Monthly Archives: August 2008

Under the boundless sky – II

The last post describes my experiences with the people of Devabhoomi (God’s land) Himachal Pradesh. I’d never planned this post, but then Turbo asked me to write a post describing the trek itself, complete with photographs.

I do not own a camera, and whatever pics I have of the trip are courtesy a few good people I made friends with on the trek. Anyways, pics and cameras have their own limitations. Cameras can catch the snow covered mountains, but cannot describe the reverence I feel when I look at them. They can see the look of the rag-tag pahadi people, but do not have it in them to see the goodness they hold in their hearts. The blast of the mountain wind, the drowsiness of the early morning mist, the strength of the pahadi bidis and even the beauty of the Pahadi women are beyond cameras’ reach.

Here are some things that cameras could never have captured.

—–x——-x——

We were on a 6km road hike from Kasol to Manikaran Sahib, when it started raining heavily. We had no raincoats and the rain lashed against our unprotected skins. The rain was so heavy that it was difficult to see even ten feet beyond on the road. The soft ground under our feet threatened to give away every now and then, and we shivered in the below 10 temperature as chilly wind blasted against us, threatening to fling lightweights like myself lock stock and barrel into the gushing Parvati river. The hills to our right, and the stalwart Deodar trees covering them all stood surrendered against this fury of nature.

It is under such difficulties that one gets to see a hitherto prohibited side of mother nature. A stark, real picture, different from the benign, modified one one has been made accustomed to. For city dwellers like us, the sheer nakedness of contact, the brutally honest directness of the surroundings might be more difficult to handle than the actual physical sensations. With me, the connection was instant. I was in that all powerful grip of nature, in some different world all by myself; drunk on the surroundings and thrilled beyond words.

We trudged on, and came across a narrow ‘bridge’ that had been drawn across the Parvati river at the side of the road. The river was narrow at this juncture, and as a result its fury seemed to be greater than ever. The old, narrow, weather beaten bridge was charming in a very rustic way, and I simply had to explore it in spite of everything. It was swaying left and right in the storm when we stepped on its wooden boards. Tightly gripping the ropes holding it in place, we tottered, shivering and almost tumbling from excitement, to the center of the bridge. We were directly above the middle of the river now. Clenching the rope tighter in both my fists, I peered down to the river.

And then I lost control.

The excitement, the nervousness, the overpowering feeling to break free and the immense reverence that had been building up inside me for so long, suddenly could not be contained any longer. I gripped the ropes, and looking down the length of the roaring river, facing the lashing rain square on the face, I screamed and continued to scream, for some reason I cannot explain, ‘JAAAAAI BHAAARAAAT MAATAAAA’, ‘JAAAAAI BHAAARAAAT MAATAAAA’, ‘JAAAAAI BHAAARAAAT MAATAAAA’ …

And in that one moment, with the rain slapping my face left and right with all its fury, the wind threatening to take me away with itself, the bridge swaying and the floorboards creaking, and the mighty river flowing white with a deafening roar some fifty feet below me, I pictured in my mind’s eye the passage of the river waters right from the mountains of Himachal, through the plains of Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Bengal right till the Bay of Bengal and I imagined that the river waters were carrying my voice along with them. And in that one moment, I felt the whole country reverberating with the sounds of my Jai Bharat Mata…

—–x——x—–

This incidence took place at Tilalottni, our highest camp. It was at a height of 13,000 feet, where dusk sets in at 6:00 in the evening. It was drizzling but I didn’t want to waste a single moment of the mountain view sitting inside the tent.

Vinay and I sat on a rock some distance from the camp, to avoid the artificial camp lights. At 15,000 feet, this hill was the highest among all the nearby peaks. We were sitting at 13,000 feet and there was nothing except snow above us. Below us rolled soggy, green pastures till the the edge of the hill. The thick green forests and small villages dotting the countryside were in the valley below, out of our sight. From what we could see, there was just the two of us, equally high mountains in front and snow above and grass below us under the boundless sky.

