‘‘You have to be very strong to live close to a God or a mountain,’’ wrote Rumer Godden, “or you’ll turn a little mad”. After my 10 years of traveling among the Himalayan ranges, I tend to agree that one’s initiation to the Himalayas has to be gentle. So, what better place to begin. This list of 10 best books on the Himalayas to read than the verdant slopes of tea bushes that roll lazily to the horizon?
Best Books On The Himalayas
Here are the 10 Best Books on the Himalayas you must read. Learn about the incredible Himalayas from the authors of these books.
Rungli-Rungliot (Thus Far and No Further) by Rumer Godden
Rumer Godden’s Rungli-Rungliot (Thus Far and No Further) is a journal of the author’s year-long stay at the isolated tea estate of Chinglam, with her two little daughters, Giovanna, their nanny, and four Pekinese dogs.
In a lyrical prose, Godden creates an evocative sense of place. The reader almost hears the flute played at dusk, sees the coolie women walking past in colorful clothes like ‘flocks of brilliant birds’, and smells the wooden logs in the fireplace and the beeswax polish the author has made herself. It is a world where chickens are spared the cooking pot. To be given Italian names: Signora Padua, Signora Negra, Biondina, and the new pony is called Beauty, even though ‘It looks more like Fright’.
Buy Rungli-Rungliot on Amazon.
Landour Days by Ruskin Bond
A sense of humor, says Ruskin Bond, may help one get through the worst of times. Landour Days, this compulsive diarist’s chronicle of the seasons in his quaint hill town, is suffused with dollops. Bond admires swifts mating in mid-air, a feat ‘not in the Kamasutra‘, tries to unsuccessfully poison the neighbor’s vicious dog with a slab of Cadbury. And risks a haircut that makes him look like a 1930s film star.
Read More – Wit and Humor in Landour.
Bond discovered the grave of the first Australia-born novelist John Lang, in the cemetery at Landour. Lang is perhaps better known in India as the barrister who defended the Rani of Jhansi against the British East India Company.
Buy Landour Days by Ruskin Bond on Amazon.
Read More – Must do Walks in Landour.
The Himalaya Club and Other Entertainments From the Raj by John Lang
John Lang’s The Himalaya Club and Other Entertainments From the Raj has been described as a ‘Chhota peg of sinful delight’. It is a window to life in 19th century British India. Scandals, elopements, farcical court-martials, drunken travels, and even an inebriated valet in Lord Jamleigh’s bed.
Buy The Himalaya Club and Other Entertainments From the Raj on Amazon.
From Heaven Lake: Travels Through Sinkiang and Tibet by Vikram Seth
For those who love exploring the unknown, From Heaven Lake: Travels Through Sinkiang and Tibet by Vikram Seth, written in 1981, is both an inspiration and an enjoyable read. Then a student at China’s Nanjing University, Seth followed an overland route hitch-hiking across four Chinese provinces and Tibet to reach the Nepal Himalayas. Built on his journal entries and the photographs Seth took, this book won the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award. Seth has used tongue-firmly-in-cheek humor and occasionally broken into verse, like this one:
|Here we three, cooped, alone,|
|Tibetan, Indian, Han,|
|Against a common dawn|
|Catch what poor sleep we can,|
|And sleeping drag the same|
|Sparse air into our lungs,|
|And dreaming each of home|
|Sleeptalk in different tongues.|
Buy From Heaven Lake: Travels Through Sinkiang and Tibet by Vikram Seth on Amazon.
Walking the Himalayas by Levison Wood
While not in the footsteps of Seth, full-time explorer Levison Wood walked the Himalayas in 2015 along the Silk Road route from Afghanistan and through villages hidden from the main trails and roads of five countries to reach Bhutan. Walking the Himalayas is the book he wrote on his return. Wood carefully blends in at Kabul, for it is ‘best to avoid anywhere that Terry Taliban reckons he can bag an infidel’, meets a Shaman who talks to the decapitated head of a goat and drinks its blood among the Karakoram Ranges, escapes a car crash with a broken arm and shoulder, sees Mount Everest from Kala Patthar, and learns acceptance in Nepal when he is served only the feet and colon of a chicken he had paid good money for.
Buy Walking the Himalayas by Levison Wood on Amazon.
Wood is disappointed not to find a yeti in the snow-covered Bhutan Himalayas. But on a solo climb in 1986, Reinhold Messner, universally acknowledged as the world’s greatest mountaineer saw a creature that defied reason. He explored ravines, precipices and forests of Nepal, India, and Tibet, alone, dangerously and often on foot, hiding from Chinese policemen in occupied Tibet.
