“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 in Deb Mukherji narrating his exciting Yatra to Kailash Manasarovar, at her home in Hyderabad. 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 age forty, the long incubated idea of the Yatra eventually leads Kavi, Pallu and a common friend Prarthana (the trio) to the Nepalgunj airport to meetup with a cosmopolitan foursome; Katy (Hongkong Chinese from Vancouver), Jeff (Australian), Sperello (Italian astrophysicist) and Ying (Chinese domiciled in USA).
Bad weather intervenes and they have a day to break ice with each other. Surprisingly, the Indian trio have never even so much as walked at length in a city park at sea level 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 Zealand mountains. Sperello is the most amiable with 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 vein to Jeff’s character emerges when on the Kailash Parikrama at the spot “…where the deceased are remembered, Jeff made a small shrine for his dead cat”. Each of the foursome wield state of the art digital cameras with high-end zoom attachments.
The first leg of the venture is five days trekking from the airport at Simikot, along the Karnali Ganga at altitudes from 6,000’ gradually rising to 12,000’ through pristine forested mountainscapes, dotted with fairyland tinny villages, each day ending at a picture postcard setting, tented cluster for the night. 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, is hopelessly winded, flops down upon a boulder in self deprecating dark mood till Pallu and Prarthana cheer her up. In the process, much of the charms of the countryside and tete-a-tete with local wayfarers on offer are lost to them, on a daily basis. But much of each day’s despondency vanishes in the fun and laughter during the campfire camaraderie, scrumptious meals (imagine freshly baked on site, apple pie and Pizza at Manasarovar!) and ample tent-comforts that soothe nerves and muscles.
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 indeed, repugnant and new to her. But their spirits soar high shortly after on first sight of the snowed over pyramid of Kailash against dazzling blue sky 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’ than rabbits.
There are many seasoned mountaineers who take long to acclimatise to high altitudes and Kavi belongs to their league; hallucinations by night at Manasarovar and nearly passed away a day later on the Kailash Parikrama but for timely intervention by the guide and Pallu. Two days later 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.”
Sperello hired a Land Cruiser for the 85 km drive around Manasarovar and under the Poornama 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.”
Commissioned in the Regiment of Artillery in July 1956,Lt Gen. Baljit Singh, AVSM, VSM, retired on 31 July 1992 after 36 years of distinguished service. A keen sportsman, accomplished writer and noted environmentalist, he is an active promoter of Conservation of Nature, more so within and by the Armed Forces.