Book of da Week: Eric Newby’s A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush

Eric Newby A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush
It’s tilted at an angle… like climbing a mountain. Get it?

The Independent described Eric Newby as the man who “transformed travel writing”. With A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush, published in 1958, you can see how – it must have been pretty revolutionary with its laid back, comical approach to scaling a mountain in the Hindu Kush.

This is a rather British novel as Newby imbues the whole thing with comical verve – even during some highly serious moments he’s cracking the stiff upper lip stuff and making jokes about how unbelievably inept he and his friend Hugh Carless were at climbing.

A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush

Although this is a twee travel book, it makes for marvellous light reading all the same. It’s essentially about Carless and Newby deciding to travel from London to Afghanistan to climb some big old mountains.

The big difference with this book is the duo was pretty woeful at that type of thing and decided to do it seemingly for a bit of a laugh. Why not? The result is a book which depicts how to do something challenging badly, with the novel drenched in a satisfying self-deprecating sense of humour.

The thing is, though, they did put a decent effort in and made it high up a massive mountain – despite their lack of experience. As we all know, climbing these usually vertical things is a dangerous hobby and we’re used to news stories (and subsequent films) depicting the tragedy of wealthy, privileged people climbing a hellishly dangerous mountain and meeting an unfortunate end.

Newby and Carless managed their task on a tiny budget and also pioneered outsiders travelling into Afghanistan, which was a bold step for all concerned in the 1950s. As a result, A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush may seem sentimental, but it was a rather groundbreaking achievement.

Take a Bow, Wilfred Thesiger

Carless and Newby bumped into Wilfred Thesiger at the end of their travels (we covered Thesiger’s fantastic the Marsh Arabs ages ago). The extremely experienced, multi-talented bloke took the opportunity to mock the two in an interesting, momentary incident covered in the book.

Known as “the blessed one from London” amongst his Arab friends, Thesiger  was an established explorer who would have looked down on two whippersnappers attempting something as daft as they had done. Nevertheless, it was all in good jest and we’re sure some “Tally, bally ho!” type language parted between the two camps.

With mountains such as a Mount Everest now essentially fairground rides for rich people or idiots who want to burn cash for no reason (it costs around £30,000 to climb the thing), this book harks back to an era of newfound opportunities and exploration. For this, it’s well worth a dive into the past.

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