Back of the Book
The author Koko Singh has traveled extensively through the Himalayas for over twenty-five years. Having opted out of the corporate main stream, he has been volunteering as a consultant to an NGO (SRUTI), for over fifteen years now. This shift allowed him the time to indulge in his love for travel and this set of books is an effort to share the beauty and adventures of Himalayan travel.
By buying this book, or any other in the series, you are contributing to community development efforts as 7.5% of the sale price is going to a voluntary organization of the author's choice.
Driving Holidays in the Himalayas is a series of books that endeavour to give the reader a glimpse of many exciting, exotic locales than can be easily accessed by road and hopes to provide enough insight to make your trip a comfortable and memorable one.
The books already published in this series have extensively explored regions within the Indian Himalayas- Ladakh, Zanskar, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Sikkim.
True to the series, this book too focuses especially on travelers who are fond of driving, have their own wheels (two, four - or even hired will do!), and love the mountains. Given the time constraints of our lives today, each book is designed to cover a fair degree of terrain in a week to ten days. Although it does not aim to visit every place possible in a region, it certainly traverses a reasonable cross-section. It reflects the author's own preferences of historic and picturesque places to visit and also makes staying recommendations.
Bhutan is indeed an extraordinary country- a verdant paradise of just over 600,000 people; an enlightened Buddhist monarchy with one foot firmly set in its culturally rich past while the other seeks an appropriate future. Landlocked and geographically isolated, the country began to tentatively reach out into the twentieth century only recently with roads being built in the 1960s and TV, Internet introduced only in 1999. At the turn of the century, the total number of tourists who visited the country was just six thousand! No small wonder then that Bhutan is often referred to as the last Shangri La- the fictional valley that James Hilton conjured for us in his classic novel Lost Horizons in the 1930s. In the novel the task of the high lama was to ensure this valley remained well hidden, to protect its people and their culture and traditions from the corrupting influences of the modern world.
In the fictional lama's words:
"We may expect no mercy, but we may faintly hope for neglect. Here we shall stay with our books and our music and our meditations, covering the frail elegances of a dying age, and seeking such wisdom as men will need when their passions are all spent. We have a heritage to cherish and bequeath. Let us take what pleasure we may until that time comes."
Hilton obviously drew inspiration for his Shangri La from the Tibetan belief of 'beyuls'; hidden valleys scatterd throughout the Himalayas and chosen by Guru Padmasambhava to remain havens of tranquility and serve as safe refuge for followers of Buddhism during times of turmoil and threatening calamities. There are several valleys in Bhutan that live in a time warp even today, ready for the time they will be called upon to act as the vaults for the culture of humanity. Indeed it is this strong sense of destiny that is imbued in the psyche of the nation - since its birth in the fifteenth century- that is responsible for the extremely wary and cautious stance it has adopted while engaging the global world of today.
The moot question is 'What does this mean for you, dear reader and potential visitor?' Further chapters in the book will provide you with an outline of the history and religion of Bhutan but nothing you read will compensate for the incredible experience of traveling in the country yourself. This is a land of super vistas ranging from the alpine to the tropical and magnificent architecture that is epitomized in the dzongs (fortresses), which stretch across the Country.
Through the ages, the Himalayas have been revered by millions of Indians as the abode of the Gods. The early 'rishis' (sages), referred to them as "the expanse of the two arms of the Supreme Being", suggestive of the whole world being locked in the Himalayas divine embrace. Writing in the fifth century AD Kalidas, the renowned poet, has an evocative but apt description-
In the Northern quarter is divine Himalayas, the lord of the Mountains, reaching from Eastern to Western Ocean, firm as a rod to measure the earth
There demigods rest in the shade of clouds, which spread like a girdle below the peaks but when the rains disturb them, they fly to sunlit summits
It is here that Shiva, the great god of destruction, found solace after the death of his consort Sati, and atoned for almost destroying the world with his dance, the 'Tandava Nritya'. After wooing the bereaved Shiva for over a thousand years Parvati, the daughter of the mountains, succeeded in winning his love. The Himalayas are studded with temples dedicated to Shiva and Parvati, and every year devotees in untold numbers travel hundreds, if not thousands, of kilometers, to visit their 'abode'. In the words of the Skanda Purana: dew, so are the sins of man dissipated at the sight of the Himalaya."
The snow capped Himalayan mountain peaks, wreathed in silent dignity and with a timeless, meditative quality to their stillness, have always lured the spiritually inclined. The profusion of temples and monasteries that dot the landscape of this range stand mute witness to their quest to commune with a higher force. Though a majority of the population in the Himalayan region follows Hinduism, a little known fact is that the physical area under Buddhist influence is close to fifty percent of its area! There are few enclaves here where the Buddhist culture reigns supreme and besides Ladakh and Sikkim in India, there is Bhutan. This is the only independent Himalayan country where Buddhism is the state religion.
Geologically speaking, the Himalayas are the youngest mountain range in the world and are actually still growing up to 0.8cm annually. Samples extracted from the slopes of Mt. Everest confirm that in the past millennia, what is today the world's highest and longest (East to West) mountain range was once part of a vast ocean bed and the 'Roof of the World', Tibet, was the sea bed of the ancient Sea of Tethys!!
Eighty million years ago, in the period when dinosaurs roamed the earth- the Jurassic Age - the earth's land mass split into two great continents, Laurasia in the northern hemisphere and Gondwanaland in the southern hemisphere. Later the landmass, that is the Indian subcontinent, broke away from Gondwanaland and floated across the Earth's surface till it ran into Asia! This titanic geological collision between the hard volcanic rock of India and Asia's soft sedimentary crust resulted in the creation of all the Asian mountain ranges such as the Karakoram, Hindu Kush, Pamir, as also the Tien Shan and Kun Lun. This process took between five and seven million years and the fact that the Himalayas are at the front of the continental collision accounts for their dwarfing the other ranges and for their continued upward movement.
The Himalayas stretch 2500km fro Nanga Parbat (Pakistan) in the West to Namche Barwa (Arunachal Pradesh, India), in the East. The range boasts fourteen peaks in excess of 26,200ft/8000mm ubckydubg Nr, Everest that at 29,028ft/8850m is the highest mountain in the world. The highest peak in Bhutan is a lofty 24,000ft/7314.
The Himalayan range is actually three almost parallel mountain systems. At the top lies the Great Himalayan Range with perennial snow peaks rising to heights in excess of 16,500ft/5000m. The foothills, or the Lower Himalayan Range, are the ranges bordering the plains with mountains up to 8000ft/2500m in height and regrettably, it is only in this third and lowest, layer of mountains that most of our driving journeys are confined!
The Himalayas are also the source of the three major river systems of the subcontinent - the Indus, the Ganges, and the Brahmaputra. All these originate from glaciers, and are joined by many tributaries. The rivers of Bhutan form part of the Brahmaputra River system.
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