I think I can safely assert that you’ll never read another book like this one. Unlikely bedfellows such as philosophy, religion, and adventure seldom sit down at the same high-altitude table as they do in Ways and Weighing, all the while sharing legends, prayers, and traveling tales fit to take the breath and challenge mind and heart.
Martin, a New York native, taught university-level philosophy and was on his way to a tenure track job when he headed to India and got so wrapped up in it all that he never returned. Why? Well this passage is one example of the philosophical bent of his mind:
…it is tempting to consider decisions not as mental events but as doings performed prior to . . .the ‘intended’ act. . . . Does buying an airplane ticket constitute an action that commences the trip, part of the trip itself, or is it the decision to go on the trip? . . . these matters are fixed retrospectively. Only after the trip, does it become evident when the trip began and what constituted the the decision to embark. . .
Such musings, which are both personal and academic/philosophic recur throughout the narrative and provide the foundation for this splendid and unique memoir. Noval’s story includes exhausting “trekking” (in his case often closer to mountain climbing) over some of the highest and most rigorous landscape in the world. The scenery itself is worth the read, but when interspersed with the history and insights of Hindu history and religion Noval provides, it becomes a three-dimensional journey like no other. I think a passage from the book itself shows how fluidly Noval slips back and forth from the physical experience of trekking to the mental experience of meditating upon it.
These Nepali porters are the most elegant of walkers. You wouldn’t think it, in their half-worn-out sneakers or rubber beach thongs with hundred pound loads of Coca Cola or beer bottle cases on their backs, . . . yet every step is a paradigm of efficiency, precision, grace, and elegance. . . . Mountain people[s’] lives are studies in elegance–in the way a mathematical proof may be elegant: pared down to perfection.
Ways and Weighings is thus a memoir chock full of physical experience infused with a moral and spiritual perspective that makes it almost a religious experience in itself.
At the risk of sounding a bit like a commercial, I feel compelled to mention that my wife and I participated in a in one of these Noval-led tours. Not at the physically rigorous level described in the memoir, but still challenging and educational and, yes, thrilling, nevertheless. Martin and wife Carol still lead these treks. Read Ways and Weighings (before, after or during your travels. It matters not.) Your mind and life will be the richer for it. https://www.novalandtours.com/india-tours.html