Book Review: “Short Walks in Shangri-La” by Peter Francis Browne

A travelogue about Peter Francis Browne’s trekking in Nepal. Peter prepares for his trip by walking up and down the stairs of his home in Devon, Peter is 54 and worried about his knees, and vertigo and pulmonary oedemae, whatever they might be.

Short walks in Shangri-La

Short walks in Shangri-La

Peter is an entertaining travel companion as he takes us around the Himalaya foothills. He hires a porter called Iman, who quickly becomes his friend the pair bonded with more than a little of the local hooch “raksi“. The book has given me wanderlust, not that I have plans to visit Nepal (I too suffer from vertigo, and tales of the bus trip to and from Kathmandu, leave me in no doubts, I want to give Nepal a miss.) The road heading down was even more unnerving than it had been coming up, the chasms easier to see plummeting beside a track as thin as a stray hair on a green blanket.” 

Travel is about novelty, new experiences, new vistas, new insight into the world. Not all those novelties sound appealing. Kathmandu sounds awful “all around there was the sound of a dawn chorus…men hawking, spitting and snotting into hands that shook the mucus into the street with deft finger movements...” There is a marked contrast between the wealth of the trekkers and the poverty of the locals, where thousands of girls are sold by their parents to the brothels of India. The guides’ observations of different nationalities is interesting, for once Brits abroad don’t fare so badly: “The Australians and English are very good, Irish too, and Scandinavians. The Americans are sometimes difficult. They expect things to be modern like in America, but the most rude are the Germans and the Israelis. Some guides I know refuse to travel with Israelis even if it means losing money.”

At times among gap year trekkers in the hostels, Peter feels like an old Fogey, lamenting his lost youth.

There are also some moments of drama, descending to Thorung Phedi on a glacis sloping north, they found themselves on ice unbroken for hundreds of feet, a fall could have been fatal as they had no ice axes or crampons, just a bamboo stick. Peter slipped and nearly went over the edge…”all the energy drained out of me as I lay there helpless, knowing that if I went over I would have perhaps ten seconds before striking the boulders below.” He did recover slowly but he was shaken by the experience.

It is an interesting read, particularly as the writer isn’t too much older than me. I would have liked some maps and photos.

My rating 4 out of 5

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