A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush (1958) is a short book about an extraordinary journey taken by author Eric Newby and his friend Hugh Carless. With very little training and inadequate supplies they venture into a remote region of Afghanistan to climb Mir Samir, a nearly 20,000 foot mountain. It is surprising that they even survived much less made several attempts at crossing the peak and then writing about it.
The setting is fascinating in that Newby and Carless find themselves among nomadic peoples of Nuristan who were only forced to convert to Islam a generation earlier (as Newby points out, perhaps the last mass forced conversion in history). At the time of their travels, the British Empire is crumbling but Afghanistan still has some last vestiges of the old Raj. Sadly Newby reflects some of the old imperial ways and can be a bit ethnocentric in his descriptions of the locals.
Newby redeems himself by being hilariously funny reflecting both on his own colossal inadequacy as well as the quirks of the people he encounters. He also makes me want to get out and travel, although I’ll take a pass on visiting remote areas of Afghanistan right now.
More on the Hindu Kush: Iranica.