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Nanda Devi: A Journey to the Last Sanctuary [Hardcover]

Hugh Thomson
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

8 April 2004

Until 1934 the Nanda Devi Sanctuary had never been penetrated by human beings. Surrounded by 20,000 foot peaks which effectively seal off the mountain at their centre it is virtually impenetrable. But in 1934 Eric Shipton and Bill Tilman solved the problem in the first of their great Himalayan expeditions by forcing a way up the river gorge. The onset of war meant that the Sanctuary remained un-visited for many years and it was then closed to travellers for political reasons. After a brief period in the seventies when it was opened for expeditions the Indian Government again closed the Sanctuary.

In 2000 the Sanctuary was entered for one single visit. Hugh Thomson was offered a place on this unique expedition led by Eric Shipton's son, John Shipton and the great Indian mountaineer, Colonel Kumar. This journey - a moment when it opens up to a few visitors before it is closed again to the world - forms the basis of the book. Woven through it are all the amazing stories that surround the mountain - a powerful blend of myths and politics: the explorer Willi Unsoeld - so fascinated by the mountain he named his daughter 'Nanda Devi' and took her on an expedition with him. Twenty-two years old, 'blonde and beautiful', she died just below the summit and an iron plaque commemorates her in the meadows of the south Sanctuary.

This first Anglo-Indian team brings an impressive amount of history to the book. John Shipton, paying tribute to his father; Colonel Kumar, who led a celebrated team up the mountains in the 1970s; and George Brand, one of the original members of the 1953 Everest expedition who says he wants to see the Sanctuary before he dies.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 134 pages
  • Publisher: Orion; 2004 First Edition edition (8 April 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0297607537
  • ISBN-13: 978-0297607533
  • Product Dimensions: 25 x 17 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 825,016 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Hugh Thomson believes strongly that the world is not as explored as we like to suppose.  

He writes about the wilder corners of the planet, from the edges of Peru to the Himalayas, looking for Inca ruins and lost cultures. Geographical commented that 'He is a writer who explores and not an explorer who writes.'

In 2012 Random House published 'The Green Road into the Trees: An Exploration of England', in which Hugh for the first time wrote about his own country, an account of a journey along prehistoric trackways. 'An immensely enjoyable book: curious, articulate, intellectually playful and savagely candid', The Spectator.

His previous books include: 'The White Rock', 'Nanda Devi' and  'Cochineal Red:  Travels through Ancient Peru' (all Weidenfeld & Nicolson), and he has collected some of his favourite places in the lavishly illustrated '50 Wonders of the World'.

In 2009 he wrote 'Tequila Oil', a memoir about getting lost in Mexico when he was eighteen and, in the words of the Alice Cooper song, 'didn't know what he wanted'. It was serialised by BBC R4 as 'Book of the Week'.

"Delightful, celebratory and honest....In a way 'Tequila Oil' is the first installment of his now-complete trilogy, his 'Cochineal Red' and 'The White Rock' being two of the finest books on Latin America of recent years."  (Rory MacLean, The Guardian)

His first Kindle Single, At The Captain's Table,a life hearted account of travelling around the world by luxury liner, went to #2 in the USA non-fiction charts for Kindle Singles on release.

See for more, including his blog and events at which he is speaking.

Product Description


Thomson tells a story that has to do with politics, ecology and history, as much as with the strenuous adventure in a beautiful setting that his book so vividly celebrates. (INDEPENDENT (9.4.04))

NANDA DEVI is...a spirited homage to a remote, awesome landscape. Rich in detail and light of tone, it teases its stories out slowly and gently and, by playing down the physical discomforts, will make non-climbers wants to travel to the Sanctuary. (Chris Moss TELEGRAPH (24.4.04))

Thomson has a nose for stories...[And] the photographs in Hugh Thomson's book...picture the sensational and, yes, holy landscape in which all the events he describes took place. (Geoffrey Moorhouse GUARDIAN (24.4.04))

Gripping. (GOOD BOOK GUIDE (1.5.04))

the book offers...a welcome escape to somewhere rare and wonderful. (SUNDAY TIMES (9.5.04))

This book eloquently lays out the often bizarre, and always interesting history of this remote area and its explorers, as well as charting the author's own expedition into the sanctuary...Informative, yet never dry, the book offers an insight into place of near mythical status and takes the reader where they will never have the chance to go. (ADVENTURE TRAVEL (1.5.04))

Thomson weaves the story of his own journey to this Himalayan lost Eden with accounts of earlier expeditions, to give a tantalizing glimpse of this fragile, harshly beautiful place. (GLOBAL (May '04))

fascinating. (WANDERLUST (June/July '04))

Thomson effortlessly blends his own experiences and anecdotes from his fellow team members with tales of expeditions past, providing an all-encompassing picture of both the beauty and history of the sanctuary...Thomson's engaging and descriptive style drawns you in, imparting a burning desire to pull on a pair of hiking boots and join him for even the post terrifying of traverses. (GEOGRAPHICAL (October))

Book Description

The Nanda Devi Sanctuary in the Himalayas is reopened for a unique visit. An incredible opportunity to discover its secrets before they are lost again to the world.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
If mountains were just lumps of rock there would be no point in climbing them, but they are the repository of dreams. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sweet Sanctuary 9 Dec 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Author Hugh Thomson admits he is not a mountaineer yet his book `Nanda Devi' is about one of the most beautiful mountains in the world. In 2000 after years of closure by the Indian Government permission was granted for a party to enter the Nanda Devi Sanctuary, a virtually inaccessible lost `Eden'. This enchanting high level area was first reached in 1934 when Eric Shipton and Bill Tilman entered via the Rishi Ganges Gorge, and the 2000 expedition, taking the same approach, was led by Eric's son John. Invited to take part with a mixed group was Hugh Thomson; an explorer, writer and film maker with experience in the Andes and other remote places. As well as eloquently and expressively describing the trek to the Nanda Devi Sanctuary Hugh Thomson comments with sensitivity and empathy (and humour) on fellow travellers, on a variety of individuals and organisations linked to Nanda Devi, and on the people he meets, together with insights to their cultures, religions and politics. He explores the dynamics of the expedition and he probes into the motivation of others, reflecting on differing attitudes and ambitions with Shipton and Tilman compared against the "supremacist climbing culture" of today. The book is a delightful read, but there is not enough of it - just over 100 pages of text - though an additional 24 pages of well chosen colour photographs balance this, and they fit nicely with the narrative. Past incidents like the tragic death of Nanda Devi Unsoeld or the CIA's secretive placing a nuclear powered spying device could have received more attention - and Thomson's own comprehensive Bibliography points the way.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars About a very special place 15 Aug 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book describes the history of the exploration of a remote, isolated valley in the Himalayas. It is not a "climbing" book, but there is a lot about the characters who decided to attempt the hazardous trek into the valley. Though a Kindle is not really suitable for viewing photos of landscapes, they are not crucial to the story. You still get the feeling of the valley and the people who went there.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Potpourri Journey 1 Sep 2008
By K. C. Huseonica - Published on
Thomson has given us one story of a mountain; a story of friendships, adventure, and the real world of people and the politics and beliefs that make the world fascinating, but at times troubling. The cultural lessons of the locals (India) and of the participants were very intriguing.

Written in a straight forward manner, keeping our interest but not making the read a job with complicated plots and subplots.

Recommended to us by someone not interested in mountain adventures, but who never the less enjoyed the book.

Includes color and b/w photos.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful book 27 July 2011
By Jayanth - Published on
Once in a while you come across a nice travel write with good detailing. This is one of those books, it captures your imagination and inspires you to go visit Nanda Devi
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