Dragging on the head spinning pahadi bidis to keep ourselves warm, we talked while we looked at the view before us. In the dark background of the formidable, forbidding mountains, white, frisky clouds hovered in front of us, forming and unforming into different shapes. We were deep in conversation, when I noticed small white flakes streaming soundlessly down from behind us. Both of us looked behind, up the hill, and realized that clouds were forming around us. We shut our mouths and looked in awe as the world quickly started getting misty.

Vinay resumed the conversation, but this time I shushed him. I had noticed something else.

I strained my ears to listen. To something. To anything. Anything at all. I whispered to Vinay to listen. Both of us strained our ears as the calm wind wordlessly carried on with its task of creating clouds around us in that virgin territory.

We could not hear a single sound.

The Cloud started to envelope us. Dusk had fallen and the visibility was negligible. I closed my eyes and strained and strained, but except for Vinay’s heavy breathing, I could not hear anything. No sight, no sound. Just the profoundness of silence overflowing everywhere.

I never felt more distant from the world. And I never felt freer.

—–x——x—–

Categories: Myself, Travelogue | 13 Comments

Under the boundless sky – I

I love wilderness and open spaces. Any place which offers a horizon unmarred by buildings and establishments instantly makes me feel at peace with myself. Be it the green farms near Agra, the vast, continuous desert sands of Bikaner under a full moon, the endless snow on the mountains of Himachal and the lush green valleys beneath, the infinite waters of the Bay of Bengal and the virgin beaches at the Vizag coast, the rugged, rocky, thorny hill slopes of the Aravalis around my Ajmer, even the simple two lane road which leads from my home to the dozens of villages nestled in the flat pockets scattered among the nearby Aravali ranges. I love it all.

I’ve come to believe, after years of thinking that ultimately it’s your peace of mind which measures the quality of your life. God rests inside every human, and if a person is at peace with himself, he’s living a good life. The people inhabiting the open (mostly rural) spaces, I am of the opinion, tend to be much at peace with themselves, and as such I have high regards for the rural life. It’s a delight to meet people from the villages, and meeting new people is as essential a part of my trip as sightseeing.

In this series ‘Under the boundless sky’, I’ll bring to light my experiences in the above mentioned kind of places and with the people living there. Credit goes to Mr. Ruskin Bond, whose book ‘Tales of the Open Road’ inspired me to pen down such experiences. They’re noting special, these experiences. Just random pickings about common people from everyday life. But then every human is special, and life itself is a great gift!

——x—–x——

As the bus rolled, leaving Kullu behind, I forgot all the miseries I’d endured during the night. The Himachal Tourism buses have wooden seats (I’m not joking). The topography is as would be in the hills, with turns at every 100m or so and each sharp enough to pump your bile right up to your mouth. Not much transport is available in the hills, and so the buses often get a bit too full of the handsome Pahadi people. But what takes the cake is the surface of the roads.

A single lane road, which offers the magnificent view of a several thousand feet deep gorge on one side is expected to have been paved with at least some tar; but that doesn’t often seem to be the case. A jolt would come every few minutes, which even minus the three above mentioned factors, would be strong enough to rouse someone like me from deep slumber.

How I spent the night can easily be imagined. But the story doesn’t just end here. Every time I opened my eyes, my miseries would be further compounded with stark jealousy. I was surrounded by the local Pahadi people on all sides, and wonder of wonders! Despite all the turns, jolts, and human pushes, everyone remained sound asleep. Even those who were standing. Some of those who had the privilege to sit were even snoring.

—–x——x——

But as the bus rolled away from the rising sun, I forgot all my miseries. The bus was emptier now, and the sight of the majestic snow covered peaks in the distance shot all my fatigue to the four winds. On one side of the road were the continuous hills, some bare and others lush green, and on the other side was the Parvati river, flowing on a trickle, en route to meeting Beas. Ensconced among the hills were villages, full of pretty houses dotted with colourful flowers.

