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Not Just Another Walk in the Woods



Amazon Book Review: Walking the HimalayasIn November 2013, Levison Wood set out on an improbable and dangerous undertaking: walking the 4,000 miles of the Nile River from the trickle of its Rwandan headwaters to its Egyptian delta, a trek that would take him through six countries, strife and civil wars, swamps and sandstorms, thousands of years of history, and personal tragedy. Walking the Nile (a selection for Amazon's Best Books of the Month for February 2016) is Wood's account of the expedition, a briskly paced blend of gripping adventure tale and a portrait of modern Africa, full of objective hazards including crocodiles, minefields, and secret police. But why? Even Wood has trouble answering that question, but "ultimately, it came down to one thing. The Nile was there, and I wanted to walk it."

But that wasn't enough walking! On the heels of his Nile adventure, Wood set off on a  grueling six-month, 1,700 trek across the Himalayas, from Afghanistan's Silk Road to the tug-of-war territory of Kashmir to earthquake-ravaged Nepal.  May's Walking The Himalayas, is another harrowing yet illuminating story of perseverance--Wood's own, as well as that of the people who live in these rugged, often dangerous environments.

Enjoy these images from Wood's Himalayan trek (click through for larger files).

 


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The Wakhan Corridor, North eastern Afghanistan. This remote valley stretches between Tajikistan, China and Pakistan and is one of the most desolate places in Central Asia. Without roads, villages or even trees the only people that inhabit the eastern edges are Kyrgyz nomads who live a harsh existence. The Pamir and Hindu Kush mountains collide to form what the locals call Bam-I-Dunyan or 'roof of the world.'


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Kyrgyz Nomads in the Wakhan corridor have a life expectancy of under 40 years old. They have the highest levels of infant mortality in the world with 50% of children dying. There are almost no facilities and people have a basic subsistence life rearing goats, sheep and yaks.


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The Hunza river carves its way through the Karakorum mountains of Northern Pakistan. The river often floods and landslides are a daily occurrence. The raging river is spanned only by makeshift hanging bridges which allow local shepherds to take their flocks to new pastures. It's a terrifying commute.


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The Hunza valley was the inspiration for James Hilton's 1933 novel 'Lost Horizon' based on a Himalayan Shangri-La, an earthly paradise. The explorer Wilfred Thesiger also described the views as the best on earth. A combination of stark, raw beauty and the backdrop of the western Himalayas is a sublime vista.


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Shamanism co-exists happily with Islam in the remote northern parts of Pakistan. Pre-Islamic Animist traditions seem to continue, led by these mystical men of the mountains. Shamans are known to predict the future, bless marriages and give guidance before a long journey. Mashroof, in the village of Haiderabad near Gilgit gets his inspiration by inhaling the fumes of burning juniper leaves and drinking fresh goats blood before having a conversation with the fairies.


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Kashmir has been the centre of a long running conflict between India and Pakistan since 1947. A name synonymous with violence its also a place of great natural beauty. Few foreigners ever visit here and hospitality is a way of life.


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A statue of Shiva stands above the river Ganges at Haridwar in Northern India. Lord Shiva is the Hindu god of the Himalayas. Millions of pilgrims flock to this holy city every year to pay their devotions to the creator. Pilgrimage is a way of life in the mountains and Hindus from across the subcontinent travel hundreds of miles on foot to visit shrines and holy places.


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A holy man dressed as Shiva meditates near Rishikesh where the Ganges exits the mountains to reach the plains. He sits for days alone, expressionless with pins penetrating his skin on his face and arms as a means of focussing his thoughts on the present. Saddhus, Gurus and wandering hermits have formed subcultures in India for centuries, giving up their material wealth to search for enlightenment and inner peace.


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Armed soldiers protect the wildlife in Bardia National park in Nepal. Working alongside game keepers they protect Rhino, elephant and smaller game against an ever more terrible poaching trade that threatens the existence of many species. Nepal is under increasing pressure from population growth that represents a growing change across Asia.


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Men from Mipra village in Nepal carry a 90 feet long ladder as they deploy on a 'honey hunt'. The strongest and bravest of them all descend from a 300 feet cliff to reach dangling bee hives where they cut away the honeycomb using only a bamboo saw. It's a way of life unchanged in centuries and an example of traditional culture in the Himalayas away from the tourist trails.


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Tigers nest monastery in Bhutan is one of the most spectacular and iconic buildings in the Himalayan region. Legend has it that Guru Rinpoche flew here on a magic Tiger and meditated in a cave thus bringing Buddhism to this small mountain kingdom. The Bhutanese live a traditional way of life that was virtually isolated until very recently. There was no television until 2001. The first tourists came here in 1974.


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