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Breathe the Himalayan air
on 14 July 2004
I must have read this book at least a dozen times since first being given a copy at Christmas 1987. (I don't reread books much, as a whole.) Every time I come to it, there is something new to learn, to appreciate.Then there are some things that strike me EVERY time. Not least, the elegance and beauty of Matthiessen's writing-one minute he is writing of his meditative practice(he had been a Zen practitioner for several years when he made this Himalayan journey in the autumn of 1973), the next minute he's describing the very practical difficulties encountered on such an expedition (snow-drifts, altitude sickness,) and the NEXT minute he's describing-informatively, beautifully-the animals and plants. He's also very deep into Buddhist philosophy-as one might expect, of course-and knows a good few things about Buddhist iconography as well(whatever he modestly claims to the contrary).The book is not only an examination (and, ultimately, a celebration) of the snow leopard, or the Himalayan blue sheep, but also of the Himalayan way of life. I share some of his delight when, after many weeks of trials and tribulations, he finds himself standing in a remote gompa( a sort of Buddhist chapel or oratory), a place subtly gleaming with brass statues, prayer-wheels, etc. and lit only by candles.
It's an infectious book. And a powerful one. I'd also recommend Matthiessen's TIGERS IN THE SNOW, his study of the Amur( Siberian) tiger.If you're remotely interested in the big cats, you could do worse than treat yourself to both these gems.