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Tales from the Himalaya: Religion, Science, Politics, Society

Tales from the HimalayaThis excellent book is about people and peoples in and around the Himalaya.  Dealing largely with Tibet and Nepal, it includes Bhutan, Sikkim, etc, as well.  It is actually four books in one, covering the sub-title’s topics, although with unequal weight and dealing in most detail with the people(s) involved.  The treatment of the major topics in the book is such that all of it is fascinating; in addition to which it contains a large number of pictures.  All of the latter are well reproduced, and almost all are good quality, many presented as impressive double-page spreads.

The first section – religion – is mainly about Buddhism but includes intriguing information about pre-Buddhist beliefs in the region, and particularly Tibet. The importance of religion in Tibet, etc, is probably symbolic of the peoples, which makes the section a valuable opener for the work.  Apart from the region’s religious history, which is as complex and full of intrigue as one might expect, the section deals with the variations in political and religious control over the last 1,500 years or so, and contains a brief and clear-cut outline of the differences between the two principal Buddhist doctrines.

“The plates must speak” is about the geology of the region and, even more, those – especially from the Geological Survey of India but there were many others – who studied and clarified it.  Like the geology of the region, the story is complex but interesting.  As a summary that highlights the flow of changes in understanding and how they arose, the section is interesting and worth reading.  It is not, however, a scientific treatise on current understanding and/or knowledge of Himalayan geology and structure, and the author does not pretend that it is.

“Controlling the Margins” is a discourse on the Himalayan region’s history since about the mid-eighteenth century, and some of the extraordinary people who shaped it.  Starting in Jammu and Kashmir, with the murder of Nadir Shah and related re-looting of the Koh-i-Nor diamond, it deals with the area’s very convoluted politics, ending with some of the impacts of the later twentieth century Chinese-Tibetan conundrum.  This leads nicely into the book’s final section – covering Nepal’s recent history, the Ghurkas, this century’s major Nepali earthquakes, and the diaspora providing labour in the Middle East (and funds back in Nepal).  This book contains much interesting information on both the Himalaya and its peoples, and is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Jeremy Joseph

Tales from the Himalaya – religion, science, politics, society
Henry Edmundson, 2019.  Published by: Vajra Books, Kathmandu, Nepal.  ISBN: 978-9937-9330-3-2.  Softback.  423 pp.  List Price $52.