My Quest for the Yeti: Confronting the Himalayas’ Deepest Mystery by Reinhold Messner
Was the yeti eight feet tall? Did it fly? Did it look like a man or a Himalayan black bear? My Quest for the Yeti: Confronting the Himalayas’ Deepest Mystery holds Messner’s answer to these questions. What is more, Messner offers an inside view of Tibet under the Chinese. In Lhasa, Messner met up with Tashi, a young Tibetan exile, “in 1959, his relatives had been carted off to concentration camps in the north. Many had been shipped from Lhasa to the Tengger Shamo Desert, an extension of the Gobi Desert. The Chinese had come to the monasteries of the Lhasa valley… to round up the monks, many of them only teenagers.”
Buy My Quest for the Yeti: Confronting the Himalayas’ Deepest Mystery by Reinhold Messner on Amazon.
Spending a night with dogs and a dozen Tibetans in a town two hundred miles northeast of Lhasa, Messner finds “Rockets capable of reaching northern India…. These medium-range rockets… were now part of the new Tibet — along with hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers.”
“Messner is to climbing what Michael Jordan is to basketball,” says John Krakauer.
Into Thin Air by John Krakauer
In 1996, Krakauer, a journalist for the adventure magazine Outside, and a mountain climber by hobby was asked to climb with an Everest expedition, only up to the Base Camp and report on how summiting the highest peak in the world had become a profit-making venture. Krakauer, however, chose to complete the ascent in an expedition gone horribly wrong. Into Thin Air is his epic account of the murderous storm on Everest that fateful morning of the summit, the catastrophic loss of lives—a steep price to pay for ambition— and a balanced ‘reevaluation of climbing and of the commercialization of what was once a romantic, solitary sport’.
Buy Into Thin Air by John Krakauer on Amazon.
A gifted climber, George Mallory spent a lifetime romancing the mountain ranges. But were he and Sandy Irvine the first mountaineers to summit Mount Everest? On June 8, 1924, the two men were just 800 feet from the top when they were lost in a cloud bank, and never seen alive again.
The Wildest Dream: Conquest of Everest By Mark Mackenzie
In 1999, Conrad Anker discovered Mallory’s frozen body on Everest’s North-East Face. The discovery caused a furor across the world and made Conrad wonder whether he had done right by treading on consecrated ground. Eight years later, Conrad Anker returned to Everest with a team of great climbers, to follow in Mallory and Irvine’s footsteps and ascertain whether the two could have reached the summit of Everest. The Wildest Dream: Conquest of Everest is Mark MacKenzie’s account of Mallory’s and Anker’s journeys, both fascinating and heart-wrenching.
Buy The Wildest Dream: Conquest of Everest By Mark Mackenzie on Amazon.
Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden
When the sun sets beyond the mountain ranges and lights begin to twinkle in the villages below, those brave of heart can order a hot mug of the strongest coffee and settle down under the covers with Rumer Godden’s Black Narcissus. Among the ranges to the north of Darjeeling stands an old mountaintop palace, once the scandalous harem of a General.
Buy Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden on Amazon.
The windswept and haunting place is given to the Sisters of Mary, who set up the Convent of St Faith, with a school and a hospital. However, despite their good intentions, the nuns fail to understand the multi-layered complexities of the locals. This apparently pious setting forms the backdrop for sexual obsession, insanity, and death. The subtle narration heightening the impact of this linear narrative.
Read More – Darjeeling Himalayan Railways.
Lost Horizons by James Milton
Depending on how one looks at them, the mountains can thus be a prison or a sanctuary. In 1933, James Hilton used the Hunza Valley among the Karakoram Ranges as the canvas of his utopian novel, Lost Horizon. It narrates the journey of a group of unsuspecting travelers who are caught aboard a hijacked plane and crash land in a mysterious valley hidden in the shadow of a mountain.
Buy Lost Horizons by James Milton on Amazon.
This is the mythical sanctuary of Shangri-La. As the High Lama in the book says, “I foresaw a time when man exalting in the technique of murder, would rage so hotly over the world. That every book, every treasure would be doomed to destruction. This vision was so vivid and so moving that I determined to gather together all things of beauty and culture that I could and preserve them here against the doom toward which the world is rushing.”
The quest for a real Shangri-La is obviously still relevant. Until I find mine, I am going to hold on to these 10 books.
This is a guest post by Sohini Sen. An author of 2 Books on the Himalayas.
Sohini Sen is the author of Ladakh: A Photo Travelogue. The first ever travel story told through high-resolution color photographs laid out in a comic-strip format. And Zanskar to Ziro: No Stilettos in the Himalayas. A travelogue about two women’s decade-long trail. Covering 10,000 kilometers from the remote Zanskar Valley in Ladakh through Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Nepal, Sikkim, Bengal, and Bhutan to Ziro in Arunachal Pradesh.
We also recommend following Indian Books on the Himalayas:
- Becoming the Mountain by Stephen Alter.
- Kumaon – In Shadow of the Devi – Manju Kak.
- The Black Hill by Mamang Dai.
- Ghummakar Swami by Rahul Sannkrutyayan.
If you have any recommendations for Books on The Himalayas – share them in the comments below.