The best books on Nepal and the roof of the world

Who am I?

I'm a writer and journalist with an eye on South and Southeast Asia. I first visited Nepal in the mid-90s, traveled around extensively, and have returned regularly since. Climbing Gokyo Peak, then crossing the Ngozumpa glacier and the Cho La pass in a storm, was the kind of trip I’m glad to have survived unscathed. I covered the civil war, the plight of Tibetan refugees, and Chinese Belt and Road infrastructure projects. I sat down for an interview with serial killer Charles Sobhraj, subject of the BBC/Netflix series The Serpent and I survived and reported on the 2015 earthquake. I spoke to several travelers who followed the hippie trail from London to Kathmandu in the 60s and early 70s, whose accounts inform the basis of my novel.

I wrote...

The Devil's Road To Kathmandu

By Tom Vater,

Book cover of The Devil's Road To Kathmandu

What is my book about?

The Devil’s Road To Kathmandu is a tense, fast-paced, and kaleidoscopic pulp thriller, following the lives of two generations of drifters embroiled in a saga of sex, drugs, and murder on the road between London and the Indian subcontinent. 

In 1976, four friends drive a bus along the hippy trail from London to Kathmandu. En Route in Pakistan, a drug deal goes badly wrong, yet the boys escape with their lives and the narcotics. Thousands of kilometers, numerous acid trips, accidents, nightclubs, and even a pair of beautiful Siamese twins later, as they finally reach the counter-culture capital of the world, Kathmandu, one of them disappears with the drug money. A quarter-century later, after receiving mysterious emails inviting them to pick up their share of the money, the remaining three companions are back in Kathmandu, trying to solve a 25-year old mystery that leads them to a dramatic showdown with their past.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Tiger for Breakfast

Tom Vater Why did I love this book?

Tiger for Breakfast is the illustrious story of a Russian adventurer and nightclub owner, traveler Boris Lissanevitch who opened the first hotel in Kathmandu in 1950. Boris also opened the first mixed-race nightclub in Calcutta and had the first car carried across the Himalayas from India to Kathmandu. His guest list proved remarkable too. Edmund Hillary set off from the Royal Hotel for Everest in 1953 and numerous royals stayed, including Queen Elizabeth. For better or for worse, Boris was a catalyst for the outside world to make inroads into the Himalayan kingdom and Michel Peissel’s book does a great job evoking those early days of travel and exploration on the Roof of the World.

By Michel Peissel,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tiger for Breakfast as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

Book cover of The Snow Leopard

Tom Vater Why did I love this book?

Writer, explorer, Zen monk, and erstwhile CIA agent Peter Matthiessen’s best work is fiction, but The Snow Leopard, an account of the author’s travels in search of the Himalayan blue sheep in 1973, remains a Nepal nonfiction classic and is a great introduction to the work of foreign writers focusing on the country. Embarking on this expedition in the wake of his wife’s death, Matthiessen weaves his personal journey into observations of the mountains with an eye on Buddhist precepts and the hope to encounter the very rare snow leopard.

By Peter Matthiessen,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Snow Leopard as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A beautiful book, and worthy of the mountains he is among' Paul Theroux

'A delight' i Paper

This is the account of a journey to the dazzling Tibetan plateau of Dolpo in the high Himalayas. In 1973 Matthiessen made the 250-mile trek to Dolpo, as part of an expedition to study wild blue sheep. It was an arduous, sometimes dangerous, physical endeavour: exertion, blisters, blizzards, endless negotiations with sherpas, quaking cold. But it was also a 'journey of the heart' - amongst the beauty and indifference of the mountains Matthiessen was searching for solace. He was also searching for a…

Book cover of Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster

Tom Vater Why did I love this book?

Hair-raisingly suspenseful, tragic and insane, Into Thin Air is the nonfiction account of journalist’s Jon Krakauer ascent of Mount Everest in 1996, for a magazine assignment that was to turn into one of the most serious disaster’s in the world’s tallest mountain’s history. The book asks some hard questions about commercialising the climbing of the mountain (and by extension, commercialising anything) and Krakauer takes a long hard look at his own actions on the deadly slopes of Everest and lays out what happens when people who are only connected by money face peril. This is a brilliantly researched book that manages to draw the reader in and keep her/him on the edge of their seat throughout. Riveting.

By Jon Krakauer,

Why should I read it?

14 authors picked Into Thin Air as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

#1 NATIONAL BESTSELLER • The epic account of the storm on the summit of Mt. Everest that claimed five lives and left countless more—including Krakauer's—in guilt-ridden disarray. 

"A harrowing tale of the perils of high-altitude climbing, a story of bad luck and worse judgment and of heartbreaking heroism." —PEOPLE

A bank of clouds was assembling on the not-so-distant horizon, but journalist-mountaineer Jon Krakauer, standing on the summit of Mt. Everest, saw nothing that "suggested that a murderous storm was bearing down." He was wrong. 

