. Sketches include Bob Downes’ evocative pen and ink rendering of the 1957 oh-so-near but doomed attempt on Masherbrum and Martin Moran’s detailed drawing of Nilkanth’s West Ridge, climbed for the first time in 1980. For me the real gem is a double page spread pictorial representation of the Nanda Devi Sanctuary by D. Macpherson. Surely I must have seen it before? But I can’t recall this 1930s answer to Google Earth – a beautifully graphic 3D representation of the great cirque of Garwhal peaks, with its evocatively title ‘Inner Wall’ and the routes of early probes all traced in dotted lines, culminating in Shipton’s and Tilman’s triumphant 1935 expedition with Ang Tharkay & Co.

And so to the photos. I must confess some personal nostalgia here. It’s good to see old friends and acquaintances such as Soli Mehta, Muslim Contractor, Paul Nunn, the ancient lama in Chitkul who died recently at the age of 103 and the incomparable gleaming smile of Harsinh Harkotia, cheerfully carrying a monstrous load across the flooded Terong River during our 1985 exploration of the Rimo massif. More to the point, it is good to see some rare gems such as the boat found in 1949 beside the former Chong Kumdam lake in the upper Shyok valley or an early example of explorers’ graffiti inscribed on a Siachen rock by Professor Dainelli’s expedition in 1930. There is a lovely shot of Shipton and Ang Tharkay in the Karakoram and a fine group photo of that doyen of explorers, Gordon Osmaston, with his Garwhal survey team. Most startling is the period gothic script of a certificate presented by Adolf Hitler to surviving Sherpas of the 1934 Nanga Parbat expedition.

A great journal, like the Himalayan Journal, is fifty percent scientific and historical record and fifty percent entertainment and inspiration. This anniversary selection is a wonderful celebration of that success. Let us drink to the next ninety years.




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The Life and Climbs of Voytek Kurtyka
By Bernadette McDonald.
Pp. 256, 79 colour & 28 b/w photos. (Vertebrate Publishing, Sheffield, UK, 2017. Hardback GBP 24.00)

Art of Freedom

I write this review as the 2018 football (soccer) World Cup enthralls the entire globe in a way that only sport can. Disruption seems to be the name of the game. The favourites have faltered while the underdogs are fighting their way up – scrappy and confident, with nothing to lose and winning many hearts along the way. A fitting time to read Bernadette McDonald’s Art of Freedom.

Art of Freedom is the biography everybody in the mountaineering world has been waiting for (everybody else has been waiting for it too - they just don’t know it yet). Voytek Kurtyka, one of the pioneers of the alpine style of climbing and surely one of the best climbers of all time, was born in 1947 in a Poland very different from what it is today. He was introduced to climbing almost by accident but took to it immediately, not only because of the challenge it posed physically but also psychologically and emotionally. What makes this book such a fascinating read is not only the historic climbs that it chronicles but also the story it tells of an enigmatic character, one who has been in the spotlight but does not (always) enjoy it. The book captures Kurtyka’s philosophical – almost spiritual – approach to climbing. It also captures a very special characteristic of Kurtyka
– his ability to introspect, learn, and evolve. In the Art of Freedom we learn that this integral part of his character played no small role in his pushing the envelope of alpinism. From each climb, irrespective of success or failure, he reflected, learnt, and evolved as a climber, an artist, and a man.

Art of Freedom begins with some of Kurtyka’s earliest climbs in the Tatras. His absolute disregard for rules and formal structures, his idealism and emotional intensity – all almost teenage-like – arguably began before his climbing but has remained intact throughout his life and climbing career. Bernadette writes beautifully about the aesthetics that Kurtyka sought in his climbs, how important the route and creativity in climbing was for him, what freedom means to Kurtyka and how each climb brought him closer to that sense of freedom. The reader is taken on a journey through all his most important climbs, the legal and illegal ones (the illegal ones are very dear to Kurtyka), the climbs that are significant professionally and personally. Because of his personality and his unique approach to climbing, coupled with Bernadette’s engaging style, there is no sense of repetition. There are, however, one or two instances where there is a lack of closure, a thread that has been left hanging. But these are insignificant in the scheme of the book as a whole.

Kurtyka was a daring climber – he tried routes and methods that had never been tried before. His ‘night-naked’ style of alpinism is proof enough of his grit and courage. But he was also an intelligent and thoughtful climber. He pushed himself physically, mentally, and emotionally – this was integral to his climbing, coming away from a climb freer and more at peace than before. He also sought beauty and creativity in his climbs. ‘For Voytek, the imagination of the mountains is a romantic one. “The heart of romantic imagination is emotion. Its path is blood, sweat and tears. And its limitation is God.”’ This is why his chosen routes and methods were sacrosanct while the summit was never the ultimate goal. He was attracted to aesthetically appealing faces and would think about and plan climbs for months on end. This was not restricted to his high altitude climbs and did not change as he grew older. Kurtyka learnt early on to trust his intuition and listen to the mountain. It’s no surprise then that he always returned unscathed and did not lose any partners while climbing – a rare and extremely admirable accomplishment. Kurtyka demonstrates that genius is not inherent, neither is skill nor artistry. All are honed and built and broken down and built again.

As spectacular as his life and climbs have been, Kurtyka is lucky to have had Bernadette McDonald pen his story. It takes an artist to know one – and Bernadette tells so many stories while telling this one. She takes us through communist Poland, what everyday life looked like back then and how this impacted Kurtyka and other climbers from Poland’s Golden Age – from having to fashion their own climbing gear to developing ingenious methods of smuggling goods and people across various borders. She weaves in the stories of many other climbers, Kurtyka’s various partners in the mountains and how their relationships evolved or ended. She also gives the reader a sense of what it was like to be climbing when alpinism was spreading and the Great Ranges were being explored and scaled in a way like never before. Bernadette has the special ability to recreate the tension, drama, and texture of Kurtyka’s many incredible climbs. Even non-climbers, unfamiliar with the technical lingo, will get drawn into these stories and find themselves on the edge of their seats. This is balanced by the way in which she tells the story of a very complex and charismatic (and strikingly handsome) human being, one who climbed on his own terms and in his own style (style, after all, was far more important to Kurtyka than summit) at a time when competition in the mountaineering world was the highest it had ever been. Bernadette captures the friendship and intimacy that he shared with his partners on the mountain, why he thought it so important to choose carefully who he climbs with. Her story is an honest one, quoting from his journals, interviewing people Kurtyka has been associated with in various capacities, and drawing him out of his shell, we see different facets of the man. Not all are pleasant or complimentary but all have played a role in making Kurtyka who he is. And all make for a very compelling story.

In Art of Freedom, we learn much about Kurtyka’s friendships and partnerships on the mountain and the profound impact that they had on him, the profound loss and pain he felt when partnerships broke or partners died. If there is one thing missing from this story it is the corresponding intimacy he must have shared with partners, family, and friend back home. We learn little about the man away from the mountain except that he only always craved to go back – to push himself and evolve and to be free. Maybe this is all we need to know. After all, as Bernadette writes, ‘the mountains adopted Voytek, and he remained faithful to them.’




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A Life Spent Climbing on the Edge
By Chris Bonington.
Pp. 423, 62 colour photographs, seven maps and diagrams, 2017. (Simon and Schuster, London, GBP 20, Indian Rs 1600). Available on Kindle. Movie of the same name and contents, on DVD or for download, is also available.

A Life Time of Climbing the Great Mountains of the World
By Chris Bonington.
Pp. 256, illustrated, 2016. (Vertebrate Publishing, Sheffield, GBP 20). Revised and updated edition. First published in 1989 and reviewed in the HJ Vol. 46, p. 224)


When the editor suggested that I review the above books by Chris Bonington, I had to declare my interest: Bonington is one of my closest friends, someone whom I call my mentor. But the editor clarified that, as a friend of Bonington, I was a suitable reviewer as I could relate to his experiences and my experiences shared with him. Moreover, Bonington a living legend that he is, is now above any criticism or praise.

Ascent is a tome which covers a life of almost seven decades. Like a train chugging across the Indian sub-continent towards the Himalaya it starts slowly, gathers remarkable speed and finally on nearing its destination, slows down. The course of this journey is marked by the usual halts, some tragedies, injuries involving both family and friends - in short, a full life. Through the above two books and a movie of the same name, sometimes you relax or while at the others you are at the edge of your seat. But the train powers on.

The narrative initially follows a pattern similar to autobiographies by most western mountaineers. Bonington was introduced to local hills and had an intense desire to climb. There were mentors and companions like Hamish MacInnes, Tom Patey and Don Whillans. Cutting teeth with such legends, he naturally had a strong foundation. There was a great passion for climbing – instances include the highly televised ascent of Old Man of Hoy and the first British ascent of the North Face of Eiger, with Ian Clough. He initially flirted with the thought of joining the army as a career and later took up a corporate job. Both did not suit him, and so he opted for mountains.

He met Wendy, his wife for decades and it was love at first sight as they seemed made for each other. Then came all the high peaks, the climbs and various expeditions, all well recorded by him in individual books. Therefore, here you will find abridged versions. It is well suited for the modern day internet and Facebook generation as a quick read. Expeditions followed one after the other: Annapurna south face, Everest southwest face, Nuptse, Ogre, K2, Sepu Kangri, Kongur, Menlungtse and Everest northeast ridge. Not only high peaks attracted him, he also climbed challenging peaks like Chagabang, Panch Chuli, Brammah and Rangrik Rang.

