The first English edition of Peter Van Hams 2009 German book Indiens Tibet-Tibets Indien is a fantastic read for armchair travellers everywhere. Complete with excellent photographs and maps, its also a great resource. Van Ham has been travelling in the western Himalaya and in the trans-Himalayan areas of India since the early 1990s, and the ground hes covered in over 15 years of travel is quite mindboggling. He looks at the unique cultures that make up the regions of Kinnaur, Spiti, Lahaul, Zanskar, Rupshu, Ladakh, Nubra and Dah-Hanu from various perspectives art historical, ethnographic, anthropologic and political. The result is a rich insight into this fascinating corner of India.
Each of these areas are essentially secluded valleys formed by glacier-fed river systems, cut off from their neighbours by some of the highest mountains on Earth. While this has ensured that each has developed and maintained a culture that is very distinct, age-old trade and politics have meant that the current of cultural influences have always flowed between them. They are all situated on the ever-fluctuating, often porous, cultural border between India and Tibet, and thanks mainly to the mix of Indian and Tibetan Buddhist and animistic beliefs, these regions have developed a vibrancy that still exists. Van Ham looks at the history of exploration of the region, from the Great Game days to the present situation dominated by the ambitions of India and China. Thereafter, he investigates each region individually and immerses the reader in every aspect of the life and art of these areas. For me, especially enjoyable is the chapter on Western Himalayan art, ranging from the wooden temples of Lahaul and Kinnaur to the monasteries of Spiti, Ladakh and Zanskar. It also strikes a poignant note when Van Ham goes on to talk about the emerging threats of geo-politics and climate change to the precious social fabric of the area. A must-read