A sneak peek into the life and times of the Gibbons whose works defined Nepal to westerners

(Surya Chandra Basnet)

Kathmandu, Jan 18: Bob Gibbons, then a post-graduate Englishman, had innumerable accounts of the mystic land named Nepal through books and movies. He did not delay a second to hit the road towards Nepal in his 1949 Land Rover model car on a sweltering summer of 1974.

It took him around 16-weeks to arrive Nepal via Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sunauli in India. He and his two fellow travellers rode to Tansen and Pokhara and ended up in Kathmandu, at the time when the Hippy Culture was reaching a crescendo here.

In lack of proper hotels for tourists in the town outside the Kathmandu Valley, many like Gibbons would prefer to stay camping in tent. In Kathmandu, tourists would house themselves either in small motels at Teku or stay outdoors in tents.

Recalling the yesteryear’s visit to Nepal, Gibbons, now 64, shared, “There was no other hotel in Pokhara besides the Snowland. Thamel, which later evolved as the tourist hub, then did not have a single hotel at all for tourists.”

The young Englishman was instantly charmed by the people, nature and culture of Nepal as he took on the two weeks of trek to the base camp of Mount Everest in 1975, which made him grow fonder of this tiny South Asian nation nestled in the lap of the Himalayas.

His solo journey found a travel companion, Sian Pritchard Jones, during his trek from Kashmir to Laddakh in India in 1983. Both avid globetrotters by passion, the Gibbons couple then adopted travel and tourism business as their profession, which would later bring them to Nepal along too often.

The power couple started riding other tourists to Nepal, both by land and air they were involved in a foreign travel companies – Exodus and Encounter Company.

“We then began to organize a tour to Nepal regularly. Tourists, most of them used to be Australians, Americans and Englishmen, preferred a serene escapade in the foothills of Ghorepani in Annapurna and the Mount Everest area while they showed remote interest in Langtang, Manaslu and Kanchanjunga areas,” shared Gibbons couple in the same breath.

The tourists would usually come Nepal during the Christmas and head back to their home via Goa in India, according to Gibbons. The couple used to lead a separate tourist group, who, as Gibbons remembers, would mostly prefer a short trek but wanted to buy themselves some time to immerse in the natural beauty of Nepal as they came across the foothills of Himalayas or the ‘picturesque mountainous terrain’ or meadow and the rustic charm, as he puts in.

Gibbons organized a’ Millennium Journey’ in 1999 and revisited the memory in Nepal in 2011 in the same old Landrover he drove to Nepal in his maiden trip.

“Earlier it was all peaceful in the world, the nature was untouched by the shadow of human’s onslaught. Travelling was relatively safer,” Gibbons, wallowing in nostalgia, shared to this scribe.

Offering an insight into now and then trekking experience in Nepal, Gibbons furthermore shared, “Of late the Annapurna, Everest and Langtang trekking route have better lodges, hotels and offer continental foods.”

“Also, there’s no linguistic problem in communication with the locals as in the past. Rolwaling alongside the Mt Manaslu, has so-so facilities whereas the modern-day amenities are absent across the trekking route to Ganesh Himal,” he confided.

The wanton modernization has taken its toll on the environmental aesthetics. Travelling is a lot fearsome due to terrorism,” the Gibbons couple deliberate on travelling then and now in a matter-of-fact tone.

At a juncture of time, these frequent Nepal visitors were suggested by a well-wisher to publish books documenting basic information on various facets and facades of Nepal, including trekking routes the distance, temperature, flora and fauna and its ecological diversity.

The couple, sensing an opportunity in the dearth of books in Nepal, illustrating vital information about the country and its tourists spots back then, forayed into guide book publishing venture in collaboration with the Pilgrims Book House. The publication of their first guide book, paged 20 and priced Rs 85, coincided with the government’s decision to announce Mustang open for the outer world in 1992.

Their guide book publication venture escalated with a chance meeting with the proprietor of the Himalayan Travel Guide book, Pawan Shakya, who then owned half a dozen of book shops across the tourist hubs in the town.

The British couple went on publishing the guide books on various trekking routes in Nepal, including Mustang, Annapurna, Manaslu to Chum Valley, Upper and Lower Dolpa among others- some from domestic publication house while some from their home country. Many of their works are today available in amazon.com, US’s internet-based retailer giant known for its wide selection of books.

Gibbons couple’s latest publication, however, differs from their routine one. He published an ‘Earthquake Diary’, a vivid picture book promptly published after the April 25 earthquake. The book features the devastation of lives and properties, rescue and relief operation as well as their first-hand account of quake.

The Gibbons couple were staying in at a hotel at Paknajol in the capital city when the 7.6 magnitude quake jolted the country.

Next on their card is to publish picture books documenting various natural beauties of Kanchanjunga, Makalu and the Western Nepal, including Humla and Jumla.

Both admit that literary writing is more a difficult task. But publishing a guide book is equally difficult as one has to be accurate on information, compile the information in such an attractive way so that it catches the fancy of and enthuses the prospective tourists at a mere reading.

Gibbons stressed on the integrity when it comes to penning on anything, more so on the guide books, as he acknowledges the far-fetching effects of words once published. “The guide books should motivate the traveller to further read it, travel across and help him reach his destination,” he argues.

The couple have their own style and flair when it comes to writing guide books. First, they carry out the recce (reconnaissance) of the place they ought to write about. They have innumerable memories of treading across gorges, mountainous terrain, running streamlets and bubbling brooks, stupas, ancient temples, indigenous settlements across the nook and corner of the country before penning a single guide book.

They also take an account of the locals, for more authenticity of the information, incorporate the official details as well as the couple’s collective experience of what they hear from the locals and what they experience first-hand in their to-be published guide books.

“Research on various locations takes us places, offers us a chance to learn new things. It’s the biggest gain of this venture,” gushes Gibbons, reckoning that it’s a difficult and demanding job with less in returns. The couple operate travel and tours in the UK, France and other European countries for their earning.

“Gibbons couple’s books are highly preferred by the tourists,” chimed in Shakya, proprietor of Himalayan Book House.

Joseph Enwoler, an Australian who has been visiting Nepal for trekking for three decades, and fellow Australian mountaineer Stephan Cake, find the Gibbons couple’s guide books ‘very useful’. They believe that more tourists could be attracted to Nepal by capitalizing on their books.

“The pictures and the details in their guide books are so vivid that they beckon anyone to Nepal effortlessly,” the mountaineer duo voice in unison.

The Gibbons couple, who travelled far and wide across the world, made Nepal their second home. “We come to Nepal at least twice in a year, mostly as a part of business but also for pleasure,” mentioned Jones.

The power couple pledged they will continue chipping in their every bit to promote and propagate Nepal through the publication of guide books and others in foreign shores.

“Nepal never ceases to charm us,” confided the Gibbons couple who claim to have visited their second home for around 100 times.RSS