When one thinks of the Himalayas, thoughts turn to soaring peaks, immense glaciers and perhaps a touch of the myth and legend of Shangri-la. All things that are out there and far away.
Yet what the collection of writings in Himalaya ($35, National Geographic) does is take those experiences among the tallest mountains of the world and bring them back to where they most touch people that spend time in the Himalaya, which is in your heart.
Published on the 25th anniversary of the American Himalayan Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the people and ecology of the Himalayan region, this book brings together a rather astounding plethora of contributors. In three parts, we get a mix of “Grandeur” to set the stage, “Challenge” to outline the very real problems, and “Hope” to focus on the people and the future.
Conrad Anker, one of the world’s most talented climbers, whom I first met and climbed with in Antarctica in 1992, was at that time also what could be described as a very hard-core alpinist, climbing the highest and hardest routes on a mix of the tallest and coldest peaks on Earth. Yet 15 years later, as he writes in his Himalaya essay, the mountains he had gone out to first ascend in Nepal and Tibet, had faded into the shadows next to the people that lived there. “The mountains have taught me humility, but the people who live in the shadows of these mountains have taught me acceptance, respect and kindness.”
In “Challenge” we find the words of the world’s foremost wildlife biologist, George Schaller, in a voice light on science and strong on feeling, “Standing at this convergence of snow and sky, I lift my face and feel afloat like a passing cloud. Spirits soar in such infinite space, one feels euphoric in the cold clarity of the peaks, and the silence speaks to the soul.”
Himalaya approaches this from so many different directions, from the Tibetan monks who live in the high monasteries, to Jimmy Carter on a trek, to climbers scaling the heights. Yet a consistent theme runs through each essay, and if we approach this book as we approach the Himalayas, looking for it to give us something, ultimately we come away with a greater sense of self and what we too could achieve.
As Peter Hillary, son of Sir Edmund Hillary, the first person to ascend Everest along with Tenzing Norgay, writes, “It is an impressive thing to determinedly pursue and reach your own goals–to climb your own Everest. It is an even greater thing to help others reach theirs.”
For 25 years this has been the goal of the American Himalayan Foundation. In Himalaya we find not only a great collection of writings about the area, its people and the work done there, but also a strong sense that real progress has been made and will continue to be made in this remarkable area of the world.
As the Dalai Lama sums up in his foreword, “I hope that with increased awareness both of the treasures that exist in this part of the world and of how easily they may soon be lost, we may see more concerted efforts to restore the Himalaya as a zone of peace and to regain the natural conservation that once prevailed there for so long.”
Originally published in Forbes