Issue 7: An introduction

11 July 2024

Welcome to the Coonoor&Co Journal, Vol. 3 Issue 7, Spring Summer 2024

This issue, “The Mountain Connection”, is an immersive exploration of the mountains around the world and their profound relationship with humanity. As both mirror and metaphor, mountains stand as timeless muses, leaving an indelible mark on the lives and legends of those dwelling in their ancient, towering presence.

How do we live within these grand landscapes, and how, in turn, do they live within us? “The Mountain Connection” travels from the majestic Himalayas, through the verdant Northeast, into the mystical heart of the Western Ghats, and to the far reaches of the Antarctic. Through exquisitely crafted stories we map the intricate bonds connecting these diverse terrains.

At the heart of this edition lie deeply reflective and thought-provoking themes spanning local and global perspectives. We delve into the myths and folklore that resonate across mountain ranges, asking what ancient wisdom the stoic rocks of distant peaks can impart.

How do these eminent guardians of our planet influence the lives, spirits, and cultures of those residing in their embrace? Our stories navigate the realms of silence and healing, offering insights into the passage of time, ecological transformations, and a reimagined understanding of animacy and intelligence that transcends anthropocentric views.

We are thrilled to present this issue, featuring a heartfelt message from the cherished Ruskin Bond where he shares his profound love and reverence for the mountains, the muse behind his life’s work and inspiration.

Our contributors for this issue are:

Namita Gokhale, Kaveri Ponnapa, Lathika George, Jamling Tenzing Norgay, Bruce Kirkby, Meher Mirza, Malati Mukherjee, Julie Kagti, Sohail Rekhy, Ayan Biswas, Pravin Shanmuganandam, Gayatri Ganesh, Olaf Willoughby, Ramya Reddy, Vivek Raj Singh, Ashna Ashesh, A J Mallari, Toshi Singh and Rupali Goel.

Set against the backdrop of the Himalayas, Namita Gokhale brings to us a tale of four women and The Dacha, a cottage in the mountainscapes of Kumaon. In this moving excerpt* Namita interweaves the relationship dynamics of these women within the beauty of the mountains. Through myths that are both cautionary tales and prophecies, it casts a spotlight on the ever-widening rift between humans and nature. Narratives of landslides, overflowing rivers, and forest fires, remind us that the animacy of mountains ought to be cherished and revered.

[*Excerpt from chapter “Digital Tales” from the book “Never Never Land” authored by Namita Gokhale, published by Speaking Tiger Books, 2024]

“Journeys Across Hills” is a reflective journey where Kaveri Ponnapa weaves the rich tapestry of Kodagu’s ethereal landscapes with her personal explorations across the Nilgiris. Through her vivid storytelling, she delves into the sacredness of land, ancestral wisdom, and the soulful connection to her heritage, highlighting the beauty of Kodagu and its people. As she embarks on a quest to document the Kodava community’s fading echoes, her narrative not only pays homage to the intricate relationship between the land and its keepers but also poignantly addresses the challenges of preserving this unique culture against the relentless tide of modernity.

Lathika George delves deep into the story of the Kurinji (Strobilanthes kunthiana), an endemic plant of the Western Ghats, capturing its essence through stories, myths, legends, poetry, and its uses in food and medicine. She illustrates the comprehensive story and varied significance of this extraordinary bloom – with its distinctive blooming cycle, typically flowering in a vibrant display that blankets the hills in purple once every 6, 9 or 12 years and going up to 16 – within the cultural and ecological context of its native landscape of the Western Ghats.

In his heartfelt chronicle, Jamling Tenzing Norgay honours the bond between him and his iconic father and the deep connections between mountains and sherpas. He pays homage to “Chomolungma” (Mount Everest), which he climbed in 1996, decades after his father, Tenzing Norgay, and Edmund Hillary’s historic ascent. Jamling reflects on the Himalayas’ sacredness, the teachings of yogi-saint Milarepa, environmental respect, and the essence of mountaineering. He recalls his father’s wisdom from 1953: “You can’t see the entire world from the top of Everest. The view from there only reminds you how much more of the world there is to see and learn from.”

In 2014, Bruce Kirkby and his young family travelled overland from their home in Canada to Karsha Gompa, a thousand-year-old Buddhist monastery in the remote Zanskar valley of Ladakh. They spent four months living in a small mud brick home perched on steep cliffs. In his subsequent book, “Blue Sky Kingdom”, he wrestles with the cataclysmic changes descending on Zanskar, threatening to topple a millennia-old traditional way of life. In this issue, Bruce has curated a collection of excerpts from his book, accompanied by a discussion that aims to take readers on a journey back in time, compelling us to ponder the true cost of progress.

In “The Blue Remembered Hills,” Meher Mirza revisits our beloved Coonoor’s colonial charm with gentle humour and descriptive effervescence. She narrates the transformation of 19th-century Coonoor from a land of indigenous forests and native Indian dwellings into a colonial “hill-station”. The Europeans fashioned Coonoor into a sanatorium, indulging in its mild climate and developing a rich culinary and social scene. Meher captures the dichotomy of Coonoor’s identity—between its colonial past and natural beauty—through vivid descriptions of its evolving landscape, community, and the fleeting yet impactful moments of joy and cultural exchange.

