Nicholas Clinch sends this book review for your perusal. Please feel free to add your comments! (This book is currently on order and will be available in the library soon!)
Himalayan Playground: Adventures on The Roof of the World, 1942-72. Trevor Braham. Glasgow, In Pinn Press, 2008. 107 pages, colored plates. Softcover. $20.00
A former editor of the Himalayan Journal and the Swiss Chronique Himalayenne, Trevor Braham’s knowledge of the Himalaya is unsurpassed. Moreover, for over half a lifetime, he has traveled, climbed and explored those mountains from Chitral to Sikkim. He related his adventures in 1974 in his book Himalayan Odyssey. Although most of the stories in Himalayan Playground have been covered in his previous book, it is an augmentation and not just a duplication of the earlier work.
It is fascinating to read the two books side by side. Himalayan Odyssey is a like a slide lecture, an accurate narrative of fresh events. Himalayan Playground is a story told before a fire with a glass of wine; while accurate, it conveys a feeling of bygone days. The tale is mellowed by the passing of years and the gaining of a greater perspective. Braham’s descriptions reflect what it was like to go into those mountain regions at that time, the challenges of the terrain, the weather, and the relationship with the local people. The book invokes memories in those who also have been there at that time. To others, it provides an insight about what it was like to go wandering in the Himalaya “in those days.”
Although Braham describes such expeditions such as the 1947 Swiss expedition to the Garhwal, the first European party to climb in the Himalaya after World War II, and an attempt on Minapin in the Karakoram in 1958 on which the two climbers disappeared during a summit attempt, most of the stories are about Shiptonian style trips to areas such as Spiti and Sikkim, which are still off the main mountaineering track.
Braham begins by recounting a trip to the Garwhal in 1947 in the company of the Swiss expedition. Then he takes us to Sikkim in 1949 when with one Western companion and four Sherpas led by Angtharkey he explores the glaciers and mountains in its northeast corner. Next, he recounts his expedition to Minapin in 1958, followed by a light trip in 1962 to attempt Falek Ser, the highest peak in Swat. Besides a few friends, he had six porters and an armed escort. Swat was dangerous even then. After relating some stories about excursions into the tribal country of the Northwest Frontier, he ends by describing three trips to the relatively unknown Kaghan Valley, between Kohistan and Kashmir.
It was a simpler time, but simple did not mean lack of adventure. As the Swat trip showed, just getting into the mountains was exciting. The lack of transportation and communications, not to mention the absence of helicopters, lent a spice of excitement to everything. There were a lot of charming as well as challenging peaks available to curious mountaineers, mountains one would like to have in one’s own backyard. The reader is taken into remote corners of little known regions, climbing peaks which seem to be little more than pyramid symbols on exotic maps. Braham also conveys the flavor of what the inhabitants as well as the country were like. From the Sherpas of Nepal to the Pathans of the Northwest Frontier, the diversified character of these people stands out.
As intriguing as the descriptions of travel and climbing in the remote Himalaya are, one of the most interesting parts of this modest book is about climbing in the Northwest Frontier. Some of these stories did not appear in Himalayan Odyssey. All of them are timely as this now is the land of the Taliban. Much has been written about it, but these brief accounts gives one a feeling of the culture of these tribesman. It is wild country.
While the maps in Himalayan Odyssey are better than the maps in Himalayan Playground, the latter are adequate to orient the reader. On the other hand, the illustrations in this book are far superior to the pictures in the earlier one. Although there is considerable history and facts in the book, it is best used not for information but for a pleasant and nostalgic read of distant lands in olden times. Perhaps the good old days weren’t so bad after all.