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Published on: 11/14/17 5:36 AM

Book review: Land of the Dawn-lit Mountains by Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent

This is more a brief take than review of the book.

Land of the Dawn-lit Mountains by Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent.  Simon and Schuster.

And once in a while, along comes a book which informs every bit as much as it entertains. This travelogue  is one such.

Bolingbroke-Kent hires a Hero motorbike and rides off into Arunachal Pradesh on a solo journey full of  discoveries, some delightful, some not. She meets shamans, reincarnated lamas, spends many nights around glowing fires, befriends people of `exceptional jollity,` eats a  lot of rice, dal and sometimes river fish. She observes that tribal religions have been encroached on by missions and that people were now singing `Pays da La` (praise the Lord) in makeshift churches. She observes the road being laid to link Tuting with all the villages of the Yangsang Chu valley, another kind of encroachment but a necessary one. She fights the occasional bout of collywobbles but ends up having a great time.

Solo travel, she says,  is a drug, it has its risks but it also has the potential to unlock rare feelings of euphoria.

Sample a couple of euphoric passages:

The landscape was the same curious mix of familiar and exotic, both redolent of Glencoe and the Himalayan valley it was. Coppery hills plunged towards the river, their lower slopes verdant with larch, spruce and pine, their ridges marbled wit the last of the winter snows. Plum trees blossomed next to spumes of banana palms and the skeletal wintry forms of elder and oak. By the roadside, curling green shoots of bracken periscoped up from the brown grass. In the few villages we passed, stilted houses sat amidst gardens yellowing with flowering mustard and women along the road bent under shoulder-loads of firewood.

From Tawang I span down towards Jang through slopes dotted with crimson rhododendrons and puffs of white blossom, the silver thread of a river becoming a foaming torrent beneath a clanking Bailey`s bridge. In the villages women were laying out wide, flat baskets of onions, garlic and red chillies to dry in the sunshine, waving as I passed. Climbing beyond Jang, the view was even more fantastic, and I stopped beside a friendly yak to imprint the moment on my memory. A hidden river meandered north between steep, pine-furred escarpments and mountains that heaved and tumbled in a mosaic of every imaginable green. Stone villages dripped down slopes felted emerald with fields of young barley and rice. I could hear dogs braking, children shouting, yak`s` bells. There were frothy copses, grassy knolls and black dots grazing around the brokpas` huts. The occasional house stood alone at the edge of a ridge, around which prayer flags flapped in the breeze. To my far left, the golden roofs of Tawang glinted on the crest of a green wave, and behind, that perfect line of white. The yak stood beside me as I took it all in. Perhaps he was enjoying it too.

India of the plains doesn’t come out shining. There is mention of bovine stupidity, nose-picking nonchalance, ubiquitous bribe-taking, the pejorative way they treated their own countrymen from the northeast, calling them `chinky.` A lot of men in India, says Bolingbroke-Kent,  were unsettled by the idea of women travelling alone, as if the natural order of things had been unlawfully rearranged. Women were for cooking, cleaning and having sons, not for gallivanting around the jungle alone on a motorbike.

The style is an easy flow, the observations are personal, with a fair bit of the land`s history thrown in. A delightful read despite the less- than- striking jacket and  the clunky title.

Antonia Bolongbroke-KentArunachal PradeshAssamLand of the Dawn-lit Mountainstravelogue

Sheila Kumar • November 14, 2017

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