"A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush" - Eric Newby
by Hugh Thomson
He began to tell me about his Arabs. 'I give them powders for worms and that sort of thing.' I asked him about surgery. 'I take off fingers and there's a lot of surgery to be done. They're frightened of their own doctors because they're not clean.' 'Do you do it? Cutting off fingers?' 'Hundreds of them,' he said dreamily, for it was very late. 'Lord yes. Why, the other day I took out an eye. I enjoyed that. Let's turn in.' The ground was like iron with sharp rocks sticking up out of it. We started to blow up our air-beds. 'God, you must be a couple of pansies,' said Thesiger. "A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush" by Eric Newby
It’s a perfect title for a start, which pokes gentle fun at the ‘expedition’ undertaken by Newby and his friend Hugh Carless, while still hinting at the exotic.
The ostensible purpose of their journey is an attempt on a mountain in Nuristan, although Newby feels some relief when they abandon this (and while he makes light of it, the mountaineering involved was ambitious - the book could have turned more into a Touching the Void if they had actually pressed ahead).
As someone who has written about various expeditions to both the Andes and the Himalaya (and has likewise not been the fittest or most efficient member of the team) I have great sympathy for his cheerful admission of incompetence.
The book’s considerable charm lies in the author’s self-deprecation and keen awareness of the essential absurdity of mountaineering, of travel – indeed of life. The scenes describing his daily working life as a fashion seller in London are as strange than anything he encounters in the Hindu Kush.
Others may have been more informative about Afghanistan; none have been such good companions, or as funny.