His major contribution to mountaineering was to make a paradigm shift in thinking – one was to attempt high peaks the ‘Hard Way Up’, even though easier routes were available. The other was to face the challenging task of team management. One needed a special ability to lead teams with so many highly motivated and strong climbers, each with a high ambition to reach the summit, which could often lead to conflicts.

But my public persona left me open to a certain amount of mockery from my peers, and I could be oversensitive about that. Mike Thompson wrote a lauded satire of the Everest expedition for Mountain magazine called Out with the Boys Again. (‘One needs a leader who changes his mind a lot and has difficulty in remembering one day to the next what he has decided. We were very fortunate to have such a leader’.)

Mike’s ribbing hurt me more than it should have done, but it did feel unfair, coming from one of my oldest friends. The team on K2 had fun opening a book on whether they could persuade me to change my mind about something I had already decided.


There were losses and deaths. He lost his young son Conrad early and was deeply affected. For the 1970 Annapurna south face expedition, Ian Clough was deputed to what was then Bombay to clear the expedition baggage through restrictive Indian Customs. We had a chance to meet him, climb with him locally and know about Bonington personally. We even planed a joint expedition with Clough for the next year.

But alas, he was killed on the mountain - shattering Bonington. Over the years he was to suffer more loses: Mick Burke, Nick Estcourt, Pete Boardman, Joe Tasker on his expeditions and other friends in separate accidents. On return, as a leader he had to face their young wives, their families and the community.

We went on an expedition in 1994. After much research, I could not find a single photo of the mountain we were to climb, Rangrik Rang in Kinnaur. Bonington replied: “The fact that we do not have a single photo of the mountain is a definite advantage. Harder it is, better it is”. What a spirit!

Once again, the expedition started in Mumbai, where Harish’s wife Geeta organized a puja for me at their apartment in honour of my imminent sixtieth birthday, a major milestone in Hindu culture. It is at sixty that some Hindu men renounce their worldly possessions and leave their families, to wander the land almost naked begging for alms. As Graham Little pointed out, I’d been doing something similar for most of my life already. Two priests came to Geeta’s house and I sat crossed-legged on the floor for two hours as they burned incense. I found it a deeply moving experience.


What he does not mention is that he had tears in his eyes during this puja, perhaps remembering friends he had lost on mountains, even though he called himself agnostic. Every time after a tragedy, he moved on and responded to his inner urges to love mountains even more; a new climb, a lecture or another book to widen horizons.

My research for Quest for Adventure broadened my outlook and brought me new friends across the globe. For two years I was immersed in interviewing my subjects, flying round the world to meet them. It was intriguing to puzzle out similarities and differences in people with such widely different backgrounds, but the common factors were a taste for risk and a passionate curiosity.


His mix of exploratory climbs in new areas, and different challenges inspired many. He continued climbing, now, increasingly with younger climbers; Jim Fotheringham, Graham Little, Jim Lowther, Leo Houlding and others. It was always challenging, but he was happy to match them.

We walked round to the col overlooking the northern flank of the mountain but that was no better. Yet despite the frustration, I was thoroughly enjoying myself. I still seemed capable of long days in the mountains.

‘The old war horse has stamina even if the joints are creaking,’ I wrote to Wendy. I’d suffered a skiing accident that winter and the bruising on my neck was giving me trouble. ‘Oh, my love, I do love the mountains, love feeling part of them, walking through them, climbing them, looking at them.’


Apart from climbing and writing about it, he was involved with many other associations too: Lepra Society, British Mountaineering Council, The Alpine Club, Outward Bound and National Parks – he served mostly as President of these organizations. For ten years, he was Chancellor of Lancaster University, though he hadn’t studied at any university before. And there was a profusion of awards, all well-deserved, several Hon. Doctorate degrees and C B E in 1975, which made him ‘Sir’, a title he rarely used. But he was most pleased to receive his ‘first formal recognition, by the Royal Geographical Society, the Founder’s Gold Medal, which is their foremost award ‘for mountain explorations.’’

Time to slow down? No, he had one task to complete - although he was not possessed by it. As opportunity arose, he went off to climb Everest, but with a balanced approach.

Friends have often remarked that climbing Everest changed me; that I was more at ease with myself afterwards, more fulfilled. I’ve sometime wondered about that. Walking back to Lukla, I certainly experienced profound contentment. Yet I hadn’t broken any records. I was the seventh Briton to reach the top and had taken full advantage of bottled oxygen. As George Greenfield observed, most people in Britain thought I’d done Everest several times over, and those that knew better didn’t care. So why did it mean so much?

There had been little physical pleasure in it at the time; none of the elation of rock climbing on a sunny day where the air is rich with oxygen and your limbs don’t feel as though they’re filled with lead. On Everest there was no journey into the unknown. It had been all I could manage to follow the others to the top.

Yet it had also been a profoundly moving experience. There had been awareness of the mountains slowly dropping away, the summit caught in the first golden glow of dawn, the north-east ridge with all its memories. That day on Everest wasn’t merely about reaching the top, it was for me the focal point of climbing life, a gathering of so many ambitions, dreams and memories that climaxed in that upwelling of joy and sorrow I experienced at the summit.


Life was soon taking turns for him. Wendy was sick for a long time and finally passed away leaving a huge void in his life. Family and friends supported him well and after days of inner wilderness he married Loreto. With grown up children and several grandchildren from both sides, he was literally the grandfather of the climbing world, nay a statesman and diplomat.

How far are we driven by ego? How much does the approval of our peers mean to us? Or fame in the wider world? I certainly had an ego and enjoyed recognition, but I don’t think I was ever consumed by it. In those early days, when I discovered my passion for climbing, there was a thrill in the risk, and a satisfaction in finding an activity I was good at, but above all I treasured the actual sensation of climbing for its own sake. I was ambitious, but only for those things just in front of me. My challenges were both measurable and attainable.


Hopefully he is a satisfied man with this Ascent, or is there still something up his sleeve? Has the quest with which he started been satiated? Has the train reached its destination?




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Biography of a mountain and the Dramatic Story of the First Ascent
By Doug Scott.
Pp. 178, 125 B&W and colour photos, three maps. (Vertebrate Publishing 2017). £20


“Some mountains are high; some mountains are hard. Few are both.” - This statement perfectly sums up Ogre or Baintha Brakk, the highest craggy granite spire in the world (7285 m) that requires hardcore technical skill to climb and is located in the Karakoram mountain range, one of the remotest areas on earth. The fact that the main peak has been climbed only thrice, confirms this fact. This book narrates the story of its first climb back in 1977 by a British team which is epic, dramatic and full of suspense.

The book is a two-part biography of this enigmatic and notorious peak. For the first part Doug Scott researched the geography and history of the mountain. This comprises of seven sections, each enlightening the readers about different aspects of the region, the mountain, impact of the Karakoram ranges on Asian history and the stories of early exploration suntil the year 1950.

The first section of the first part speaks about the prehistoric continent drift that gave rise to seven continents and the Karakoram that is the loftiest mountain range in the world with the highest concentration of peaks above 7900 m. It also speaks about the formation and texture of the rocks that made granite the most cherished rock for climbing. The several interesting facts and figures hook the reader to this section. Scott also provides graphic analogy and shares mythological beliefs.

The remaining six sections of the first part touch upon the history of Central Asia and how that impacted the exploration of the Karakoram. The region was first known to the outside world only 200 years back.

It is difficult to contemplate, even now, the complex topography of Karakoram without reference to modern day maps. But two centuries ago there were no maps, no roads or modern transport systems, no electronic or satellite modes of communication, only fragments of information gathered locally from itinerant travellers. The communities in different valleys were isolated and divided into separate kingdoms, speaking different languages and often at war with each other. The communities were always suspicious towards foreigners, especially those who came from over the mountains as they could reveal to enemies the unprotected ways to enter and pillage. Still a few brave souls took up the challenge, defied odds of difficult terrain, bad weather and hostile locals and risked their life to explore the remotest area on earth outside the polar region.

The exploration that began for economics and trade gradually shifted to reasons related to politics and security and to take control of the territory in order to protect respective empires. The exploration started during the Greek era in ancient times which was later taken up by European powers such as the British, Scottish and Germans. Scott tells us exploration stories of different explorers such as Charles Christie and Henry Pottinger, Mountstuart Elphinstone, Moorcroft, Alexander Burnes, Thomas George Montgomerie, Godwin-Austen, Francis Younghusband, Oscar Eckenstein, Workman couple, Eric Shipton and others. Each exploration story includes the political, economic and local environment perspective and is logically connected to the subsequent one.

The second part of the biography narrates the story of dramatic first ascent with surprises and unforeseen circumstances at each step. The expedition was conceptualized in 1975 when the Doug Scott and Clive Rowland went for another expedition, but ended up recceing the base camp area of Ogre. In 1977, they re-initiated the plan with four other members Chris Bonington, Nick Estcourt, Mo Anthoine and Paul Tut Braithwaite, each a strong individual character with different style, credible climbing and high altitude mountaineering skills and experiences but driven by single motive.

The book takes readers through the journey right from the planning stage to travel to base camp, subsequent load ferrying, fixing ropes, a successful ascent by two of the members and finally an even more epic descent in adverse conditions. The book continues the story with their return to Great Britain and the aftermath of the horror.

It takes a second to change fate. This happened with the team several times. The expedition started with a high note but then one member got injured even before the start of the climb. Lack of communication prompted a rift in the climbing team; permit issues occurred for two members of the support group; news of a death surfaced from another expedition in the nearby area; and finally when all seemed fine and the much anticipated summit was achieved in bright and sunny weather, an accident occurred that swung fate against the team again.

