Sunday, March 26, 2006

Himalayan Circuit : A journey in the inner Himalayas

So at last a book review, rather at last a review. It was long back when I became an MSian and over this period I had written less and read more. The idea wasn’t that initially but circumstances care for nothing. As far as writing a review on a book is concerned, it all started almost a year ago when I was reading “The River Dog” by Mark Shand. Well, that elusive review still hasn’t happened but several months and books later, suddenly today this long cherished desire to write a book review has again overpowered me. (That today was three weeks back :)).

It makes me bit sad that I’m not writing my first book review on “The River Dog”, which itself was a great read, but perhaps it was meant to be this way that I start with my passion, The Himalayas.
Himalayan Circuit : A journey in the inner Himalayas” by G.D. Khosla (referred as GDK henceforth) was more of an accidental rather than a by-choice reading. My first impression of the book wasn’t great too, the back cover of the book told that GDK was Chief Justice of Punjab HC which led me to believe that this will be another of those egoistic, full of attitude account of a government official, who perhaps will be more interested in pointing out fallacies in the facilities provided to him during the trek rather than the natural beauty of the Himalayas. The fact that this book was first published in 1956 didn’t help the matters either as I could sense the heavy British influence over the author’s style. A dry preface and a first few dull chapters almost confirmed my assumptions till I reached the third chapter. I would have not continued the book but for the fact that it was about Himalayas and moreover it talked of a region in Himalayas I was always attracted to. Third chapter onwards begins a journey, a trek at the end of which one is not just satisfied but also mesmerized by beautiful account of the forbidding yet ethereally beautiful twin valleys of Lahaul and Spiti.
GDK’s Himalayan Circuit is one of the earliest and perhaps the best account of the Lahaul and Spiti region situated in the North Indian State of Himachal Pradesh. No wonder that it is still considered a valuable text when it comes to knowing about the region and its customs and traditions. The journey to the inner Himalayas starts with GDK traveling from Shimla to Kulu where he accompanies other govt. of India officials on an official trek to the Spiti-Lahaul region for some purpose never really explained in the book (and thankfully so). Among his various companions, the prominent are Shriganesh, the commissioner of the region, Dr. Massey, the doctor and their cheerful and entertaining cook, Chanchlu. Together they move in the wild yet enchanting Himalayas, battling the weather, difficult and strenuous trek, all along the way passing through the beautiful valleys which though devoid of any vegetation are still charming and attractive. They pass over ice bridges, cross several rivers and passes and trek over barren, rugged and rocky mountain slopes. And throughout the journey they come across several facets of the lifestyle, culture and customs of the remote Spiti-Lahaul valley.
In the first phase of the trek, the party crosses the Beas river and move along the Hamta torrent crossing several snow bridges to reach the 14000 ft high Hamta pass. They then camp at the Chatru camping grounds by the Chandra river before getting ready for the 4590 m high dangerous Kunzum pass which provides panoramic view of the Bara Sigri glacier, the world’s second longest glacier. From top of the Kunzum pass they get breathtaking views of Spiti valley on one side and Chandra-Bhaga peaks on the others and finally after crossing the pass they are in Spiti.
The middle portions of the book covering three chapters dedicated to Spiti are the high points of the book. GDK’s description of life and culture of the Spitians is absolutely fantastic. He starts with the way a normal Spitian looks like, describes their clothing, the way they ride their horses, their houses, eating habits, the religious ideologies followed by peculiarities in the customs and traditions and in between keeps throwing in brilliant insights into the Spitian culture. The description of the beautiful village monasteries is another highlight of the book, though in one boring phase GDK goes into describing the intricacies of Buddhism which I feel falls a bit out of place. Nonetheless, the uniqueness of the customs leaves one amused. A few interesting ones included the law of primogeniture which in other words came down to enforced celibacy for the younger sons. The entire process of marriage is also very peculiar and interesting and the same goes with the divorce procedure, which depicted the sadness oh so symbolically. And yes interwoven among all this description are the beautiful Himalayas. GDK never looses the focus and keeps describing the charming beauty of the region, be it the fascinating Chandra Tal (The Moon Lake) and its valley with the ever entrancing Sumandari glacier opposite the lake or the mysterious Akbar lake.
The book finally winds up with the completion of an amazing journey with final two chapters on Lahoul which were as impressive as others. Good that my initial notions were proved wrong by GDK’s passion for the Himalayas that resulted in this gem of a book which I recommend for all those who are equally passionate about the Himalayas, the ones who derive great pleasure in imagining the wonders of the alluring Himalayas.
As I finished the book, my heart echoed the same sentiments as those of GDK’s while he wrote the last lines; “As scenes of sun and snow and purple crags flashed across my half-closed eyes, my mind was teased by a desire to go back to the real mountains far away, beyond the high passes and among the cruel rugged rocks where the barren splendour of the Himalayas reigns supreme”.

March 23rd, 2004 (Original Date of the review)


GuNs said...

Hey man !!

How come you know so much about the Himalayas?

I went to the Himalayas last month on a 18-day trip. Spent the first week with a friend and the second week alone. Read my tour itinerary on my blog and also a description of our trek to Triund. Also check out photos on my gallery at

deep said...

hi nice blog
m also from Uttranchal
check this blog