For many trekkers in Nepal, the biggest problem during treks does not come on the trail but during meals: adjusting to a diet of dal-bhat proves harder than getting used to the altitude for some. Not for Gerda Pauler. In fact, she loves it, preferring it to any other dish. On the 86th day of her trek across Nepal, from east to west, which she describes in Great Himalaya Trail: 1,700 Kilometres Across The Roof Of the World, a young man approaches her with open arms, and hugs and kisses her on both cheeks. He tells her that people are talking about her in the villages. Pauler is baffled; she asks him why that is so. Her fame, he tells her, is down to the incredible amount of daal-bhaat she had consumed during a meal in the village.
The trek described in the book is, firstly, a result of circumstance. Pauler’s original plan to cycle from Tibet to Nepal fails when the Chinese government closes Tibet to tourists in 2011. She then discovers The Great Himalayan Trail on the Internet. Then in December 2011, while in Kathmandu, she finds an article on autism in a local daily. That gives her the idea to walk the Great Himalayan Trail to raise awareness on autism and to raise funds for the cause.
The book is short (215 pages) for the duration of the journey (123 days) it relates. Pauler’s style is conversational; it is like listening to someone in a lodge describing her day’s walk. This makes the book a smooth read, devoid of any hyperbole and strenuous descriptions—simple yet satisfying like her beloved rice and lentil soup.
The daily events described in the book, however, are anything but simple. Pauler crosses two 6000 meter and sixteen 5000 meter passes. She has to cope with maddening heat (add to this that she is from Norway), fleas, hailstorms, snow and rain, and traversing landslides. In four months, she experiences almost all the seasons, sometimes in the matter of days. There are days of recreation and unexpected luxury too: she treats herself in a beauty parlor touted as the world’s highest and watches Seven Years In Tibet in a cinema that is 3,500 meters above sea-level. Pauler also pursues some personal mini quests, like the search for the prayer wheels made out of empty Nescafe coffee canisters she had seen on a previous visit.
The bigger quest is trying to spread awareness on autism in some of the poorest places of Nepal. Pauler discusses autism with local teachers, handing out brochures on the disease, and, whenever her stringent itinerary allows it, holding lectures on the subject. Through her trek Pauler raised over 700,000 rupees, which financed the training of two Nepali health workers in the field of autism.
Sir Chris Bonington says in the book’s foreword that Pauler’s book “is not about her, but about this trip, across the roof of the world, done both for her own pleasure and for those who suffer from autism.” It is this combination of fulfilling a life-long dream, visiting some of the disturbingly deprived and scenically stunning places, and trying to draw attention on a neglected problem like autism that makes this book enjoyable and inspiring.