Friday, July 26, 2013

Book Review : A Short Walk In The Hindu Kush

Title : A Short Walk in the Hindukush
Author : Eric Newby
Publisher : Picador India
ISBN : 978-0-330-46267-9

Travel writings are slowly climbing their way up in my preference list these days. Perhaps they have discovered the fact that I will never venture into some of the places that are being written about - the wilderness of Alaska, remote places in Afghanistan, scaling Mount Everest and the likes. So they entice me even more and to their delight I am letting them to.  In keeping with the urge to read more of these, I requested MySmartPrice for 'A Short Walk in the Hindukush' by Eric Newby. It was a good choice.

In his frank and humorous way, Eric Newby has managed to compile a writing piece guiding potential climbers on what not to do in order to be a successful mountaineer. A wonderful and exciting book, interestingly written, 'A Short Walk in the Hindukush' is also recommended by Lonely Planet.

Giving in to his discontent while being in high-profile haute-couture industry, Eric Newby embarks on an amusing journey to one of the remotest places on Earth. He has his old friend, Hugh Carless, as a companion on this expedition. Though completely inexperienced and ill prepared, they both are brave and determined enough. They decide to set out to climb Mir Samir in the Nuristan Mountains of Afghanistan. In 1956, they decided to begin their trip with a crash course in basic climbing at Snowdonia in Wales so as to get a feel of the rigours that await them ahead.

They trekked through Nuristan, a region in the North-East of Afghanistan and then 'almost climbed' the challenging Mir Samir(6,059 m). They had to turn back just 700 feet from the summit because of their continual dysentery and altitude sickness. However, three years later in 1959, Mir Samir was successfully scaled by a German mountaineering team.

As expected in such wanderings, Eric Newby and Carless had a brush with wide range of adventures and experiences which range from nerve-wrecking, bone-chilling to thrilling. They passed through various big and small villages, met many people, peeked into the lives of some locals, came to know about peculiar lifestyles of many and had many (un)pleasant encounters. Along with reporting about these things, the author has beautifully sprinkled his narrative with light humour and wit. As they progress on their expedition, we also get to read a lot more about their loose stomachs and about the hostile natives of those regions. The overall picture that gets created after reading about his sojourn in the most beautiful wilderness on Earth does not speak very high about the locals. The description of natives often slips into being derogatory and author's conceitedness comes through in the open. To be fair to the author, this could also be just his honest portrayal of what he felt and experienced. And we must not forget that this book was written in 1958, when how the book would be received was less of author's worry. So I feel what he felt is what he has reported without trying to smooth-en the edginess of his comments. 

Towards the end of their trek, the author writes, "I had the sensation of emerging from a country that would continue to exist more or less unchanged whatever disasters overtook the rest of mankind." I wonder what the author would have said about the country now. 

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