Book Reviews

Review Published in HINDUSTAN TIMES

An Uninspiring Account

KAILAS AND MANASAROVAR AFTER 22 YEARS

By Rahul k. Bedi and Subramaniam Swamy
Allied

In 1981, pilgrimage began once again to the holiest of Hindu shrines- Kailas Parbat, the abode of Shiva and Parbati and their heavenly bathing spot- the enchanting blue Lake Manasarovar. The two authors of this slim volume were among the first batch of 18 pilgrims who set out from the corridors of Delhi offices to the barren, freezing heights of Tibet.

Such a journey has all the makings of a fascinating tale. The destination is surrounded in mystery and charm, in part lent by its place in mythology and in part by its recent inaccessibility. The path is one which is bound to challenge the human body and spirit as it traverses over mountains, wilds and far- flung villages. A wealth of inevitable and engrossing detail no doubt lies by that path. The journey is a pilgrimage built around the core of human adventure. Everything else about it offers a tremendous opportunity for producing a fascinating book. All too regrettably, in this case it is a tremendous opportunity missed.

The journey to Kailas and Manasarovar entails bus travel to the heights of Kumaon and then a strenuous trek to the Lipu Lekh pass at 17,800 feet before crossing over to Tibet. The pilgrims then move by foot, jeep or on horseback for the rest of the journey to the legend-swept land. It must be a moving sight. Lake Manasarovar covers an area of nearly 320 sq kms. at 15,000 ft. and is said to have originated from the mind of Lord Brahma. Thirty kilometres away swathed in snow stands the Kailas Parbat, the playground of the Gods.

It could have made a great tale but the book fails to grip or impress. The style rarely evokes the sense of adventure or the serenity that must pervade such a holy pilgrimage, Perhaps it would have been better if the authors had given in wholly to the temptation of making a diary out of it. In the event, however, the inflexible narrative moves from point to point of the journey in a monotonous trail of paragraphs. Occasionally there are remarks about the physically unfit or weak companions highlighting their "years of indulgence" that can only jar on the sensibilities of all who know the trials of adventure in a group. These details are inevitable on strenuous treks and should best be kept for private and friendly ribbing.

The first thing that the reader looks for in such books is the photographs. They need not necessarily be expansive colour plates. But the lack and imagination shown in the bunching of photographs is eight pages at the end of the book is unfortunate. The photographs with a couple of exceptions depict little more than shades of black and white. One hopes that it was only rank bad printing.

The subject of the book raises hopes which are belied. With a sense of disappointment, one cannot end the book without a feeling that it could well not have been written.