Thursday, January 6, 2011

Im Banne des Everest, by Dr. Kurt Boeck

I apologize for all the foreign language titles lately, but I'm trying to ferret out all the especially rare books from the local library before I move across the country in a couple weeks. I'm certain you haven't heard of this one. A German traveler, Dr. Kurt Boeck, whom the Himalayan historians I've read so far conveniently forget tries to beat the English to the summit of Everest in the 1920s in his Im Banne des Everest. He somehow gets permission to enter Nepal (for the second time?) in 1921, and seeks permission to launch a reconnaissance upon the southwest side of Everest. As long as he is in Kathmandu, he travels around the valley to such sights as Patan, Bodhnath, and Swayambhunath. After his tour and a visit to the royal palace, he eventually finds out that the authorities are not going to let him approach Everest, but he gets permission to go to a high point north of Kathmandu to get a good, but distant, look at it. Non-German speakers will enjoy the wealth of photographs he includes, including two early snapshots of Everest and a lot of photographs of Kathmandu and Nepalis before outside influences forever changed them.

Perhaps by December 1921, traveling to a view of Everest was old news since George Mallory and Guy Bullock climbed the North Col in October, but I find it highly interesting since the first view of Everest from Nepal made by a mountaineer that I knew of was made by Tilman in 1950, and then only the very peak of the mountain. Boeck illegally takes a photograph of Everest from slightly north and far west of the mountain, and adds to the book a photograph he took earlier of Everest from Sikkim.

I found it interesting that Boeck tries to clarify the name of the mountain. He finds that Tibetan people call it Chomo Lungma, people from Sikkim call it Gauri Shankar (I don't think he gets this one right.) and people from Nepal call it one or the other of these, but have no standard name of their own. He mentions, however, that one of his Newari porters calls it Ram Lotsumo Parhar. Saragmatha, you may or may not know, was a name created by the government of Nepal in the 1960s to show that Everest is actually important enough to Nepal to have a local name. People who call Sagarmatha the traditional Nepali name of Everest are falling into a rhetorical trap created by this act of government, and don't fully understand the word's history.

This is an older book, and as such it has a couple drawbacks. It's printed in the old German fraktur script, which I find difficult to read, and additionally, on the copy I read, the ink didn't always set well on the page, and it was frustrating at times to tell which letter was actually on the page. If you're not used to older German writing, it can at times be highly formal and Boeck can go on for pages to get a single point across. At times, it seems as though the author is more interested in sharing his writing than his travels. The highlight of this book is definitely the photographs, and I found it exciting to see early photographs of Kathmandu and the illegal snapshot of Everest. He wrote an earlier book about his travels in Sikkim in 1906, and I'm curious if he has much to say about Everest in that work; I'll have to see if I can find it!

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