What followed is the crux of the story and no less than epic. Finally team emerged from all the adversity through sheer courage, trust in each other, a never-say-die attitude, skill and experience gathered through years of climbing, the support of local Balti people and the desire to reach home to family and friends. The author includes the minutest detail and describes emotions of each member at every stage of the expedition.

It is said that a good story makes the readers visualize the happenings, feel the emotions of the characters and empathize with them. The Ogre is certainly such a book. Hundred of photographs from the expedition and a few maps help the narration thus completing the visual treat for the reader.

Besides, there are moments of poetry -for example, while comparing a series of spires in the Biafo glacier with Chamonix Aiguilles, the author states “but these needles out jut them in steepness, outnumber them in multitude, and outreach them in size. The highest of them flings it’s royal summit more than 23,000 feet into the air, and looks abroad over a field of mountains that finds no superior in the world”.

Mountains always have the upper hand in the struggle between man and mountain. Thus men must provide gratitude and stay humble while climbing mountains of any altitude and difficulty.




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An Ecosystem at Risk
By Maharaj K. Pandit.
Pp. 364 (Harvard University Press, 2017)


Every writer who approaches the Himalaya views the mountains through a different lens. Some focus their vision on exploration and adventure, others direct their attention to history or politics, while yet another set of authors peer through various apertures of culture, mythology or spiritualism. Science, especially for those of us who are untutored in its nuances, often provides the most inscrutable lens of all. Many published studies of Himalayan geology, botany or glaciology are as inaccessible and arduous as the terrain they describe.

Maharaj Pandit’s book is an exception. Life in the Himalaya is not only a rigorous work of science writing but an utterly readable account of the ecological and human narratives that traverse this vertical domain. As Dean of the Faculty of Science and Professor of Environmental Studies at Delhi University, Pandit possesses the credentials to knowledgeably explore a variety of scientific disciplines from geology and meteorology to zoology, entomology and botany. He also has a deeply personal connection to the Himalaya. Born and raised in the village of Mihind, in Anantnag district of Kashmir, he went on to do his PhD. fieldwork in the Mishmi Hills of Arunachal Pradesh, studying a medicinal plant, Coptisteeta, commonly known as golden thread. In this way, Pandit’s formative experiences and vision of the Himalaya extends from the geographical extremes of West to East. Over the course of his career, he has observed the mountains with the naked eye but also through binoculars and microscope, giving him uniquely varied perspectives.

Rather than simply being a dry catalogue of research and empirical data, this book is, at heart, a compendium of stories, most of which are grounded in science. Admittedly, some of these are highly technical tales that will tax a layman’s vocabulary, such as climate profiles of the Cenozoic period or invasive tendencies of wooly apple aphids but underlying these mysterious and daunting details is the life story of the Himalaya, which can be read on many levels. To assist us in comprehending the extended timelines and diversity of species, he includes a number of useful diagrams like a chart of geological events from the earth’s formation during the Hadean epoch to the collision of continents in the Eocene and eventually human habitation of the Himalaya over the past eleven to twelve thousand years of the Holocene. Similarly there is an exceedingly useful illustration of altitudinal zones of vegetation in the Himalaya as they vary from West to East.

Pandit’s personal stories range from folktales of djinns and devas he heard on his mother’s lap to an account of his own scientific apprenticeship under the guidance of Dr. Virendra Kumar, an influential but self-effacing scientist, who served on the Government of India’s Planning Commission as well as a number of important committees that deliberated over the environmental future of the Himalaya. One of the most fascinating chapters in this book recounts Dr. Virendra Kumar’s central role in the Chipko movement, working alongside veteran activists like Chandi Prasad Bhatt. For anyone who has an interest in grass roots Himalayan politics as well as the practical applications of hard science this retelling of the Chipko epic is a revealing allegory of information and power.

Throughout this book the core message of conservation prevails but it is not just a tree-hugging fable. Instead, we are constantly reminded of the essential need for scientific research as a solid foundation for policy debates and reform. Too often, ecological discourse is guided by sentimental and ill-informed opinions rather than critical thinking and methodical inquiry. As Pundit explains when we talk about shrinking glaciers in the Himalaya and the effects of climate change, it is essential to base our arguments on reliable data rather than vague insinuations and half-formed theories. These frozen rivers of ice are affected by everything from patterns of precipitation during the monsoon to increasing quantities of pollutants in the air such as carbon emissions from vehicles in Delhi that are blown northward to ultimately settle on glaciers and darken their surface, thereby increasing the absorption of sunlight and accelerating the melting of ice.

Scientists have explored the Himalaya for centuries including early colonial polymaths like Brian Houghton Hodgson or Joseph Dalton Hooker who began the process of classifying a multitude of birds and plants.

Today, ornithologists and botanists must ask much more difficult questions, not just about other species but our own. Life in the Himalaya advocates an ongoing quest for knowledge but contains moral and ethical insights too, tracing not only the natural history of the Himalaya but looking to the future of these magnificent mountains and our collective responsibility for ensuring that they are preserved. Amidst a cacophony of ecological conversations and competing viewpoints, Maharaj Pandit provides a compelling voice of reason that persuades us to follow the facts.




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Climbing through the Kashmir Conflict
By Steve Swenson.
Pp. 225, 16 colour and many B/W photographs, 2017. (Mountaineers Books, Seattle, $26.95)


The Karakoram range needs no introduction. Found here are some of the tallest and most formidable peaks in the world that have long challenged climbers. A lot has been said and written about the range’s daunting geographical features, its strategic positioning in a region that is marred with conflict and recounts of daring expeditions undertaken by various climbers from across the globe.

Karakoram, by Steve Swenson, is an anthology of his climbs in the area, spanning a period of more than three decades, spread over 15 expeditions. It’s a finely woven tale of ambition, apparent failure, followed by return visits and the consequent realization of the author’s goals. The narrative is interspersed with the realities of expedition planning consisting of tons of bureaucratic paperwork, adapting to life and ways in a region that is completely dissimilar and non-identical to any other, the varying nature of team dynamics and the overall administrative challenges one must battle with while facing the mammoth task of organizing successful expeditions in a politically volatile zone such as the Karakoram.

The book has two distinct narratives - one is about mountaineering, focussing mainly on planning and the actual execution of climbing, while the other focuses on the strenuousness of bringing such a plan to fore. The Karakoram region has been witness to raging disputes and war for many decades now. These have had an intense cumulative effect on life, cultural ties and geopolitical boundaries in the area, with far-reaching consequences that affect international relations. With this backdrop, conducting foreign expeditions, over a span of thirty years is a gruelling task, to say the least. The book does full justice to the upheavals and hindrances encountered by climbers and expedition organizers.

Intermingled with the stark desperation of this violent region are heart-warming stories of partnership, cultural exchange and humanity experienced by the author in the Karakoram. One such friendship is that between him and Haji Ghulam Rasool, a native Balti porter.

Karakoram, also traces the author’s trajectory that makes him a world-renowned alpinist. From team building and the importance of choosing the right partners to meticulous planning that eventually contributes to the outcome of the expedition, followed by effective implementation on the ground, Steve Swenson touches upon all these subjects and more. The book is a definitive authority on climbing in the area, as well as an exhaustive and thought-provoking rendition of people, their way of life, their culture and politics in one of the most menacing mountainous regions in the world.




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Character and fate: eight essays on climbing and the mountain life
By Ed Douglas.
Pp. 192, 2017. (Vertebrate Publishing, £14.95)

There is a passage at the start of Ed Douglas’s award-winning essay Crazy Wisdom in which he describes an enchanting moment beside the Dudh Kosi on the trail to Everest base camp.

A young girl on her way to school pauses in front of Ed, smiles and slips a flower into his right hand.

I felt her fingers briefly against mine before she walked on, singing to herself again while I uncurled my hand to look at her gift.


Douglas compares it to a blessing; the reader too is beguiled. But then almost as if crushing the bloom in his fist, he jolts us back to reality. This has been a moment of ‘sweetest poison’. We’ve fooled ourselves. The world is a cruel place and Nepal is no Shangri la. Ed is hiking up the Khumbu to report on the most deadly accident in Everest history (the avalanche of 2015); every day another sixteen hundred Nepalis fly out of Kathmandu airport in search of jobs abroad; and trek porters are still dying by the wayside, under-fed and under-clad for the mountain cold.

Crazy Wisdom, a winner at the Banff Mountain Book Festival, is one of eight essays brought together in The Magician’s Glass. All first appeared in either Alpinist or Rock and Ice, two magazines that, to their credit, still provide a platform for the long-form journalism at which Ed excels. Vertebrate Publishing is to be congratulated on bringing them together in a single volume.

There is a risk for journalists in recycling their greatest periodical hits in book form. Some pieces stand the test of time better than others; after all, journalism is, as the saying goes, only a first draft of history.

Thus, in this collection, What’s Eating Ueli Steck?, written for Rock and Ice in 2014, concerning doubts over the Swiss alpinist’s 2013 Annapurna south face solo, has been overtaken by Steck’s death on Nutpse in 2017 - a death the inevitability of which seems presaged in an earlier one of these essays, Searching for Tomaž Humar. While Humar was on Cholatse in 2005 with Ales Kozelj and Janko Oprešnik, struggling to regain his former prowess, elsewhere on the mountain, Steck, ‘a star from the next generation’, was soloing a new variant in 37 hours. Ed writes: “At times, he (Humar) must have felt his future was behind him.” But Steck too, we now realize, was on the same fatal trajectory.

