An Indian journey is rich in its diversity, a colourful exploration of people, places, myths, monuments, art, culture, cuisine and celebrations. And India is a country not so much for seeing as for experiencing. In a departure from the merely exotic, a Passage Through Indian is a journey into the heartlands of a nation that writers since the dawn of time have been exploring for independent interpretation. This account of a journey through India follows the natural contours of the land, and is amply illustrated with rare pictures from the sensitive camera of a gifted photographer. A Passage Through India offers written and visual images of a beautiful county, vignettes that transcend time to bring alive the spirit of one of the world's oldest civilizations.
About the Photographer
Ganesh Saili was born and brought up in Mussoorie where he teaches English and American Literature at the Post-Graduate College. He travelled through the length and breadth of India to take the pictures for this book. Ganesh Saili together with Ruskin Bond has also published Mussoorie & Landour: Days of Wine and Roses from Lustre Press. He has published extensively in magazines and newspapers in India and abroad.
About the writer
Kamal Gill has been one of India's leading travel writers for many years and curre3ntly edits a professional magazine for the travel industry. Born of parents whose moves with the Indian Army allowed her the first fascinating glimpses into the rich heritage of the country, she learned early to get beyond just superfluous sightseeing to a serious understanding of the social, cultural and historic wealth that awaited a young scholar's attention. She brings that insight to bear on this book in an easy, informal style. Kamal Gill has two earlier children's books to her credit, and has contributed travel features to leading newspapers and magazines in the country.
From New Delhi to Darjeeling, I have done my share of healing," sang Peter Sellers while tentatively placing his stethoscope against Sophia Loren's awesome ramparts. And from Delhi to Darjeeling, Calcutta to Goa, and Kangra to Kanyakumari, Ganesh Saili has followed his own avocation capturing the beauties of the Indian landscape and its people with growing skill and confidence.
A lecturer in English and American Literature at Mussoorie's post-graduate college, Ganesh first become a camera enthusiast in the early 1980s. His main influence then was the American (later Australian) Raymond Steiner, a creative and inventive photographer, who used his camera as an artist uses a paint-brush. Some of Ganesh's early efforts appeared in the magazine Imprint, which I was editing at the time, and later he worked with me on a number of features for other magazines, and we travelled together in the Garhwal Himalayas, gathering material for a book.
It was always fun travelling and working with Ganesh, but I must warn the reader that while it may be a pleasure to work with one photographer, it is unwise to travel with two. On one occasion we were joined by another camera enthusiast and the conversation all the way from Mussoorie to Gangotri (two days on the road) centred round 'F-stops' and 'shutter-speeds', with the result that a number of beautiful women passed by unnoticed - except by me. Naturally I was the ultimate beneficiary, but, for their own sakes, I don't think two (or more) photographers should travel together; they miss out on the scenery.
Once when footloose in Agra, we visited the Taj at high noon. The sun struck the white marble, and there was a great dazzle of reflected light. We stood there with averted eyes, looking at everything - the formal gardens, the surrounding walls of red sandstone, the winding river - everything except the monument we had come to see.
It is there, of course, very solid and real, perfectly preserved, with every jade, jasper or lapis lazuli playing its part in the overall design; and after a while we could shade our eyes and take in a vision of shimmering white marble. The light rises in waves from the paving-stones, and the squares of black and white marble create an effect of running water. Inside the chamber it is cool and dark but rather musty, and we wasted no time in hurrying out again into the sunlight.
I walk the length of a gallery and turn with some relief to the river scene. The sluggish Yamuna winds past Agra on its way to union with the Ganga. I know the Yamuna well. I know it where it emerges from the foothills near Kalsi, cold and blue from the melting snows; I know it as it winds through fields of wheat Uttar Pradesh, sometimes placid, sometimes in flood. I know the river at Delhi, where its muddy banks are a patchwork of clothes spread out by the hundreds of washermen who serve the city. And I know it at Mathura, where it is alive with huge turtles: Mathura, sacred city, whose beginnings are lost in antiquity.
And then the river winds its way to Agra, to this spot by the Taj, where parrots flash in the sunshine, kingfishers swoop low over the water and a proud peacock struts across the lawns surrounding the monument.
A cloud - a very small cloud - passes across the face of the sun; and in the softened light we too were able to look at the Taj without screwing up our eyes. Its effect on the traveller is the same today as it was three hundred years ago when Bernier wrote: "No-thing offends the eye
No part can be found that is not skilfully wrought, or that has not its peculiar beauty."
And so, for a few moments, this poem in marble is on view to two unimportant people.
We say nothing: there is really nothing to be said. It was, of course, different when Ganesh joined Victor and Maya Banerjee as a still photographer for their documentary venture, Where No Journeys End, which they made for the Indian Railways and he came back with many fine pictures, some of which appear in this book, admirably supported by Kamal Gill's informative and entertaining text.
Unfortunately I was not a part of this odyssey, or maybe I was fortunate, when I think of one of the film-crew who collapsed and died of altitude sickness in Ladakh.
I am glad he came back with pictures of one of my favourite train journeys - the Kangra Valley Railway this particular journey reveals to the traveller a land of great enchantment, and is proof that the railway engineer can create a work that is in complete harmony with his surroundings. The graceful curves of the rails, the neatness of the culverts, the symmetrical design of the bridges, the directness of the cuttings - all help to throw into bold relief the ruggedness of the terrain through which this line plays hide and seek. By contrast, the journey to Shimala through over a hundred tunnels is more like bording one's way through a series of rabbit warrens. The Kangra valley railway always avoids running headlong into a hillside. Its engineer must have been a Taoist at heart, taking Nature's way instead of opposing it.
"Romance brought up the nine-fifteen," wrote Kipling and some of Kim's most memorable encounters take place in trains. Travelling by train is probably the best way o seeing India and its travelling millions. Indians love to travel. South Indians make their way to the great pilgrim centres of the north, while north Indians travel to the beautiful temples of the south, and Bengalis and Gujaratis travel everywhere. Railway stations are fascinating places where saffron-robed mendicants rub shoulders with back-pack tourists and garlanded VIPs, and marriage parties are constantly on the move.
India has been described as a 'melting-pot' of races and religions. But I dislike the word melting-pot. India is not a melting-pot. Races and religions, languages and cultures, have very strong identities here, and they just won't melt into each other! A better word would be 'mosaic'. Yes, India is a glittering mosaic of people of different faiths and cultures, of varying climatic zones, of greenery and desert, rive and mountain, wealth and poverty, sophisticated city life and unchanged tribal living. It is only by living or travelling extensively in India that one can pull these myriad pieces together and realize that the mosaic is indeed a beautiful one.
The pictures in this book attempt to show us something of this mosaic. Some pieces will remain elusive. But the, India too, remains elusive. Hence its perennial fascination.
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