This is one of those books that read like the author’s first draft. There are no eloquent proses, no literary jargons, rather a direct rendering of episodes – straight from the heart. If you want to read a literary piece on how enchanting the Himalayas are, this is probably not the book for you. But if you want a first-hand narrative of the expeditions to the Himalayas, by people with normal fitness levels and with the usual jobs, their musings and their experiences of dealing with the local, primordial hilly lifestyle, then you should try your hands on this one. It surely wouldn’t disappoint you.
Written by Gaurav Punj who left his desk job to start his own venture for the love of mountains, the book describes 10 treks to the various lesser travelled places in the Himalayas. In between, he weaves in the history of these places, gives a rendering of the local lifestyle and even lists down the essential trekking to-dos. Occasionally, he throws in fun facts such as finding fossilised sea creatures on the windswept mountaintops, a conclusive proof of the Himalayas being formed out of the earlier Tethys. Or the fact that Kashmir with a 77:20 ratio of Muslims and Hindu populations respectively was ruled by Sikhs from 1819 to 1947. Or that in Spiti, the first son inherits the land, the second becomes the monk and the third is educated. Or the bluffs in history like the Sikkimese king leasing Darjeeling to the British in exchange of “one double-barrelled gun, one rifle, one 20 yards of red-broad cloth and 2 shawls!” Or the simpler narrations of how he found the right partner in Rujuta Diwekar, the celebrity fitness coach and married her in a small Himalayan temple of Thava.
It’s said that 90% of visitors to the Indian Himalaya go to the same 10% places year after year. This book tries to cover the other 90% and tries to convince the reader to explore these hidden parts. It is titillating to read about the unexploited and innocent people of these far-off lands, with the author sharing a brief history of their culture and civilization. But most importantly, this book urges you to put on your trekking shoes and walk that extra mile from the crowded hill stations to the less explored, to witness the true beauty that the Himalayas host!
Quoting A Part:
“They say it is those who win the war who write the history. The Bawaris would agree. For this is the land where Duryodhan and Karna have always been worshipped, where the natives claim to be the descendants of the Kauravas, The proud inhabitants of these remote valleys read the writing on the wall and en masse decided to keep outsiders out of their way of life. Spend a week with them and you will probably not hear the word Duryodhana. They will worship him as they always have, but speak of him they won’t. If they are not sure of your intentions, they will even deny any link with the Kauravas. And why shouldn’t they do this? They are the social outcasts in Gharwal.”