In my introduction to Inside Sahara I expressed my feeling that though crossing the desert might not be the most comfortable journey I've made with Basil, I hoped it wouldn't be the last. Inside Himalaya is here to prove that Sahara wasn't the last, and it certainly wasn't the least comfortable. On a map of the world, the Himalaya range looks almost innocuous. The great brown vastness of the Sahara dominates any map, as do the Great Lakes or the Greenland Ice Sheet or even the Andes. The Himalaya, on the other hand, though 1500 miles long, comes over as a smudge of crumply contours, upstaged by mighty China to the north and seething India to the south, with a cluster of glamorous and oddly familiar names squeezed in amongst them. Kashmir, Ladakh, Nepal, Bhutan. Countries that have been confused with Shangri-la so often you're no longer quite sure if they're real or not. If the Himalaya, the Abode of Snow, fails to punch its full weight on the page, it is because, as Basil and I have discovered to our cost, their size and scale and impace is in the vertical not the horizontal. Mount Everest is five and a half miles high and unless your cartographer is especially gifted, this kind of upward spread is hard to put across.
More than anywhere else I've travelled, the Himalaya is a case of seeing is believing. Whatever you've heard or read is going to fall a long way short of the sheer power of the reality. Though you may have seen Annapurna or K2, Lhotse or Everest, on calendars or in magazines, nothing prepares you for the sight of hundreds of thousands of other largely nameless peaks, thrust up into the sky by the massive impact of intercontinental collision 50 million years ago. In mountain-building terms, 50 million years is like the day before yesterday. There are hills you can walk up in Scotland that are ten times as old as the Himalaya. What this means is that the smoothing, flattening, equalizing forces of erosion have barely got to work on the world's highest mountain range. As a result, the Himalaya is the greatest concentration of vertical surfaces on the planet, a constantly breathtaking vision of a world thrown skywards, an infinitely spectacular catalogue of peaks and pinnacles, precipices, summits and snowfields, gorges, crags and canyons.
The basic challenge for a photographer is getting it all in; finding a way to transfer the drama we saw out there into two dimensions without losing the raw punch of it all. Overcoming a natural disinclination to walk up, or down, mountains, Basil has, as usual, been in the right place at the right time and if I want to remember how beautiful it was up there, and how hard it was too, I can just take a look at these pictures.
But the other element that impressed me on this journey was the relationship of man to nature. The contrast of mighty mountainside with tiny human presence, whether it be terraces of rice on the tip of a crag or an old woman carrying her own weight in firewood, offered some of the most surprising and surreal images of the journey. Here was even greater drama than the soaring slopes and rock stacks. Basil's photographs have perfectly caught this combination of the sublime and the mundane that only happens in the high mountains.