Monday, June 16, 2008

The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen

Title: The Snow Leopard
Author: Peter Matthiessen

ISBN: 0330261614

Publisher: Picodor/1978

Pages: 291

Genre: Nature Writing/non-fiction
Rating: 5/5

My youngest brother received this book as a prize for getting the highest marks in English in Std X in his school way back in 1982. I had read that then, I don't think I had understood it much. When I re-read it again, I did not remember anything of it.

In September of 1973, Matthiessen went on an expedition to the Himalayas with field biologist George Schaller. George invited Peter to accompany on this expedition to northwest Nepal, near the frontier of Tibet, to study the Himalayan blue sheep and who knows they might even see Himalayan snow leopard. Peter could hardly refuse that and embarked on a journey, which is filled with interesting, meticulous details about trail, the montains, porters, sherpas and any human being seen on the way. They start their journey in the rainy season and are delayed by many reasons, the weather, by moody porters, Sherpas etc etc.

I started it by thinking of it as a travelogue by Matthiessen but soon changed my mind. Along with all his observations, he writes about the mystism of the place he is visiting. What he truly encounters is not the snow leopard but a spirituality beyond description. His mind undergoes changes at every step of the travel.

There are fascinating glimpses of Tibetan culture. It is filled with Zen philosophy at every step. Matthiessen reflects over those at each moment. What he truly finds is just as intangible as the snow leopard. Here he finds what he is truly seeking. Maybe difficult to understand but is it not what we seek too? Only in nature, surrounded by snow, in an isolated monastery, he understands the truth of his being.

It is one of the best books I have come across in a long time. Although I read it again, I understood it only now. This is book that will continue to fascinate all those who choose to read it, with its stunning imagery and insight. And as with me, repeat readings can only enhance it. If not, read it for its descriptions of nature, wild life, people and the human touch in all this.

For another review, check out:
Juliet Wilson