Publisher: Tranquebar by Westland
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Consisting of the real travel and trekking experiences of author Gaurav Punj, The Land of Flying Lamas works more as a travelogue describing the beauty and magic of the Indian Himalayas than a compilation of travel stories.
In his book, Gaurav Punj describes all his (and his fellows’) experiences in a comical context. The prologue itself describes in short the Indian subcontinent, as it drifted away from its relationship with Antarctica and fell in love with the continuously changing Asia. The Himalayas are the offspring of their sacred union. The prologue doesn’t end here; Punj also explains the classification of the Himalayas and provides a section about trekking in that region. Five of the ten stories involve trekking, so the book focuses on the myths and mystique surrounding ‘the glamorous form of walking’ in the stories. The book also has a special epilogue section penned by Rujuta Diwekar wherein she adds her experiences, as well as speaks about the benefits of trekking and the dos and don’ts while staying in the Himalayas.
As an elementary guide to the Indian Himalayas, the book does wonders. It encourages people to find accomodation in home-stays or small guesthouses rather than hotels, to breathe in every bit of local history of the places. The book is also streamlined when it comes to the sequence of stories. All parts of the Indian Himalayas are covered as separate stories – Kashmir, Ladakh, Kulu, Spiti, Garhwal, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. Certain details about the places are honest in description and enlarge the reader’s inquisitiveness to go and see the places for themselves. Also, at the end of every chapter, Punj provides a list of books that can be read in order to explore more. He talks about the trek trails and places where a normal tourist can trek contently. Not only that, he provides some nominal details about the local service providers making it easy for anybody who might be making plans.
The book doesn’t work as a collection of real travel stories in itself. Most of the stories are hardly worth telling; they are simply not interesting enough. The one about Arunachal Pradesh seems to be written just to end the series formally. Also, Punj unsuccessfully tries to inject humour in each and every line, because of which his writing gets exaggerated and loses its impact; his writing does not carry literary merit in the first place. Though it might prove to be a hurdle with respect to the reading material, the easy language makes it accessible to a wider audience. Alas, the audience can only be Indian, and that too Hindi speaking, as a significant amount of sentences and conversations are dubbed in that language. There is a section at the end of every chapter called ‘Raju, The Guide’ which describes the place in question in a single sentence, which is completely unnecessary, and should have been placed at the start of the chapter, if at all. Gaurav Punj hails from Mumbai, and so does his writing. The way he describes a place or an experience has a tinge of Mumbaikar dialect, making it a bit limiting.
Overall, the book makes a significant impact as an elementary guide and a travel book, but loses steam as soon as the travel experiences come into play. However, because of the easy language used, the book has the quality of a popular bestseller and might rule the Indian travel section on the bookshelves for a while.