A book that explores the Indian region of the Himalayas

Vrinda and J. Ramanan explain what makes this formidable chain an eternal enigma for mountaineering enthusiasts

Vrinda and J. Ramanan explain what makes this formidable chain an eternal enigma for mountaineering enthusiasts

“Each mountain has a personality; what you see is not just rock and ice, but a living thing,” says Tiruchi-based architect, photographer and mountaineer J. Ramanan, who collaborated on the glossy book. Mountains of our destiny – The Himalayas, an expedition in the Indian range with his dancer-wife Vrinda.

Long known to readers of The Hindu Friday Review as authors of the ‘Hidden in the Himalayas’ column, the Ramanans have showcased 40 years of their experience in the region with a fully-fledged book that takes a look at the Indian side of the Himalayan biosphere which includes the ‘Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Kumaun, Himachal Pradesh, Ladakh, Zangskar, Kashmir and Eastern Karakoram.

Ramanan’s photographs (over 300) capture the region’s culture, way of life, geography, ecology and folk traditions. They are accompanied by texts written by Vrinda. The volume, published by The Hindu Group, was launched in Chennai in early June.

Phuktal Monastery

Phuktal Monastery | Photo credit: J. Ramanan

Impact of global warming

“When we started, we decided the book should appeal to a diverse readership,” says Ramanan.

The couple also have a personal connection to the forbidden mountain range. Because in 1978, it was there that Vrinda, then a student of basic mountaineering at the Nehru Mountaineering Institute in Uttarkashi, met Ramanan, then a guest instructor, before they became partners for life.

Sharing lessons learned from decades of travels in the Himalayas and back south to Tiruchi, Vrinda says the carbon footprint on the pristine Himalayan ecosystem was accelerating the impact of global warming.

“About 20 years ago, the Ruinsara Taal was a huge lake, where our instructors insisted that we take a bath in the freezing water. Today the water has receded and it looks more like a swamp You go higher, you can see streams blocked with water canisters by local people,” she says.

Ramanan adds, “Kanchenzunga base camp is located in a place called ‘Green Lake’, but today there is no lake there. There are many areas where the water has evaporated and there is no green ground cover, due to deforestation. Rainwater simply evaporates now instead of replenishing the water table. The rivers are no longer perennial.

Young Lamas of Karsha Monastery in Zanskar

Young Lamas of Karsha Monastery in Zanskar | Photo credit: J. Ramanan

Be open to technology

Thanks to the rise of adventure tourism, the Himalayas are no longer spared by civilization. It is not uncommon to see busloads of ‘mountaineers’ being herded from peak to peak by travel agents, with no clear idea of ​​the history or importance of the areas they visit. “In elite mountaineering circles, climbing Everest is not a big deal. People can literally be transported to the top. As a result, a lot of garbage has accumulated here,” explains Ramanan.

But technology has opened up the area in a more positive way. “Each village is well connected thanks to satellite communications. In places like Arunachal Pradesh, we expected to encounter tribal people in native dress. Instead, all houses have 50-inch flat TVs and people wear modern clothes. However, they are happier wearing their traditional costume for the photographs,” he says.

Unique challenges

The couple have always explored the area using host families, to support the local economy and become more familiar with ethnic ways of life. “The Himalayas are only accessible to outsiders for about three months a year; so we had to gather information with that timeline in mind,” says Vrinda. “Staying with local families, we realized that the weather also dictated the plumbing system here – every house has a ‘summer toilet’ for those days when water can run through the pipes and a” winter toilet “dry, which is designed for the month when everything freezes. It made me realize how privileged we are in the tropical south,” says Vrinda.

Barafsar Lake, the highest glacial lake in Kashmir

Barafsar Lake, the highest glacial lake in Kashmir | Photo credit: J. RAMANAN

A precarious landscape like the Himalayas tends to inspire both awe and reckless behavior in the explorer. “There are certain areas of the Himalayas, where ice and snow cones form, which you have to cross carefully in almost total silence, because even a small noise can trigger an avalanche. If you do it for the bragging rights you can get caught up in some tough terrain. If you’re not technically equipped, best not to attempt it. I’d advise youngsters to take a mountaineering lesson before heading out with their backpack. their backs and their cameras,” says Ramanan.

“And people posing for photos on top of mountains with their shirts open need to know that the cold air can kill them, so please button up,” Vrinda laughs.

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