About the Author
Bill Aitken's books include The Nanda Devi affair; the seven sacred rivers; divining the Deccan' and exploring Indian railways. He lives in Mussoorie and Delhi. If anything distinguishes Bill Aitken from the regular travel writer, it is his inspired craziness. With his wide-ranging, sometimes eccentric, interests, this book is replete with literature, geology, philosophy, and folklore. There are detours into hill gossip, stories of local ghosts, accounts of local customs, and exasperated asides about political ineptitude. Aitken goes in pursuit of holy men, both saintly and fraudulent, and searches out tiny old temples to obscure Hindu deities. In between, his travels are interrupted by seven ascetic years in the ashram of Mirtola in the Kumaon hills. Bill Aitken's intimate knowledge of the Himalaya, absorbed through a lifetime, makes this as much an autobiography as a travelogue.
The aim of recollecting these vintage walks is to try and hint at the timeless sublimity of the Himalaya even in its lower reaches. Perhaps the Himalaya is more important for the peak experiences it delivers than the peaks themselves. My own certainly occurred low on the descent from a pass into Zanskar. I also have to honour the ordinary hill villager on whom the success of any foray into the mountains depends. Amidst the penury of their circumstances sturdy character abounds. As for walking, it is the primary requisite for facing the twin realities of glory and grottiness. Climbing-focused on the summit-too often down- plays the suffering to highlight the moment of triumph. Together the verve and energy of the crags person, with the softer sense of wonder pilgrims bring to their endeavor, make for good companions. Travelling by armchair need not be antithetical if the reader understands the value of sweat. Sweat guarantees the sweetest of all Himalayan rewards after the 'dignity of danger'-a sense of selfhood.
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