In July 2012 I trekked through the Valley of Flowers and Hemkunt Sahib. My base was Joshimath. I was carrying only one book to read, an Agatha Kristie. I finished it at one go! And then I tried to buy another book at Joshimath. I walked through the entire length of the market. There were four or so stationery shops and only one sold novels, popular Hindi novels. I looked at the cover pages and decided they were not meant for me. All of them had guns and women and I was in no mood to read any stuff that resembled Bollywood.
So I reached Ghangaria quite book less. And then I watched a video show about the Valley of Flowers at the information center at Ghangaria. While I walked out after the show I saw the book Valley of Flowers by Frank Smythe. I had to purchase it!
I started reading Valley of Flowers at the Valley of Flowers! And that added to the atmosphere. Frank Smythe describes his team’s chance discovery of the Valley of Flowers while coming down from a successful expedition to Kamet at the start of the book. But most of the book is devoted to his return to the Valley in 1937 and revisiting the areas.
I cannot figure out my Smythe wanted to do this in the monsoon season but that is what he did and we get the benefit of reading about the experience. Smythe with his trusted porters spends a few months in the Uttarakhand region. The book is an account of all his walks and treks and climbs. While I was reading it in the Valley I was alone and I almost finished it. But the few pages that were left, I took a lot of time to finish because at home it is very difficult to find time to read stuff at a stretch.
If you love mountains, you will enjoy this book. I identified with his lust for mountains simply because he enjoyed being there and not because of any sense of conquest. Smythe describes with the same zeal the successful as well as the unsuccessful climbs. He hates being soaked to the skin like any other person and forgets the discomfort as soon as he is dry and gets a good meal. If his adventures make for a good read, he makes his misadventures sound hilarious.
Two things stood out for me. Even though the book is written in the pre-independence era his relationship with his porters is heart warming, there is no hint of the strains that the nation must be going through otherwise. Secondly I was amazed that even in the late 1930s Smythe complains about the fast pace of life and goes to the mountains to escape it. I wonder if we ever change? It seems to be human nature to dislike the pace of life we are living through.
Overall a very readable book if you are interested in the mountains, trekking, flora and fauna.