Himalaya: A Human History by Ed Douglas

In 1898, British cartographer and explorer Captain Montagu Sinclair Wellby published Through Unknown Tibet. In this travelogue, he hoped that “some future traveller may learn not so much what he ought to do, as what he ought not to do.”

The history of traversing the Himalayan region—whether for commercial exploitation, scientific research, or empire-expanding warfare—is a narrative best understood through Wellby’s cautionary hindsight. Indeed, even a passing acquaintance with the first attempts at scaling the harrowing Himalayan mountains, such as Everest, or the early excursions to conquer Tibet by a variety of outlier tribes and ethnic clans, can be rendered as lessons in hubris and costly victories—what an individual or a nation “ought not to do.” The Himalayas have long been viewed as a region where geography has dictated the failures of empires and individuals.