Author Phil Deutschle narrates an emotional and touching tale of his experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer in a remote mountain
village of Nepal, in his autobiographical book – The Two-Year Mountain. Citing details of his journey during this mission, he vividly recalls his two year stay in the Asian country, which is filled with his myriad experiences during the interesting events he encounters there. Beautiful descriptive passages are complimented with personal experiences in the terrain.
Deutschle’s arduous journey (first published in 1986) which sometimes comes across as a travelogue that encapsulates his visit to various places in Nepal. The book gradually moves ahead with his ascent in height in the country as he goes higher towards the Himalyas, in altitude as well, juxtaposed with varied perilous encounters that he faced are unravelled
to the reader during the course of the book. From living conditions, food and basic amenities, cultural connotations, local traditions, illnesses, missing loved ones at home and coping with life away from them, the book summarises his two year stay in Nepal in an honest manner coupled with minute detailing as well.
The gripping storyline inclusively hems details of his encounters as a thrilling and adventurous travel tale, detailing his idealistic exceptions as a Peace Corps volunteer as he faces the harsh reality of difficult situations during his stay and also his frank confessions during the course of the book . In his two year stay in the country as a science and mathematics teacher, Deutschle also describes his three-month treacherous expedition to climb Pharchamo, 20,580 feet high.
There are two distinct sections which this book can be divided into - the emotional and mental challenges that he faces in the new land and to complete his task there and secondly the physical challenges that he has to face in order to complete the climb. In both these aspects he emerges as a winner and is able to successfully complete them.
Each chapter in the book with the name of the place and the date where he worked and its altitude given in feet example – March 18: Thoripaani 7,200 feet, , March 19:Deuraauli 8,000 feet, March 20:Waapsu 6,700 feet, March 21:Karikhola 6,800 feet, March 22:Chaurikharka 8,500 feet and so on – gives the essence of a diary entries. Deutschle describes in depth each of the places and the experiences that he has there in these chapters. The timeline of events grows directly in proportion to the increasing altitude of the places he visits.
Initially he faces the dilemma of quitting the mission and going back to America. “We had completed three months of training and the following night we were scheduled to swear in as Peace Corps Volunteers... I tried to tell myself that I was just depressed from being sick, but that was only part of it; my disappointment had been growing since my arrival. Nepal hadn’t matched my dreams, and I had yet to see that my work could be valuable. Training had exhausted me, for I had made the mistake of using all my free time to study word lists and review grammar. The effort had helped my Nepali, but by the end of the training I was worn out and fed up...” But this is just the beginning you have to read on to know, what and how made him stay back and complete his journey in Nepal.
Deutschle explains his interactions with the locals, his stint at learning Nepali, getting his taste buds akin to the daal bhaat which was his staple meal during his stay and his teaching lessons to the children. As the book progresses we get an insight into the author's mind which is absorbing the environment and experiencing an inner growth simultaneously.
Towards the end of the book, he revisits Nepal after 34 years to assess the colossal changes it had undergone. In the Chapter titled Homecoming, 2011 Deutschle reminisces, “Three decades ago, when I threw myself into those near-death adventures: being rammed by a rhinoceros and solo mountaineering in the high Himalya. On two of those climbs, I really should have died. That narrow escape from the Tasi Lapcha - tearing off a patch of skin – left me with a jagged scar between thumb and forefinger of my right hand.”
The book reveals the tale of a young man who initially struggles to settle down and work in a new foreign terrain after three months of rigorous training, after which he completes two years of the programme he had been sent for in Nepal. Later he revisits the place after nearly three decades to rediscover the terrain he had left behind. It is the story of self-discovery while acclimatising and seeking the secrets of a new land, and the courage and strength that one possesses within to complete the journey or path that one takes up in life, despite whatever hurdles that come in our way.