The Magican’s Glass, in Ed’s hands, reflects the complex characters of Steck, Humar, Kurt Albert and Patrick Edlinger, and also, more poignantly, the pain of Stephanie Egger as she longs for the truth about the death of her brother. Toni Egger was Cesare Maestri’s ill- starred companion on Cerro Torre in 1959. Maestri knows the truth, just as he does about that discredited ‘first ascent’, but he will not say.

I’d read all of these essays soon after first publication; indeed I’ve kept most of the cuttings. (These can now be ‘tidied’ away.) At the time I was mainly focused on the climber or issue under scrutiny. A second reading, though, is rather different, dwelling more on literary style and insights into the author himself.

Ed Douglas is no polemicist. Generally dispassionate to a fault, he presents facts and thoughtful analysis then leaves readers to draw their own conclusions. Only in a couple of these essays do we see a little deeper into the personality of someone who, in fact, has been a relatively well-known name in British climbing circles for three decades.

What emerges is a mildly surprising degree of self-doubting introspection. Poet, author and one-time climber Andrew Greig puts his finger on it in You Know What You Could Be, written with Mike Heron of Incredible String Band memory (hence that title). Greig writes:

At some point the overall shape and course of your life emerges like a distant ship sailing out of the mist. You will never captain your country at cricket, be awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry or anything else… Adherents of the law of attraction say anything is possible if you will it enough, but this is delusional.

It is time for honest reckoning, says Greig. And maybe this was Ed’s frame of mind when he wrote Lines of Beauty: the Art of Climbing, first published in Alpinist in 2009. He travels to Chamonix, ostensibly to interview artist and alpinist Andy Parkin, hoping to better understand an artist’s creative way of seeing. But Ed is also returning to the scene of his first alpine forays as a teenager, and questioning what climbing still means to him.

Interview over, he and Andy go climbing: a pleasant, south-facing crag, only 45 minutes from the road and not too serious. Yet even here Ed feels it is not where he belongs, unlike Parkin who has stripped away all peripherals to endlessly travel the world and climb new routes. Ed, meanwhile, sees his life revolving around home in Sheffield, with climbing comfortably familiar, like weeding the garden or walking the dog.

“It’s congenial,” he says in self-deprecation. Yet as an admission it is disarmingly honest - just like his first instinct on receiving that flower by the Dudh Khosi. Ed Douglas may be the cool-eyed observer of our antics as climbers and the ravaged world about us, but The Magician’s Glass also reveals glimpses of a sensitive human being wielding the pen.




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By Jim Herrington.
Pp. 191, 61 b/w photo, 2017. (Mountaineering Books, Seattle, WA, USA, Hardcover USD 75)

The Climbers

The Climbers spans time, geography, altitude, season, technique, and medium. Jim Herrington’s vision was to capture portraits of the greats from the Golden Age of climbing. These are the mavericks, the path-breakers and path-makers, the visionaries and luminaries, the poets and the bums and the dirtbags who pushed or broke boundaries and redefined what is humanly possible. Climbers continue to do that, no doubt; they continue to amaze and surpass limits. But they also stand on the shoulders of giants, men and women who achieved mortal feats that continue to be challenging and illusive at a time when climbing, travel, and communication technologies was nowhere near what they are today.

Jim Herrington’s portraits are a gift – to climbers, historians, artists, and others like me who are curious about people and the things they do. In The Climbers, the Golden Age of climbing is roughly between the 1930s and the 1970s – the discovery of new places and heights, the defining of the sport (and perhaps, a few re-definings), and later, the solving of the ‘last great problems’. This time-frame may at times seem arbitrary because many who climbed in this period also continued to climb later, and climbing in general has by no means stagnated or slowed. Furthermore, some techniques used at the time are now frowned upon and considered sacrilege in climbing. There is romanticism to this Golden Age that Herrington acknowledges in his preface, revels in even – he calls himself an ‘unapologetic romantic’. It is this element that he goes on to capture beautifully in his photographs, 60-odd portraits all shot on black and white film, and all deeply moving. The subjects are all past their prime, some are more wrinkled than others but their contours tell stories of adventure, danger, mysticism, and daring (if not outright mania!).

In other ways, Herrington’s collection is the opposite of romantic; it is honest and bare. These portraits, many of which show a vulnerability and tenderness not associated with climbing, immortalize these men and women in a special way; in a way that keeps the Golden Age alive and in our imaginations even if slightly bent and grey. My personal favourites include portraits of Dee Molenaar, Royal Robbins, Kancha Sherpa, Fred Beckey, and Bradford Washburn, which is also the front cover of the book. All may not be household names, but all represent a ‘kindred spirit’.

Death never seems very far from climbers. The importance of this collection becomes even starker when we think about the great climbers who have not been photographed because they were no longer alive; some others died soon after Herrington captured them on film.

It would be unfair to talk about The Climbers without talking about Greg Child’s essay, ‘Reflections on the Golden Age of Climbing’. He offers a fantastic and comprehensive overview of this Age, crossing continents, decades, climbing techniques, national and personal races, and includes his own autobiographical account of climbing and learning from many of the people photographed by Herrington. His essay brings many of these photographs to life. This is no mean feat. Child manages to do justice to these climbers as well as where all they climbed – from the Himalaya to the Canadian Rockies to Patagonia, the Dolomites and Alps to the rock faces in Utah, California and Colorado. In fact, Child covers many Golden Ages and tells us fascinating stories of why this was a special Age for climbing, without leaving out some of its darker days.

For those not immersed in or particularly familiar with the climbing world, the format of this book is not ideal. While one can see the merit in keeping the essay and the portraits separate, it could have also been interesting to intersperse Herrington’s portraits with Child’s essay. This could have made the portraits more profound – reading what these climbers have achieved and seeing them now, after the Golden Age has passed. I have a suggestion for those who may not be familiar with the history of climbing – feel free to read Child’s essay in any order you like since each section is its own story and go through the photographs in any order, too. The photographs are, after all, also works of art that can be mulled over without any context.

The Golden Age of climbing may be past but The Climbers will serve as a reminder that history is often a living entity that must be preserved in all its forms. While there may not be another Golden Age, I hope we document the current history of climbing which is more inclusive and diverse – where women are not a mere footnote and climbers are of many hues – in a way that is as beautiful and caring as Herrington and Child have done.

Alex Honnold writes in the foreword, ‘In these portraits, we are reminded that great climbers are still people, sharing the same humor, motivations, and humanity as the rest of us. To me, that is the greatest inspiration of all – to look at these climbers who have dared so much on the big walls of the world and realize that they are all of us.’

I reiterate, The Climbers is a gift. It is also a lesson.

Uttara Purandare



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By Ueli Steck with Karin Steinbach; translated by Billi Bierling.

Pp. 214 (Mountaineers Books, Seattle, WA 2018)


Welcome to a world where nothing is impossible in the mountains, where the mettle of the human body and mind takes over and transcends physical obstacles, where every project in every season borders on breaking lofty records of achievements in climbing, where tremendous self-belief and addiction to undertake risks, are the driving forces and where every step is fraught with danger. Welcome to the world of Ueli Steck, one of Europe’s top three alpinists.

This work is the first English language translation of Ueli’s writings. The entire book actually feels like a conversation with Ueli. It begins with Ueli’s straight-from-the-heart honest description of the origins and aftermath of the widely-followed brawl on Everest in 2013. While Ueli didn’t harbour anger or bitterness about the incident, it did shake his faith in people.

Ueli believed in climbing with Swiss efficiency. Quite often, one gets a taste of the ‘Swiss machine’s’ superhuman training runs and his training climbs in the Alps and on popular peaks in the Nepalese and Pakistani Himalayas.

The Annapurna record soloing is dissected in detail. As the climb unfolds, his partner gives up, he loses equipment, the mountain turns hostile and one can actually understand his muted sense of jubilation as, all alone in the dark of the night, he reaches the summit. Controversies abound as he returns to base after which he takes a sabbatical in 2014.

The chapter on Shishapangma describes his tryst with the loss of his German colleagues and its impact on his psyche.

All 4000ers in the Alps is quintessential Ueli. He rediscovers his joy for climbing as he races against time climbing up mountains, running up at times, paragliding down and cycling between places instead of driving down. The names of the mountains, the climbing routes, the places, huts and of people coming in and out of his project become a blur for someone not familiar with the Alps.

A minor flaw is that there are neither pictures nor maps to illustrate his climbs further. For example in the Alps’ chapter, it would be worthwhile for the reader to have the Swiss map app open on a tablet, simply to understand his navigation among the 4000ers, the connecting ridges and traverses and also to get an idea of the sheer effort in cycling enormous distances and elevations between them.

The final chapter on the speed climb of Eiger introduces living legend, ultra runner and speed climber, Kilian Jornet. Ueli leaves no stone unturned in describing his prowess and for once, the reader will find Ueli acknowledging some human is indeed more skilled than him.

The blurb rightly suggests that readers will gain insight into Ueli’s relationships, his thoughts on risk, his reasons for choosing certain routes and discover the effortless joy he found in the mountains.

It would serve the reader well to actually read the translator’s note at the end before reading the book to acquire a brief personal insight into the man. The note ends in a sombre manner and adds substantially to the value of Ueli’s efforts as one reads the book.

Afterword by renowned American climber Steve House is a beautiful rationalization of the seemingly insane achievements of Ueli.

