Moving around the tiny market known as Sister’s Bazaar in Landour, I was busy buying jams at the famous Prakash and Co. I was in the area on invitation from JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove Resort and Spa. On the trip I met Anil Purohit of Windy Skies after a gap of seven years. While I walked out of the small but famous jam shop, he pointed out another shop by the same name, only they had a small but rich book section too. That is how I ended up buying The Nanda Devi Affair by Bill Aitken.
I do not say this often on this blog but I love reading. And I love reading the books about the Himalayas (even other mountains) above all else. I have to admit that the Nanda Devi Affair did not went off to a flying start for me. I was struggling with the first 25 pages or so. It could be that I was still under the influence of Avomine when I started reading the book on my journey back from Dehradoon in the Shatabdi Express.
For later on I found the book gripping, I did not take much time to finish it. Bill Aitken is a Scottish born naturalized Indian citizen who lives in Mussoorie. I wonder what is it with Mussoorie and authors, so many of them live in Mussoorie!
The book is literally about the intense devotion the author has for the mountain, his Goddess, the Nanda Devi. He treks to the sanctuary many times and weaves in the story around his journeys. That forms the bulk of the book. However there are other treks and regions, like Kuari Pass, mentioned in the book. Having been to some of the regions he writes about, and having seen Nanda Devi from Auli, it was easy for me to identify with the book.
However what stood out for me were three themes. First was his dealing with religion and religious practices surrounding the Nanda Devi. Even though I am not inclined to religion, I liked his treatment of the subject. He is sensitive to the local customs and comes out clearly in his writings.
Secondly, he clearly points out the masculine nature of the Uttarakhand rural society where the women go away from their home after marriage and do the bulk of the work for the household. Men are prone to laze around! It rings so true but I wonder why it never hit me in the face while visiting the region. You cannot miss it while reading the book!
But what amazed me most is the critical stance he takes towards mountaineers! Now here is a mere trekker mincing no words about mountaineering and mountaineers. Whatever other books I have read, I have been in awe of the profession! I wonder from where he got the detachment to question the commitment of a mountaineer to the environment.
Of the Indian Mountaineering Federation (IMF) he is so critical, labeling them a bunch of bureaucrats far removed for the reality of the mountains. Apparently the IMF at one point was more interested in knowing the name of Sir Chris Bonington‘s father than allowing him to climb in India!
In the Nanda Devi Affair Bill Aitken presents the trekking as well as the society in Uttarakhand brilliantly. For any mountain lover, this is a must read book.
I guess what added to the pleasure of reading was the location from where I brought it, so close to the mountains that have been described in the book!
PS. If you are curious about Tintin near the book in the first image, he is my new traveling companion. Thank you so much Hassaneini for giving it to me. It was such a pleasure meeting you in New Delhi. May we both travel more to the mountains near and far!