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Himalayan Playground

AuthorTrevor Braham
Publisher The In Pinn
Reviewed byEd Douglas
DateTuesday, 2 December 2008
Rating 3 out of 5

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Trevor Braham’s alpine history When The Alps Cast Their Spell, won the Boardman-Tasker Prize in 2004. This volume of elegiac memoirs is slimmer and more modest in scale but charming nonetheless. Braham grew up in the last years of the Raj, going to school in Darjeeling and seeing the early Himalayan climbing scene at first hand. At the age of 20, in 1942, he embarked on three decades of mountain exploration that took him across the length of the Himalaya in the company of all kinds of legends, both European and local.

He describes journeys and climbs in the troubled tribal areas of the North-west Frontier, now the likely residence of one Osama bin Laden, and quotes the early Everest expedition leader General C. G. Bruce, who campaigned in Waziristan: ‘I think I have run away from every tribe on the Frontier at one time or another.’ The book is studded with pearls like this, as Braham roams from Sikkim to Garhwal, glancing back across the years at a world that is now largely gone. ‘I find myself out of harmony with some aspects of the evolution of mountaineering,’ he writes in his introduction.

Neither is Braham sympathetic to the commercial swamp that some parts of Himalayan climbing have become. ‘My presence in the mountains,’ he says, ‘was not motivated by material objectives, nor was I seeking accolades for dramatic adventures.’

t was also a period of greater freedom too, at least for travellers. He describes visiting the Swat valley as a near-magical experience in 1962. Go there now and the jihadis will have you. But Braham does seem to have had an ineffable sense of timing, trekking alone in Garhwal as India achieved independence, arriving in Badrinath as the party continued. His climbing career may not have been at the highest standard, but it was certainly of the highest quality.

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