Gaurav Punj, author of The Land of Flying Lamas, and Rujuta Diwekar, celebrity nutritionist, brought alive the joys of trekking in the Himalayas at a discussion at The Hindu Lit for Life 2014

“I trek because I don't know anything better,” said Gaurav Punj, author of The Land Of Flying Lamas and founder of trekking outfit, ‘Connect With Himalaya.’ After six years of exploring what he calls the “Indian Himalaya,” covering Kashmir, Ladakh, Himachal, Garhwal, Kumaon, Sikkim and Arunachal, Gaurav has put together his best ‘real travel stories’ in a book hoping to tempt more people to head to the mountains.

At The Hindu Lit For Life, Gaurav along with his partner, Rujuta Diwekar, celebrity nutritionist, trainer and author, discussed the lure of the Land of Flying Lamas.

“In the 1920s, Frank Smith, a French explorer, was trekking through the Badrinath area,” said Gaurav, explaining how certain treks became legends. “Beyond those mountains, the terrain turns harsh and rocky. After ten days of blundering from one rock to another, they suddenly found themselves in a green valley full of flowers. Frank was so inspired he went home and wrote about the ‘Valley of Flowers.’ For decades after that, almost every European trekking through that region wanted to go there. So much so that the flowers got trampled and started to disappear.”

Gaurav then added with a shrug, “The truth is every Himalayan valley is a valley of flowers.”

The story demonstrates why Gaurav does what he does, introducing both newbie and seasoned trekkers to new facets of these mountains. “About 90 per cent of the traffic goes to 10 per cent of the places,” he said, “When I started trekking, I made a list of places I wanted to explore. I soon had 250 – 260 places, and given the fact that I can't cover more than 5 or 6 in a year, I'm pretty much booked for the rest of my life.” He added with a laugh, “You can pretty much throw a dart at the map of the Himalaya and find somewhere perfect.”

“Trekking is a great way to undo all the damage the city does. The damage to your body. To your ability to think. This is why we have vanaprasthashram” said Rujuta. “This is why people go for char dham (a set of four pilgrimages) post 75. You do it when your knees are not as strong. When your hair is turning grey. When you reach this stage you go to the mountains.” She adds, “It makes much more sense than getting knee replacements. Much more sense than getting pacemakers. You get healthier, and you also get this new perspective on life: physically, emotionally, mentally...,” with Gaurav adding thoughtfully, “Himalaya has the ability to resolve all your issues.”

“Trekking is a way of focussing yourself,” added Gaurav, “Your only thought is where you are going to put your next step. Your only concern is following the trail to reach the camp. You enjoy the sky above, the river below. You get back to basics.”

Gaurav and Rujuta certainly have a way of making the mountains sound magical. “According to the soaps on TV, if you are a cultured woman you are constantly sitting in the kitchen and crying,” said Rujuta, rolling her eyes. “That’s when you're not cooking with your head covered… But in the mountains there is equality. We have seen women racing horses with men. And when the men get drunk, instead of knights in shining amour, those petite beautiful girls get on the horses and ride the men home.”

As for the flying lama? “Priests are called Lamas there. In 2009, we did a trek with a very special guide. In every village we went to, people bowed to him. They then told us he has the power to fly,” said Gaurav. “Of course we’re city people, so we were cynical. We asked him how, and he told us many lamas came home and told his parents he was special when he was born. He has no education but can read. And he has the gift of healing using medicinal herbs.” Gaurav paused thoughtfully. “Can he fly? Well, when you’re sitting 3000 metres above sea level, with the moon shining above and river slithering below, then you’ll think, if there is ever a place and a person who can fly it’s that lama in that Darma valley.”