A magnet for explorers, climbers and seekers of enlightenment, the Himalayas have drawn swathes of travellers through the years. The ensuing outpouring of tales can go away one questioning fairly what extra there’s to say.

However on the outset of this prolonged journey narrative, Norwegian anthropologist Erika Fatland, whose earlier books embrace Sovietistan, distinguishes herself from the stereotypes. She will not be a “religious vacationer” on a mystical journey, she explains, neither is she a climber, or a star journey author trying to stamp her identification over folks and locations. The “holy grail” Fatland pursues within the opening pages is a visa, and this quest units the tone for what’s a contemporary and unromantic strategy to her topic.

A collection of considerate chapters lead us on a path by means of Pakistan, India, Bhutan, Nepal, China and Tibet. Writing with aplomb and sensitivity, Fatland observes the sights and sounds of cities, cities and villages; she visits temples and forests and explores the excessive plateau. Locations are fastidiously contextualised with geopolitical and historic element and she or he weaves in geology too, grounding the work within the land itself.

The ebook involves life primarily by means of conversations with the many individuals Fatland encounters. We hear exchanges with strangers on buses, discussions with rangers, bureaucrats, religious leaders and even a king. Every one helps her assemble a vivid portrait of the various sorts of society that exist throughout the Himalayas’ enormous vary.

Paro Taktsang (Tigers Nest) monastery in Bhutan.
Paro Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) monastery in Bhutan. {Photograph}: Suzanne Stroeer/Getty Pictures/Aurora Open

Whereas Fatland will not be a climber, she visits Everest, climbing as much as base camp. On the entire, she hardly ever passes judgment on these she meets however the Everest contingent represents an exception – as one proudly explains, “many people are Sort-A personalities”, and certainly she finds them impatient, bold and intensely aggressive. Fatland endures their firm in addition to a bout of altitude illness.

Elsewhere she meets girls who’ve lived below the Taliban, former little one goddesses and survivors of trafficking and sexual violence. She travels to a distant area of Nepal the place girls on their durations are thought-about unclean and despatched out of the home to sleep in huts. This apply has led to deaths from snakebites, carbon monoxide poisoning and publicity.

Within the a part of India often known as Little Tibet, 4 guffawing nuns keep away from her questions till the monk accompanying them disappears; as soon as he has left, they swap to English and hearth a number of questions at Fatland. They focus on work, household, schooling, relationships and childcare. Via these moments of intimacy and occasional exasperation, we acquire an in depth understanding of girls’s lives throughout the area. It’s this angle that makes this ebook stand out: Fatland, as traveller and anthropologist, establishes a singular rapport with women and girls resulting in valuable insights into lives hardly ever recorded.

Anna Fleming is the creator of Time on Rock: A Climber’s Route into the Mountains. Excessive by Erika Fatland is printed by MacLehose Press (£20). To help the Guardian and the Observer, order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Supply prices might apply.

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