BOOKS ON NEPAL

I must admit that I dropped the proverbial ball (book? Kindle?) when it came to my reading habits in Nepal. During my first stay a month and a half went by with barely any reading done at all, as I filled my days with tipsy reunions with friends, an (occasionally tipsy) visit from Mummy Dearest, long days spent on rib-shattering bus rides and even longer days of cursing my way up various mountains.

I was planning to make amends when I came back on a two-week visa run at the end of June, but then found myself neck-deep in an accidental Steinbeck binge, gorging on East of Eden in a hammock in Begnas. A well-stocked Kindle can be very dangerous in the hands of a procrastinating book addict.

All this to say that the list below is far from exhaustive, but hopefully it will still prove helpful to those wishing to read up before a trip to Nepal or add some new books to their reading lists.

[EDIT: Uroš, a Nepal-lover and bookworm extraordinaire, took pity on my sad little reading list and recommended 19 (!) other book titles in the comment section. I’ve added his recommendations to the post, with some edits and links, and added a bunch of new titles to my wishlist in the process. Thanks Uroš!]

Off we go!

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THE ROYAL GHOSTS (Samrat Upadhjay)

If you only have the time to read one book, I would recommend this one. It is a perceptive and lucidly-written portrait of modern-day Nepal by one of Nepal’s most celebrated authors, painted through the reader-friendly medium of short stories.

The stories are set in Kathmandu and address the tensions of a transforming Nepali society struggling to reconcile modernity with their old traditions and beliefs. The violent Maoist insurgency is a leitmotiv that runs through Upadhjay’s examinations of interpersonal relationships and dynamics. Each story illuminates a different aspect of Nepali life: the caste system, filial obligation, arranged marriage and homosexuality being some of them.

Samrat Upadhjay is also the author of novels Arresting God in Kathmandu and the Guru of Love, which I haven’t read but that come highly recommended. (Amazon)

 

THE WAITING LAND (Dervla Murphy)

Dervla Murphy, the affably kick-ass grande dame of solo female travel, spent six months working with Tibetan refugees in Pokhara back in 1965.

In diary form she recounts the months spent in what was then a tiny settlement practically cut off from the rest of the world. Understandably, a lone white woman taking residence in a tiny vermin-infested room in the bazaar caused quite a stir, but Dervla doesn’t care much for creature comforts and delights in the predictable unpredictability of life on the road: “It would be hypocritical to pretend that I could live happily ever after in this state of Noble Savagery; yet at the moment I am more than content to have so decisively Got Away From It All.”

Dervla, who shot to fame with Full Tilt, the gripping and hilarious account of her 1963 self-supported cycling trip from Ireland to India,  is a firm believer in “self-propelled” travel and takes every opportunity to hike around the Pokhara Valley (“Today I distinguished myself by getting lost for eight hours.”) and cycle in Kathmandu where “everywhere smug black cattle roam free, blatantly conscious of their sacred status”, ending her stay in Nepal with a trek in the Langtang range long before the popularization of trekking in Nepal.

The result is a an affectionate and well-balanced portrait of a Nepal only just opening up to foreigners, and Murphy’s curiosity and sturdy sense of humour make this an informative and entertaining read. The world she describes feels remote and ancient, and it is incredible to think, while enjoying all the commercialized comforts of Pokhara’s Lakeside, that her account is only fifty years old. (Amazon)

 

ANNAPURNA (Maurice Herzog)

“… nothing would ever equal those desperate days when he gave so freely of his courage, strength and                         resolution.”

I took this book with me on the ABC trek and its chilling account of snowstorms, frostbite and amputations might have played a part in my decision to not risk the trek in bad weather.

This book sold 11 million copies and is considered a classic of mountaineering literature. It describes the 1950 conquest of Annapurna I. With no previous knowledge of the area and only one rough map, which proved to be completely false, the French mountaineers explored the region, found a viable route to the top of Annapurna I and climbed it within one season, Making Herzog and Lachenal the first climbers to summit a peak over 8000 m. It’s an eloquent description of a closed-off kingdom and the hard work and determination it took to mount such an expedition, spiced with a Gallic sense of drama, romance and camaraderie. The book turns into a blood-curdling page-turner in the second half, when the mountaineers’ luck turns for the worse on the descent.

