Title: Zanskar to Ziro: No Stilettos in the Himalayas

AUTHOR: Sohini Sen

PRICE: Rs.528

Publisher: Niyogi Books

Papri Sri Raman

This book is about two friends, Sumita and Sohini’s journeys across the Himalayas between 2007 and 2017. It is a travelogue about the journeys of a two-women team across the Himalayan ranges—spanning 10 long years and over 10,000 kilometres—from Ladakh in the west to Arunachal in the east. Sohini Sen also has a very successful book on Ladhak.

This Statewise pictorial packs in personal experiences that every traveller will relate to. It has a fascinating collection of local lore from villagers, guides and native texts. It is also a collector’s item in terms of its highquality visuals.

The travellers drive down the Kargil-Zanskar road that cuts through the Great Himalayan and the Zanskar Ranges and the entire length of the Suru and Zanskar river valleys. Some years ago, terrorists had sneaked into Rangdum Monastery and butchered three young lamas. The valley of death almost claims the author, too. At Padum, Pibiting and Zangla, remote villages of Zanskar with negligible tourist footfall, the team hears about the spirit inside the pressure cooker and learn that women wear their hearts on the right. The ladies are handed the keys to a palace by the king’s grand-daughter, and visit the room where Hungarian scholar Alexander Kőrös had compiled the first Western dictionary of the Tibetan language in 1823. At Karsha, the largest monastery of this region, they have a strange revelation: the fingernails of a 1000-year-old mummy are still growing. Surprises galore throughout the beautifully produced book. We ask Sohini:

How did the idea of this book come? When?
The travelogue as a genre has been thriving for centuries. Independent travel and travel writing, however, remained an all-male precinct for years.

Yet, travel writing by women is distinctly different from the male version. Travel literature is essentially the impressions of one culture viewing another. Travel literature by women is more than that: it is also about how women cope with ‘being women’ in an unfamiliar land.

How did you get this— Himalyas—covering it Statewise idea?
My friend Sumita and I fell in love with the Himalayas in 2007, and for the last 10 years, we have been travelling to the mountains. We have journeyed from the toughest and the most barren Himalayan ranges in the north to the gentle, verdant slopes in the east. Travelling in the mountains made us feel closest to ‘whatever Being it is that rules our destiny’. And as Ibn Battutah said, travelling leaves you speechless, and then turns you into a storyteller. Thus, this story. Zanskar to Ziro… narrates our journey across 52 places on the ranges, each dangerous or beautiful in its own way.

As a women travelwriter, are there any specific hurdles that you met?
Travelling as a twowoman team, we had to prepare for some difficulties: Chauvinism and sexual harassment were issues at times. We always wore androgynous attire to blend into the social landscape.

Unlike men travellers, we could not get off the car and mark our territory just about anywhere on the long, mountain trails. So, our day journeys had to be shortened. One of us falling ill made the other feel completely helpless and vulnerable. Our first aid kit was bulky.

To feel secure at night, we checked every latch on our hotel windows and doors. We pushed the heaviest chair or sofa against the door, and placed our loaded bags on it. Then we unpacked my sturdy tripod and placed it beside the bed as a weapon.

How does a woman’s perspective differ from a man’s (how is your perspective different you think) from a man travel writer—especially when the canvass is as vast as the Himalaya?
It is this ‘female gaze’ that sets Zanskar to Ziro: No Stilettos in the Himalayas apart from, say, an Into Thin Air, a firstperson account of the disastrous Everest expeditions of 1996. For, as women, we have not felt driven by the very masculine urge to discover, to conquer, or to ‘experience life at its extremes’ and then return to the city ready to deliver an expert’s view.

Instead, we have ambled along the mountain ranges and their people, with an eye for the aesthetic as well as the curious, a heart for the exotic, and an ear for the local lore or even a recipe from a village woman. Yes, being women, we had an easy access into warm kitchens and warmer feminine hearts, something a male visitor would be denied.