The incomprehensible pull of Himalaya

Mallika Rale
Saturday, 2 September 2017

The book has over 40 stories (excerpts from various sources) that provide a kaleidoscope of experiences — ascents, descents, the culture and way of life of the locals, personal journeys of spiritual discovery, metaphysical truths, changing geopolitical dimensions of the region, and so on.

What makes one leave the warm comfort of one’s home to trudge the unaccustomed expanse of the mighty Himalayas — once, twice and again? The answer lies in the telling accounts shared by indefatigable explorers and adventurers, who have scaled treacherous heights, exhibiting the immeasurable potential of the human spirit.

In Himalaya — Adventures. Meditations. Life, an anthology edited by Ruskin Bond (who also contributes two pieces) and Namita Gokhale, we are sucked into the icy wonders of this region.

The book has over 40 stories (excerpts from various sources) that provide a kaleidoscope of experiences — ascents, descents, the culture and way of life of the locals, personal journeys of spiritual discovery, metaphysical truths, changing geopolitical dimensions of the region, and so on.

The ‘Adventures’ section includes essays from as early as CE 399 to 412 (The Travels of Fa-Hien) and the era of Emperor Jahangir (1606 AD), as also reflections by Edmund Hillary, Jamling Tenzing Norgay, Heinrich Harrer, Mark Twain and Aleister Crowley, who led the first-ever attempt to climb Kanchenjunga that ended in disaster.

Mostly, we hear about it all from the explorers themselves — the quiet anticipation of attempting such a feat, the awe of catching a glimpse of the elusive snow-capped peaks, the ecstasy of being truly one with nature while overcoming umpteen physical challenges through avalanches, glacial sliding, and ultimately, humble gratitude for those life-changing moments on the majestic range.

George Mallory, who died while climbing the Everest in 1924, speaks of the difficulties that bogged the team — illness, exhaustion, lack of sleep and unpredictable weather conditions, forcing a retreat on their part.

Amitav Ghosh describes his visit to the Siachen Glacier (the highest battleground in the world) in the aftermath of the nuclear tests conducted by India in Pokhran, which prompted a reaction by Pakistan. Considering that both countries pay dearly (in money and soldiers’ lives) for continuing military presence here, what purpose does the glacier serve for either country? Pat comes the reply from a junior officer, “National prestige — this is where India, Pakistan and China meet. We have to hang on, at all costs.”

In an introspective piece, Arundhati Subramaniam, who accompanied yogi Sadhguru on a trek towards Kailash for a meditation session, lays bare her emotions on reaching the highest point of their journey (over 17,500 feet). If the invariable human problem with the sacred is its intangibility, its elusiveness, here all complaints are surely laid to rest. For here is reality in capital letters. Here is mountain — solid, physical, eminently tactile.

Another wonderful account by Vicki Mackenzie details Tenzin Palmo’s stay of 12 years in a cave in Lahoul, at a height of 13,200 feet, in the quest for enlightenment. “There was nowhere else I wanted to be, nothing else I wanted to be doing… Being in the cave was completely satisfying,” she says. The underlying premise in each of these tales is the incomprehensible pull or magnetism of the Himalayas — in all their glory and fury.

Himalaya is without doubt a fascinating compilation, but it needed a keener eye for typos that have inadvertently slipped into quite a few essays. For the earnest reader, this slip-up does become an irritant.

Edited by: Ruskin Bond, Namita Gokhale
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
Pages: 444
Price: Rs 799

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