By Porisma P. Gogoi
Title: Zanskar to Ziro – No Stilettos in the Himalayas; Author: Sohini Sen; Publisher: Niyogi Books; Pages: 436; Price: Rs 995
Travelogues are always interesting: A new place seen through another’s eyes, sharing someone else’s experiences and, in this case, following a two-women team’s trips spread over 10,000 km. A journey to discover each other, as well as a tour to discover the world within.
“Zanskar to Ziro” is a compilation of a series of travel experiences. The book incorporates the journey of the writer and her voyage partner Sumita Rakshit from the Zanskar Valley in Ladakh (Jammu and Kashmir) through Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Nepal, Sikkim, Bengal and Bhutan to Ziro in Arunachal Pradesh, over a span of 10 years.
Travelling is a tough job in itself — right from making plans and arrangements for stay to ensuring one is self-sufficient so as not to fall short of anything during the journey.
Women have some add-on problems: From the laborious search for female-friendly accommodation to the continuous struggle to ensure that some unknown male driver does not act fresh on a solitary road in the hills.
As Sohini Sen, a full-time writer and photographer, notes in the prologue: “Chauvinism or sexual harassment — issues we either ignored, or dealt with very firmly. To blend in, we always wore androgynous attire, both for convenience and not to draw attention to our femininity. It was sometimes the only option.”
This is what brings the reader back to the title of the book “No Stilettos in the Himalayas”. A woman, who is known to take pride in wearing her heels, has to take them off while going into the wilderness. The author describes certain inconvenient experiences, such as the freezing night spent at Tunganath (Uttarakhand), the highest temple in Asia at 12,000 feet, or the ride from Darjeeling to Mirik (Bengal) in a shared vehicle with 16 passengers and further to Kurseong with 18.
Sen, a journalist with “The Telegraph”, has, as expected, enriched the book with incidents, experiences and interesting facts. Karsha, the largest monastery of the Zanskar Valley, offers the strange revelation that the fingernails of a 1,000-year-old mummy are still growing. The women also survived a near-death experience on the highway to Nako Lake that was featured in History TV Channel’s show IRT Deadliest Roads.
The book is also a visual delight with high-quality pictures of the places the author visited.
The author is clearly in love with the Himalayas: “He has been indifferent, unaware of our existence even. Born of the tumultuous union of two vast land masses, and one of the youngest of his kind in the world, he is violent at times, unpredictable always. He is the Himalayas.”
It is a voluminous book and an intriguing read, infused with impactful experiences and humour.