With a naturalist’s eye and a poet’s pen, a victim of violence looks to the Himalayas for healing.
When Alter (Fantasies of a Bollywood Love Thief: Inside the World of Indian Moviemaking, 2007, etc.) and his wife, Ameeta, were viciously attacked in their home in the Himalayan foothills in 2008, the prolific writer didn’t know if he would ever put pen to page again. He wasn’t even sure he would be able to walk. With clarity and lyricism, Alter tells how he managed to do both. He also convincingly brings to life the culture, terrain, flora and fauna of the Himalayas. This is not a navel-gazing memoir in which the answers to life’s questions are resolved on a long, meditative walk. Instead, Alter offers a multifaceted consideration of life’s tough truths and stunning splendors. The author aptly describes his approach as “taking dashan” on India’s Bandarpunch and Nanda Devi and Tibet’s Mount Kailash as he travels in the presence of these earthly teachers, observing and absorbing their lessons. Although Alter is by nature a solitary seeker, one senses that he is accompanied not only by the porters he must employ, but also by the diverse group of writers he quotes, ranging from Tenzing Norgay’s take on yeti folklore to Thoreau’s meditation on the virtues of walking. Alter’s own writing is subtle and specific, conveying his shifting perceptions in a way that no sweeping generalizations ever could. A self-professed atheist, the author’s writing is nonetheless deeply spiritual, as when he writes about the prayer flags he would design to hang from the Himalayan hemlocks: “a deconstructed rainbow, cross-referenced by the breeze.” The combination of realism and mysticism makes this a rich, satisfying memoir that plumbs the depths—and acknowledges the limits—of both man and mountain.
There are many treasures to discover in this insightful memoir of hiking and healing in the Himalayas.