It took me a while to get used to all the mountaineering talk that makes little sense to a lowland-dwelling creature like myself, but after acquainting myself with the glossary at the start of the book I greatly enjoyed the read, even though some nefarious creature ripped out the last three pages of the my book. May he burn in hell. (Amazon)

 

VIGNETTES OF NEPAL (Harka Gurung)

Dr. Harka Gurung was a Nepalese geologist, anthropologist and politician who travelled all over the country in different official capacities. The book is valuable (though not necessarily interesting) to anyone interested in the geography and cultural history of Nepal, but isn’t going to be topping any best-seller lists any time soon. While it can be mildly interesting to read his descriptions of places that you are traveling through and to get an insider perspective on the different tribal traditions he observes, his love for minute geographical description can get pretty tedious for anyone that doesn’t harbour a burning passion for topographical and geological data. (Can be bought in the second-hand bookshops around Thamel.)

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That’s it for my paltry offerings – all the recommendations below come from the well-stocked bookshelf of Uroš. I’ll let him do the talking:

GURU OF LOVE (Samrat Upadhjay)

This book reminded me of Naipaul’s A House for Mr.Biswas and provided great insight into everyday life. (also recommended: ARRESTING GOD IN KATHMANDU)

THE TUTOR OF HISTORY (Manjushree Thapa)

I find her non-fiction very interesting – a mixture of history, politics and her own experience. Her views are liberal and she comes from a very privileged background – interesting standpoint to write about Nepal. Her other titles include FORGET KATHMANDU and THE LIVES WE HAVE LOST.

SHOPPING FOR BUDDHAS (Jeff Greenwald)

This book was a nice introduction to the country on my first trip to Nepal.

TIGER FOR BREAKFAST and MUSTANG (Michael Peissel)

Classic writings about Nepal.

TRAVELS IN NEPAL: The Sequestered Kingdom (Charlie Pye-Smith)

Covers some overlooked aspects of life in Nepal. (goodreads)

IN THE KINGDOM OF THE GODS (Desmond Doig)

A nice little book including the author’s sketches (both in writing and illustration) – great reading before (or during) visiting the monuments of Kathmandu Valley.

HIMALAYAN PILGRIMAGE (David L. Snellgrove)

Describes the epic journey of a famous Tibetologist through Western Nepal in 1956.

KATHMANDU (Thomas Bell)

A new book [from 2014] which recreates Nepal’s complicated history, intertwined with the personal experience of a news correspondent in Kathmandu. (goodreads)

THE PRISONER OF KATHMANDU: Brian Hodgson in Nepal 1820-43 (Charles Allen)

Another new book [2015] about Brian Hodgson, a British political officer in Kathmandu who undertook systematic studies of all things Nepali. (goodreads)

TRUE SUMMIT: What Really Happened on the Legendary Ascent of Annapurna (David Roberts)

Best read after Herzog’s Annapurna (goodreads)

LIFE AND DEATH ON MT. EVEREST: Sherpas and Himalayan Mountaineering (Sherry B. Ortner)

While this book might seem like just another Everest adventure tale, it is quite the opposite. It is an anthropological study of the relationship between Sherpas and foreign mountaineers. (goodreads)
Her earlier book, HIGH RELIGION, is about history of Tibetan Buddhism in the Khumbu region. (goodreads)
There are a couple of newer anthropology books about various aspects of life in remote Himalayan areas such as Dolpo, Mustang and Nupri (below Manaslu):

HIGH FRONTIERS: Dolpo And The Changing World Of Himalayan Pastoralists (Kenneth M. Bauer)
TIBETAN DIARY: From Birth To Death And Beyond In A Himalayan Valley Of Nepal (Geoff Childs)

On Nupri (goodreads)

HORSES LIKE LIGHTNING: A Story of Passage Through the Himalayas (Sienna Craig)

on Mustang (goodreads)

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Now THIS looks like a proper list!

Have you read any books on Nepal, or written by Nepali authors, that you would like to recommend? Comment below!

-K

About Kaja Šeruga

Hi! I'm Kaja - Slovenian by birth, life-long traveller by parentage, lover of words at heart. This website was born in late 2014 when I got my degree in cultural anthropology and used it as an excuse to spend a year and a half travelling from Iran to Indonesia. Currently my MA studies are taking me from Berlin to Buenos Aires and Delhi and it doesn't look like the world will be running out of stories any time soon! Should we ever meet in person: Yes, I know I'm tall. No, I don't play basketball. (More in the About section)

MY SCRAPHEAP OF BORROWED AND INVENTED WISDOM: 25 lessons, tips and advice from my first quarter century of fumbling through life

I turned 25 yesterday (laugh, sigh, cry) and, since party options are limited in rainy Dharamsala, I decided to distract myself from thoughts of impending wrinkles and doom by sharing my own brand of questionable wisdom with anyone that wants to read it.