By writing Into Thin Air, Krakauer may have hoped to exorcise some of his own demons…

Book cover of Video Night in Kathmandu: And Other Reports from the Not-So-Far-East

Tom Vater Why did I love this book?

Only one segment of this travel classic is about Nepal, but Pico Iyer’s exploration of 1980s South and Southeast Asia throws a candid eye on a rapidly globalising world. Before social media and smartphones, foreign travelers and locals talked to one another and the results make for illuminating and elegant reading about the Lonely Planet generation and how it was received and perceived in the Far East.

By Pico Iyer,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Video Night in Kathmandu as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When Pico Iyer began his travels, he wanted to know how Rambo conquered Asia. Why did Dire Straits blast out over Hiroshima, Bruce Springsteen over Bali and Madonna over all? If he was eager to learn where East meets West, how pop culture and imperialism penetrated through the world's most ancient civilisations, then the truths he began to uncover were more startling, more subtle, more complex than he ever anticipated. Who was hustling whom? When did this pursuit of illusions and vested interests, with it's curious mix of innocence and calculation, turn from confrontation into the mating dance? Iyer travelled…

Book cover of Kathmandu

Tom Vater Why did I love this book?

Planning on a trip to Kathmandu? Curious about what makes one of the world’s most fascinating cities tick? Thomas Bell’s 2016 account is the perfect and most concise introduction to the history, culture, religiosity, and recent changes of the capital on the roof of the world. Bell confidently unravels the intricate interplay of caste, tradition, and rigid hierarchy on the one hand, and modernization, tearing into a city that was virtually isolated until 1950 like a bullet train, on the other. Perhaps it’s time for a Nepali writer to publish a panoramic nonfiction view of one of the world’s most fascinating cities, but in the meantime, Bells’ Kathmandu sets the bar high.

By Thomas Bell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Kathmandu as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the greatest cities of the Himalaya, Kathmandu, Nepal, is a unique blend of thousand-year-old cultural practices and accelerated urban development. In this book, Thomas Bell recounts his experiences from his many years in the city--exploring in the process the rich history of Kathmandu and its many instances of self-reinvention. Closed to the outside world until 1951 and trapped in a medieval time warp, Kathmandu is, as Bell argues, a jewel of the art world, a carnival of sexual license, a hotbed of communist revolution, a paradigm of failed democracy, a case study in bungled western intervention, and an…

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The Lion and the Fox: Two Rival Spies and the Secret Plot to Build a Confederate Navy

By Alexander Rose,

Book cover of The Lion and the Fox: Two Rival Spies and the Secret Plot to Build a Confederate Navy

Alexander Rose Author Of Empires of the Sky: Zeppelins, Airplanes, and Two Men's Epic Duel to Rule the World

New book alert!

Who am I?

A long time ago, I was an early-aviation historian, but eventually realized that I knew only half the story—the part about airplanes. But what about airships? Initially, I assumed, like so many others, that they were a flash-in-the-pan, a ridiculous dead-end technology, but then I realized these wondrous giants had roamed and awed the world for nearly four decades. There was a bigger story here of an old rivalry between airplanes and airships, one that had since been forgotten, and Empires of the Sky was the result.

Alexander's book list on Zeppelin airships

What is my book about?

From the author of Washington’s Spies, the thrilling story of two rival secret agents — one Confederate, the other Union — sent to Britain during the Civil War.

The South’s James Bulloch, charming and devious, was ordered to acquire a clandestine fleet intended to break Lincoln’s blockade, sink Northern merchant vessels, and drown the U.S. Navy’s mightiest ships at sea. Opposing him was Thomas Dudley, an upright Quaker lawyer determined to stop Bulloch in a spy-versus-spy game of move and countermove, gambit and sacrifice, intrigue and betrayal.

Their battleground was the Dickensian port of Liverpool, whose dockyards built more ships each year than the rest of the world combined and whose merchant princes, said one observer, were “addicted to Southern proclivities, foreign slave trade, and domestic bribery.”

The Lion and the Fox: Two Rival Spies and the Secret Plot to Build a Confederate Navy

By Alexander Rose,

What is this book about?

From the New York Times bestselling author of Washington's Spies, the thrilling story of the Confederate spy who came to Britain to turn the tide of the Civil War-and the Union agent resolved to stop him.

"Entertaining and deeply researched...with a rich cast of spies, crooks, bent businessmen and drunken sailors...Rose relates the tale with gusto." -The New York Times

In 1861, soon after the outbreak of the Civil War, two secret agents-one a Confederate, the other his Union rival-were dispatched to neutral Britain, each entrusted with a vital mission.

The South's James Bulloch, charming and devious, was to acquire…

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Interested in Nepal, Kathmandu, and the East–West dichotomy?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Nepal, Kathmandu, and the East–West dichotomy.

Nepal Explore 26 books about Nepal
Kathmandu Explore 9 books about Kathmandu
The East–West Dichotomy Explore 14 books about the East–West dichotomy