travel Reviews

‘Into the Heart of the Himalayas’ review: Walking the mountains in silence

As someone who has done travel books himself, would it be fair — even ethical — on my part to comment about someone else’s travelogue? That was the first thought that struck me as I finished reading Jono Lineen’s Into the Heart of the Himalayas. There’s no rulebook that stops me, but why should I judge another writer’s labour of love?

Then it occurred to me that there’s hardly any common ground. I can never come close to doing what he has done. I am an Indian, that too belonging to a generation that cannot even imagine backpacking in the mountains of Pakistan in the foreseeable future. While millions were direct victims of Partition, an event that took place more than 70 years ago, successive generations continue to pay the price for it in numerous ways, one of them being their inability to access some of the most majestic parts of the Himalayas, which today lie in Pakistan.

Tumultuous landscape

In other words, you are unlikely to find a present-day Indian writer beginning his book with these sentences: “The jeep taxi dropped me at my starting point, the confluence of the Indus and Astore rivers in the Northern Areas of Pakistan-administered Kashmir. It is a tumultuous landscape, where three of the world’s greatest mountain ranges — the Himalayas, the Karakoram and the Hindu Kush — collide.”

While Lileen brilliantly sets the tone of the book with these very first two lines, he also establishes, quite early on, that he is a nice, likeable sort you can trust as you trek the 2,700 kilometres along with him — from the ‘Muslim Himalayas’ of Pakistan to the ‘Buddhist Himalayas’ of Ladakh and Spiti and finally into the ‘Hindu Himalayas’ of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

He wanders through the Himalayas for pretty much the same reason that Indian sadhus do: search for self and spirituality. In his case, the trigger was the death of his younger brother Gareth, who had drowned in the icy waters of Elk Lake in British Columbia the day before he would have turned 19. The recurring mentions of the death make it clear that the arduous trek was not an attempt to walk away from the tragedy but a tool to come to terms with it; as if in enduring the hardship he is seeking to lessen the pain caused by his brother’s death.

Meditative trek

Lileen’s modesty and honesty shines through in his prose, which is lucid and precise. Not for a moment do you feel intimidated by or envious of his feat: time and again you are reminded that he is a human just like you and me, someone who grew up in violence-scarred Belfast and who lost his teenage brother.

What’s most endearing about his account is that he keeps pretty much to himself almost throughout the journey, even when he encounters temptation in the form of an Anglo-Pakistani woman in the middle of nowhere.

Reading him is not just travelling with him; by the time you reach the end of the book you realise you’ve been meditating all along.

Into the Heart of the Himalayas; Jono Lineen, Speaking Tiger, ₹499.

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Printable version | Mar 6, 2021 8:59:40 PM |

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