Ajay Jain's Postcards from Ladakh catches the eye from the onset. There is a certain romance that most Indians share with Ladakh. Its stark beauty has been explored in numerous photographs and TV programs, yet it remains one of the least travelled and most desired places due to inaccessibility during the winter months. Its location, of being thousands of feet above sea level, makes it a hard to sustain tourist attraction for most. But, even with the ever growing inflow of tourists during the summer months, Ladakh has still managed to keep its identity intact.
It's not hard to reach Ladakh anymore with regular flights and tour deals during the summer months. Still, like any other place, it is best explored at a leisurely pace, not having a fixed agenda, and possibly having the luxury of traveling with a car to go off the beaten path and explore the region more extensively. Ajay Jain did just that in 2009, traveling close to 10,000 Km in the region, and then accumulating his thoughts, personal experiences, and observations into a book full of lively notes and colorful photographs.
The blurb at the back suggests that the book is neither a "guidebook nor encyclopedia"; something that I cannot help but disagree with. While its aim is to give the reader a "flavour of the region", the book works wonderfully as a guide talking about the numerous towns, monasteries, all the while giving tips about the best and worst of traveling in this beautiful and nature rich region. It also provides encyclopedic information about the culture, the history, and traditions of the people that inhabit Ladakh. It is here that Postcards from Ladakh stands out.
My conversations with most individuals who have been to Ladakh have been about the beauty of the land. Picture books and articles too tend to focus on the topography's resemblance to the moon. But never have I read so much about the people and the culture that makes Ladakh all the more special. It might seem a bit poetic or even romantic but the charm and spirituality of the Ladakhi people is captured so well by Ajay that it seeps through the pages making his statement "No Ladakhi is a stranger: We just haven't had the time to meet them all..." so true.
Postcards from Ladakh is a colorful introduction to the lives and regions of Ladakh. The photographs are awe-inspiring at times and at others, like those of the young lamas, just make you want to say awwww. The book is a great tool if you are planning a trip to Ladakh, but it is also a lovely and easy read, as each page talks about something new, accompanied with photographs, making the reader want to jump around the pages, almost like moving from one place to another while traveling.
It's quite clear that Ajay is a seasoned traveler because while he talks about the touristy places of Ladakh, he also knows that the real story is in the people of the area, and that's how the real Ladakh shines throughout, because of the people featured throughout the book. Ajay’s writing style is simple and easily understandable and with the added touch of his unique humor, the book is a joyous read.
BEWARE: Postcards from Ladakh is guaranteed to make you want to visit the region, so be prepared to end up with travel blues for not having visited Ladakh by the time you finish the book.
Although the author might not think the same, Postcards from Ladakh is an excellent guidebook, albeit not the conventional type. So, be it while planning your vacation or while actually traveling in the region, it's a great idea to have the book handy.
One thing missing from the book was a map depicting all the places mentioned in the travels. Maybe it's just me being lazy and asking to be spoon-fed, but it would have been a lot simpler for the reader. Then again, it is after all not supposed to be a guidebook.
Lastly, the pictures featured in the Postcards from Ladakh are amazing and capture both the regions landscape and most importantly its people. So, keeping that in mind, a separate coffee-table edition of the book, slightly bigger, would do justice to the photographs, and would be an idea the publishers might want to explore.
Postcards from Ladakh is essential if you have ever thought about visiting Ladakh, but it is also a great book to read if you haven't for it puts a spotlight on a part of this nation that is yet to be explored to its fullest.