Hugely inspirational, this book ranks among the must-reads in mountain literature.




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How a first ascent by Riddiford and Cotter shaped climbing history
By Lyn McKinnon.
Pp. 352, Photos B/W 106; Coloured 50; Maps 4. (OTAGO University Press, 2016)


The first New Zealand Himalayan expedition took place in 1951. The four men on the team were Earle Riddiford, who had meticulously organized the expedition and raised most of the funds, Ed Cotter, Edmund Hillary and George Lowe.

After an unsuccessful attempt on Nilkanth, the team set their sights on Mukut Parbat north of Kamet and the highest unclimbed peak in the area at the time.

On July 11, Riddiford and Cotter along with their Sherpa Sardar Pasang Dawa Lama, achieved the summit. Hillary and Lowe on another rope, miscalculated their chances and returned without attempting the peak.

As a result of this remarkable show of climbing, Eric Shipton who was putting together a post-monsoon British expedition for the reconnaissance of Everest from the south, was prevailed upon to include two of the New Zealanders in his team. The telegram with the invite arrived while the four climbers were still at Ranikhet in Garhwal. A night of bitter and acrimonious dispute took place to decide who would go. This dilemma is reflected in the difference between the title of the book and the cover photograph. The decision that was finally taken influenced the lives of the four climbers and the way the world knows – or doesn’t - know them.

The two who joined the British team were Hillary and Riddiford. In 1952, they were on Shipton’s failed attempt at Cho Oyu and this time George Lowe was also invited to participate. The following year in the historic 1953 expedition to Everest under John Hunt, both Hillary and Lowe were members of the British team while Riddiford was left out altogether. The outcome as they say became recorded history.

Lyn McKinnon has set out to give Earle Riddiford and Ed Cotter their due in a book that is lavish with detail and photographs. Tracing the early years of climbing in New Zealand, she tells the story of the two friends through an examination of private papers and published works; through interviews with Cotter and their families and other climbers. Without their success on Mukut Parbat arguably, none of the New Zealanders would have been invited to climb with the British. Yet their role has never been properly acknowledged. In writing this book, Ms McKinnon attempts to set the record straight and give two climbing greats the recognition they deserve.




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By Steve House.
Pp. 145-168, 2009 (Patagonia Books, U.S. $ 17.95)


“There are no words of ‘climax’ on the summit, no words of victory. Instead, Steve tells about suffering through freezing cold bivouacs, the discomfort of high-altitude, the deep emptiness after a high success.”

This is what Reinhold Messner writes in his foreword, and it aptly sets the tone of the book. On the outside, Beyond the Mountain is an account of the various climbs, experiences and skills required for an alpinist to be at the top of his game. However, on deeper inspection, the reader is confronted with piercing intensity and rawness of emotions; a vulnerability that makes the perception of pride and success vapourize the minute a goal has been realized. Years of meticulous planning, fundraising, and making innumerable sacrifices is reduced to nothingness; the sum total of it all is zero.

This hauntingly earnest exposition is a concurrent theme running throughout the book. The author ponders over his reasons to climb but he is unapologetic about the sacrifices he has to make along the way. For him, ambition is crucial to survival, and it often supersedes the latter. In his words, “There had been moments when my survival seemed secondary to my need for acute experiences.” He thrives on the experience, even if it entails taking risks that may prove to be deadly.

Throughout the book, the reader is subjected to a bilateral form of storytelling. On one hand, we have a climber who is goal oriented and assured of his skills. On the other hand, we see a sense of susceptibility, rather sensitivity to the heavy price he has to pay in order to achieve his aspirations. He says “My search begins at the moment of danger. This moment is pregnant with both tragedy and transcendence”.

The book unfolds with a description of a failed attempt of Nanga Parbat’s Rupal Face, a direct line through the central pillar leading up to the summit, a route that was eventually established by Steve House and Vince Anderson in 2005. The following chapters trace the author’s journey from being introduced to alpinism while in Slovenia on a school exchange trip, the climbs and routes he pioneered, the techniques employed, the various pitfalls he encountered along the way, the association with his climbing heroes, partnerships, loss and failure. He has incredible energy and drive to climb at all costs, and that is further propagated through an honest evaluation of his own capabilities. The descriptions of his climbs often involve an extensive elucidation of the technicalities involved in the light and fast style of climbing that he is in pursuit of. After all “action is the message”.

The narrative is non-linear, moving back and forth to describe events that have occurred over 20 years. The style may seem tedious to some readers, as often one has to go back to a previous chapter to get understand the description at hand. Having said that, the movement from one episode to the other is quite seamless, with a fluidity that does justice to the deeply personal and introspective style in which the book has been written, thereby rendering a cinematic propensity, hard to find in mountain literature.

House is brutally honest in acceptance of his failures, short comings and limitations. The elitism associated with the compulsion to climb has been subdued by confessions of failures and human frailty. He has almost made peace with the dangers that might befall him at any minute – “Without gravity, climbing would not exist; without death what matters life?” Insights like these, which provide glimpses into the motivation and psychological aspect behind the act of climbing is what sets this book apart.

“Do not mistakenly assume that these portraits exalt courage, bravery, skill, or intelligence. Though these qualities bear some part, so do fear, inadequacy, and compromise.”- It is in these words wherein the true beauty of Beyond the Mountain lies. The ending is inconclusive, and doesn’t attempt to answer all the questions that the author muses upon through the narrative. The ambiguity is justified, as more than being a factual biography; it is a confession, guiding the reader through the myriads of feelings and qualities one needs to be an accomplished high altitude mountaineer.




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Collision Course on the Roof of the World
By Bertil Lintner.
Pp. 320 (Oxford University Press, 2018)

Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun – Mao Zedong


For long, the most popular narratives surrounding the Indo-China War of 1962 have been the writings of scholars like Neville Maxwell, and Alastair Lamb. According to them, the war was a result of India’s disastrous ‘Forward Policy’ – where Indian soldiers were posted along the Indo – China Line of Actual Control (LAC) in territory that China claimed to be its own. Viewed in this light, China was only reaffirming its territorial claims, while India was the undisputed aggressor. Further, they argue that India’s case over the disputed territory was weak at best anyway. And lastly, the McMohan Line, the raison d’etre of China’s dispute with India, was a result of an illicit collusion between Britain and Tibet during the Shimla Conference of 1914.

In his latest book, Bertil Lintner seeks to provide a diametrically opposite but eye opening perspective on the war, one that seeks to puncture arguments made by Maxwell and the like. In the aptly named China’s India War (to counter Maxwell’s bestseller India’s China War) – Mr Lintner carefully exposes how the war was on China’s mind much before the ‘Forward Policy’ came into place. With careful research he argues that China was ultimately the aggressor. Broadly, he argues this in the following fashion.

That China began preparing for war long before the ‘Forward Policy’ is reflected in the military build-up post 1959 – including building an incredible network of roads and military supply chains leading right up to the LAC, in what is one of the most unforgiving environments in the world! Second, China had detailed knowledge of Indian troop positions, and the terrain. This would have been impossible without the locals gathering information for the Chinese. Tellingly, Lintner argues, that the Chinese attacked only those regions where locals spoke a dialect similar to Tibetan. Chinese did not attack other tribal areas, where languages were unintelligible. Third, China was prepared to fight India directly as well as indirectly – after all, China continued to fight a proxy war against India even after 1962 by funding, providing training and sometimes even arming militant rebels from India’s North East. Fourth, China wanted to establish itself as a power on the world stage, and thus, wanted to be the leader of the ‘Third World’. This could only be achieved, if India’s authority over the Non-Aligned block was diminished through a humiliating defeat.

While these arguments may seem like ‘smoking gun’ arguments to many – despite Lintner’s convincing tone – one cannot ignore the historical antecedents that the author highlights very effectively.

According to him, the primary motivation for the Chinese aggression was to avenge ‘India’s designs for Tibet’. After all, the Dalai Lama had crossed over to India in 1959, and had been granted asylum here. They wanted to then, ‘settle accounts with the Indians’, as Deng Xiaoping had warned as far back as March 1959. For this however, China had to wait for the right moment. What better time than October 1962? The USA was engaged in the Cuban Missile Crisis with the Soviet Union – and would not intervene. Further, it came at the back of the failed ‘Great Leap Forward’ that had cost millions of Chinese lives, and had greatly diminished Chairman Mao’s stature. A war would thus be ideal to shore back national confidence.

However, for reasons unexplained the author glosses over the massive blunders committed by men at the highest echelons of power in India. Prominent personalities, who had exacerbated the fiasco through ineptitude, arrogance or even simple idealism like BM Kaul, VK Krishna Menon, and BN Mallik escape almost entirely without any blame in the book. No attempt is made to burnish the actions of these men, who were lambasted by Maxwell in his book.

In this otherwise solid rendering of events in the backdrop and during the war – readers may find the latter chapters delving into the evolution of China, and its relations with its neighbours and their influence on India a tad digressing. It is however, a worthy attempt to create a more holistic understanding behind China’s motivations behind boundary disputes, and how it seeks to resolve them. This is especially crucial, since the author through his own admission sees many parallels between the 1962 War and the current conflict in the South China Sea. Perhaps this is the most important achievement of the book – to give a peek into the Chinese worldview of foreign policy, and its reliance on the ‘gun-barrel’ as a means to an end.




