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1 May 2007 Illustrated Atlas of the Himalaya
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The authors have produced the first full-color atlas of the land, life, and cultures of the Himalaya. There are more than 130 color photographs, the great majority taken by Zurick—a worthy and remarkable offering in its own right, with individual photographs from impressive double-page spread to ample miniatures. Their geographical and aesthetic content is outstanding, and they are exploited to the full in terms of both artistic layout and excellence of reproduction. They form a superb counterbalance to the equally impressive maps, sketches, and tables that establish Pacheco as a top-flight cartographer. The atlas ranks equally as a serious contribution to the cartography and geography of the Himalaya and as a decorative coffee-table showpiece. The modest retail price, facilitated by significant subsidies, should ensure extensive distribution.

The atlas is arranged in 5 distinct sections: regional setting; the natural environment; society; resources and conservation; exploration and travel. The large amount of statistical and cartographic data was foreshadowed by the earlier publication entitled Himalaya: Life on the Edge of the World (Zurick and Karan 1999); the 2 works make a valuable couplet and establish Zurick as one of today's leading Himalayanists.

Anyone with experience of both research in complex mountain landscapes and the production of atlases will realize that the authors have faced an enormous challenge. This is rendered the more intractable by the very shape of their chosen region: roughly 3000 km by 200 km horizontal by 8 km vertical. For the most part, Zurick and Pacheco have dealt with the problem quite well by organizing much of the essential cartographic data by administrative unit: by country and by state within India. However, in several instances (eg, pp 102–104 and 127), the chosen scale approaches illegibility.

The authors appear to have had some difficulty in delimiting the northwestern boundaries of their chosen region: they define “the Himalaya” strictly as stretching from the Indus gorge in the northwest to the Yarlung–Tsangpo–Brahmaputra gorge in the east (ie, approximately from Nanga Parbat to Namche Barwa). The Pakistan Himalaya receives scant treatment, and Nanga Parbat is placed variously in the Karakorum and the Himalaya (the latter is correct).

There are a number of errors, some merely typographical, but in a publication of this kind all warrant correction. Page 12, for instance, carries the statement: “Arching westward, the Himalaya leaves Pakistan ... and enters Indian Jammu and Kashmir” (eastward); on page 15, the area of Nepal is given as both 140,800 km2 and 145,000 km2. Page 17 indicates that the population of Bhutan is 1,951,965; the government of Bhutan has provided widely varying totals according to the political expedience of the moment, and the actual population is probably closer to one million (Hutt 2003). The table on page 83, captioned: “Indian Himalaya: Rural Population (1991)” erroneously includes Nepal and Bhutan. Furthermore, Bhutan's rural population is listed as “17,567,000 (est.)”!

The Karakorum cannot be “included in the Himalayan chain” (p 35). Page 35 provides a geological map of Zanzkar and the Indus Valley; the legend includes “ophiolite,” but there is none shown on the map, and the land cover data map (pp 36–37) has no legend. Two conflicting rates of land uplift appear (pp 46 and 50): −200 m/200,000 yr and 1,500 m/20,000 yr. Bhutan (p 77) is characterized as overwhelmingly Buddhist, yet the Lhotsampa minority (predominantly Hindu) is probably 50% of the total (Hutt 2003).

The sub-section on communications (p 89) makes no reference to the Internet. While access to e-mail and the web is dependent upon electricity, Mountain Forum's increasingly widespread impact is surely worthy of mention. The graphs (p 123) showing stream flow in 3 rivers carry a caption reading as if the summer peak for the 2 Nepalese rivers was due to “meltwater from snowfields and glaciers”: as if the summer monsoon were not a factor. Maps showing routes of first ascents of 8000-m peaks (p 173) credit Austria with the first ascent of Lhotse in 1970; in fact, the Swiss reached the summit in 1956.

One topic that deserves much fuller treatment, although absolute data are difficult to obtain, is that of outmigration from the Himalaya. This involves off-season search for wage labor in peninsular India as well as temporary and permanent migration, not only to India, but also to North America and Europe. Even Ottawa has approximately 60 Nepalese-Canadian and landed-immigrant families (estimated 200 to 300 persons).

While the authors have made a creditable effort to identify sources in the appendices (“Sources of Illustrations,” etc), some standard information is lacking. Frequently this involves dates. The otherwise useful and compact boxes (“Fact Files”) would have been more instructive if the year of the actual censuses had been provided. It is also unfortunate that the dates of the photographs are not given; many would likely have provided benchmarks for future photo-replication studies of landscape change. In the same vein, the maps and discussion pertaining to forest cover change are limited by the absence of information on the origin and date of benchmark surveys. Gautam and Watanabe (2004), for example, have demonstrated that, for specific areas, the standard benchmark survey of Nepal in 1978 (LRMP 1986) is extensively flawed, yet it continues to be used (as recently as 2001) as a basis for determination of forest loss. This leads to significant exaggeration, undermining objectivity of the entire debate concerning changes in forest cover.

