Walking in Clouds is an oven fresh travelogue, perhaps the first in 2019 on the new arrivals shelves in India. But the seeds for the journey were sown back in 1982 when a teenager (Kavi, the author) and her cousin (Pallu) chanced to listen to Deb Mukherji narrating his exciting yatra to Kailash Manasarovar. Fascinated, the teenagers vowed that one day they too would tread around Shiva’s abode. Meanwhile, they enter colleges in USA, take on careers, get married, raise children in Hyderabad, and at 40, the long incubated idea of the yatra eventually leads Kavi, Pallu and a common friend Prarthana to the Nepalgunj airport to meet up with a cosmopolitan foursome — Katy (Hongkong Chinese from Vancouver), Jeff (Australian), Sperello (Italian astrophysicist) and Ying (Chinese domiciled in USA).
The Indian trio has never even so much as walked at length in a city park whereas the others are seasoned trekkers; Katy and Ying in British Columbia, Sperello in Italian Alps besides biking on the Silk Route and Jeff in New Zeeland mountains. Sperello has impeccable manners (“...in Italy, we know to wait till everyone is served”) while Jeff is unmindful of his speech (“...we just don’t give a shit...”) but a sensitive vain to Jeff’s character emerges when on the Kailash Parikrama whereas “...where the deceased are remembered, Jeff made a small shrine for his dead cat”. Each of the foursome wields state-of-the-art digital cameras.
The first leg of the venture is five days trekking from the airport at Simikot, along the Karnali Ganga at altitudes rising from 6,000’ to 12,000’ through mountainscapes, dotted with tinny villages, each day ending at a picturesque setting. On the first day itself, the foursome set the pace and Kavi attempts following at their heels but not for long. In less than an hour, she lags far behind, flops down upon a boulder in self-deprecating dark mood till Pallu and Prarthana cheer her up. In the process, the charms of the countryside on offer are lost to them, on a daily basis. But each day’s despondency vanishes during the campfire camaraderie, scrumptious meals and ample tent-comforts.
Their convivial spirits are jolted at the Nepal-Tibet check post. The tour guide had warned them to discard images of the Dalai Lama if any among their belongings but that hardly prepared them for the shock when the PLA soldiers pulled out their kit and held up for open scrutiny even the intimate under garments of the ladies. Ying who had had her education on mainland China confessed that this insensitivity of the PRC was repugnant and new to her. But their spirits soar high shortly after sighting the snowed over pyramid of Kailas and subsequent three days around the shores of Rakshas Tal and Manasarovar. “The sunset on Lake Manasarovar tears the sky apart in rose and orange and red.” But what a pity that none of them captured that magic moment on camera!
Yes, a prominent attraction of the book lies in over sixty, colour photographs mostly by Ying, Sperello and Jeff. If Kavi gets to read this text, the “birds on the lake” are the Great Crested Grebe, “the Deer” are Tibetan Gazelle and what she spotted by night were more likely Pikas’ then rabbits.
When they all rejoined for the last night at Manasarovar, Jeff has every one laughing aloud with his account; “At the tunnel of rebirth, if you are able to crawl through the tinny passage, it is said that you will be reborn to your current set of parents in your next life. Jeff had crawled out and said aloud, “Sorry Mum and Dad, you’re stuck with me again.”
Under the full moon it was a magnificent end of the pilgrimage; “wet pebbles near the lake glow like pearls in moonlight....and the moon’s glow seems more luminous than the sun’s dazzle.”
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