Travel and trekking tales around Indian Himalayas

Amrita Dhar
May 05 , 2014
02 Min Read

In terms of subject matter, this collection of short  travel tales is a welcome addition to the general body of work available around the Indian Himalaya. It promises, and delivers, a colourful and compelling cast of characters peopling the hills beyond the hills in the subcontinent’s north: from a shy young monk in a Spiti monastery to a veterinarian who looks after merino sheep in Kara to a schoolteacher in Darjeeling to, of course, the ‘flying lama’ of Darma who so kindly offers his designation and attribute to the title of the book.


Bracketed by a brief yet generous introduction by Harish Kapadia and a concluding chapter by Rujuta Diwekar stressing the benefits of trekking for a healthy lifestyle, the book also carries testimonies, reflections, and sometimes even anecdotes from Punj’s other fellow-travellers. Punj’s desire to engage his readership through an easy conversational style to his prose, his clear enthusiasm for the terrain he travels in, and his joy in meeting the people indigenous to these lands, are both evident and infectious. The vignettes of local history — in those cases where Punj has done his homework — are particularly appealing. 


However, and to me puzzlingly, Punj himself undercuts this charm and inclusiveness by the frequent assumption of a strange tone that is as complacent as it is patronising. He may have attempted humour for his readers — he achieves interruption. And the persona under which Punj offers advice to potential trekkers, ‘Raju the Guide’, is at best erratic. If a travelogue like this is indeed to function also as a guide (for that is one of the stated aims of this volume), it needs a writer who can take his subject matter a little more responsibly.


Finally, both the author and the publisher would have done readers like me (who have some acquaintance with the Himalaya and are eager to learn more) a great favour if they had cared to remember that a book is not simply a hard copy of blog posts or informal notes. There would have been a great deal gained by some careful editing and more meticulous research. I say this because the author mentions a ‘next book’ (Appendix 3). May it be an improved textual exercise, and one that does better justice to his genuinely wide and fascinating travels in a brilliant landscape.

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