Carefree in the Mountains – Brig DK Khullar: Book Review by Asha Seth

Author: DK Khullar | Genre: Non-fiction, Memoir | Pages: 214 | Publisher: Sabre & Quill

Mountains bewitch the mind and provide repose and great delight. The powerful effect of mountaineering achievements can prove to be a source of great inspiration in ordinary life. In the book, the reader shall travel to the beautiful verdant sylvan valleys with cascading rivers, the pine, oak and higher up the birch, fir and rhododendron and then move to the snow-clad peaks of the eternal Himalaya that appear to cleave the very sky. Hasn’t it been said in the Puranas “Not in a hundred years of Gods, could I tell thee of the glories of the Himalaya“?

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Many climb to seek glory, some in quest of awards and rewards. I have had my share of these, which were purely incidental.

Brig DK Khullar

Born and brought up in a beach city, mountains have always been my fist love. I look for opportunities when I can get away and spend some good time in the hills. But life doesn’t always permit it now, does it? So, the closest I get to expressing my love for the peaks is my reading books on them. Ruskin Bonds, John Muir, Robert McFarlane are some of the writers who write on mountains and on hiking trails. I’ve read a lot of books and always on the lookout for some more kickass ones. I fail to put a finger to what this craving for the peaks is but maybe it’s for what John Muir said,

I trek, I love mountain climbing too. But I am not a professional. And so I revere mountaineers and their efforts in conquering peaks one only can dream of. When I was introduced to ‘Carefree in the Mountains’, it was like someone speaking to a part of me that has remain unsatiated for a long time. I knew instantly that it was going to be an experience ready to take me back to the mountains. Having read the book, I’m in a fix to review it. How do you review a book that collects together the author’s personal life experiences? How do you rate it? On what parameters do you gauge it?

‘Carefree in the Mountains’ is author and mountaineer Brigadier D. K. Khullar’s memoir spanning across almost 3 decades of his life gracing the tops of some of the most adventurous mountains of India. It’s a timeline of his life wrapped in small pockets of climbing expeditions and as you unwrap each of these pockets, you are amazed at the wealth of opportunities that were grabbed, embraced, and celebrated. Right from finishing his mountaineering course in 1963 to spearheading the mission that made Bachendri Pal the first Indian Woman to climb Everest, he has several accomplishments under his belt; all of which he brings on paper for readers to read and be inspired with.

The book is divided into 13 chapters, each named after the various odysseys, the author undertook as an amateur climber or pack leader, capturing in great detail the varied landscapes, numerous encounters, climatic threats, physical challenges, all of which allow the reader a glimpse into his journeys as though they were first-hand. You will feel as if you’re skimming through someone’s diary entries and you’ll be caught in the ebb and flow until the summits are reached.

Personally, I enjoyed the photographs much more. The writing is interspersed with visuals of the mountains, his colleagues, the author himself, and some tough terrains. Black and white polaroids that impart a very authentic and nostalgic feel to the pages. The book is rich with personal anecdotes that speak of volumes of the sheer courage, grit and determination that took to scaling such heights as one may only imagine, but nothing could stop them or deter them from their mission.

It was fascinating reading about Bachendri Pal and how the group had endured harrowing challenges that would make anyone run for life, but how she persisted and rest is history! There’s clearly a good show of leadership, guidance, experience, and motivation that makes such rare feats possible and the author has done a commendable job at it.

Speaking of the content, the language of the book is pretty simple and thus easy to understand what’s happening through adventures. The narration is quite linear and writing style practically direct which means expecting hilarious or comic takes, remarks, encounters, is pointless. The author knew what he wanted to achieve and that is – recount his experiences and have readers feel that adrenaline rush too. It takes a while to finish reading this book because one you begin the journeys, the world of mountains therein just swallows you whole.

Right from trees to valleys to local folk, food, hills, plains, perils and pleasures, this book is a beautiful reading experience. As the author has stated in his preface, some climb for fame, some for glory, and for some it’s mere coincidental. I agree that the author has been amply lucky to be a part of some of the greatest mountaineering expeditions in history, but it takes more than just luck to keep going for almost 3 decades. His passion for mountaineering is infectious. It makes you want to drop everything and go climb the next peak. Recommended to all.

Have you read ‘Carefree in the Mountains’? Do share your thoughts below.

P.S.: I received a review copy from the author but the review remains unbiased.