Book title: The Alluring North
Author: Hugh and Colleen Gantzer
Publisher: Niyogi Books
Exploring new destinations is one thing; absorbing the special moments another. Hugh and Colleen Gantzer haven't just penned down their travelogues in The Alluring North, one of the four books from Intriguing India series, they have in fact brought to life a vivid journey of India's ancient history, culture and customs.
The couple calls it the combination of a travelogue, a guide book and retelling an ancient folklore - travelogue because it is a description of the places they had stopped by, guide book because it's informative, and a tale because it lets you see through the remote Indian villages, mystic towns and swarming cities.
Hugh and Colleen begin their travel quest up north, about 18,380 feet above sea level at Khardung La, the highest motorable road in the world. A friend and fellow traveller suggests stopping by at his village behind the Himalayas, Nubra. That is when they set off to explore (North) India and unveil intriguing aspects and angles that were still unheard of. From stories of Lhato spirits to almost encountering a Yeti, an abominable snowman, and discovering the fragrance laden skangba, the wild rose that blossoms only in the Nubra valley - the enchanting trip had just begun from the foothills of the Himalayas.
Their next stop was the magical, mystical Pangong Tso Lake. Remember the last scene from the movie 3 Idiots? The narration makes you believe that the sapphire blue waters have a life of their own. The towns of Leh and Ladakh are next on their list, the former predominantly characterizes Bhutanese culture and the latter a land of blue skies where a monastery dwells on every bend.
Every chapter of The Alluring North is a new halt of incidents to swear by, accumulating memories of a lifetime. The experience of Yamnotri and Gangotri that very convincingly surpasses the expectations of a simple pilgrimage, meeting the bellowing peaks of Kedarnath and Badrinath, becoming the first civilians to drive on the icy caravan road of Zoji-La, celebrating Dusshera amidst the devotees in the cradle of faith that Kulu valley is, the temple in Naggar where gods make their presence felt in the form of honey bees among many others.
The Thaaru feminists' episode is one that stands out as an interesting read where the clan lives by two extreme juxtaposed traditions - while the women have been exercising their right to superiority by cooking food for their men and then kicking the plate towards them, the old custom of female foeticide too exists quite evidently.
After a while, it is a downward journey from the snow-clad peaks to the towns of Uttar Pradesh and then New Delhi. One wonders why such pairing. Only the authors have an answer. But they successfully find a historical meaning behind all the topographical locations they visit - from learning Lucknow's tehzeeb (etiquette) to the hustle-bustle of the crowds in Delhi's Chandni Chowk.
Nevertheless, the book is not one of those travelogues that you read and mull over making plans that never materialize.