Along with spectacular adventures, these books record a richly diverse culture that has often been missed in accounts of derring-do
The Himalayas are the highest mountains on Earth, the stupendously wild boundary between India and Tibet and a magnet for countless adventurers, missionaries and spiritual seekers. Yet the region is no empty wilderness – it is the home of a richly diverse human population with a longstanding literary tradition. Writing my history of the Himalayas required an Everest-sized reading list, but when I’d finished compiling my bibliography I felt I needed to say more. There were lots of weighty histories but I realised the soul of this amazing world lay elsewhere, in fiction, memoir and poetry. Until recently, few writers from the region have cut through to anglophone readers.
That’s beginning to change. Writers such as Manjushree Thapa and Prajwal Parajuly, shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas prize for his debut short story collection The Gurkha’s Daughter, have built followings in Europe and North America. Some seminal work from previous decades is getting translated, one shining example being the Darjeeling writer Indra Bahadur Rai. Historians are also starting to break down the exotic myths that coloured our view of this extraordinary but misunderstood part of the world. This then is my selection of books that catch the human texture and shape of the world’s highest mountain range. Some of the writers were born there; some are outsiders with a particular insight. All, I think, are very readable.