A journalist and climber, Ed Douglas is a frequent visitor to Nepal. He has pulled together a swathe of recent research and the all-embracing bibliography is an accomplishment in its own right. I most admire his fresh slants on well-worn stories – the pivotal sophistication of Kathmandu’s Newars, the fusion of traditions that honour Mount Kailas, the genius Arniko’s royal Mongolian wife, Prithivi Narayan Shah’s patience, the origins of Bovril, George Everest insisting his name be pronounced ‘Eve-rest’, and a young Liz Hawley climbing an Egyptian pyramid in moonlight.
Containing magicians and nomads, scholars and tyrants, pundits and pilgrims, raiders and revolutionaries, Ed Douglas’s Himalaya is a heroic and learned investigation of the region. He deftly untangles the geology and genetics, botany and wildlife, art and exploration, lost kingdoms, forgotten skirmishes, and a comprehensive climbing chronology.
Ed told me: “I was aiming to bridge the gap between the experts and the public who have been so long led astray by misinformation.”
The pages throng with eccentric narcissists, romantic introverts, resourceful women, dogged plant hunters, courageous spies, overlooked adventurers, and of course mountaineers. The book is both concise and lengthy, readable but dense, factual and fanciful, with all the various strands distilled into an immensely entertaining read.
I embarked on the massive 600-page tome in Pokhara as the last light of 2020 faded on the Annapurna ranges, her normally white ramparts now startlingly black with lack of snow, the triangular walls of Machapuchhre naked and bereft, the valleys drained by depleted rivers running low through their rocky roadside beds.