What is a modern day explorer supposed to do when the expedition bug starts to gnaw away again after having spent the better part of the previous year attempting to be the first person to walk the entire length of the Nile River? Simple. Dream up an even more audacious goal that involves walking the length of the world's most famous mountain range.
After his hugely successful book and TV series Walking the Nile, Wood appears set for a life of suburban bliss, drinking wine and eating cheese in Gordons Wine Bar, believed to be London's oldest wine bar and prior place of residence for Rudyard Kipling in the 1890's. Aided by what one can only imagine as far too many glasses of vintage port, Wood realises he isn't quite ready to hang up the hiking boots just yet and that the lure of just "one more" walking escapade needs to be undertaken, this time along the mighty Himalayas.
His decision to walk the Himalayas is partly due to having first visited Nepal some fourteen years ago. On his first ever trip overseas, Wood is caught up in Maoist rioting and the aftermath of the Nepalese Royal Massacre, when Crown Prince Dipendra slaughtered ten members of his own family. During this potentially dangerous time, Wood is befriended and looked after by a Nepalese guide in Pokhara. Forever feeling indebted, Wood stays in touch with his friend and vows to one day return back to his friend's home to fully show his gratitude.
Walking the Himalayas does a great job of providing some good background on Wood's life prior to his expedition whilst he is in London. In fact, the first quarter of the book whizzes by before Wood even sets off on his walk. Here we learn that he is an avid reader, with his reading tastes focused on travel, history, biographies, guidebooks and atlases, in addition to a "respectable" amount of fiction. With a bookshelf including authors such as Bruce Chatwin, Norman Lewis, Eric Newby and Redmond O'Hanlon sharing space alongside those of Marco Polo, Ibn Battuta and T.E. Lawrence, he is a man after our own heart and natural candidate for reading the Best Travel Books website!
Wood's journey begins in earnest, in similar fashion to Walking the Nile, with some conjecture as to where the source of his trip should begin. Passing up the opportunity to begin at the more commonly believed western-most point of the Himilayas at Nanga Parbat in Pakistan, Wood starts instead from the infamous Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan. From here his trek takes him through the valleys and foothills of the Himalayas rather than trying to undertake the impossible task of walking along the spine of the largest mountain range in the world. En route he traverses four separate countries, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nepal before finishing near to the highest unclimbed peak in the world, Gangkhar Puensum, situated in Bhutan and just short of the far-most eastern reaches of the Himalayas at Namcha Barwa in Tibet.
Taking in what must be some of the most spectacular scenery in the world, Wood passes through beautifully exotic locales such as the Vale of Kashmir, Dal Lake area and Kathmandu Valley. In Dharamsala he also meets with the Dalai Lama and receives some travelling advice. This meeting he describes eloquently with no egoism, "hero worship" or fanfare. Simply a sense of honesty and respect. Which is also the way in which he approaches all of his encounters with the myriad of people he meet along the way whether they be swamis, soldiers, nomadic tribesman, monks, lamas, shaman or honey hunters.
Once again, Wood has produced an extremely enjoyable book infused with plenty of action as he treks, this time, through the "Land of Snow". As befitting a book voted Adventure Travel Book of the Year at the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards, there are a number of events that take place which once again illustrate just how dangerous his expeditions are. Walking the Himalayas also benefits from the book's wider focus which provides additional information about Levison Wood, the man, adding another flavour to what already was a tasty offering. This is definitely one to savour.
4 and a half stars out of 5
Credit: Banner photo by Jean-Marie Hullot