Tidbits from The Book: Escape from Kathmandu

“Escape from Kathmandu” is a zany, satirical, semi-science fiction/adventure novel by Kim Stanley Robinson set in Kathmandu, Nepal and touches on the goings-on in Tibet. Robinson weaves together a series of interconnected short stories that follow the escapades of a group of characters navigating the chaotic and surreal landscape of Kathmandu. From yeti hunters to Buddhist monks with technological prowess, from the bureaucracy of Kathmandu government and NGOs to secret tunnels. The novel presents a humorous and imaginative exploration of culture clash, technology, and the human spirit against the backdrop of a vibrant and unpredictable city.

Robinson uses real props such as the Old Vienna Inn, to paint a picture of a Kathmandu as both familiar and fantastical, where ancient traditions collide with modernity in unexpected ways. The stories are filled with wit, adventure, and social commentary, offering a unique perspective on issues such as adventure tourism, environmentalism, globalization, and the clash between tradition and progress. “Escape from Kathmandu” blends elements of science fiction, adventure, satire, and travelogue to make you fall in love with Nepal, the Himalayas, and Kathmandu in particular.

The following are some tidbits that will give you a taste of what this book is like. It spans obscure knowledge of hiking, climbing, mountains, and weather, to Tibetan and Nepalese spiritual vocabulary. It’s an amazing set of four short stories.