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By Hugh Norton.
Pp. 183. 34 photographs / illustrations; 3 maps (Vertebrate Publishing, Sheffield, 2017, GBP 12.99)

The 1924 Everest expedition is rather famous for the tragedy that led to the loss of the mountaineering greats, Mallory and Irvine. However, not much is known about the leader of that expedition, Edward (Teddy) Norton. A cursory online search shows up a book called The Fight for Everest 1924, a gripping narrative by him; and a book on his sketches and private diaries between the Everest expeditions of 1922 and 1924.


It’s hard to fathom that this gentleman had set an altitude record on Everest, climbing within a 1000 feet of the summit, without supplementary oxygen, almost a hundred years ago. This record was bettered only five decades later by Messner - Habeler in 1978.

However, this gifted leader, unbeknown to many, led a rather beautiful life professionally as a soldier with a distinguished military career. He was decorated with every medal for gallantry and combat except for the Victoria Cross. On a personal front, he passionately pursued his fine interests in botany, ornithology and painting while yearning to spend time with his family as he lived and served in various countries. These wonderful facets of Colonel Norton’s remarkable life have been detailed in this literary delight written by his youngest son, Hugh Norton.

The well-researched biography is divided into seven chapters that take you through the journey right from his early years to retirement.

It begins with early years surrounding his birth in Argentina in 1884. There are notes on his parentage and ancestry and also on the events of those times that led Norton to receive his commission as a soldier joining his first posting in the 71st Battery of the Royal field Artillery as a 19-year old.

The next chapter gives insights into his progressive career as a soldier and events leading to World War I. These are times when game hunting was a sport. There are numerous anecdotal references to Teddy’s considerable skills at horsemanship, pig-sticking and fishing. There are vivid details quoted from his diaries of tense moments and events from the battlefield.

Chapter 3 is a literary sketch of Ed Norton’s personality, with a spotlight on his linguistic skills that the author has faithfully reproduced in the form of diary excerpts and on his love for watercolour painting and caricatures, many of which, some humorous, adorn the coloured plates and drawings in the book.

Chapter 4 is particularly interesting, as the reader is taken through the history, the organization including many gripping moments and the aftermath of the Everest expeditions of 1922 and 1924. In the face of tragedy in 1924, Norton, as an expedition leader, was not only praised for his high altitude achievement but also for the humane handling of events surrounding the accident.

The book then moves on to his middle years with his postings as an army commander in England and pre-independence India. Here, the author on many occasions brings to the fore Norton’s desire to spend time with his wife and his growing kids.

The narrative moves to his appointment as the Governor of Hong Kong. Here the author gives the reader a fair glimpse into the administrative travails he faced in times leading to World War II. Amongst his notable legacies was the construction of air-raid shelters in difficult terrain that saved thousands of lives from an imminent Japanese invasion.

The story then moves on to his retirement and the days that followed. Here the author describes how Norton enthusiastically imparts to his children, notwithstanding deteriorating health, his keen interest in sport and natural history.

The obituaries following his death in 1954, appeared in leading mountaineering publications, and have been reproduced. These make the reader reflect back on the man and his rather well-lived life. Parts of his life, especially once you’re done reading his mountaineering achievements, tend to drag at times. But for Norton, that was his life. His Himalayan expeditions were pleasant breaks therein.

As this detailed biography sinks in, it would be worthwhile to read the beautifully-scripted foreword by Wade Davis, yet again.




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By David Roberts.
Pp. xxi, 298. (W.W. Norton & Company, Inc, New York, 2018, USD 26.95.)


History has been a constant witness to human curiosity, and this inquisitiveness has led to a desire to explore and go beyond the known.

David Roberts, a veteran mountain climber, adventurer and writer, searches for the motivating factors that drive him and fellow explorers to pursue a life of adventure in the face of extreme risk in his latest book, Limits of the Known. In the wake of his debilitating illness, he reflects on the course that his own adventures have taken, and whether the achievements justify the personal sacrifices that he has made. He provokes the readers to look beyond the physical pursuit of adventure to understand the psyche of human emotions and interactions that are often downplayed in books of this genre.

Part memoir and part history, the initial chapters of this book are interspersed with fascinating stories from the golden age of land exploration and climbing, and events from his own explorations. The narration of these events is very significant, because they emphasize feats accomplished without the aid of technology like satellite phones, GPS and extensive rescue facilities. The account of Fridtjof Nansen’s three-year-long expedition towards the Arctic north and the exploration of the Karakoram by Shipton and his enterprising team are gripping enough to capture the imagination of the reader. While the quest for glory to reach the farthest north propelled Nansen further, Shipton & Co were driven by their need for knowledge and to fill in the blanks on the map. Whatever their aspirations, these were a group of people who ventured into unknown dangers with no real fallback or rescue plan, egged on by their desire to conquer the unknown. The author masterfully weaves these stories with his own experiences and, through this juxtaposition, provides an insight into the human emotions, elation, frustrations, conflicts and camaraderie that they might have experienced. This softer aspect of exploration is often glossed over by explorers, who tend to equate humanization to a demonstration of weakness. As he celebrates the achievements of these great explorers, he contrasts them with those of the current era wondering if technological advancements have undermined these historic contributions. With the ease of cell phones, satellite phones, internet, rescue planes, helicopters, etc., the very definition of adventure has been rewritten. No more is one disconnected and cutoff from the rest of the world while on an expedition, and no more is one able to internalize and explore silence. If explorers of the golden age dived deep into their adventure with no safety net other than experience and instinct, today’s adventure has been reduced to a rat race of establishing firsts for personal gain and glory. With almost every inch and even remotest corner of the earth having been mapped, the author feels this is the end of exploration as the limits of the known have been reached. And true adventure exists only when one forays into the unknown. But he is optimistic as he feels the future of exploration probably lies in space or undersea exploration or the sport of caving. These being in their nascent stages offer challenges beyond comprehension.

With his account of the stories of the Anasazi, the ancient Native Americans and the Tellems, tribesmen from Mali, David Roberts tells us that the sport of climbing existed even in historic times but was practiced to suit the immediate needs of the people like protecting their granaries or for the interment of their dead. Having explored these regions himself and having emulated these climbs, the author has been able to give us an awe-inspiring first-hand account of their intensity and severity. With the kind of equipment people of those times would have possessed, these make for jaw- dropping experiences. These chronicles are interesting reads as one is compelled to ponder along with the author and attempt to answer questions that will always remain a mystery to humankind. Sadly, we miss such gripping first-hand accounts in the author’s experiences of white water rafting and cave diving, possibly reflecting his role as a companion to the expedition rather than a protagonist. In these chapters, the book descends from an account of exploration to an outsider’s observation of proceedings. Cave diving, deep sea or space explorations are necessarily technology intensive. The success and how far one can go really depend on technological advancements far beyond what we have today.

Mr. Roberts reserves the most personal of his experiences, namely his relationship with his wife Sharon for the final part of the book. The bond that he shares with her has withstood the trials and tribulations of half a century, despite the two of them having varying interests. Reflecting on his life, his passion, the highs and lows in his life and his relationship with his co-climbers, he wonders if he had been selfish towards his wife in following his desire for adventure and his Alaskan ambitions. These are human thoughts that probably plague most people but the author has managed to conquer the insecurities over his health with thoughts of happy times that they have shared with each other. By accepting the frailty of his failing health, the reality of his impending fate, he has come to realize that in those final moments Sharon’s presence and touch would matter to him more than any of his lifelong accomplishments.




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By Sanjoy Hazarika.
Pp. 420, 2018. (Aleph Book Co., New Delhi, Rs 799).


We’re in the same boat, brother,
We’re in the same boat, brother,
And if you shake one end, you gonna Rock the other
It’s the same boat, brother

Bhupen Hazarika’s rendition of American Civil Rights Song

The north-eastern region of India, being geographically cutoff from the rest of the country has always been regarded as distant and unknown. The local people here have always felt a strong sense of alienation given their distinctive looks, food habits and linguistic abilities. They have always considered themselves ethnically akin to the people of the Mongloid race than to the Caucasian that most Indians are. Once an erudite government official from Mizoram was asked to produce his passport at a hotel in Delhi, simply because of how he looked. This was required for only foreigners and his Indian credentials were looked at with suspicion. Many students from these states were treated as people from Mars, especially in Delhi. There were fights and retaliations but luckily in cities only. Though they may have differences amidst themselves, visitors to their land, the Northeast, were welcomed and there was no animosity generated by these gentle folks.

To address these issues, Sanjoy Hazarika wrote Strangers of the Mist choosing to write about the Northeastern states of India, almost two decades ago. He is an insider so to say and at the same time as a journalist of repute, could approach even the Prime Minister. His book created waves, not ripples, and became a standard reference for the region. He followed it up with other books. Possibly the current book is the culmination of the events he had mentioned in his first book.

Few things are still the same. The author is particularly bitter about the ‘Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. These are Acts of the Parliament of India that grant special powers to the Indian Armed Forces in ‘disturbed areas’ (AFSPA). Although the powers are often misused, the forces cannot operate without such special protection in the face of violent insurgency. There are many local insurgent groups like ULFA, groups in Manipur, Tripura, Nagaland, and Assam. With proximity to Bangladesh with whom we share a long common border, the migration problem also comes into play, especially as the migrants are mostly Muslims into staunch Hindu states.

Hazarika considers all these aspects and narrates incidences to show how things change and how things remain the same. He analyzes struggles old and new, and wonders whether the people of the Northeast will assimilate with the ‘Idea of India’ or despite decades of efforts on both sides, if they are destined to be ‘different’. Our Government’s ‘Look East’ policy is yet to take off in full measure. The Chinese shadow across Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim always looms large. Though slow, ‘Development’ is seen everywhere in the form of bridges, roads, air connectivity and Indian goods.