We can probably all agree that 25 years, the first fifteen to twenty of which are traditionally spent in a state of mumbling confusion and incomprehension, don’t amount to much life experience. But it’s a start – below is a random assembly of things I learned while travelling a bit, reading a lot and spending the occasional evening drunkenly setting the world to rights with my friends.

 

#1 EAT YOUR VEGGIES, USE CONDOMS, FLOSS YOUR TEETH, DON’T BE A DICK

Ok, now that we got the obvious out of the way…

 

#2 TRAVEL

And while exotic locations and strange customs might be the main selling point of such endeavours, they are by no means the only, or even necessarily the best way to do it. These days plenty of people can afford to fly to the other side of the world and yet remain so firmly entrenched in their comfort zone that they might as well never have left home at all.

It is a mental shift, not the geographical one, that is the cornerstone of travel.

If you don’t have the time or money to mount an Arctic expedition, simply find a spot on the map nearby that strikes your fancy, make a sandwich, get on your creaky bicycle and go see what they’re up to there. Walk through a part of town you’ve never walked through before, with open eyes and ears and mind. Leave your damn phone at home. Be a stranger in a strange place, talk to people who think differently than you do. Go on a hare-brained adventure and don’t brag about it on Facebook later.

Don’t let the world be wasted on you.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

#3 READ WIDELY, AND WITHOUT APOLOGY (Joyce Carol Oates)

The good, the bad, the transcendentally awful – there are no rules.* High school seems to do a pretty good job of convincing a whole lot of people that they are “just not into books”. While you might not be into Shakespeare or Joyce (and, frankly, who could blame you) those are not the only books worth reading and with the advent of e-readers you don’t even have to worry about the lady on the bus judging your low-brow literary tastes.

(*But I still reserve the right to judge you on the contents of your bookshelf, because I am a bit of a snob and also a flaming hypocrite.)

http://www.harkavagrant.com/

http://www.harkavagrant.com/

#4 GOOD PARTIES DON’T REQUIRE PLANNING. GOOD HANGOVERS DO.

So next time you’re getting ready for a big night out (or in, for that matter), spare five minutes for Future Hungover You and make sure you’ve got her back.

You’ll need the following:

  • A free day (or, at the very least, a free morning)
  • Lots of pillows and duvets with which to build your Fort of Headache and Doom
  • Coffee, cheese, salty crackers and all the OJ you can get your hands on (the good kind, with bits in)
  • A movie that provides maximum entertainment in exchange for a minimum of mental activity. I usually go with Tomb Raider, because Angie makes me feel like maybe being straight is silly, but then Daniel Craig coming out of the shower naked reminds me that it’s not all bad after all.
  • A friend who can convince you that your bad life choices will make for good stories when you’re old and saggy.

If you screwed up your party prep and left your hungover self hanging take some painkillers, brew a thermos of black, bitter coffee and tell yourself you’re a rock star as you drag yourself off to work/class. Do better next time.

This whole post is just an excuse to put this picture on my blog

#5 IF YOU’RE NOT SURE WHETHER YOU NEED IT, YOU PROBABLY DON’T

If you stop buying useless crap for a while you’ll soon realise that there is very little that you actually need, and none of it can be found on sale at your local shopping mall.

 

#6 GIRLS: JOIN THE 21ST CENTURY AND BUY A MOONCUP, ESPECIALLY IF YOU ARE A FREQUENT TRAVELLER. SERIOUSLY.

Boys: don’t google what a mooncup is. Seriously.

 

#7 FEW PROBLEMS REMAIN INSURMOUNTABLE AFTER A GOOD RUN, FOLLOWED BY A COLD BEER UNDER A HOT SHOWER.

Though, admittedly, some might merit a longer mulling-over in a bubble bath with a bottle of red.

 

#8 POWDER TOOTHPASTE IS GREAT FOR CLEANING SILVER JEWELLERY

Take it from a girl that’s been chaining her nose to her ear for over half a decade.Screenshot (104)

 

#9 NEVER PACK MORE THAN YOU COULD CARRY FOR 30 MINUTES IN 30 DEGREE HEAT

And trust me, you’re not nearly as fit as you think.

Reese never listens…

 

#10 WHEN PACKING FOR LONG-TERM TRAVEL DON’T FORGET ABOUT THE FURNITURE

When you’re travelling for six months, or a year, or even longer, your backpack becomes your home. Now you wouldn’t have an apartment with no furniture, would you? The place would be a mess!

