Interview Travel

Eight stories from the Indian Himalayas

Gaurav Punj on his second book, The Land of Moonlit Snows

Gaurav Punj has trekked the Himalayas for a decade now. And over this time, he has introduced this geography of superlatives to hundreds of urbanites, who escape their city haunts in search of their own Shangri-la. The tallest mountains, darkest forests, deepest gorges and rolling hills that mirror the Earth’s biodiversity are to be found here. In his second book, The Land of Moonlit Snows, Gaurav Punj brings alive eight stories from the Indian Himalayas. With a foreword by mountain-lover-writer, Bill Aitken and a solo trek story by nutrition expert, Rujuta Diwekar, the book traverses well-known treks as well as trails that have fallen off the map. With itineraries on places to stay, what to eat, physical ability levels and local contact details, Punj’s mantra is that ‘exploration is for everyone’. Excerpts from an email interview:

How safe are these treks for women? Would Rujuta Diwekar’s experience be a rare occurrence now?

The Indian Himalayas is amongst the safest places for women. And trekking, even more so. Trek with recommended guides. Rujuta’s story was a rare occurrence then and is now, but it has nothing to do with safety. Very few women, or men for that matter, trek solo. More than 80% trekkers with me over the last 10 years have been women. They are inherently more okay with being out of their comfort zone as compared to men, and also more patient, both pre-requisites for trekking.


Could you define the ‘basic level of fitness’ for trekking?

All children can trek. Even those who rarely do any physical activity back home. Movement is natural to them and they take to it as soon as the stimuli is there. Adults have basic fitness levels if they can pick up and wash a cup of chai, climb four floors without unduly getting tired, lift luggage off the belt at the airport. One of the reasons trekking continues to stay the least explored way of visiting the Himalayas is the notion of needing to be supremely fit. Physical fitness helps, surely, but more important is mental fitness, the ability to push yourself beyond what you perceive as your limits. And you can actually develop both while on the trek itself. You prepare for trekking by trekking.

Is there a favourite trek?

I think for me and for almost everyone who treks, the second trek invariably is the favourite trek. On your first trek, you are a blank slate, in awe of everything you experience, and at the same time overwhelmed to take it all in. By the second trek, you are prepared to soak in everything. Its like experiencing the Himalayas the way its meant to be. and it just stays with you forever.

Eight stories from the Indian Himalayas

Are there treks designed around environment protection?

Trekking by its very nature is eco-friendly. You can only make it a polluting activity with your actions. Just follow the basics — no littering, minimum packaged food, deep pits for toilet, small groups, and most importantly, spread out, don’t go to the same treks you keep seeing on social media.

How long before these places get crowded?

Every mountain has a base camp. But most people only know about and want to go to Everest Base Camp. They are going for the name, not the experience. The places mentioned in the book are not the highest, the wildest, or the toughest. If by reading it you feel like going there, you are the kind of traveller who will not make a crowd.

The Land of Moonlit Snows, (Tranquebar, ₹399) is available at physical and online bookstores.

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Printable version | Mar 24, 2020 3:24:09 PM |

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