Friday, April 22, 2011

Lure of the Himalaya, by Dr. K. C. Bhanja

If you ever want to compare the travels of the early Everest expeditions, try Lure of the Himalaya, by Dr. K. C. Bhanja. His book is a geographical take on the trips to and up Everest (1921-1933), and he compares the trips and the stops they make, from Darjeeling to Camp VI. The book resembles a descriptive travel guide, and Bhanja gives details gleaned from the Everest accounts about each of the villages visited, including climate, resources, and the state of the population. I found it an interesting read, because this is the first book I've read that covers the expeditions together and compares their journeys way station to way station, rather than relating them chronologically.

Though Bhanja is very good with his facts, his beliefs are somewhat unusual. In his introduction, as proof of the lure of Himalayas, he says that Jesus visited the Himalayas during the ages of 14-29, and then returned to Jerusalem to fulfill his ultimate mission. Leh is a very holy city, because both Jesus (on his way home from Tibet) and Buddha passed through. Bhanja seems as interested in the supernatural as the geographical,and he gravitates towards the inexplicable aspects of nature in his descriptions of locations, such as a tree known to produce leaves with Tibetan characters on them or a lake that only ever partially freezes. In his history of Himalayan climbing, he attributes Mummery's death to supernatural forces, rather than an avalanche.

In addition to his beliefs, his writing style is also a bit odd, such as his explanation for why someone would climb Everest: "Never vacant is mind; in like manner, man's spirit knows no rest---it has a tendency to unfold itself by unveiling Nature not only in the laboratories while seeking for the unity in diversity, that is to say, forcing her to reveal the laws that rule her varied manifestations and phenomena, but also in her very abode where men prefer to come face to face with her glories, no matter if it would necessitate coming to grips with her raging elements. It is this inspired strivings after the expression of Nature's sanctuaries that constitute an expression of the spirit of man."

All that said, Bhanja writes a good discussion of the early Everest expeditions. I wouldn't read this book for a condensed telling of the trips. If you, like me, have read the early accounts and have wondered how their treks to the mountain differed, then this is your book. Town by town and pass by pass, Bhanja tells how each of the expeditions faced the challenges of the long journey to the base of Everest. Of course you might take his descriptions with a grain of salt, because if one expedition had trouble with a populace, then it is a bad town, or if one of the expeditions met a sand storm at a particular location, then it is a place of sandstorms. His descriptions of the climbing on Everest are right on, and he gives elevations for camps and contrasts the efforts of the expeditions. Because this is a place-centered book, Bhanja doesn't include much in the way of interpersonal details or logistics. He's a particular fan of Frank Smythe and includes many quotes from his writing. Additionally, he never misses an opportunity to promote his other books, including Darjeeling at a Glance, and Wonders of Darjeeling and the Sikkim Himalaya.

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