New Delhi : A new book explores the enigmatic beauty of the Kumaon region through its unique 'pahari' elements, its traditions, craft, beliefs, flora and fauna.
"In The Shadow of The Devi: Kumaon of a Land, a People, a Craft", writer-critic Manju Kak looks at Kumaon through the prism of woodcraft, unique in its aesthetic, documenting the styles, influences and techniques used by the craftsmen of Uttarakhand, as well as Kumaoni artisans' worldview and beliefs.
In addition, she also documents the life of paharis and discusses about communities, forest policy and the status of women, analysing and unravelling facets of hill life.
The coffee table book, published by Niyogi Books, has photographs by award-winning Kumaoni photographer Anup Sah, among others.
Kak describes her book as the "story of a land, a people and a craft, all who flourish under the shadow of the majestic Nanda Devi range".
"Kumaoni culture is undoubtedly a hybrid of many cultures. The Kumaoni dialect reflects the diverse cultures that have extended their influence in this area, The Kumaonis have a likeness to Bengalis, Nepalis and Rajasthanis," she writes.
"Uttarakhand is, after all, a state made up of migrants, and any attempt to close its doors upon this fact, to call for an Uttarakhand for Uttarakhandis', is to ignore its varied heritage and history," she says.
According to Kak, after the British 'discovered' Kumaon, the wholesome climate of the region attracted artists and scholars from all over Europe, many of whom settled there and assimilated with the local ethos.
Through the early 19th century till Independence, the Almora hills continued to grow a reputation for seekers, poets and writers, she adds.
But the new migration to the hills today is very different, Kak says.
"While it is the summer influx that brings tourists from all over India to the mountains, increasingly, it is NGOs and development specialists who make them their home round the year," the book says.
Whatever be the reason for migration, the salubrious climate has remained constant in its attraction for the people of the plains, Kak says.
The book started as a personal journey for Kak, a "search for a narrative" of the Kumaon Hills where she grew up, spending 11 years at a missionary boarding school, St. Mary's Convent, popularly known as Ramnee.
"Later in life, walking other footpaths, or khranchas, that crisscross the Kumaon hills, I began to look for clues to more intimately define the landscape I once thought I had known, and my search for a narrative began," she writes.