In By the Way of the Border: Travels around the frontiers and beyuls of Nepal, Maximillian Mørch tells the story of not just Nepal’s mountains but of the people who call them home, using descriptions that paint a vivid picture of his travels and help the reader to experience the journey through his eyes.
Mørch chronicles his adventures around the beyuls (holy hidden valleys) of Nepal, ranging from Kalanga to Hile, during his time as a postgraduate student at Tribhuvan University in 2017.
Filled with extensive background research of the places he visited and of their inhabitants, the book acts as an abridged history that spans both the social and geographical changes of the region. Mørch also covers the symbolism and history of the traditions practiced by the people he meets, which could be useful to foreigners who wish to learn more about Nepal beyond Kathmandu.
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The book is structured according to the regions Mørch visits, with a geographical area as the focus of each chapter. This makes the book an easy read and also allows for quicker comparison of the places he visits. Each chapter also contains photos taken by Mørch, which helps readers to visualise his journey and provides a feel of the place.
While remaining reflexive of his position as an outsider, Morch also shares his personal experience and his interactions with the locals, which allows him to make interesting observations about the various places and people he encounters. For one, he acknowledges the rose-tinted glasses via which he romanticises his travels, a position he argues most westerners share when writing about their experiences of the mountains.
Although he intends it to be a collection of tales from his journeys, Mørch’s book does not fit into a particular genre. The mixture of history, personal experiences and observations does not make it a coherent read but rather a khichdi (mishmash) that seems to contain all the right elements for a good book, but which is unable to balance them.