Tales of footprints: Book review of 'Yeti: The Ecology of a Mystery' by Daniel C. Taylor

Trekking across mountains in search of the ‘Snowman’

Published - August 26, 2017 09:15 pm IST

Yeti: The Ecology of a Mystery
Daniel C. Taylor
Oxford University Press

Yeti: The Ecology of a Mystery Daniel C. Taylor Oxford University Press ₹795

Yeti: The Ecology of a Mystery is the deep story of Daniel C. Taylor who follows the Yeti path. The arc begins with his boyhood in the Himalayas. In 1914, Taylor’s grandparents decide to head to India as medical missionaries and drop anchor near the India-Nepal border, an area that has gripped many an imagination as a result of the fabled accounts of hunter turned conservationist and author, Jim Corbett and his trysts with the tiger.

In the 1940s Taylor’s parents go to India as well to run a hospital. His childhood, an envious one, and outlined in the chapter ‘My First Yetis’, is one that blossoms in the mountains and where the legends of the Himalayas play an influential part in his life. Soon, tales of footprints ‘turn legend into serious inquiry’ as the growing boy is convinced that ‘if footprints exist, then the maker of these footprints must also exist’... as the mysterious creature of the snow, the Yeti.

He never outgrows his fascination for the Snowman, which is sparked in his childhood by his coming across a picture of the Yeti’s footprint in a magazine.

The arc of his boyhood quest stretches well into adulthood. Who made these prints? Were they by an unknown wild man who for more than a century had eluded identification? Were they by an unknown animal but non-hominoid, related to the panda or the gorilla? Was the creature a known being which possessed an unrecognised trait of being able to make human-looking prints? Or, was it a supernatural being?

His search to explain the footprints begins, spread across the decades, from 1956 to 2015. Armed with his profound knowledge of the Himalayas, the dozens of expeditions — and gradually accompanied by his own little family — take him across the vast expanse of the ancient mountain chain, in India, Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet. These even find him picking up a range of local languages that give him insights into the life and great cultures in the region.

His attempt to unravel the secret behind the footprints takes an interesting and unexpected turn. Even the king of Nepal, a country ‘whose mascot is the legend’ that Taylor ‘seeks to demystify’ queries him on this. Leaning forward during one of their high-profile meetings, the ruler asks him: “Let me be clear. Are you saying that science does not know something that Nepali villagers know?”

Taylor goes beyond the Yeti question. To his surprise, his hunt, with some scientific answers — it could be a bear — acquires a Himalayan depth, evolving into exploring a concept much greater than the mystery and leading him to a more enriching mission. He leaves behind his own imprint — by creating two vast national parks in the region after recognising that the wilderness is fast disappearing. “We have the opportunity to grow the wild back,” he says, for it is in this wilderness that lies the preservation of the world. Now that is uncontestable!

Yeti: The Ecology of a Mystery ; Daniel C. Taylor, Oxford University Press, ₹795.

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