I’ve just finished reading Herzog’s unbelievable account of Annapurna. This is a majestic mountain, standing proud amongst the Nepalese Himalaya at 8,091 m! For me what I cherished the most was the story, the human back story to this conquest. The story of a select group of Europeans traversing a closed-off kingdom. A personal story. A story which, when I was reading it, I couldn’t believe hadn’t been made into a film. And lastly, a story of human courage, suffering and brotherhood. In parts it was almost unbearable to read. However, as a fellow mountaineer – nothing comparable to these Alpine hardened mountaineers of the Chamonix valley – I sympathised with them and related to their conquest (although I must state, I haven’t attempted anything remotely as challenging!). What was most shocking for me though was after they had conquered it, it all went a bit Pete Tong. Not only were two of the party severely affected by frost-bite others sustained bad snow-blindness.
What struck me the most about the book was the first half. This section is entirely devoted – and it felt like more than half – to exploration. Sending out expeditionary forces and trying to figure out how to bag an 8000 m mountain. All with overtures of military precision.
The highest I’ve been was when I undertook Nepal’s Annapurna Circuit, Thorang-La Pass at 5.5 km. This was tough. This is probably why only a certain type of person is drawn to high altitude trekking / mountaineering. I cannot even begin to imagine how tiring it must be at > 7.5 km.
Yet the biggest shock for me was that Herzog’s expedition was in the Manang / Muktinath region of Nepal, in 1950. The photographs that they took remain timeless. The vistas that they captured, especially of Manang district capital: Manang, appear to hardly have changed – they have but imperceptibly. This is remarkable! In over 60 years, 65 now, the region has barely transformed. Is this good or bad? Well it’s hard to tell. I think the only solace one can have is this: if the people are content, if they do not wish to lead more comfortable lives and have some of the perks of modern living, then fair enough. Development is a very contentious issue, with most states opting for the Western development pathway. Perhaps the reason for such lack of change is because of their belief systems: Buddhism. In fact Conrad Anker echoed similar sentiments on Desert Island Discs.
So yes. I highly recommend the book. It’s an incredible read. This will suit anyone with a desire for adventure – and especially anyone who will adventure beyond their armchair!