  • The room itself was simple: a bed and a chair, under the light of a single bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. But what else do you really need?
  • “That’s right!” I said. “And even in camp there’s quite a night life, you’ve all got your Dostoevski and your arguments over E. O. Wilson
  • “Oh, Nathan,” she said. “You sound cynical, but cynics are just idealists who have been disappointed. I remember that about you—you’re such an idealist!”
  • I have never been very clever at thinking up subterfuges to balk the plans of others; that’s why I left the university in the first place.
  • Freds, describing the Yeti: “He looks kind of like Buddha, don’t you think? He doesn’t have the belly, but those eyes, man. Buddha to the max.”
  • And that, folks, was the first recorded conversation between yeti and human.
  • Marion and Trevor quite posh and public school, and John and Mad Tom very thick and North Country.
  • Then the operator ran across the BBC world news, which was not unusual—it could have been coming from Hong Kong, Singapore, Cairo, even London itself.
  • Another example of how ridiculous Freds is: Winchester Cathedral.” The Brits stared at him. “You mean Westminster Abbey?”
  • TO UNDERSTAND WHY THEY would care so much, you have to understand what the story of Mallory and Irvine means to the British soul. Climbing has always been more important there than in America—you could say that the British invented the sport in Victorian times, and they’ve continued to excel in it since
  • Anyway, he and his partner Irvine were last glimpsed, by another expedition member, just eight hundred feet and less than a quarter of a mile from the summit—and at one P.M., on a day that had good weather except for a brief storm, and mist that obscured the peak from the observers below. So they either made it or they didn’t; but something went wrong somewhere along the line, and they were never seen again.
  • All the public-school virtues wrapped into one heroic Tale—you couldn’t write it better. To this day the story commands tremendous interest in England,
  • You can see why it struck my drinking buddies that night as a kind of sacrilege. It was yet another modern PR stunt—a money-grubbing plan made by some publicity hound—a Profaning of the Mystery. It was, in fact, a bit like videotrekking. Only worse. So I could sympathize, in a way.
  • But it was still dangerous, because we were climbing an icefall, which is to say a glacier on a serious tilt. Now a glacier as you know is a river of ice, and like its liquid counterparts it is always flowing downstream.
  • In fact climbers make a distinction, between objective danger and subjective danger. Objective dangers are things like avalanches and rockfall and storms, that you can’t do anything about. Subjective dangers are those incurred by human error—putting in a bad hold, forgetting to fasten a harness, that sort of thing. Good article explaining objective and subjective hazards: https://outdoorblueprint.com/read/objective-vs-subjective-hazards/
  • See, if you are perfectly careful, then you can eliminate all the subjective dangers. And when you’ve eliminated the subjective dangers, you have only the objective dangers to face. So you can see it’s very rational.
  • There may be advantages to climbing on Everest with a tulku, a Sherpa long-distance champion, and an American space cadet, but longer rest stops are not among them.
  • “Well, I’ve got it on tape if you want to see. Looked like they were wearing Helly-Hansen jackets, if that tells you anything.”
  • Of course part of you says oh my God, it’s all over. Whyever did I do this! But another part sees that in order not to die you must pretend you are quite calm, and engaged in a semi-theoretical gymnastics exercise intended to get you higher. You pay attention to the exercise like no one has ever paid attention before. Eventually you find yourself on a flat spot of some sort—three feet by five feet will do. You look around and realize that you did not die, that you are still alive. And at that point this fact becomes really exhilarating. You really appreciate being alive. It’s a sort of power, or a privilege granted you, in any case it feels quite special, like a flash of higher consciousness. Just to be alive! And in retrospect, that paying attention when you were climbing—you remember that as a higher consciousness too.
  • You can get hooked on feelings like those; they are the ultimate altered state. Drugs can’t touch them. I’m not saying this is real healthy behavior, you understand. I’m just saying it happens.
  • AND THAT IS HOW I found myself climbing Mount Everest with a Tibetan tulku and the wild man of Arkansas.
  • And now he’s free of old Dorjee Lama, too—a lama in his own right, and nobody’s disciple. It must be a great feeling.”
  • the authorities in Lhasa have decided they’re going to rebuild a whole bunch of the Buddhist monasteries that they tore down during the Cultural Revolution,
  • Big trouble that year, for a place you probably know as Shangri-La.
  • Culture of Purity: he hated the tourists because they were ignorant, and despised the locals because they were ignorant, until in fact there was nobody in Nepal doing it exactly right except him and his buddies, and as the saying goes, even they were suspect.
  • “Was I kidding you about Kunga Norbu being a tulku? Were Nathan and I kidding you about Buddha?”
  • what I later understood to be my bodhi or awakening to the true nature of reality,
  • I think that everyone gets their sense of how big things should be from their home and their childhood, and where I came from valleys were farm-sized things, rivers were creeks you could ford most anywhere, and mountains were hills a couple hundred feet high at best—the landscape had a certain scale and that to me was the way things were, that was the natural order, that was what I was used to.
  • On bus drivers in the Himalayas: Just another day’s work as far as he was concerned—seventeen hours of driving a lousy bus over bad roads in horrible weather, surely ten trillion turns of that old steering wheel, and it made me happy to think that such heroes out of Homer still walked the face of this earth.
  • almost in your sleep, navigating medieval buildings and doors and locks without ever even waking up—sometimes—while other nights are so uncomfortable and strange that they etch themselves on your mind, and you hang out there in the freezing dark feeling it is some sort of negative bodhi
  • IT IS REMARKABLE HOW short a time the innocence of youth lasts. Actually it lasted nearly forty years in my case, but I never noticed it until it was gone, and so of course it didn’t feel like I had had it long. A couple seconds at the most. And after that I was experienced. I knew. I walked the crowded streets of Kathmandu, which used to give me such joy—perverse joy, but joy nevertheless—and now all I saw was squalor and poverty and lame civic planning.
  • But something in the way Freds had talked about Kathmandu had brought the image of the city strongly to my mind, crawling all over the insides of my eyeballs. And as the red sun cracked the horizon and the thick humid air filled with light, and we started trying to descend the tree (“Where’s them firemen? Maybe cats ain’t so stupid after all!”), I kept thinking helplessly of the city, of the crowded streets and the open-front shops and the corner temples and the street operators, and I knew that it would never change—that when we got back the cows would be in the streets blocking the crazed traffic, and the giant bats would be hanging upside down in the pine trees on the palace grounds, and the lines of people would be stretching hundreds of yards out of the post office and Central Telegraph, and the peddlers would be sitting on the sidewalks selling candies and incense and antibiotics and unidentifiable fruit and bolts of brilliant cloth, and crows and clouds and rainbows would be flying overhead with the Himal to the north and bike bells ringing and everything aswirl in the ramshackle old streets of the town, and I found I couldn’t wait to get home to it again.


  • Robert Trivers: Robert Trivers is an American evolutionary biologist and sociobiologist. He was born on February 19, 1943 and is the author of several books, including Wild Life: Adventures of an Evolutionary Biologist and The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life and Social Evolution.
  • Mallory and Irvine: George Mallory and Andrew “Sandy” Irvine were British mountaineers who disappeared on Mount Everest’s Northeast Ridge in 1924 while attempting to become the first people to reach the summit. Mallory was the more experienced climber, and Irvine was known for his mechanical genius. The pair intended to use oxygen on the expedition, having seen two previous attempts fail without it.