But old attitudes die hard. We met a Naga author at Kohima whose books we bought and got autographed. He declared that he is a-dyed-in-the-wool-Naga and will always remain so. He had travelled to world forums to propagate freedom for Nagaland. “On which passport did you travel?” I asked. “Indian? A country/ nationality you hate so much?” He turned red. “Don’t ask such pointed questions, I had to use it. But someday we will have our own, for we had declared Independence from the British a day earlier than India did”. Clearly, ‘they’ needed ‘us’ and certainly ‘we’ need them for peace. Like the song by Bhupen Hazarika, the legendary singer of the Northeast, we are in the same boat.

The author presents both sides well, the progress and the problems, false promises and the genuine concerns, and politics and democracy which allow for self-expression and freedom. This book is a must- read for all interested in the area. These are proud people, and they do not wish to be strangers. But they want to be part of the idea of India on their own terms.

The book ends on a balanced note quoting one of India’s hip-hop singers Borkung Hrangkhawl Khabir. He was stabbed with a sharp knife a few times a decade ago, but luckily did not get seriously injured. He asked why they do it (possibly referring to Indian Security Forces). They said it is their job. Bokrung, better known as BK, recovered from that ugly episode of extreme prejudice. He chose to write fierce lyrics for what has virtually become his signature anthem. Never Give Up, the words of it he hurls at cheering, ecstatic audiences in every part of the country.

I’m not giving up
My life, my dreams
Give up: Never!




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Coming of Age on the World’s Toughest Mountains
By Steve Bell.
Pp. 24539 B/W, 16 colour photos, 1 map. (Vertebrate Publishing, Sheffield, UK, 2016, £ 20)


The book is not a mere account of the exploits of the young mountaineer Steve Bell; we journey with the author during the trials and tribulations he faces from teenage to adulthood. The subtitle of the book Coming of Age on the World’s Toughest Mountains aptly sums up the theme of the story.

The autobiography starts with a glimpse into the author’s childhood and school years, filled with insecurities, turmoil and the social awkwardness of an adolescent until he finds his escape in the world of trad climbing. The lad’s natural ability for rock climbing gives him a whole new purpose in life, boosting his self-esteem. He is a quick learner graduating from rock climbing to ice climbing rapidly and notching up several notable climbs in Scotland and the Alps including winter ascents of the Matterhorn and Eiger north faces, plus routes such as the Walker Spur on the Grandes Jorasses and the Bonatti Pillar on the Dru.

The narrative on technical aspects of climbing and the routes are comprehensible to even a non-climber and one is able to virtually re-live the author’s journey. His description of his climbing partners and the stories of their climbs in the Alps brings back the romance of climbing in the 70s and 80s when mountaineering legends were created by young climbers exploring and free climbing difficult new routes, untouched by the commercialization of today’s sport. The book gives a riveting account of the various notable climbs and iconic climbers of the era.

The author also gives an honest insight into his awkwardness with the fairer sex, obsession with his virginity and his search for a purpose in life. He talks about his attempts to overcome his inferiority complex and lack of self confidence by attempting audacious climbs on tough mountains to overcome his fear of failure and overcome his virginity.

The author also talks about his brief encounter with a religious sect, the Unification Church and the Moonies in America, which had almost converted him into a religious zealot, ready to spend the rest of his life in a commune. However, a three day fasting period in the hills restored his perspective, leading to his return to Britain.

After a relationship with a girl renewed his self-esteem and diminished his motivation for climbing for sometime, the urge to climb something hard and high hit him again. He joined a pair of climbers to attempt the unclimbed South East Pillar of Annapurna III in the Himalaya, where self-doubt and lack of motivation drained his desire to climb yet again, affecting his relationship with his climbing partners.

The pressure of the relationship with his girlfriend and the attendant expectations of getting married and settling made the author dwell on his purpose in life. The book ends with Steve deciding to join the British Antarctic Survey for a period of nine months, practically ending his relationship and opening a new chapter leading to greater adventures in future.

The story flows in an easy going manner which will appeal to any outdoor enthusiast as it weaves a story of adventure, human relationships and emotions.




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By Leif Whittaker.
Pp. 284. (Mountaineers Books, Seattle, US $24.95)


Living in the shadow of an illustrious father is never easy. Before you know, it gradually transforms into agony, especially when your father is the first American to get to the top of Mount Everest.

It’s what Leif Whittaker experienced through his growing years, akin to the questions playfully hurled at us as adolescents –“Do you want to become a pilot like your father, or a doctor like your mother?” Only, what Leif routinely got asked was –“Do you want to climb Mount Everest some day?” just like his father, Jim Whittaker had during the successful American expedition to the mountain in 1963.

The trials and tribulations of sharing the Whittaker family name and his journey up Everest is what Leif Whittaker shares with a dash of sarcasm and humour in the book, My Old Man and The Mountain.

Now scrambling around lower mountains around the world is one thing, but it’s a different game when it comes to Himalayan peaks, let alone the pressure that comes alongside attempting the highest mountain in the world. So like most teens, the question was a turnoff for Leif initially, which slowly transformed into an irritant over a period of time.

“If I had a dime for every time someone’s asked me that question, I could probably find an expedition to Olympus Mons, the highest peak on the planet of Mars, and then I could really outdo Dad,” Leif writes.

Yet, the seeds were sown early on when the Whittakers sold everything they owned and bought a boat to go sailing around the world for four years. Or when his parents handed him a note to inform his teachers that he would be absent for a month during which, the family would hike to Everest Base Camp to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Jim’s climb. So when climbing Everest came up as an option, the spirit of adventure was only rekindled in Leif. He would probably have made an attempt on his own strength someday, but when Neil Fiske, CEO of renowned apparel manufacturer, Eddie Bauer, stepped in to sponsor the climb, it was an offer he could hardly resist.

Joining him until base camp would be the legend himself alongside his wife, Dianne Roberts, who in the past had accompanied him to many a mountain. On his part, and courtesy old habits, Jim made an expedition out of the hike to base camp, given the challenges that come at the ripe age of 83. While accompanying a doyen of American mountaineering comes with its fair share of luxuries and familiarities, this one also came with bouts of anxiety for Leif, more to do with Jim’s physical strength than his mental drive. Alongside were some prominent names in Dave Hahn, an RMI guide who Leif went climbing with in Antarctica, another RMI guide and sponsored athlete Melissa Arnot, who was aiming to become the first non- Sherpa woman to summit Mount Everest four times and Kent Harvey, a respected cinematographer and experienced mountaineer.

Nothing would be the same as 1963, yet nostalgia gets the best of us, which explains why Leif took on the challenge in the first place. Or simply, to get a monkey off his back after all those years.

Leif was named after a mountaineer and a close buddy of Jim’s. These stalwarts of climbing became household names at the Whittakers and through the book, Leif relives the moments of the epic climb in 1963, especially the daunting route up the West Ridge taken by Willi Unsoeld and Tom Hornbein and the battle for survival during one of the highest bivouacs in the world.

The regular readers of Everest literature can thrive on the drama that Leif experiences en route the top, which includes a few mishaps on the mountain during that season as well. For newbies, it is a good insight into the sights and sounds on the approach to base camp, and how climbing Everest has changed over the years, especially up the popular South Col route that features the usual pileups most experience in the summer these days.

It explains why Dave gears up his team, while staring up at a row of climbers on the Lhotse face, “Noses to assholes the whole way up. Don’t let anyone get in between us.”

As always, nothing quite compares to the feeling of towering over the rest of the world while on top of Everest. Just this one time, Leif’s emotions were akin to what his father felt many decades ago.

“I can’t believe you actually climbed that thing,” I reply.

Dad’s face changed like he’s been reminded of an amusing memory he hasn’t thought about in a long time. “Sometimes,” he says, “neither can I.”




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(The Tallest Amongst the Mountain - Hindi)
By Tarun Goel.
Pp. 198, 32 colour photos, 2 maps, 2018. (Self- published, Sudarnagar, H.P. India, Rs. 250). Available on


This book is in Hindi, the language spoken in most parts of the Himalaya. The book is significant as we do not come across many books on trekking and mountaineering in Hindi.

Goel grew up near the Himalayan regions of Kullu, Kangra, Lahaul, Spiti and Chamba. His trekking experiences are steeped in local flavour. But his narrative thrives on humour in all situations; losing his job when the company he was working for closed down; his experiences on a rainy day in a cold Himalayan forest, when he wore wrong shoes that were torn to pieces; his fear of wild animals; trekking without tent and food - he turns these into endearing episodes.

Goel loves the people of the region and as he is one of them, he is familiar with their short comings as well as their large heartedness. He recounts the relationship he has built with many of them over time; first arriving as an unknown and uninvited guest and staying on for dinner, a night halt and a long lasting friendship. Like other young men of today, he loves riding his motorcycle through rough terrain.

Goel talks about his ventures to high passes, usually frequented by Gaddis; pilgrimages to mountain tops that are worshipped by local villagers and lakes infrequently visited because of their inaccessible locations. Most of his adventures are long weekends, forcing him to cramp long walks into the limited time available. He also mentions his companions, some constant like Panditji and others who change as well.

As any young man, he dashes through trails but has good knowledge of the area. In comparison to the vast expanse of Himalaya, these trails are relatively small ones that are not even mentioned on the Google maps, and are untouched beautiful places.

