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A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush (1958)

by Eric Newby

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,2982813,015 (3.82)70
Eric Newby describes his travels in the mountains of Afghanistan. He has also written The Last Grain Race, Slowly Down the Ganges, Love and War in the Apennines and On the Shores of the Mediterranean.

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» See also 70 mentions

English (26)  German (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (28)
Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
Mad Dogs and Englishmen
Review of the Harper Press paperback edition (2010) of the Secker & Warburg hardcover original (1958)

This was a quirky and often quite funny memoir of how former fashion buyer Eric Newby and his diplomat friend Hugh Carless travelled through the Nuristan province in north-eastern Afghanistan in 1956 with a goal of climbing the supposedly unclimbable Mir Samir in the Hindu Kush mountain range. The quirky part is that neither of the Englishmen had any previous great experience in climbing, aside from a few days training in Wales prior to the expedition. This makes for all sorts of misadventures with both the climbing and with their encounters with the locals who are the descendants of the pagan culture of the region before it came under Islamic rule in 1895.

Eric Newby (1919-2006) went on to a career of travel writing and is memorialized in this 2010 edition with its Afterword by fellow adventurer Hugh Carless (1925-2011). The Preface by writer Evelyn Waugh was already included in the first hardcover edition in 1958.

See cover image at https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/5/53/A_Short_Walk_in_the_Hindu_Kush_co...
The cover of the original Secker & Warburg hardcover edition (1958). Image sourced from Wikipedia.

I read A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush through its inclusion in the 2022 Year of Reading blind subscription from the English language bookstore Shakespeare and Company in Paris, France.

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Rudyard Kipling's short story The Man Who Would Be King (1888) and its film adaptation The Man Who Would Be King (1975) dir. John Huston with actors Sean Connery and Michael Caine, centre their plots around the Kingdom of Kafiristan which was the pre-Islamic name of Afghanistan's Nuristan province where Eric Newby and Hugh Carless travelled in A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush. ( )
  alanteder | May 4, 2022 |
All Newby's travel books are brilliant. ( )
  NickDuberley | Mar 5, 2022 |
This book has been on my wishlist for a very long time and I finally decided to reserve it at my local library. I first became aware of it quite a few years ago while reading about the flora of the Hindu Kush region online. The title of the book was mentioned in the comments section and I thought to myself that I must read it one day. Over the course of a few years, every time I read a list or article about the best travel writing Newby's name kept coming up. I did not know that the book was based around an expedition to climb Mir Samir but I have an interest in climbing and mountaineering so this was more than welcome.

The book begins with Newby working in the fashion industry in London and becoming bored at what he is doing. Out of the blue he decided to send a cable to his friend Hugh Carless with the simple but fateful message - Can you travel Nuristan, June? An affirmative reply followed a short time later which set the wheels in motion for a quite crazy expedition. It soon became apparent that for them to be allowed into the region they would have to travel under the premise of doing some climbing. Newby initially assumed that Carless had a good degree of climbing experience but this was revealed to be a misguided assumption. The solution for most people at this point would be to postpone the trip but they decided that four days spent climbing in Wales would be sufficient for their needs. This climbing trip in Wales revealed to them how short of experience they were, but in the tradition of slightly eccentric British explorers of the time, they set off anyway.

The rest of the book details their travels from London all the way to Afghanistan, and their attempts to scale Mir Samir. How they made it back alive is quite incredible given their lack of experience and the hardships they ran into along the way. Despite this, it does not come across as a fools errand, even though, in the cold light of day it clearly was. I really liked the way that Newby doesn't shy away from the tensions that arose between the members of the party, even if they were short lived. The book is written in good humour and there were a few passages that had me laughing out loud. My edition had an epilogue written by Carless for the 50th anniversary edition and a collection of about 10 black and white photographs. There would have been more photographs but for an accident during the last stages of the expedition that damaged most of the photography equipment.

This was a really enjoyable book and I can see why it is so highly regarded. ( )
1 vote Brian. | Jul 25, 2021 |
Newby had been recommended to me by my brother's girlfriend, years ago, when I was paying them a visit and had taken to perusing their bookcase. It took me a while to get around to reading his work myself - was I put off by the name Eric? Perhaps, but that's unfair - and I'm very glad now of the recommendation.

One thing that struck me here, as it has done elsewhere, is the travel writer's perfect recall. Newby is able to report long, fact-laden sentences, directly quoted by people who I doubt were speaking English at the time. It's something I remember being the case with Theroux as well. I can't do it - I end up fabricating something along the way. Likewise with his descriptions of the natural geography and geology of the places he sees - where I might talk of a massive rock, Newby is able to go on for two or three pages at a time, and yet it works so well. I suppose that is what separates the professionals (Newby et al) from the dilettantes (yours truly). ( )
  soylentgreen23 | Jan 26, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
This classic trek from 1958 sees him blunder through the Near East and into Afghanisatn, through a rugged land of dangers and marvels where "we shoot people without permission" (plus ça change). In a gloriously improbable finale, he runs into Wilfred Thesiger himself. The epic voyager meets his lighter-hearted heir – but Newby, for all comic gift, never loses for one dusty mountain mile his own"capacity for wonderment"

» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Newby, EricAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Carless, HughEpiloguesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Grant, Richard E.Narratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Véron, MarianneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Waugh, EvelynPrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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'Il faudrait une expedition bien organisee et pourvue de moyens materiels puissants pour tenter l'etude de cette region de haute montagne dont les rares cols sont a plus de 5000 metres d'altitude.'
L'Hindou Kouch et le Kaboulistan.

Raymond Furon
This book is dedicated to Hugh Carless of Her Majesty's Foreign Service, without whose determination, it must be obvious to anyone who reads it, this journey could never have been made.
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With all the lights on and the door shut to protect us from the hellish draught that blew up the backstairs, the fitting-room was like an oven with mirrors.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Eric Newby describes his travels in the mountains of Afghanistan. He has also written The Last Grain Race, Slowly Down the Ganges, Love and War in the Apennines and On the Shores of the Mediterranean.

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