There was no concept of a bus-stop in the villages. As we would pass through a village, every several dozen meters, someone standing at the side of the road would wave his hand and the driver would dutifully, nonchalantly stop the bus to let him hop aboard. A ‘Ram Ram Bha’ji’ would be exchanged and the bus would move on. Just round the corner would be another fellow waiting for the bus, and the process would repeat. I started comparing it to the Hyderabad buses which give precious little time to their passengers even to board and alight, and that too at designated stops. Life, I realised, was certainly calm and relaxed in Himachal. People had time on their hands and didn’t mind waiting for their fellow beings.

——x——-x——

The people in the village where we stayed were laid back and relaxed. I doubt if they were even aware of the concepts of deceit and cheating. Once, a group of 5-6 of us tourists had breakfast at a small dhaba. After the meal, the dhaba owner asked us what we had taken. We told him that we’d had 5 omelettes and 6 chais.

“Theek hai bha’ji, 160 rupaye de deo”, he replied after some calculation.

One of us suddenly realised that the tab had actually been 4 omelettes and 5 chais. So we told him so.

“Achchha achchha bha’ji, aapne 4 omelette aur 5 chai li hai,” came the reply, without any sign of any effort to recall anything. “Theek hai ji, 4 omelette ke 80, aur 5 chai ke 50. 130 rupaye de deo…” concluded the nonchalant reply.

Another such incidence occurred as we were checking out of the hotel. We gave the Hotel wale Sardarji 800 bucks. Then again, one of us remembered that we’d given him 100 bucks in advance while checking in. So we told him ki Sardarji humne aapko 100 rupaye de diye the.

As cool as a cucumber, the old Sardarji replied, “Hein ji, aapne mujhe 100 rupaye dene hein? Toh de deo ji!”

“Nahi nahi sardarji, humne aapko 100 rupaye pehle de diye the, aapne hamein 100 rupaye wapas dene hein”

Without as much as ruffling a single hair of his face, and even cooler than last time, pat replied the Sardarji, “Achchha achcha, meine aapko 100 rupaye dene hein! Toh le leo ji.”. With this he produced a hundred rupee note from his pocket, hailed down a passing bus (it wasn’t the bus stand, of course) and bade us goodbye and asked us to come again some other time.

——x—–x——

The trip back to Kullu from Kasol was easily the most beautiful trip of my life. The bus was packed as usual, so the conductor asked us to sit on the roof. As I was climbing up the iron ladder, I noticed an inscription at the rear windshield. It said that travelling on the roof was a criminal offence.

On the left side of us for a height of thousands of feet, were the hills, densely forested and lush green in these parts. On the other side was the Parvati river valley, again several thousand feet deep and equally well-forested. With the Parvati river gushing in full-flow after last night’s heavy rains, and the slight drizzle that was there, the weather was just perfect for a ride atop a bus. I broke into ‘Aadat’, to everyone else’s delight, and did an encore on everyone’s request. Here were 5 leather jacketed, cigarette smoking dudes singing rock songs travelling atop a bus and thinking all the time how macho they were.

The bus stopped at some point (which wasn’t a bus stop, of course), and three very old Pahadi men approached it. One of us sniggered that they all looked exactly alike, and the others broke into laughter. One of the men looked up, saw us laughing, and blissfully ignorant that a racial remark aimed at him had caused the laughter, joined in with a smile.

The bus was packed, and there was no place inside to sit. The old men started climbing the ladder to the roof. Alarmed at the prospect of the old men invading our privacy, the guy sitting near the ladder told the uppermost gentleman, as he was climbing up, that there was no room for them there.

The old man, upon hearing this, without a second’s hesitation, told the one below him that there was no room. The second man automatically repeated this to the third, who unquestioningly obeyed and within 5 seconds all three, back on the road, had resumed their patient wait for another bus.

The uppermost man had been just one step below the top. Anyone would atleast have climbed that extra step to check whether what we were saying was true or not. But not these people. They hadn’t even imagined that something could be wrong; that we could lie to them. Their trust had been impulsive, natural. Lie and deceit had probably never entered their system.

Until we came along.

Categories: Travelogue | 21 Comments

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