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Malavika Karlekar

By Deb Mukharji
Niyogi Books, New Delhi, 2013, pp. 252, Rs. 1995.00


Aviewing of Kailash and Manasarovar: A Quest Beyond the Himalaya quite easily leads one to agree with Deb Mukharji  that ‘[O]f all the elements of nature, perhaps the strongest influence on the human psyche has been exercised by mountains’ (p. 34). I use the word ‘viewing’ quite deliberately because it is Mukharji’s amazing photographs that enliven his interesting text. Together, both are ample testimony of the author’s empathy for the high reaches and lonely spaces of the Himalaya. A former civil servant by profession but a mountaineer and photographer by instinct and passion, the author describes in meticulous detail the fascination of the Kailash and Manas region over millennia. Kailash, he writes, ‘is where convictions remain suspended, myths endure and sparks of understanding illuminate reason’ (p. 245). Earlier known as Meru ‘in the Indian consciousness’, Kailash was associated with Shiva and the area had ‘a mixed political history’. Mukharji traces the mythological and religious significance of Meru, delineating its importance in Hindu, Buddhist and Jain mythology; its geographic location is described in the Vishnu Purana.  When exploration took over the western imagination, Kailash became an area of interest. Early mappings owed much to Indians—in 1790, a brahmin named Purangiri was employed by Governor General Warren Hastings to accompany envoys Bogle and Turner. He apparently walked around Manas in five days ‘and correctly judged it to be oval in shape’. Less than a century later, the machinations of the Great Game necessitated the training of a group of men from Garhwal to survey the Tibetan region. Disguised as pilgrims, the ‘pundits’ among whom Nain Singh was the most important, visited Tibet three times and correctly pointed out that Brahmaputra was in its upper reaches known as the Yarlung Tsangpo. Though he mentions Nain Singh’s diaries, Mukharji omits to provide a reference to the three volumes published by PAHAR in 2006. These consist of the diaries, biographical information and reprints of the Survey of India reports1 and make for invaluable readings on an intrepid man’s life and work. The author’s bibliography also does not mention Robert Macfarlane’s Mountains of the Mind that describes the psychological mindset and obsessions of the mountaineer in some detail. Mukharji’s interesting mythological and historical nuggets as well as brief introductions to the pilgrims, savants, mountaineers and explorers who made it to the region provide appropriate contexts to his own three journeys to ...

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