Snow-clad peaks rising majestically in the horizon, mysterious lakes reflecting the mountains ringing
them, massive glaciers and fast-flowing river – all the and more are the Himalayas, a world stamped by
divinity. Here too are mountain trails winding up to far-flung corners where people in remote villages
pursue age-old lifestyles, almost untouched by the contemporary world.
From snow-covered Ladakh, with its stark-cold desert, to the Kashmir valley where the
ancient pilgrimage trails to the Amarnath cave begins; from Himachal, with its stunning views from
Shimla to the remote Spiti valley and Uttarakhand’s temple towns steeped in mythology – the journey
moves on to Sikkim, crowned by the magnificent Kanchenjunga mountain, and the rainforests of
Arunachal. On the way, visit fascinating people like the Changpas tending their yaks in Ladakh, the
Lapchas of Sikkim, said to be a vanishing tribe, and the Wanchos of Arunachal, the last head hunters of
the world. The odyssey continues outside India, to Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet where the mystique of the
Himalayas deepens. Magical places where the chanting of Buddhist lamas resounds in the mountains of
Tibet and Bhutan, where exquisite monasteries perch precariously on steep inclines and the dzongs
(forts) of Bhutan have stood vigil since the twelfth century are brought to life by stunning photographs
and evocative descriptions, enticing you to visit the far-reaches of the Himalayas or merely turn the
pages to enjoy a visual feast.
HIMANSU JOSHI is a journalist with nearly twenty years of experience in various
newspapers and magazines in India. He has worked for The Hindustan Times, The Times of India,
Outlook, Sahara and Observer groups.
He is also an avid traveler and is currently the editor of a monthly travel and culture
magazine, LandScape, published from New Delhi, India.
The Himalayas, the youngest mountain chain in the world, have always exerted an irresistible pull on
the imagination of travelers. With innumerable valleys and many rivers hiding among the world’s
highest peaks, the 2500-kilometre length of the Himalayas is a treasure trove of geological and cultural
diversity. Probing the various folds of the mountain range is not only fascinating, but also an enriching
cultural experience. The exposure to customs and places that have little link with the outside world is
akin to taking a peek into time gone by.
This book is a celebration of these nooks and corners of the Himalayas that still continue to
preserve and conserve their culture and natural surroundings. It is not that these place – mostly hidden
from prying eyes-have not changed over time. They have, but the change is very gradual. This may be
due to the remote location of a place or the closed traditions of its inhabitants, or just plan ignorance
on our part. These places and people are a window to life that respects nature and strives to live in
harmony with it – not in conflict with it many of us do.
The book is divided into nine chapters, with each chapter devoted to a region in the
Himalayas. From the high-altitude Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir to Arunachal Pradesh, the
eastern tip of the Himalayan range, we travel west to east, observing the natural splendour en route and
delving into the traditional, cultural and social practices of the indigenous people.
But how does one reach these places? It is always easier to delve into the unknown if you
understand the known. Therefore, we first visit the known, tourist-friendly hub of the region we want to
explore. This hub gives an introduction to the region and its people and that, in turn, helps us make
sense of its hidden secrets. In each chapter, we start from the main hub – for example, Leh in Ladakh or
Kathmandu in Nepal – explore the places worth visiting in and around the hub, before taking the road
less traveled. The journey could be to a place less visited or a peep into a culture that is less known.
We start with the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir where, after exploring around Leh,
we try to observe the lines of two little known tribes of the region – the Drogpas (who claim to be
descendants of pure Aryans) and the Changpas (a nomadic tribe that roams the barren Changthang). For
the second journey into the Ladakh region, we go to the remote Zanskar valley, which sees only a small
trickle of outside visitors.
The next stop is the beautiful Kashmir valley. We start off with Srinagar and then take a lake
circuit of the valley, visiting the famous Dal, the lesser known Wular and the little known Manasbal
lakes. What follows is the trek up to the Amarnath shrine – this houses the mythical Shivling (phallus
of Lord Shiva worshipped by Hindus) high up in the mountains that is formed and shaped every year by
The third chapter takes us to Himachal Pradesh and its capital Shimla, where we take in the
sights and soght and sounds of the old summer capital of the British Raj and then slowly wind our way
alone the famous Hindustan-Tibet road, passing through Rampur Bushair, Kinnaur and finally stepping
into the spectacular Spiti – a place that time hasn’t changed. A visit to the Ki monastery in Spiti valley
with its unique honeycomb structure, alongwith Tabo monastery, called the Ajanta of the Himalayas,
brings this rugged yet beautiful region alive.
The next journey is along the holy Ganga (Ganges) river in the state of Uttarakhand. We go
up the river from Rishikesh and visit the glacier at Gaumukh, a holy spot for Hindus, from where the
Ganga originates as Bhagirathi. We undertake a trek to the mysterious lake of Roopkund, where
centuries-old skeletons can still be seen. With high Himalayan peaks like Nanda Delhi, Trishul and
Nanda Ghunti ringing the lake, it is indeed a journey into the unknown realms of life. From the Grahwal
region of the state, we then move into Kumaon to visit places like Kasauni, Baijnath and Binsar, which
combine the natural beauty and cultural diversity of the region.
We cover two other Indian states of Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh in the North-East. In
Sikkim, after a stay in Gangtok, we try to understand the life and traditions of Lepchas, the original
inhabitants of the state. We then visit the high-altitude lakes of the state. We then visit the high-altitude
lakes of the state that are at once inviting yet mysterious. In Arunachal Pradesh, we go to Itanagar, and
then on to Bomdila in the West Kameng district, which is known as the coldest place in the state. In the
second part, we try to make our way into the thick rainforests of Namdapha in search of the elusive
tiger. In fact, Namdapha is the only forest in India where one can find nine types of cats, right from the
celebrated tiger to the small yet beautiful marbled cat.
Outside India, we visit Nepal, the land of high peaks, Bhutan, the Land of the Thunder
Dragon, and Tibet, the Rooftop of the World. While Nepal attracts a lot of visitors from all over the
world, we move away from the Kathmandu valley after a short stay to go to the two least visited areas
of Nepal – Humla and Dolpo. In Tibet, we start off in Lhasa with its gleaming Potala Palace, bustling
bazaars and age-old temple before going on to the mysterious trails where pilgrims throng to
circumambulate the sacred mountains. We also focus on the sky burials of Tibet, where the dead are
chopped and fed to the vultures. In Bhutan, we visit the Tiger’s Nest or the Taktshang monastery and
then try to learn about dzongs, a distinctive type of fortress architecture found only in Bhutan.
The book is essentially a journey to places that march to a different beat, have their own
imaginations and the people inside live in their own, different and enviable world.
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