Becoming a Mountain
Himalayan Journeys in Search of the Sacred and the Sublime
Searching for solace and healing, following a violent attack that left him physically and psychologically wounded, Stephen Alter sets off on a series of treks in the Himalayas to reconnect with the mountains of his birth. He begins by approaching Nanda Devi, a sacred summit in Garhwal, named after the bliss-giving goddess. He then undertakes a pilgrimage that circumambulates Mt. Kailash in Tibet. And, finally, he attempts an ascent of Bandar Punch, a prominent mountain that stands to the north of his home in Mussoorie. This is a personal memoir about loss and violation, as well as a search for recovery and contentment in high places.
Writing with the precision and passion of a poet, Alter narrates his experience in the mountains that he loves. His descriptions of treks and expeditions, to Nanda Devi and Mount Kailash in Tibet, among others, are interwoven with insights on how we interpret ourselves in the ceaseless exploration called life… Reading this book might well be the first small step on that long steep ascent of the mountain within you, within all of us.
Jug Suraiya, The Speaking Tree
From the moment I opened it, this book was the start of a journey that would take me outside myself… as only the mountains can do. It’s a deeply felt, personal story of travelling on many levels and Alter weaves the threads of the spiritual, physical and emotional into a cohesive narrative whole… If only desecrators of mountains and those who aim to ‘conquer’ them would read this book!
Sathya Saran, Outlook (New Delhi)
Stephen Alter’s Becoming a Mountain is an extraordinary travelogue … This quest for the sacred, his own reflections on walking the mountains, combined with his immersion in the histories of wandering, as also in the varied meanings of faith and of mountains for human beings, prompt Alter to scale ‘those staircases of rock’ on Bandarpunch, and undertake journeys to Nanda Devi and Kailash, climbs that leave him with feelings of ‘reverence as well as trepidation’. This is possible because like Aldo Leopold, who urges us to ‘think like a mountain’, or Tom Longstaff, who wrote ‘To know a mountain you must sleep upon it’, Alter too seeks ‘to surrender to the mountains with humility’. Instead of ‘conquering and colonising high places,’ he tries to ‘become like the mountains’. This constitutes the book’s distinctive core and is a wonderful prescription for wayfarers and travellers.
Mukul Mangalik, The Hindu Business Line (Chennai)
This book is an account of the journeys [Stephen Alter] undertakes in order to recover from the near-fatal assault on his body and mind. And the three treks he embarks on are chosen carefully, for the three mountains – Nanda Devi, Bandarpunch and Mount Kailash in Tibet – are not only among the most difficult destinations in these heights but also offer the best in religious mythology and Himalayan folklore. He journeys to these mountains, not so much to climb them as to try and know once again what mountains mean. The result is a rich narrative in which myth and memory mix with vivid descriptions of the natural world … Alter’s evocative language and the range of his references make us understand what mountains can mean.
Ashis Chakrabarti, The Telegraph (Kolkata)
Written with single-minded passion … Becoming a Mountain dives deep and comes up with 262 pages of mystical love for the mountains while seeking solace and healing… As I finish reading, I am left in no doubt where this book shall go on my bookshelf. I think it will be neighbours to the other great books of mountain lore: The Fight for Everest, Everest: The Challenge and Mountains of the Mind.
Ganesh Saili, The Sunday Standard (New Delhi)
Stephen Alter has lived and created under the tranquil assurance of the Mussoorie Mountains. His books trace a journey inwards, towards the constants of beauty and peace.
Eunice de Souza, Mumbai Mirror (Mumbai)
Alter offers a multifaceted consideration of life’s tough truths and stunning splendours … Alter’s own writing is subtle and specific, conveying his shifting perceptions in a way that no sweeping generalisations ever could … The combination of realism and mysticism makes this a rich, satisfying memoir that plumbs the depths—and acknowledges the limits—of both man and mountain. There are many treasures to discover in this insightful memoir of hiking and healing in the Himalayas.