Places & Landmarks

  • Chomolungma: the Tibetan name for Mount Everest, which translates to “Goddess Mother of the World”. It is also spelled Qomolangma. The name is pronounced /ˌtʃoʊ.məˈlʊŋ.mə/
  • Dudh Kosi: Dudh Kosi is a river in eastern Nepal that is known for its high elevation and cultural significance to the Sherpa people. The river is 56 miles long and originates at the base of Mount Everest. It provides the Sherpa people with water for drinking, field irrigation, and hydropower. The river also flows through Sagarmatha National Park and is often seen from the high-suspension bridges in the Everest region.
  • Lukla: Lukla is a small town in northeastern Nepal that’s a popular starting point for visitors to the Himalayas. It’s located at 9,383 ft (2,860 m) above sea level and is known as “place with many goats and sheep”. However, there are few sheep or goats in the area today.
  • Namche: Namche Bazaar is a town in Nepal’s Everest region, located at an altitude of 11,319 ft (3,450 m). It’s a historic trading hub, known for its homemade yak cheese and butter, and for offering views of the Himalayan peaks. Namche is also the final frontier for climbers and trekkers before heading up to the mountains, such as the Everest Base Camp Trek or Everest Expedition.
  • Pheriche: a small village in the Khumbu region of eastern Nepal, located at an altitude of 14,340 ft (4,371 m) above the Tsola River. It’s a popular destination for climbers and trekkers on their way to Mount Everest Base Camp, as it offers a good base for acclimatization before heading higher into the mountains.
  • Pokhara: Pokhara is a city in central Nepal, on the banks of Phewa Lake, and the capital of Gandaki Province. It’s the second largest city in Nepal, and is 200 kilometers from Kathmandu. Pokhara is known for its natural beauty, including views of the mountains, particularly the Annapurna range and Machhapuchhre, also known as the “Fishtail” mountain. The name Pokhara comes from the Nepali word “Pokhari” which means “pond”.


  • Bodhi: awakening or enlightenment. In Buddhism, the final Enlightenment, which puts an end to the cycle of transmigration and leads to Nirvāṇa, or spiritual release
  • Chortens: Chortens, also known as stupas, are Buddhist monuments and shrines that are found throughout Asia. They are religious symbols that represent the presence of Buddha, and are often found in city-center temples, or on treks in the Himalaya. Chortens can be small or golden in size, and are found in Nepal on the Annapurna Circuit, Everest Base Camp, and Mera Peak.
  • Dal Bhat: a traditional Nepalese dish of lentils cooked in soup (dal) and rice (bhaat), served with sides, and eaten by trekkers and locals alike. The name literally means “lentil soup” (dal) and “boiled rice” (bhat). Here are some recipes for dal bhat:
  • Diaphanous: Diaphanous is an adjective that means very sheer and light, almost completely transparent or translucent, or delicately hazy. For example, you might describe a hat with a veil as diaphanous
  • Dzong: Dzongs are fortified monasteries found in Bhutan and Tibet that are known for their massive architecture. They are often located at strategic points, such as ridges or river crossings, and have towering walls surrounding courtyards, temples, administrative offices, and monks’ living quarters.
  • Fleur-de-Lis Pattern: The fleur-de-lis, sometimes spelled fleur-de-lys, is a stylized lily or iris commonly used for decoration. In fact, translated from French, fleur-de-lis means “lily flower.” Fleur means “flower,” while lis means “lily.” You’ll likely recognize the symbol, which typically has three petals attached at the base. Good Link with Photos
  • Lateral Moraine: A lateral moraine is a ridge of rock and debris that forms on the side of a glacier. Lateral moraines are made up of material that has been transported by the glacier, such as frost-shattered rock, and is dropped by the ice as it melts. Lateral moraines often mark the edges of an ice body.
  • Ludvig van Ninth: Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, also known as the “Choral” symphony, is considered one of the most important works of Western art. It is the final complete symphony by Beethoven, composed between 1822 and 1824, and first performed in Vienna on May 7, 1824. The symphony is known for its visionary political message and complex structure, and is also the first major composer to score vocal parts in a symphony.
  • Mani Walls: Mani walls are long stacks of mani stones that are placed along trails. The stones are made of sand and rubble, and are faced with mani stones engraved in Tibetan script. The name “mani wall” comes from the inscribed tablets that contain the mantra “Om mani padme hum”.
  • Mordant: (especially of humor) having or showing a sharp or critical quality; biting. “a mordant sense of humor”
  • Scylla and Charybdis: Scylla was a supernatural female creature, with 12 feet and six heads on long snaky necks, each head having a triple row of sharklike teeth, while her loins were girdled by the heads of baying dogs. From her lair in a cave she devoured whatever ventured within reach, including six of Odysseus’s companions. Charybdis is a sea monster in Greek mythology that appears as a whirlpool that pulls in and pushes out water three times a day, causing ships to sink.
  • Serac: a pinnacle, sharp ridge, or block of ice among the crevasses of a glacier.
  • Sirdar: Sirdar may also refer to a rank of high rank, especially in India. Sirdar is an Arabic word that means “sir” or “sardar”, and can refer to a person of high rank, such as a hereditary noble
  • Tribbies: I couldn’t quite figure out what this means

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