I am not really a traveler. I mean, not really a traveler who wants to embrace all the inconveniences that traveling to unknown, uncomfortable places affords. In that sense, I am a pampered traveler at best – going by flight or train and sometimes by car (when I am thoroughly car sick), staying at places which at the very least have all creature comforts and at the most will have much luxury. So reading about a three-month solo travel to the mountains by the author would not have been my first choice. However, I simply had to read “Worth Every Gasp” by Anamika Mukherjee for a lot of reasons which I won’t go into now. The best reason was that I usually enjoyed reading what she writes and the way she writes it. Reason enough to seek the sustained entertainment offered by a book.

And I was not disappointed. The publishers, Prakash Books, have done a good job of the synopsis at the back and it had me hooked from the word go. I was keen to start off right away and I did – and read the book in about a week even though it was a trifle short as books go, at 165 pages. (mainly because I could manage only about 4 tranches of 10 minutes each in a day.)

The book, for those who came in late (like me) is about a ‘lone woman’s journey in the Himalayas’. It starts with how the author gets seriously sick at her first attempt at trekking and does not let that deter her from trekking alone as previously planned by her when she was hale and hearty. We are taken from Leh to Manali and back several times in the book which is divided largely into two parts – the lone trek from Leh and the group trek from Manali with a couple of short treks thrown in. All through, the descriptions of the journey are alternately filled with humor of a self-deprecating variety, the stark reality of the treatment of women in our dear country and an almost poetic account of the beauty of the Himalayas. The endless energy of the author in seeking maximum pleasure out of her journey is also evident and surprising for someone who is clearly not in her teens.

Some parts are really hilarious – I loved her description of her relationship with Ballu, her account of the bear conversation with a passing shepherd, the bus journey peppered with discussions of the scatological kind – specially the rescue of her beloved maglite, her outrage over Kunfun, the porter and his antics through the trek they hired him for and each of her “What do you want two rooms for” conversations at various hotels. But my favourite was the fireside conversation with the group of trekkers where she explains that she was seriously ill just a couple of weeks ago and is now in the middle of a trek all alone without her friends or family. Her basking in the glow of her heroic comeback describes accurately what I would have done in her position and laughed secretly over it all. πŸ™‚ Good fun to read.

When I first read the book, I was left a little dissatisfied with her all too brief account of pulmonary oedema and her tryst with it. I needed more details. But the details did come – a bit later when she recollects the trek and the illness when she goes back to the same place a second time around. This makes for a nice dramatic interlude.

What I really liked about the book was the emotional skein running through the book – of the author’s need to get out of the city and figure out the mountains, by herself if need be (or maybe preferably), her burning desire to face her fears and not give up in the face of any adversity however extreme. Not for a moment does she deny that she is not as blase about her previous trek ending in an illness as it appears at first glance. This very human-ness of the author touches the reader in me – sitting miles away in the comfort of my home. It is this that many authors miss infusing their book with. It gets the readers to identify with the protagonist, aspire to be like her and also really enjoy her experiences.

I must mention one downside here though – the very conversational style of her writing. It makes the book a little low-key at several places. Almost like – you have to know the author to really understand what she’s going through. Perhaps when she writes books which do not star her own self, she will be able to do this. But maybe, she doesn’t really want to write stories which are not her own.

Bottom line – travel enthusiast or not, read this book to enjoy it and get to know the Himalayas better – whether you intend to go yourself or not.

As for me, two things were very evident once I finished this book. Himalayan treks are so so not for me. And that I am awaiting this author’s next eagerly.

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