RARELY will cavers come across such a delightful coffee-table book as Visions of Mulu. This is a large format volume that has been designed with care to present photographs taken within Gunung Mulu National Park in Borneo to their best effect. Predominantly, this means that they are set into rich black backgrounds, many as two-page spreads, making the vibrant colours gleam on the page.
This is not a caving book per se, but rather an exploration of the area’s nature and geology, if we presume that caves fall into the latter category – about a third of the book is given over to the underground, while the rest concentrates on wildlife from flowers through insects to amphibian and mammals and birds. The text is minimal: other than some introductory material (the almost obligatory description of how caves form), this covers the 1977-8 Royal Geographical Society expedition (with historic photos of the camp), then progresses through the caving expeditions, 16 of 21 in total being British-based – hence the involvement of the Mulu Caves Project with the book. As the expeditions progress, a thumbnail survey shows how the record of cave passages increases year on year.
It is not the text that will captivate, however, for this is indeed a picture book for the connoisseur. The photographers rightly deserve their tribute at the end of the volume, where Robbie Shone is singled out from the longer list for his images of caving (folk such as Alan Cressler, Andy Eavis, Matt Kirby and Jerry Wooldridge also appear here), and local photographers Ch’ien Lee and Donna Baylis with W.K. Fletcher for natural history. The easiest means of obtaining a copy appears to be to order it through the publisher’s website (www.nhpborneo.com); the online price of RM160 translates to around £33 and is well worth it.