The treatment of Bhutan, albeit scattered throughout the atlas in the appropriate sections, is taken up here as a special case. In this reviewer's opinion, there is a significant bias that provides unwarranted, if unwitting, support for the Government of Bhutan's treatment of its minority citizens. This is of particular concern in an atlas that is likely to achieve widespread distribution and thereby extensive influence, given the tendency of the Western news media to support the myth of Shangrila and the “hype” about Gross National Happiness (p 90). Claims by both the Bhutan government and the Lhotsampa refugees (Bhutanese of Nepalese descent) regarding demographics and dates of immigration have become a highly sensitive political issue since 1990. The Bhutan government wants the world to believe that Nepalese immigration was a smaller rather than larger phenomenon, that it began later rather than earlier, and that many of those living in refugee camps in eastern Nepal are recent illegals, or even have never been to Bhutan but appeared in the camps just for the convenient handouts. The Lhotsampa leadership and the Nepalese officials hold to an exactly contradictory account. It is well documented, however, that immigration and land clearance was extensive, began in the mid- to late-19th century (long before establishment of the current monarchy in 1907), and was officially encouraged, initially by the British Raj, but subsequently also by the Buddhist elite. The early Drukpa encouragement was in part due to the fact that tax revenue from the new “citizens” was proving to be the prime source of cash for the governing bodies (compare with pp 77 and 110 in the atlas).

Reference has already been made to the authors' statement that Bhutan is overwhelmingly Buddhist (p 77). The maps showing distribution of schools, hospitals, and other public facilities (pp 92 and 94) display a concentration along the southern fringe of the country in Lhotsampa territory; practically all were closed in 1990, and many destroyed. On page 93, there is a reference to a shortage of teachers that was temporarily met by importing Indian professionals (Hindi, Nepali, and English), yet by 1991 all teaching in Hindi and Nepali was prohibited, and the children of Bhutan's largest minority were thereby deprived of education.

Given the politics of development and research, this internationally illegal treatment of minority citizens has been swept under the rug by many “donor organizations.” The prevalence of self-censorship makes it all the more urgent for solid work on the topic to be highlighted. Thus Michael Hutt (2003), who raises the implication that “crimes against humanity” have been perpetrated, provides an impressive scholarly and neutral assessment. The authors do conspicuously and repeatedly refer to the tragic political, social, and military turmoil that is occurring throughout the Himalayan region. Nevertheless, a more thorough treatment would have been valuable—at least a map showing areas affected by various types of “unrest.”

Regardless of the criticisms, the Illustrated Atlas of the Himalaya is a vital contribution to any appreciation of the Himalaya, whether for scholar and student, administrative and development agency, trekking and tourist visitor, or the people of the region themselves. It is to be hoped that a folio of all the maps at enlarged scales is being made available for permanent deposit in a selection of regional archives. An earlier, shorter edition of the atlas was published in 2005 by ICIMOD (International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development) as Atlas of the Himalaya (Zurick et al 2005), with B. Shrestha and B. Bajracharya as co-authors. This reviewer has not seen a copy so that no comparative remarks are possible.



C. M. Gautam and T. Watanabe . 2004. Reliability of land use/land cover assessment in montane Nepal. A case study in the Kangchenjunga Conservation Area (KCA). Mountain Research and Development 24 1:35–43. Google Scholar


M. Hutt 2003. Unbecoming Citizens: Culture, Nationhood, and the Flight of Refugees from Bhutan. New Delhi, India Oxford University Press. Google Scholar


LRMP [Land Resources Mapping Project] 1986. Land System Report. Kathmandu, Nepal His Majesty's Government of Nepal and LRMP. Google Scholar


D. Zurick and P. P. Karan . 1999. Himalaya: Life on the Edge of the World. Baltimore, MD The Johns Hopkins University Press. Google Scholar


D. Zurick, J. Pacheco, B. Shrestha, and B. Bajracharya . 2005. Atlas of the Himalaya. Kathmandu, Nepal ICIMOD [International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development]. Google Scholar
Jack D. Ives "Illustrated Atlas of the Himalaya," Mountain Research and Development 27(2), 186-188, (1 May 2007).
Published: 1 May 2007

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