The Himalaya over millennia has hosted deities, rishis, hunters, shepherds, cultivators, pilgrims, and mountaineers, but in our heavily polluted age today, its overarching benevolence is almost narrowing to the last gasp, as the luxury of breathing in rejuvenating mountain air and drinking the elixir of mountain streams shrinks. One literary talent who perceived the crucial link between inspiration and the benefits of breathing mountain air was Hari Dang, who forcefully endorsed the traditional Indic feeling of reverence for the range.
Attuned to life’s poetry, Hari Dang as climber, shikari and educator, at the Doon School, Dehra Dun, St. Paul’s, Darjeeling, and the Air Force School, New Delhi, was an inspiration to over a generation of students, whom he encouraged to question received wisdom and embrace the challenge of the outdoors. His outgoing personality tended to conceal the lyrical sensitivity revealed in Himalayan Rapture; this selection of their father’s writings published by his sons comes as a welcome riposte to the disdainful attitude of eminent Victorian surveyors concerned more for imperial prestige than Indian veneration.
Himalayan Rapture helps clarify the conundrum why rich and worldly successful careerists, at grave risk to their lives, fight their way grimly to an exposed summit for a moment of epiphany, the reward that comes from picking up what the author calls ‘the last terrestrial gauntlet…to find the fulfilment that rides the high air.’ This stirring summons is a reminder of how the Himalaya to the subcontinental imagination is much more than a barrier that prevents the monsoon clouds from escaping. As the archetypal bridge linking heaven and earth by which the blessings of the Ganga descend, the high Himalaya stands also as a symbolic staircase to the gods which even a king’s dog—if his master proves faithful—may ascend.
That high mountain masses do exert a measurable force surprised Himalayan surveyors who had to compensate for their distorting effect. Hari Dang re-states the Himalaya’s power of attraction to such effect that having earlier deplored the absence of a pen that did justice to the intangible mystique of the range (by spelling out the secret of its timeless appeal), Himalayan Rapture announces that pen has arrived and it is Hari Dang’s own. As a forthright ideologist, his writings sprinkled with quotations from the poets—Coleridge and Wordsworth were both mountaineers—acquire a near visionary tone that offers further insights on the charged meeting of men with mountains recorded by William Blake.