You may not be able to pick up any other genre after reading this brilliant specimen of travelogue, Darakte Himalaya par Dar-ba-Dar (2018) published by Rajkamal Prakashan. It sparks the curiosity to know more about the most prototypical postmodernist genre of travel writing. This perfectly titled travelogue by Ajoy Sodani is his second book on the Himalaya Yatra Series. An eminent neurologist and a traveller, Sodani’s wanderlust gravitates him towards the Himalayas every time. His travels have been recorded twice in the Limca Book of Records. Rich in experience, he has given expression to his adventures in the form of poetry, essays, pictures, and stories that have been widely published. The travelogue is a two hundred-page nail-biting account of the Uttarakhand Himalaya taken up in the dangerous monsoon months of July, August. The book, divided into fourteen chapters, deals with the uphill journey from Jhala to Kyarkoti, further to Dhoomdari Darra, Arjun Jhari, and Sankri covering all aspects of Himalayan trekking.
Besides exploring the challenging and unknown terrains of the Himalayas, Sodani unravels the perceptive individual in him with his keen eye for the vices that grip the society—be it fading patriotism, breakdown of personal communication giving place to ‘WhatsApping’, deforestation, blind scientific and technological advancement spoiling the beauty of nature in all its aspects. The author confesses, ‘sadakon se mujhe koi bair nahi par pagdandiyon se vishesh prem avashya hai’ (I have no enmity towards roads but I certainly have a special love for the footpaths). He laments the robbing of Mother Earth by technology. Posing this question, the author asks: ‘Apni izzat lutne ka rona bechari vasundhara kis dhyodi par jakar roye?’(p.5) (At whose doorstep is poor Mother Earth to go and lament about the anguish at losing her honour?) and warns the readers ‘tum jaante ho ki aise sthano se hamara guzarna bhi yahan ke paryavaran me badlaav lata hai…sadko ke sahare yadi hum yaha sama gaye to sab nestonabud ho jaega…swarthandho’ (p. 61). (Do you know that even our passing through these places brings about a change in the environment…if we were to settle down here with the help of roads, then everything will be ruined… you, blinded by selfishness)
The author’s passionate admiration for nature leads him on a quest for the Brahmakamal, the rare Himalayan flower found at the height of 18,200 feet—Ajoy Sodani’s Holy Grail. The book is replete with breathtakingly beautiful descriptions of picturesque scenes from nature accompanied by handsome photographs and illustrations. The overwhelming beauty of the Brahmakamal inspires the author to express his emotions poetically:
He Vishnu ki nabhi se Brahma ke saath prakat hue aalaukik phool!
He parvatiya phoolon ke raja!
He saare jagat me pooje jaanewaale ekmaatr pushpa!
Apne in pehredaaron ki giraft se baahar nikal aur dekh (p.120)
(Oh you divine flower born from the navel of Vishnu along with Brahma/Oh King of all mountain blooms/Oh the one and only flower worshipped in the entire Universe/Come out of the bondage of these guards and see).
The sensitive soul of the author humanizes nature. Trees strike up a conversation with him and share their grief in this poem:
Ae! Suno, yaha aao
Mujhse baat karo, sahlao,
Pehchano ki main wo hu
Jise tumne hathon se lagaya tha
Tumhare paani, khaad, prem se hi
To main lahlahaya tha.
(Oye/Hark, Come hither/Talk to me, pat me/Recognize that I am the one/whom you had planted with your own hands/I have grown and flourished with your watering, fertilizing, and love.)
Well-researched vivid descriptions of the Siangod river, Tons river, and the local springs add to the nature quotient of the narrative. It attains a unique encyclopedic significance by brushing shoulders with History, Ethnography, Sociology, Geography, Eco-criticism and Cartography at various levels. It becomes a treasure-trove for posterity. The author zooms in on the food, flora, fauna, and architecture of Jhala, Purali and Gangrad Gaon and couples it with fascinating nuggets of wisdom and information about the Gharwali community and the Gujjars. Adept weaving of countless myths and legends adds great substance to the book. The author narrates the story behind the Pandav Marg, the path that the Pandavas had taken in search of Lord Shiva after the battle of Mahabharata. The presence of the Arjuna and Draupadi peak validate their journey through the Har ki Doon region. The Brahmakamal legends lend tremendous religious and medical significance to this flower. The Kathas narrate how Lord Brahma created this flower with elixir in its petals, and the way it was used in fixing the elephant head to Lord Ganesha’s body.
The last chapter of the travelogue ‘Chalte-Phirte’ is replete with detailed descriptions and photographs of the famous temples in this region—Mahasu devta and Pokhu devta temples. Exciting insights into the local and religious beliefs related to these temples make the chapter engrossing.
Reading of travelogues tends to become dull and insipid if it just accounts for geographical and historical facts. It is not so with Darakte Himalaya par Dar-Ba-Dar. It is spiced up with gut-busting humour and the author’s ingenious storytelling ability. Even discussions on relevant and serious issues are humorously presented. In order to point out the language difference from region to region, Ajoy Sodani narrates a hilarious incident where the Gharwali women compliment a wife’s beauty by using a derogatory and harmful term like ‘raand’. For them, it was a positive word. They say: ‘Kaisi raand jaisi sundar dikhti hai tu’ (How beautiful you look–like a whore)(p. 44).
The ease with which the author has played with words enchants the reader. The diction becomes the forte of the travelogue. Passages on nature are charged with poetic prose and smack of his admiration for nature. ‘Saavan me Himalaya masti par aa apne saare bandh khol deta hai, saare jharne mukt, saari nadiyan aazaad. Jab varsharitu me Himalaya par mukti parv manata hai tab barah maas baad ghusl kar tarotaza huye taruraaj ki baah thaam sameer chitakarshak nritya karta hai.’
(In the monsoons, the Himalaya is in a wild mood and opens all its dams, all the streams are free, as are all the rivers. Refreshed by the rains, the Himalaya celebrates an independence fest, and then having been washed by the rains after twelve months the trees embrace the wind’s ecstatic dance (p. 20).)
Beautiful metaphors and analogies grace the prose of the travelogue i.e., ‘Uska munh yun band chalu ho raha tha mano kam voltage se lapak-jhapak karti hui tubelight ho’ (p. 29) (His mouth was opening and shutting like a tube light during low voltage).
Fundamentals of life and society are expressed aphoristically in the text, which makes the reading riveting.
This postmodern collage of nature, history, ethnography, and travelling is a rewarding experience. I highly recommend this book to all the readers.
Shuby Abidi is Assistant Professor of English at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. She did her doctoral dissertation on novelists of the Indian Diaspora. She has published many articles on Pakistani and Indian Diaspora literature in various journals. She has also translated several short stories by Munshi Premchand. Her areas of interest include: Diaspora studies, Indian Writing in English, Third-world literature and Translations Studies.