The National Geographic November, 1988 Geo

April,   1988
Review   by Satis  Schroff,   K. Dixit
The Himalaya has always been a good source of stories for international glossy magazines, but most of their reports have tended to glamorize the region´s "Shangri La" aspects. With time, and the ecological decline of the region, that stereotype has begun to change. Things have come full circle this year with the National Geographic and the German magazine, Geo, both doing special issues on the Himalaya that are puff pieces no more.
Both publications peer under the rug and take a look at what´s really going on, including environmental destruction, the conflict between subsistence living and nature conservation, and the physical and cultural pollution wrought by tourism.The coverage of the two publication differs significantly, reflecting the demands of their European and North American audiences. The Geographic touches all the bases but skims over them in its text, letting the pictures talk. Geo, on the other hand, intermixes its well known two page colour spreads with detailed information on cultural, environmental, and political affairs {this last, the Geographic shuns like it were a bumble bee).
Talking of bees, the cover feature in the Geographic is a stupendous effort by photographer Eric Valii, who records the story of a honey hunting Gurung patriarch who dangles from towering cliffs on slim ropes to get at beehives. The photo essay depicts life on the edge of survival and its haunting images will serve to remind us of the reality in the hinterland.
Departing from practice, the Geographic´s November issue has not one but six pieces on the region. In a lead article entitled "The Mighty Himalaya: A Fragile Heritage", Geographic staffer Barry Bishop mulls over how the landscape has changed since he traversed Everest in  1963.
Another article takes the reader down the Tsang Po (Brahmaputra) from Mount Kailash to the Sunderbans. There is a report on the "woeful harvest" of wood in the still pristine Kama Valley in Tibet. The pride of place is reserved for ihe most detailed map of Everest ever made. The 300 sq mile map was prepared under the direction of cartographer Bradford Washburn, who used geodetic data from the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India (1849-50) as well as infrared imagery recorded by the American space shuttle.
On  the  flip  side  of  the map   is  a
computer generated three dimensional perspective of the Eastern Nepal Himalaya as seen from an imaginary point 100 miles south southwest of Everest and at a height of 60,000 feet. Since the Geographic has produced fine perspectives of the Alps, it is unclear why this one is so unsatisfying. Also, the perspective does not seem to serve any purpose, especially because the elevations have been exaggerated four and a half times, and Everest looks more like nearby Pu Mori.
Without the hi tech resources of the Geographic, Geo in its own special issue has opted for a watercolour perspective which folds out into four pages and ranges from Afghanistan to Arunachal. Unfortunately, it is as disappointing as the Geographic´s.
In terms of content, the Hamburg based magazine leaves the Geographic far behind. It is Geo at its best; a messy hodge podge on the disparate Himalayan cultures, culled from 32,000 colour slides and 500 books, we are told. As Editor Peter-Hannes Lehmann puts it, the objective was "not to print everything about the Himalaya, but the best subjective report by the Himalayan experts". This subjectivity is what is refreshing.
Geo has managed to coax the likes of Christoph von Fuhrer Haimendorf, He in rich Harrer, Rein ho Id Messner, and even the Dalai Lama to join in celebration of the Himalaya, In this pantheon, Edmund Hillary is conspicuous by his absence.
Elsewhere in the issue, German lawyer and long time Kathmandu resident Jurgen Schick documents the organized robbery of idols in Nepal. Franz Alt, a television moderator from West Germany, follows the story that Jesus, the carpenter´s,  son, took the old silk road from Palestine to Persia and wound up in Kashmir for a midlife hiatus. Michael Heuss appreciates Bhutan´s policy of not allowing hippies and rucksack trekkers.
Harrer, 75, swears that without the trusty yak, he would never have made it out of Lhasa in 1947 after his Seven Years in Tibet, Likewise, without the help of the Sherpas, the European climbers would not have got as high as they did, suggests Messner, who himself has gone quite high climbing solo. At the end of the book, Geo also has an "Info" section that contains solid tourist information and maps.
There is only one problem for those who are thinking of putting down DM 13.50 for this issue of Geo. It is in German. The English Geo died a few years back.

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