No. 17: “A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush” by Eric Newby
Travel Blog • Michael Shapiro • 05.15.06 | 4:00 PM ET
To mark our five-year anniversary, we’re counting down the top 30 travel books of all time, adding a new title each day this month.
Territory covered: Afghanistan
In A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush, one of the classic mid-century travel adventures, Newby sets out to climb one of Afghanistan’s highest peaks with just four days of mountaineering experience under his belt. His inexperience shows. Near the 20,000-foot summit, he has an ice axe in one hand and a climbing manual in the other, trying to learn how to carve steps in the ice. Known for his wry and self-deprecating humor, Newby is a delightful traveling companion and his descriptions of the high-altitude Kush convey a shimmering sense of wonder. His failure to reach the summit becomes almost irrelevant, because the tale is about the journey, not the final destination. At his side for part of the trip (but not the climb itself, which he did with a friend) is his stolid wife Wanda, who helped save Newby’s life during World War II when he escaped from a POW camp. That story is related in Newby’s “Love and War in the Apennines.” Like his contemporary, Wilfred Thesiger, Newby was an intrepid explorer who helped define the modern travel narrative with sly commentary on our common humanity.
Outtake from “A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush”:
Here on the Arayu, one of the lonely places of the earth with all the winds of Asia droning over it, where the mountains seemed like the bones of the world breaking through, I had the sensation of emerging from a country that would continue to exist more or less unchnaged whatever disasters overtook the rest of mankind.
—Michael Shapiro interviewed top travel writers for his book, A Sense of Place: Great Travel Writers Talk About Their Craft, Lives and Inspiration. His Web site has details on the book and his other work.