Book Review: Himalaya by Michael Palin

For Book Club Meeting: Saturday, 5th March 2011.
Venue: Ms. Madhavi Murthy’s residence. Time: 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm

Travel-writers are our present-day historians. They bring at our doorsteps countless myths, legends, historical facts – which are charmingly and alarmingly connected with the places of their destinations. Virtually, their publications ought to be considered as compulsory scriptures of knowledge, preserving a treasure trove for the future generations.

This time, Book Club chose Michael Palin’s Himalaya, which carried a charming, cozy, easygoing experience for me. Most of us – I mean the majority of us all know that we aren’t known to being stout trekkers or mountaineers, or for that matter hardship-travellers. But, what the bulk of us enjoy is sitting silent and still, reading the wandering escapades of brave travel-writers. We then are brave to travel the writer’s ways through valleys of ice and glaciers; we then are brave to anchor under a jagged cave facing a maniac sand-storm. Himalaya literally sets up for its readers a private audience at which places Michael Palin and his devoutly dexterous unit travelled or halted. The best part of it all is: we will feel none of the mind-breaking, body-breaking trials of the group. The procedure is to sit in an arm-chair with a favourite drink in your hand and Himalaya in your lap!

By the book, I travelled through the loveliest breeze and harmonic views. The pages of Himalaya reported of quaint and fascinating cultures of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Tibet and much more. I was equally in touch with contrast of deformities in our beliefs in God. Michael Palin (the author of Around the World in Eighty Days fame) brought out Himalaya with bracing facts leaving behind us the blazing trail of adventurism to prove one more time the super-spirited form of human beings.

In parts, I closed the book sometimes for a few minutes and argued with the arguments that troubled my mental conversation with myself. Reference: Day Ten: Chitral (Page 31) ‘Repetition of Koran, at the expense of other subjects like science and maths, has become the main discipline of these madrassas – religious schools, which have increased since the Taliban was thrown out of Afghanistan and fled across the border. I was thinking: how deluded we are! To remove one obstacle, we are creating three more hurdles.

As a duty and out of special interest, I read about Amritsar and Shimla – places of my birth and education, respectively. I did not know that the Amrit Sarovar (The Nectar pool) of the Golden Temple (Amritsar) was a pool visited by Lord Buddha and hence chosen as a spot of great reverence to build their first temple by the Sikh gurus. The Green Rooms and Cecil Hotel brought back memories of my college days as St. Bedes in Shimla.

In marked vividness, the writer describes the tensions between boundaries to boundaries. They are no different today, or when Michael Palin wrote: Himalaya in 2004.

The immense delight of Michael Palin’s humour cannot be missed out in the book because his style is real and honest. The example: Dharamsala and McLeod Ganj – the Astrology Centre. Michale Palin’s very own chart of incarnation from the Astrology Centre goes like this: “You were likely to be an elephant in your previous life, but you are going to be born as a daughter of a rich family in the west. Your marriage has been disheartening”. To that Michael Palin’s reaction is – How can I tell Helen this after 38 years? With his illustrated book, Michael Palin presents to his readers – a guide to delight one and all to absorb the level of his experiences.

Geeta Chhabra

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