What is the origin of the fear that a monster lies beneath the surface of the high, blue lake of Pabngong Tso? Who was the Englishman who carved out his own kingdom in the Himalayas? What gourmet dish was created by a ruler to feed his famished subjects? What is the epic tale of the while shrine where the weapons of a martial saint are revered?
This is not a travelogue or a guide book, or even a retelling of ancient folklore. It is, however, a little bit of all three. It is a conversation with two well informed people who have travelled, and questioned and analysed. They are convinced that every legend, every custom has grown out of a hard core of fact, a historical event whose impact was so great that it was branded into the racial memory of the community. It then become encased in multiple layers of myth.
In the Alluring North, while describing their experiences in their gently evocative style, Hugh and Colleen Gantzer also uncover many fascinating gems of other, enduring realities that glitter within our intriguing India.
Hugh and Colleen Gantzer live their dream. Colleen had always wanted to fly and she did pilot a plane in the Swiss Alps while Hugh sat behind saying a rosary, just in case! Hugh had longed to see those faraway places with their strange sounding names so he joined the Indian Navy. Hugh took premature retirement when he was the Judge Advocate of the Southern Naval Area and Hugh and Colleen decided to become a travel-writer-photographer team.
Suddenly, things changed. They found themselves surfing on the great travel wave that was sweeping across the world. In quick succession they launched India's first travel column carried in all editions of national daily on the editorial page. They hosted fifty-two weekly episodes of Indian’s first nation-Wide TV travel show, wrote the first travel scripts for dot.Coms, won national and international awards, toured India and the world as guests of eager tourism organisation. They have, possibly, visited, photographed and written about more places in India than anyone else in the long history of our land.
Once, a greatly revered maternal uncle, who had just retired as India’s Naval Chief, had asked them, "How long more will you continue to travel?" That was before they were invited to a winter ball in Vienna. Today, for six months every year, when they‘re not their Victorian cottage in the oak woods of the Himalayas, they’re still travelling... and they’re still having a ball.
One of us was born in the East of our land, the other in the West. We had lived for many wonderful years in the South and have made our home in the highest mountains in the world, the Himalayas.
And so we started this voyage of discovery in the North. We followed the track of our ancestors through the tales in the Mahabharata and the Ramayana the legends told in high temples snowbound and shut for much of the year, into caves and to a strange road where objects rolled uphill of their own volition. Always, we asked ourselves "How did it all start? what is the truth behind this strange happening, this intriguing custom? Why do these women kick food which they have cooked for their husbands, to their husband? why do men of a very patriarchal society allow themselves to be beaten by women in a public spectacle?"
These are just a few of the fascinating encounters we have experienced in our northern quest.
We know, now, that India is not a melting pot, as the Us is. It is a mosaic. We have every racial group known to man, every ethnic mix and every one of them has retained many aspects of the faiths and practices that were born out of necessity but still preserved because, in our land, the past has a sanctity of its own if it does not threaten the survival of the community. And, in India, we have 4,635 distinct ethnic communities.
We spoke about their tracks and their footprints. Who are they
They live in your blood and ours and that of the people next door and ones at the far frontiers of our land. And even though some of us like to believe that we are ethnically distinct from others, the fact is that we Indians have more genes in common than any other people across the globe. We are a racial Salmagundi a Smorgasbord of cultures a wide-spectrum complexity of beliefs.
These are the bloodlines of living traditions that unify our rich diversity. This is the India we have experienced and write about. The India hiding behind the India you thought You Knew.
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