Compartmentalizing your backpack will make it a lot easier to keep track of your meagre possessions. Finding the right combination of packing cubes, compression sacks and Ziploc bags might take a while, but it’s well worth the effort.

 

#11 YOU’RE NOT A GROWNUP UNTIL YOU’VE HAD YOUR HEART BROKEN

My mum came up with this cheerful little quip once and, being a loved-up teenager at the time, I thought she was just being Slavic and morbid. Don’t you just hate it how mums are always right? Turns out there’s nothing quite like a thoroughly brutal heart-mangling to trigger some serious growing up. Once you’re done being an embarrassing mess, of course.

(In deference to the presumed adulthood of those who are living happily ever after with their childhood sweetheart I would expand this statement to include all emotional-shit-hitting-the-fan situations.)

 

#12 NEVER TRAVEL WITHOUT A SARONG, A SMALL SEWING KIT AND A COMPASS

You can build pretty much anything in the world with the first two items and any assorted crap you find lying around, provided you have put in the required amount of time watching McGyver as a kid. The compass is for finding north (duh) and to remind you that often the smartest solutions are the simplest ones.

He built that rocket from chewing gum and hay.

#13 TEQUILA IS NEVER A GOOD IDEA

Not now, not ever, and especially not when you’re already drunk enough to think otherwise.

 

#14 THE WORLD IS (PROBABLY*) NOT OUT TO GET YOU

(*and on the off chance that it is you’re screwed anyways, so you might as well stop worrying and order that tequila)

 

#15 MONEY MUST CIRCULATE

This is one of my dad’s go-to lines: “denar mora krožit.”

We all sometimes lose money in dumb and unfortunate ways – like the time I got fined 300 euro for riding a bicycle drunk, or the 170 euro I had to pay the locksmith after having locked myself out of the apartment on a stormy Sunday, wearing only boxer shorts and a t-shirt, the 15 euro fine I paid when it turned out that the tourist agent in Mumbai gave me a fake train ticket and I got to spend 10 hours sitting on the floor next to the toilet. That money’s gone, and dwelling on it won’t make it come back. Just shrug and think of it as your contribution to the global economy: “Money must circulate!”

 

#16 NOT WANTING TO DO SOMETHING IS REASON ENOUGH

Have you ever thought about how much of your free time you spend doing stuff you don’t really want to do out of some sort of sheepish politeness, or a nebulous feeling of obligation? Going to a party because that’s what you’re supposed to do on a Friday night, having coffee with that pretentious bore because you couldn’t come up with a polite way of saying no, going to an aerobics class with your friend even though cheerful aerobics instructors make you want to punch babies. Between paying your bills, vacuuming your apartment and getting up early, there is really no need to add more mildly unpleasant activities to your day.

Know your priorities and defend them unapologetically.

 

#17 SHUT YOUR MOUTH AND BE GRATEFUL

You don’t have to walk around with a dopey grin on your face all day long (please don’t), but if you’re reading this right now it’s probably safe to assume that you’ve had quite a bit of luck in the grand scheme of things.

You are literate, have shelter, internet access and probably enough disposable income to have bought some sort of slick the-future-is-now type of device so that you can watch cat videos while waiting for the bus. And perhaps your life sucks in just about every other way, and I am not one to ignore the cathartic beauty of a good rant, but there are plenty of hours in a day to dwell on your problems, bitch about your horrible boss and still genuinely appreciate the good things as well.

Try to find something to be grateful for each day – not because I say so, not because the science says so, but because Uncle Vonnegut said so.

5LSPjCo

 

#18 WHEN ASKING FOR DIRECTIONS IN ASIA, GET A LARGE SAMPLE

Not wishing to disappoint you or lose face, people will rarely admit that they don’t understand your question or don’t know the way, often just pointing you in a random direction instead.

I usually ask at least four different people for directions and triangulate the most likely correct answer from that sample, which gets me to my destination about 80% of the time.

(If it is absolutely imperative that you get where you’re going in a fairly straightforward manner, an offline maps app like OsmAnd or Maps.me can be a life saver. Speaking of which…)

                                                                                                                 

#19 TECHNOLOGY IS A WONDERFUL TOOL, BUT A SHITTY FRIEND

I’ll be the first to agree that the internet, and modern technology in general, are pretty damn incredible in their unparalleled potential for both education and distraction.

But here’s the thing – unless you are actually Barack Obama (in which case, thanks for reading, and don’t forget to tweet about it!) the world will not grind to a halt if you drop off the grid for a bit.