Malati Mukherjee, a “Seeker” and stage 3 endometrial cancer survivor, embodies a strong belief in holistic living and natural healing. She introduces us to Dr. Dorjee Rapten Neshar, the principal and lead physician at Bengaluru’s Men-Tsee-Khang (Tibetan Medical and Astro Institute). Their conversation, both compassionate and compelling, delves into the ancient Sowa Rigpa system of medicine. Dr. Dorjee underscores the critical importance of revisiting and embracing the healing arts of ancient medical traditions and practices. Among these, Tibetan Medicine, emerging from the sacred Himalayan mountains and rooted in Buddhist principles, stands out for its profound wisdom and healing approach.

“Nestled in the Clouds: Lifestyle of the Monpa Community”, by Julie Kagti, is an immersive ethnographic essay on the Monpa people indigenous to the Arunachal Pradesh mountains. Through her narrative, Julie artfully blends the rich facets of Monpa culture – traditional architecture, spirituality, cuisine, and textiles – crafting a vivid depiction of their life in communion with the mountainscape. Julie’s essay celebrates the Monpas’ intricate relationship with their environment, portraying a community where tradition and the natural world are interwoven beautifully.

In a fictional story drawn from personal childhood memories, Sohail Rekhy crafts a narrative of love for nature, ancient Shola forests shrouded in dense fog, wet tar roads, and a two-hundred-year-old tree. This tale poignantly explores the enduring connection between a father and his daughter, renewing and deepening their bond.

“From the Land of Apricots” is a captivating photo essay by Ayan Biswas that portrays the lives of the indigenous Dard tribe and their relationship with apricot trees in Ladakh. Apricots, introduced from China and Central Asia over a century ago, have become integral to Ladakh’s local culture and life. The photos in this essay tell a story of belonging, of how the “other” becomes “intimate”, the silent language of trees, the silent love of a people, and the celebration of the exquisite bond of arboreal and human mutuality.

Pravin Shanmuganandam’s photo essay, “The Keepers of the Elephant Hills,” captures the complex relationship between Asian elephants and their caretakers, the mahouts, in the Anamalai Hills. Unlike other regions where elephants are held captive, the bond between the gentle giants and mahouts in the Anamalais is ancient and revered. Pravin sheds light on this sacred relationship between humans and animals through his photographs and notes.

Gayatri Ganesh’s essay “Dawn of Bear Island” offers connection and coexistence as antidotes to man-animal conflict. She takes us on a journey from indigenous cultures’ ways of living in compassionate coexistence with nature to the present, where man and animal are adversaries. Through her immersive encounters with sloth bears in the Nilgiris, Gayatri finds a path to joyful coexistence with the wild and invites us to reimagine our adversarial relationship with nature.

In “Mountains and Meaning: Journeys of the Body and Soul”, Olaf Willoughby explores mountains as metaphor and muse; the mountainscape as a portal of transcendence. Against the glacial backdrop of the Antarctic, Olaf delves into mountain climbing as both a physical and metaphysical peregrination. Mountaineering, understood in this expansive sense, is not merely about pushing one’s physical limits through a change in altitude. It is about shifting our perspective to transcend the trappings of our solipsistic mental prisons. Through immersion in the mountain vistas, we arrive at the limits of the body and the limitlessness of the soul.

In 1987, Vanya Orr, embarked on a life-changing journey to the Nilgiris, inspired by a nostalgic trip with her mother. This visit sparked a deep commitment to sustainable organic farming, women’s empowerment, and traditional knowledge preservation and led to the establishment of H.O.P.E., a cooperative focusing on herbs and essential oils, and Environment and Agri Research Foundation, promoting organic farming. Her endeavours culminated in founding The Earth Trust in 2004, emphasizing organic agriculture, women’s skill development, and ecological education for children, establishing Vanya as a symbol of sustainability and community empowerment in the Nilgiris. In conversation with Ramya Reddy from her home in Wales, Vanya reflects on her transformative Nilgiris experience. Discussing the region’s spiritual influence, her family’s legacy, and inspiring initiatives, Vanya envisions a sustainable Nilgiris and offers advice to environmental and community advocates, stressing the significance of indigenous wisdom in sustainable practices and the deep connection with nature.

Vivek Raj Singh, once a reserved college student, found an anchor in photography amidst life’s challenges. Approaching his 30s, this passion became a burden, leaving him feeling lost. The pandemic, however, sparked a shift, leading him to explore new creative avenues. He found freedom in capturing spontaneous moments with strangers and birds over rain-drenched streets. In this personal account, Vivek shares his journey of reigniting his passion for photography and the inspiration behind his cherished Landour series, marking a renewed love for capturing life through his lens.

Some dreams die so we can learn to live. In the wake of separation from her life partner, a grieving woman is guided by a homing instinct to the Nilgiris. “The Alchemy of Loss”, by Ashna Ashesh, is a story of coming home to the mountains and to oneself. It is a tender meditation on the alpine alchemy of transforming loss into love and on how grounding presence is an antidote to glaring absence.

Our illustrators for the issue, AJ Mallari, Toshi Singh and Rupali Goel have yet again livened up the pages with their beautiful illustrations.

Thank you so much for being a part of our reader community. All the stories we publish in our journal are free on our website. Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive monthly compilations of our stories and updates.

We deeply appreciate your ongoing support and look forward to sharing more with you.

Love, Team Coonoor&Co

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