In the Himalaya, you can never consider any trail or pass as easy, as the difficulty that Nature poses in front of you is always large, and you need all your patience to overcome them and at the end to love them. He lays a lot of emphasis on the mistakes he has made so that the readers do not end up doing the same. His capers in the local language turn even the most difficult of situations into hilarious ones.

Chamba Kailash, Kinnaur Kailash, Shrikhand Mahadeo, Kalicho pass, Darati pass, Jotnu pass, many local temples, hidden away trails, small lakes in midst of small passes - Goel has walked and cherished all this.

I was a bit curious about the title of the book - The Tallest Mountain. While narrating all the lovely enjoyable treks, was the author referring to Everest?

This is the reply the author sent me to the question via email that I had posed:

I named it so because that’s what I have learnt by being in the mountains that the real mountain that you have to climb or conquer is your own mind and beliefs. And that if one can conquer oneself then anything is possible no matter which sphere of life one chooses.

For instance, when I started teaching I wasn’t really sure whether I could muster courage or knowledge enough to teach but eventually I made my mark. Similarly, with trekking - even after being diagnosed with grade 1 arthritis in my both knees, I managed to complete my eight-day long Dhauladhar lakes trek.

So the greatest/tallest mountain lies within.

All in all, this book is a delightful read as it awakens ones desire to trek to these very places.




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Lhasa 1959
By Jianglin Li
(Translated by Susan Wilf). Pp. 410, 2016. (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., $ 29.95).


It is surprising, that full details are still not known about an event that is at the centre piece of an exodus that is now infamous across the world. It is even more astonishing then, that this event happens to be the cruel ‘Battle of Lhasa’; (or ‘Lhasa Uprising’ in some texts) which resulted in massacring of unknown number of Tibetans and wide spread destruction of centuries old heritage monuments. Chinese born Jianglin Li attempts to fill this void by expertly moulding different styles of writing into a book that readers of different genres can access. She succinctly narrates facts without once sounding encyclopaedic; where this is not possible due to availability of multiple contrary sources, she sifts out the truth by meticulously dissecting falsehoods. This is a remarkable achievement considering the depth of the author’s research. However, the book’s true genius shines through in the multiple first person narratives that allow the reader to relate to the various characters in the book. This makes the ‘Battle of Lhasa’, from the perspective of various eye witnesses, even more hard hitting.

Right from the initial minor altercations between the Chinese and Tibetans, signing of the ‘Seventeen Point Plan’ that affirmed China’s sovereignty over Tibet while safeguarding multiple rights of the Tibetans (including non-alteration of the existing political system), to the Chinese exploitation of a provision which allowed the PLA to enter Tibet to safeguard defences and its eventual use to strong arm the Tibetan Government, and the innocuous invitation of Dalai Lama to a Chinese play that spontaneously sparked outrage; this book paints a sweeping view of the events that ultimately led to the fleeing of the Dalai Lama to India. Throughout the sequence of events however, a few strands are expertly highlighted by the author.

First, the overzealous hierarchy of Chinese officials; pushing through ‘reform’ at all cost, fanatically aiming to achieve impossible targets form the root cause of the conflict that began in the eastern exteriors of Tibet ethno cultural region (the Amdo and Kham regions). The lack of respect of the Han Chinese officials for local customs while implementing reforms, their purges on Tibetan heritage, the sky high taxes levied to meet targets and the resulting famines, the surreptitious disappearance of high ranking Lamas after meeting with the Chinese and instances of intolerance towards minorities; all fuelled animosity amongst the Tibetan lay public. Indeed, it acted as a cohesive force uniting even the Khams and Lhasans, who did not always see eye to eye. From then on, Tibet only became a tinder box-waiting to be lit.

Second, Li narrates how in true Communist fashion, any rebellion (armed or otherwise) against these reforms were labelled as ‘counter revolutionary’, ‘rebel banditry’, ‘rightist’ or ‘capitalist’ amongst other things. But, what followed such labelling was large scale persecution – or ‘pacification’ in Communist jargon. The brutality that ensued often resulted in falsification of data to officially cover up the massive human cost inflicted. Indeed the author spends a large part of the book, challenging the multitude of false data that have been presented in Chinese documents.

The bitter truth is that the ‘pacification of rebellion’ argument was a garb, to allow the Chinese to implement land and religious reforms (or collectively, democratic reforms) and bring Tibet under the grip of mainland China. Indeed, so important was the pacification campaign as an instrument of policy, that the Chinese wholeheartedly stoked rebellions. Indeed, one of the strongest points that the author makes is that the Battle of Lhasa, was one such stoked rebellion.

Grimly, the author argues, that the gruesome battle was launched prematurely and against orders from Beijing, by a PLA General, Tan Guansan. She points out that Tan Guansan received a cable from Mao asking him to “keep the enemy in Lhasa, and try to draw the rebels from all over Tibet into the city and ensnare them until we can eradicate them all at once”, following another cable from Beijing which had asked him to wait for PLA reinforcements. These cables were received, after he had given the call to war. Thus, fearing for his fate for disobeying orders, he sought to neutralize the ‘enemy’ the best he could, and hoped a staggering victory would absolve him of his indiscretion. This could, according to the author explain the extreme brutality of the Chinese against Tibetans who were poorly equipped and untrained in modern military welfare.

But perhaps, the paramount issue that the author highlights is the enormous significance of the Dalai Lama, for the Tibetans and for the preservation of Tibetan Culture. It is to protect him that thousands of Tibetans risked their lives and spontaneously encircled the summer residence of the Dalai Lama, afraid that the Chinese planned to abduct him. Indeed, the throng of locals that gathered to pay homage to him, during his arduous trek to India and the numerous acts of sacrifices his inner circle instinctively made reflect the love and respect he commanded.

Perhaps then, the only glimmer of hope, in an otherwise terrifying narration of events is that the Dalai Lama is now a revered leader and moral compass not only for Tibetans but for the world at large.




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By Udayon Misra.
Pp. 366, Second Edition, 2017. (Oxford University Press, New Delhi, Rs 995).

By Anil Yadav.
Pp. 247, 2017. (Speaking Tiger, New Delhi, Rs 350).

By Anubha Bhonsle.
Pp. 250, 2016. (Speaking Tiger, New Delhi, Rs 499).

By Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent.
Pp. 371, 20 colour photos, 2017. (Simon and Schuster, London, Rs. 499).

By Stuart Blackburn.
Pp. 261, 2016. (Speaking Tiger, New Delhi, Rs 350).

The above books cover India’s Northeast areas. These areas are recently being paid much attention and for a traveller and trekker these books bring much knowledge.

The first book by Udayon Misra is a scholarly exposition of the entire area with a narrative on current issues with references. The author was a professor of English at the Dibrugarh university and does full justice to the subject. If one is looking for scholarly insights and studies this is the book for them.

Journalist Anil Yadav’s book is a translation from Hindi, with a catchy title - Woh Bhi Koi Desh Hai, Maharaj. It probably sounds less dramatic in English, but the bewilderment of this question comes across all the same. He had visited the area before the elections of 2000 with one companion. He interacted with various strata of society during these unorganized travels and learnt a lot about how outsiders, especially Hindi speaking visitors and migrants are treated in the region. Lightly written with a good deal of humour, it brings out the problems of living in these societies. He compares it to how people from the Northeast find it challenging while settling in other parts of India. Interesting take!

Mother Where is my Country is also written by a journalist. Bhonsale sneaked into Manipur to meet Sharmila Irom, an iconic non-violent rebel. She was protesting the AFSPA, (the Armed Forces Special Powers Act) which has been a controversial decision for decades. After this visit in 2006, she returned to Manipur many times and recorded interviews with a wide spectrum. This book is based on those interviews and narrates the events in Manipur through those experiences.

Land of Dawn-Lit Mountains is a travelogue about Arunachal Pradesh. Introduced to the state by two friends, the author travels alone on a motorbike to several areas. She narrates her experiences, a little history and her views on the state.

As Arunachal Pradesh is now slowly opening up to western travellers, few such books are bound to be published. Their experiences based on a single trip also add to build the final picture about the state. I hope the western world and the press, will take interest in more detailed and authentic writings about the state in future.

The last book, Into the Hidden Valley, is a small novel written on the Apatani folklore in Central Arunachal Pradesh. The author, Stuart Blackburn, who taught at SOAS in London for many years, is very knowledgeable about these areas, having spent much time in the valley. He has produced three tomes about language, culture and the folklores of Apatanis. He first travelled to India in 1970 and has a long experience of studying the societies in transition. His work on the Oral Tradition of tribes is path-breaking.

His novel here is based on historical facts and people living during those times. There is interaction with faith, Apatani culture and British forces which invade the area. The events are historically correct and within this framework, Blackburn weaves a tale which tells a story of tribal society. It is a fascinating way of presenting true events in history and life during that period.


By Gaurav Punj.
Pp. 203, 45 colour pictures, 2018. (Tranquebar, Chennai, Rs 399)

While trekking in the lower Himalaya one comes across many interesting incidents and people. You do not have to go to high altitudes to enjoy the real Himalaya. This is what the author has done. He has gathered experiences on not-too-popular treks and narrates them as travel stories. He has trekked wide and with a variety of people and hence and his bag of experiences is full. This is his second book, after The Land of Flying Lamas which was an instant success. I am sure this book too will be well accepted. Additionally, the author has given tables detailing these treks and so the book doubles as a guide book for someone who may wish to follow the trail.

Rest assured, the trail may be the same but your fun and experiences will be different.


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