It began with a knock on the door on a cold, misty morning in 2008.
That insistent knock was to change Stephen Alter’s life in the usually peaceful hill station of Mussoorie. Four intruders barged into Oakville, their isolated mountain home, stabbing the author and his wife Ameeta, leaving them both for dead with multiple cuts and stabs. With time, the wounds healed but the scars refused to fade away. Stephen sets out on a journey in search of the sublime to the sanctuaries of the Himalaya, to clear the mist and to regain some of the confidence leeched away in blood that spilled on that insane morning.
Written with single-minded passion, over a period of four years, Becoming A Mountain dives deep and comes up with 262 pages of a mystical love for the mountains while seeking solace and healing.
The Landour-born author grew up under the shadow of the mighty massifs rearing to the north. He sets out on three spiritual journeys to erase memories of that horrendous assault: Nanda Devi which he approaches from several angles but does not climb; Mount Kailash which he circumambulates on foot; and Bandarpunch, which he attempts to climb on two occasions. Each of these journeys is an attempt to seek absolution that only the Himalaya can offer. For in the ultimate analysis, the Everests of the mind are the ultimate barrier where one finds much more than precipice and storm between you and the mountain.
Easy prose, at an even easier pace, the narrative moves on to the three summits which represent the pivotal points of narrative and recount both the physical as well as the spiritual quest of the author.
His fascination for the mountains makes the reader wonder how the mountains, which are, after all, made of ice and rock, can exert and inspire one’s imagination. The allure of the unknown is gently brought to the forefront as he takes his readers on a trek through the central Himalayas. He turns into ‘a hollow bamboo’ and lets nature play through him, like a soothing balm to heal the lacerating wounds on his spirit and soul. Letting the music of those lonely places play through him, the author transports the reader to a fourth dimension where the Great Healer plays His magic of snow, wind and rain.
As the title suggests, the only way to understand and appreciate a mountain is to allow oneself to be completely absorbed by its presence. And each single page does exactly that. It makes excellent reading for those who are interested in the Himalayan region as a place of exploration and adventure as well as those who consider their bond with the mountains as an opportunity for self-discovery.
“At first light, we are above the tree line and reach the Kuari Pass by 9:00 am. It is the first week of November and all of the streams we cross are rimmed with ice. Yesterday we met a party of trekkers but today there is nobody else along this route, except for a red fox that crosses below us, the white tip of his tail like frost on the grass.”
It will find an easy place among those who are in search for some spiritual or mystical experience, peeling back layers of reality and myth in an untouched, sacred landscape.
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—real-life stories of the epic struggle of man and his mountain.