An illness in a Himalayan retreat was a proving-ground for parsing the frustrations of inertia from its small solaces

Sickness, frustration, a geographically diminished existence — it recently occurred to me that I had experienced something like this before.

I’d arrived in Delhi in mid-September 2010, as the monsoon was giving way to the clearer skies of fall. I had been on the move for nine months, first busing my way through the Middle East, then down Africa’s Great Rift Valley. I was trying to carve out a living as a writer, and I was in a hurry, probably too much so.

As such, I wasn’t too perturbed when an unfamiliar debilitation overtook me as I boarded a train…


Photo by Diego Jimenez on Unsplash

Try not to mourn the holidays you won’t be taking this summer. We all need to get used to travelling less anyway.

It was early evening, one day last August, when I found myself standing on a rocky buttress, cheering the sudden onset of clouds. A fresh weather-front was barrelling in over the Altai massif, and now the clouds were pluming at the mountaintops, draping columns of rain. By now, after four days in the mountains, I understood what this foreshadowed. Soon, the cloud-cover would fracture the dusk light, and sunbeams would daub chiaroscuro patterns on the land, transmuting the grasslands into prairies of gold. Far away, on the valley floor, smoke coiled from yurt chimneys; a pair of boy-herders chivvied their…


Khuanitkhan, one of the famous eagle-hunters of the Mongolian Altai region, stands with his golden eagle.

A cynic seeks to rediscover the art of wonder in the West Mongolian mountains.

Text by Henry Wismayer; Images by Marcus Westberg

It was early evening in the Chikhertai Valley when I found myself standing on a weathered buttress, cheering the sudden onset of clouds.

A fresh weather-front was barrelling in over the Altai massif, and now the clouds were pluming at the mountaintops, some of them wispy and translucent, others dark and penumbral, draping columns of rain. By now I understood what this foreshadowed. Soon, the cloud-cover would fracture the dusk light, and sunbeams would daub chiaroscuro patterns on the land, transmuting the grasslands into prairies of gold. Far away, on the valley…


The Al-Hamidiyah Souq, Damascus

A memory of Damascus before the war.

The first thing to say about Charlie was that he had one leg, but what he lacked in limbs he made up for in charisma.

He was stocky, hair slicked back like a ’20s mobster. Greying stubble covered his boxer’s chin. A crutch, the sort of wooden A-frame number you might associate with an eighteenth century pirate, rested under his right shoulder to compensate for the missing right leg. Half-Popeye, half-Long John Silver, you could tell, somehow, that he was mariner.

But the most arresting thing about Charlie — the trait that stopped me in my tracks — was the…


The Garhwal Himalayas, India.

Some of us just can’t help seeing a peak without wondering what might be visible from its summit, and we’re not sure why.

If you offered to transport me anywhere on earth for a day, I’d choose a meadow in India beneath the mountain of my dreams. Picture it: a long crescent ridge curls uphill, then sharpens into a pinnacle of ice over 25,000 feet high, the jet-stream whipping a ribbon of cloud from its summit. On every side, a citadel of lower peaks rises up in two concentric rings. …


A storm on the horizon.

Both forks lead you into the storm, but the destinations are not the same.

You take the right fork, below the sign labelled FEAR.

The road ahead is cracked and cruel. But you trust the people who coaxed you this way, because you are scared and you are biddable, and those leaders seem like clowns not monsters so how bad can the future be?

Soon, external circumstances begin to bite. The prophesies of environmental chaos that you chose to ignore become real. The country’s access to resources dwindles. …


Britain’s class system is back. Did it ever go away?

A couple of months ago, not far from where I live, Nigel Farage attended the 400th anniversary of Dulwich College, a private school in leafy south London. According to people I know who went along, he spent the evening surrounded by a coterie of men in pin-stripe blazers. Word is he was an unpopular, marginal figure at school, but you wouldn’t know it to see the alumni fawning over him now. After all, now he was a kingmaker, a friend of Presidents! A man capable of throwing the markets into a lucrative tailspin with one pronouncement. …


That pitch you just sent? It’s probably rubbish.

Photo by Elijah O'Donnell on Unsplash

Like thousands of other impoverished masochists, I make my living as a freelance writer.

One of the peculiar things this has imbued me with, other than an ability to remain undressed well into the afternoon, is a talent for interpreting the subtextual messages that underlie the editor’s necessarily pithy communications.

Anyone who’s pitched a story idea around will have doubtless encountered some or all of the below boilerplate responses. …


A hiker walks through a glen on the Svaneti Trail, an hour out of Mestia, Georgia’s trekking hub.

A trek along Georgia’s Svaneti Trail offers a time-warp world of medieval villages and jaw-dropping scenery.

My first sight of the Greater Caucasus appeared like a crepuscular dream. I was asleep, prostrate on the rear seat of a minivan, when a bump in the mountain road jolted me into consciousness. Through the window, the dawn was all but obscured by a bastion of rock so endless I had to blink to check I wasn’t hallucinating. I couldn’t get back to sleep after that. For the next few days, I knew, views like this would fill the sky.

I had come to Georgia dreaming of days in the mountains. The small country of four million people, sandwiched…


Last night, after watching ‘Climate Change: The Facts’, the BBC’s terrifying synopsis of what we have done to the planet, and where it is taking us, I went upstairs to my kids’ bedroom and watched them sleeping for a long, long time.

I watched their chests rise and fall, breathing the air we take for granted, perhaps dreaming of the coming Bank Holiday weekend, when they will play in the sunshine we still see as a blessing rather than an enemy. And I thought: When are you going to tell them that their safe world is falling apart?

Perhaps for…

Henry Wismayer

Essays, features and assorted ramblings for over 80 publications, inc. NYT Magazine, WaPo, NYT, The Atlantic, WSJ, Nat Geo, and TIME: www.henry-wismayer.com.

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