I find it a good rule of thumb to not go online before noon, and have at least one offline day a week.

Also: Stop taking Facebook so seriously.

Can’t argue with the Oatmeal (http://theoatmeal.com/comics/log_out)

 

#20 LEARN TO BE ALONE

You are, by definition, the only person you will spend the rest of your life with, so you’re pretty screwed if you can’t enjoy your own company.

 

 

#21 DEATH IS COMING

No, you’re not exempt. And you are one day closer to it today than you were yesterday. That’s not just me being morbid and depressing – it’s quite simply a fact. What’s depressing is sleepwalking through life, killing time and waiting for life to happen to you.

I’m not saying that you should “live every day like it’s your last”, unless you want a future of diabetes, drug addiction and syphilis – we both know you wouldn’t choose to spend your last day eating salad and doing yoga.

But it might be a good idea to remind yourself of your own mortality every now and then, if only to make sure that you are devoting a day to watching Game of Thrones while eating Nutella from the jar because it’s a damn fine way to spend a day, and not just to distract yourself from living.

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(And while you’re waiting for it to come you could do worse than to watch the rest of Amstell’s stand up Do Nothing, for some oddly insightful morbid hilarity)

 

#22 BITE OFF MORE THAN YOU CAN CHEW…

… and then chomp at it until you either manage to get it down with a glass of water, or get lockjaw and have to feed through a straw for a week.

That is to say – if you wait until you feel ready to take on that daunting project you have been dreaming about, you’ll wait a lifetime without having done fuck all. Throw yourself into it and, if the stakes are high enough, you might find that your survival instinct gives you an edge and the sort of shitting-your-pants determination that you could never have dreamed of when safely tucked away in your comfort zone.

If you succeed, you’ll be all the better for it. And if you crash and burn… well, in the long run you might still be better for it. Speaking of which…

 

#23 FAIL, FAIL AGAIN, FAIL BETTER (Samuel Beckett)

Especially when you’re in your twenties, with a minimum of responsibilities and time on your side. Now’s the time to take risks, fail epically and learn from your mistakes.

 

#24 THE FIRST STEP TO LEARNING A NEW LANGUAGE: HARRY POTTER

I am a proud member of the Harry Potter generation and it would sicken you to know how well I know those books. They were some of the first books I read in English, unable to wait for the Slovenian translation. In high school, I read them in French in preparation for my final exams and during those dreadful months spent learning German before enrolling in a German university (see #22)  I went to sleep every night listening to an audiobook of Harry Potter und der Halbblut Prinz (and yes, it was just as soul-destroying as it sounds). Out of the madness a method emerged, and now buying a Harry Potter book is the first thing I do when I start learning a new language.

Those of you not part of the Potter Brigade (shame on you) might find another book that suits your needs. In my experience, the following criteria is important in finding your literary Rosetta Stone:

1) You know the book very, embarrassingly, oops-did-I-just-quote-that-out-loud well, so that even if you only understand three words in a sentence, you can guess the rest more often than not.

2) You first read (and re-read, and re-read again) the book in its original language. While there are differences between a source text and a translation, they are rarely so big as to cause problems for a beginner on the hunt for verbs, nouns, adjectives and basic grammatical structures. But the gap between two translations of the same work is too big for a new student to bridge.

3) The book uses contemporary and conversational language. Harry Potter, save for the names of spells and other fun magic stuff, is written in fairly neutral British English, with plenty of useful dialogue and descriptions. Lord of the Rings, on the other hand, might do more damage than good.

4) it is not your favourite book, unless you want to end that relationship once and for all.

 

#25 YOU’RE A DUMBASS

No, really, you are. But that’s fine, cause I’m a dumbass too, and so is everyone else. We’re all just making it up as we go along, and anyone that claims to know what it’s all about is either delusional or lying.

Right? Right??

 

-K

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Well, there you are. As you see, I still have quite a long way to go… do you have any advice, big or small, for the next quarter century? Comment below!

About Kaja Šeruga

Hi! I'm Kaja - Slovenian by birth, life-long traveller by parentage, lover of words at heart. This website was born in late 2014 when I got my degree in cultural anthropology and used it as an excuse to spend a year and a half travelling from Iran to Indonesia. Currently my MA studies are taking me from Berlin to Buenos Aires and Delhi and it doesn't look like the world will be running out of stories any time soon! Should we ever meet in person: Yes, I know I'm tall. No, I don't play basketball. (More in the About section)