Of pines and pilgrims

I read Ruskin Bond’s enchanting travelogue of the Ganges, All roads lead to Ganga for a while yesterday. Bond’s description of Badrinath is a lesson in descriptive prose to all aspiring writers. Apparently, Bond is a part of a travelling-party and he describes the bus journey along the roads, traversing plains, tortuous paths spiraling around hill-shrines. He has a lot to offer to the reader: local legend and his personal adventures, observations on declining vegetation among the hills, giant trees that rise to thousands of feet conspicuous by their absence, a contrast between the pristine and the modern hills, the latter brought out by improved travel and boarding businesses.

Bond weaves everything into a seamless tale and paints a picture so graphic that leaves us wondering how much the mountains are a part of him. Of crowds and their moods, Bond maintains throughout their `tourist identity’ – temporary residents of fragile cottages put up on stubborn hills who visit in joyful moods, and sometimes contemplative. These are outliers, who have little knowledge or regard for lives of locals, which is very hard. Bond refers to his co-passengers collectively, being the grand old man of the troupe and in part playing a guide. I take leave for now by quoting Bond on pilgrims and Hinduism:

India is a land of crowds, and it is no different at Badrinath where people throng together, all in good spirits. Hindus enjoy their religion. Whether bathing in cold streams or hot springs, or tramping from one sacred mountain to another, they are united in their wish to experience something of the magic and mystique of the gods and glories of another epoch.


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