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Published on: 01/5/17 11:08 AM

Book review: Walking The Himalayas by Levison Wood

Walking the Himalayas by Levison Wood. Hodder Books/Hachette India.

A couple of disclaimers need to be inserted at the start of this review. One, I`m a sucker for any book that has the word `Himalayas` in its title. Two, the rather edifying jacket pic played its part in my picking up this book.

That aside, Walking the Himalayas is an account of explorer and writer Wood`s journey that traversed the five countries of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, India and Bhutan. The former British Army soldier has walked aplenty in his itinerant life but this particular trek is something of a challenge given not just the hostile terrain but the uncertain reception he met with at various border checkpoints.

What makes the book a winner to this reviewer is the writing style Wood has adopted. It`s an account shorn of hyperbole or self-aggrandising, humble-bragging or any kind of whinging. It`s an easy flow of words, the merest glimpse of the author`s state of mind at moments of elation or dejection, a happy avoidance of the average travel writer`s tendency to linger by oft-recorded milestones.

Wood has trekked in the mountains before but this was the first time he was attempting to walk the entire length of the formidable range. The Himalayas, he states, are sublime thrones radiating a power and majesty that has people attempt to come see the glory for themselves. And so he gets himself two experienced guides, Malang Darya for the Afghanistan-Pakistan section and old friend Binod Pariyar for the Nepal-India-Bhutan part of the expedition.

It`s one arduous hike all through, no doubt about that. Though Wood gets up and close to both the mighty `Hindu killer` the Hindu Kush mountains as well as Everest via a chopper, the rest of the time he`s on his feet stepping carefully across glaciers, moraines and fields of scree, pausing to gaze up at the snow-covered mountains every now and then.

The trek takes him into areas of `fearsome isolation` like the Panjshir valley, the Karakorum ranges, Nanga Parbat, terraces of paddy that dangled off cliffs, shrines that looked like they belonged in a movie set for Indiana Jones, the highest unclimbed peak in the world, the Gangkhar Puensum in Bhutan. Wood actually climbs an unclimbed peak just below the Gangkhar Puensum and gets to name it the Snow Leopard mountain.

En route, he heads down to the plains and witnesses an aarti ceremony in Haridwar; checks out the houseboats on Dal Lake in Srinagar; gets to meet the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala and what`s more, receives some very prosaic travel advice from him; undertakes a fifty- mile walk through a dangerous rainforest in Nepal; hunts for honey with some `old people,` all of this with much interest though he never once loses sight of the purpose of this trek, that of being up in the mountain ranges. Up there in alpine-green meadows, walking in fields of pink and yellow wildflowers beside crystal-clear springs, he feels a sense of peace which he conveys very well to the reader.

Some editing lapses like `Nalander` for Nalanda, `sadhu` for sadhu,  do jar but luckily, the context of the tale is one that enables the reader, rather like Wood himself, to fix focus on the looming snow-covered big picture and ignore the petty details.

And oh, the book led to a Channel 4 television series of the same name.

Related Links:

Book Review: The Himalayan Arc Edited by Namita Gokhale

Book review: Wild Himalaya by Stephen Alter

Book review: Himalaya, an Anthology edited by Ruskin Bond and Namita Gokhale

Book review: Sikkim by Andrew Duff

Book review: A Step Away From Paradise by Thomas Shor

Book review: Where the Indus is Young by Dervla Murphy

Book review: Becoming A Mountain by Stephen Alter

Book review: Nanda Devi, a Journey to The Last Sanctuary by Hugh Thomson




EverestHimalayasLevison WoodmountainstravelogueWalking the Himalayas

Sheila Kumar • January 5, 2017

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