It’s no secret that Ganesh Saili wears his love for the Himalayas, especially Uttarakhand Himalayas, on his sleeve. Born in Mussourie, called the Queen of the Hills (though Shimla lovers would contest that), Saili is a known name among mountain lovers. In his latest book, Wanderings Through the Garhwal Himalayas, his bond with the Garhwal part of the world’s highest and youngest mountain range comes through strongly.
Mountains cast a spell on any visitor. They not only charm an intrepid traveller, they also haunt him and confound him by their secrets. While that impeccably proud snow peak towering above the green ridges attracts one, at the same time, an invisible bird breaking into a song in a bush down the valley distracts the onlooker. While the bubbling, cascading stream orchestrates a pleasant tune, the silent yet swaying army of conifers keep a close eye on all visitors.
At any one given spot, there’s too much happening every moment. What is true of mountains is also true of Saili’s book. In one way, it lives up to the ‘wanderings’ part of its title. In extremely beautiful prose, Saili weaves stories around the many facets of Garhwal Himalayas—from its geographical splendour to its wildlife to its people and their culture and traditions, flitting from one to another with consummate ease.
Just sample how lovingly and factually—a combination quite difficult to achieve in normal course—he describes Garhwal: “If you think of Garhwal, you see a small stream, a tributary of the Yamuna or the Ganga, rushing along the bottom of a steep rocky valley. On the banks of the stream and on the terraced hills above, there are small fields in which are grown maize, potatoes, spinach, rice and barley, and sometimes apples, apricots and peaches. Above the village are forests of pine and deodar, oak and rhododendron. But not every hillside is covered with foliage. Many are rugged and bare; some are masses of quartz and granite. On slopes most exposed to the wind, only grass and small shrubs can possibly hope to obtain a foothold.”
Such succinct description could have been written only by someone who has travelled through the length and breadth of the difficult terrain that is Garhwal, where, even today, one has to travel by foot to reach many remote villages and where trekking to the higher altitudes needs perseverance and passion. Saili has these qualities in abundance and, over last five decades, has walked his way through various ridges and valleys where, as he puts it, “real and fiction intertwine”. The photographs that feature in the book too add to the wanderings through the mountains, drawn as they are from various periods of time.
Saili reserves the pride of place in this book to areas around Mussourie—whether it may be crossing over the Yamuna, or venturing down to the doons. These places he has seen changing over years and decades. And, he points out with heartfelt concern that the changes are not all welcome. He has seen the hills degraded, forests denuded and villages emptied over decades, all because of one reason—senseless commercialisation. His voice needs to be heeded as Saili surely knows what he is saying.