on July 14, 2004
Surprisingly, there exist very few good books on the rich myths, and natural history of the hill districts of Garhwal and Kumaon. Till date probably the best known figure from the region is Jim Corbett of the "Man Eaters of Kumaon" fame.
Stephen Alter's latest book titled, "Sacred Waters," is a beautifully written narrative of his journey to the sources of River Ganga (or Ganges) in the Garhwal Himalayas. For the Hindus, the Ganga is a sacred river.
Alter's book is a welcome addition to the few goods books that exist about this region. The book is a wonderful introduction to understanding the history of the region, and the central place the River Ganga occupies for many Indians.
The book is an interesting mix of natural history, myths and Alter's own personal experience of River Ganga, whose source is hidden in the beautiful and rugged mountains of Garhwal, often called as "Dev Bhoomi," - the land of the gods. Alter paints a fascinating picture of the changing moods and nature of the river as it bursts from the mountains and courses down to the dusty Gangetic plains, and into the ocean.
Alter is a second generation Pahari-American, who was born and brought up in the hills of Uttaranchal. Pahari means someone from the mountain in Hindi.
on October 28, 2001
Stephen Alter's marvelous book is reminiscent of fine nineteenth century travel writing in which the writer, in lucid, and sometimes poetic, style brings the reader with him to see and experience things most people never would otherwise. His credentials are impeccable: the son of missionaries who was raised in northern India, fluent in Hindi and conversant in other Indian languages and possessed of an encyclopedic knowledge of the flora and fauna of the region. A non believer, he traces the steps of an ancient pilgrimage, feeling the spiritual attraction of the place while wryly commenting on the religious hypocrisy he encounters along the way. For all of its gifts it is the writing that commends this fine book. For the author's wise and seasoned view of the world and understatement of the rigors of his journey I would compare it to Bruce Chatwin's, In Patagonia.