THE ROAD WEST from Kathmandu ends after 150 miles, just beyond Pokhara, by the side of a lake. This lake, Phewa Tal, marks the termination of motor cars, electricity, hospitals, pizza in fact all the elements of civilised life. Beyond Phewa Tal you enter another century, and you enter it on foot.
In his 500-mile walk across northwest Nepal, John faced all that the Himalayas could throw at him: a blizzard; cliff-hanging precipices; surging river crossings followed by whole valleys without water and, at one point, an earthquake. His understanding of Nepali (following a crash course in Kathmandu) gave him an insight into the extraordinary variety of people who inhabit the country, from retired Gurkha officers who have travelled the world to Bhotia farmers who have never known anything but their own valley.
He describes the warmth and humour of the Nepalese with a distinctive humour of his own. In fact good humour was tested on both sides as when he unwittingly made camp on someones roof and perseverance was essential if only to cope with the interminable dishes of lentils and rice.
Without porters or companions, carrying a minimum of supplies and guided only by a simple map, he managed to reach RaRa Tal, a lake close to the Tibetan border whose origins are attributed to the giant god Thakur. Continuing west he overcame hunger, injury and many wrong turnings, eventually struggling up to the Indian frontier post which marked his return to civilisation to find himself refused entry. (Fortunately he not only got through but joined the immigration officers for tea.)
Into Thin Air is a fascinating portrait of a fast disappearing culture, seen through the eyes of a veteran adventurer. It will appeal to anyone with a delight in faraway places and a taste for unusual travel stories.
Part of the proceeds from this book go to the charity Practical Action, which helps people in the developing world to work themselves out of poverty and so become less dependent on others.
Into Thin Air: A Walk Across Nepal by John Pilkington: 171pp + 8pp black-and-white plates; first published 1985 by George Allen & Unwin; price £16.95 plus postage and packing.