Review: Becoming a Mountain: Himalayan Journeys in Search of the Sacred and the Sublime

by Paridhi Rustogi on February 2, 2015

Becoming a Mountain

Author: Stephen Alter
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
Year: 2015
ISBN: 9789383064045
Rating: ★★★★☆
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A son of American missionaries, author of ‘Becoming a Mountain’ – Stephen Alter was born and brought up in India. Despite living all over the world, he calls Mussoorie – a small hill station in the foothills of the Himalayas, home.
Leading an idyllic existence there with his wife Ameeta, the couple’s peaceful existence was disturbed in 2008 when four armed robbers invaded their house and viciously attacked them, leaving them for dead. For the first time, Alter felt like a foreigner in the land of his birth. Following his physical recovery, Alter felt the need to heal his internal scars. This experience changed his perspective on everything, having had witnessed pure evil firsthand for the first time. He drew solace from a series of treks he took in the Himalayas – to Bandar Punch (the monkey’s tail), Nanda Devi – the second highest mountain in India, and Mt. Kailash in Tibet.

Alter says, “Retelling a story is a form of healing too, as each rendition attempts to make sense of disturbing events.”

Writing poignantly about his travels, Alter transports the reader to lush mountain forests creating a scene amid flowers and birds that he brings to life on paper. His treks are part of a healing process – mentally and physically, a way to walk away from trauma and a resolute attempt to regain control of his life and emotions. From Himalayan folklore and mythology to encounters with other pilgrims, Stephen Alter encapsulates the soul of the mountain with his sometimes acrid commentary.

Speaking about the his journey around Lake Mansarovar, one of the holiest places for both Buddhists and Hindus and ironically sprawling with garbage, he writes, “Like everything else on this journey, it seems symbolic of something greater, a paradox that defines the contradictions of human nature. Whatever we worship we also defile and desecrate. There seems to be an equation between faith and filth.”

A personal journey through nature, Becoming a Mountain is a reminder that amongst elements of nature, pain is ephemeral. Through Alter’s encounters with the mountains, one finds a renewed understanding of their magnitude, the beauty and danger of their sublime countenance.

A delight for nature lovers, Stephen Alter’s Becoming A Mountain is delectable, a book that engages all senses equally and gets absorbed in your being with every page you flip. I recommend it to everyone who seeks a window to the sublime and a quick getaway to the mountains

Written by Paridhi Rustogi

Environmental Engineering student. Love words and languages and art. Currently suffering from wanderlust.

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