HIMALAYAN Wonderland is a revised version of the book that Gill wrote in 1971 about his memorable experiences in Lahual and Spiti, where he served as Deputy Commissioner in 1962.
Gill writes elaborately about his visits to almost all the places within the region that he made with Dorje and Fauja Singh, and his stay in a house left by Moravian Missionaries, who introduced the locals to internal heating, ventilation, windows with glass panes, cultivation of vegetables, and knitting of socks and pullovers.
Gifted with a sharp and observant eye, Gill writes about the region in great detail-its history, geography, topography, snow bound tracks, valleys, glaciers, passes, monasteries, gompas-and also about its simple and charming people.
The most engaging details however are about the customs, festivals, and rituals of the people. Marriages mostly begin with the kidnapping of a girl by a boy. This is followed by an elaborate marriage ritual, after which the bride is carried from her parental home by members of the groom’s party because she is not supposed to walk. The two best known festivals are Halda, the festival of lights, and Gotsi, the thanksgiving ceremony for the sons born during the year.
Equally interesting are the ceremonies related to death. But if a dead body remains inside the house for more than three days, an evil spirit can enter it and make the body dance. The region also abounds in spirits, joginis, and devatas. Elaborate rituals are observed to appease them. Lamas perform prayer ceremonies to cure people.
Enriched with maps, beautiful photographs, and several appendices of valuable information, Gill’s book is truly worth reading. -TND
(Penguin Viking, 11, Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110 017)