Would you like to spend an entire winter season in the Lahaul Valley? Let’s add more to it; at government’s expense? A majority would agree without even blinking eyes. A frozen Chandra River, snow-clad Mulkila Peaks, gorgeously white Pattan Valley; these might be some of the very first thoughts running in your head.
But then Lahaul is not about snow, valleys, peaks, and mountains only. Real people do live there; Hindu, Buddhists, some Christians too. They need to be served well; they need good administration like we all do. But I haven’t seen many going to the valley with intent of serving, not even the natives of the valley. Mostly they too prefer staying out once they have enjoyed their fair share of tribal reservation quota.
Then there are exceptions. M.S.Gill, the former Sports Minister of India, at the age of 26 served as the Deputy Commissioner of the Lahaul Valley in 1962. He volunteered to serve in the valley because like all of us, he too was fed up of serving in the corporate offices of Chandigarh. And that was the beginning of a new chapter of his life.
The book was published in 1972; exactly ten years after the author left the valley.
Part memoir and part travel, it is Gill’s account of his time in the valley. He closely observed the rituals, rivers, mountains, and people of the valley.
Mr. Gill described Lahaul Valley in vivid details bringing life to the otherwise gloomy winters of the valley. Spiti finds just a passing mention in the book when author undertook a journey from Lahaul to Tabo, partly on a jeep and partly on foot. But you won’t complain because the vastness of Lahaul Valley will keep you busy.
The author not only described his life in the valley, he also talks about gems of travel literature like ‘No Purdah in Padum’ and GD Khosla’s ‘Himalayan Circuit’. Mr Kapadia also recommended Gill’s book citing it as one of the best books written about the Lahaul Valley.
You will see numerous references and quotes mentioned in the book picked from gazetteers, books, and journals. Some of the books mentioned are now impossible to get hold of. The author made a dedicated effort to bring forward hitherto unknown history of the region. The external world thinks of Lahaul as a tourist destination or a mountaineer’s paradise. Gill tried to paint a different picture which also shows the historical and cultural aspects of Lahaul.
Festivals of Lahaul, death rites, education system, monasteries of Lahaul; everything finds a mention in this book. And we are talking about good thirty years from now; some of these rituals are not even practiced anymore.
Not once this book gives and impression that the book has been written by a ‘sarkari babu’. He has carefully avoided hitting preachy notes, which otherwise are a characteristic property of administrators turned authors. And this book is not just about I, me, and myself. Mr. Gill lets his companions take the center-stage as they come.
Tshering Dorje and Fauja Singh were his partners and the author didn’t forget them, not in the book, not after he left the valley.
Fauja Singh was his driver cum trekking partner who took him to the distant corners of the valley. From Keylong to Tabo, Fauja Singh always accompanied his boss. And Fauja Singh always wondered about his boss and his idea’s of walking miles in the valley. Sample this conversation:
I could see that something was worrying him. Ultimately, he asked, ‘Sahib, why do you go walking all these miles in this dusty, god-forsaken valley? It does not become a deputy commissioner. What will people in Chandigarh say if they knew?!’
I had no answer to his question and pretended to sleep as the mountains slid by.
Mr. Gill’s love for the rituals, traditions, and mountains of the valley is evident in the book.
Back then Himachal was a part of the Punjab state and Pratap Singh Kairon was the then Chief Minister. Mr. Gill highlights Kairon’s contribution to the valley. Kairon, as the author states, pushed education into the valley. He literally forced his officers into the valley. It was Kairon who propounded the theory of strengthening the borders by all means, be it education or good administration.
‘The Reason Why’ is an entire chapter dedicated to explain the need of strengthening our borders which makes an engrossing read. Citing Kairon’s administrative skills, the author talks about the meeting of Tribal Advisory Councils in the valley which were hitherto organized in the air conditioned chambers of Chandigarh.
Kairon made them all cross over the Rohtang Pass. On foot, on ‘khacchhars’, or on knees. Each one of them was asked to report in Keylong. And they all did.
Mr. Gill continued his love affair with Lahaul even after he left the valley. As a Secretary to the Agriculture Ministry, he provided the much needed funding to the dying potato societies of Lahaul. As a Petroleum Ministry Secretary, he ensured supply of ONGC Cylinders to the valley in 1998. His bond with the valley just got stronger with time.
And that’s why Lahaul lama’s pray for his well-being even today.
This book has made me fall in love with the Lahaul valley, again. Thank you Naveen Boktapa for recommending this brilliant love story.
A love affair with the Himalayas! That’s what it is.
P.S. Gill crossed over the Rohtang on foot in the summers of 1962. Imagine!