Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Notes for Dharma valley - a summer trek to the Panchachuli base camp

Note# 5. through a forest of emotion ( Nagling to Son via Baling 7 Km)

It was a cold cosy night. We girls were in the top room of the wood and mud thatched house that was to be our accommodation. Also, after a late night of raucous singing, chakti drinking, and endless binging, and the sound of the howling wind, sleep came quick and easy. We woke to hot piping tea served by Dhiren and Avinash and to the early morning chirpings of the birds… To be honest those darn birds woke too early and made so much noise in every camp that I would be up by 4ish and toss and turn till the others were up. Actually I didn’t mind the birds or the noise but I did mind not overcoming my inertia to go out and be about. I just lay in there sulking and waiting for everyone to raise and talk to me
There was a tiny room adjacent to the loo that could be used as a bathroom. No hot water though. I just had to have a bath and some of us did. Taking bath with cold icy water in the mornings is not advisable for all. But once you do, you don’t feel cold any longer and the day looks much brighter. I always take a bath wherever possible…some water and a bit of privacy is all I need. And there is a technique…first keep all clothes in the order of wearing. Then keep the soap, shampoo whatever you need open and handy. First wet your head and wash your head…that kind of makes the water friendlier. Then without thinking much just pour a big mugful over you. Yes your breath is knocked out instantly and you gasp…but then there is no going back. Do your business quickly with soap and more rinsing and reach for your towel drying your body first and quickly dress up in layers. 

After a hearty breakfast we set out. My ankle wasn’t healed and I reluctantly gave up my backpack that day onwards and carried just a haversack for my camera and warm clothes and other emergencies. Not very proud…and vanity bruised I accepted my condition and realized that if I don’t do anything about it soon and seriously…my future treks are going to be similar. I keep bringing this up because it really was a rattling shocking experience to not be able to direct my body to the wishes of my mind. And the reality was painful to accept that I no longer was in control. 

We walked along a more flat steady path with gradual inclines and crossing streams and bridges. As we climbed higher we turned into a deodar forest. The moment I turned a corner I felt I have stepped into something sacred. The 9am morning light was soft, halo like and blurred the sharp edges of everything. The patch of trees with the light playing on their moss covered limbs threw a surreal view on display. And I felt rooted to the spot like the high and mighty deodars silently communing with their roots. Drawing strength and nourishment from the land and sending down a blessing to them in return. 

I hugged a tree and felt one with it…hugged another and walked on. But there was this one tree that somehow beckoned to me but I was shy to go back and give it a hug. I left with a silent promise that I will spend some time with it on my way back. I am usually reluctant to show my emotions and there is a lot that I hide, but when a tree beckons you have to keep the promise.
Every patch of forest I walked I silently prayed that may man never reach here with their roads and vehicles. If need be, may the villagers go down to more accessible and prosperous lands in and beyond Dharchula, but may these sacred beings always remain pristine and untouched. In these times that’s all one can do isn’t it. The forest and the animals are losing their battle every day. Lower down in the valley The river has lost its width, the wild animals have all gone, musk deer is a growing myth, there is 2 inch thick concrete dust on the spring flowers and a cheap price tag for everything wild.  The good is no longer winning it seems. And man is only growing stronger in his greed. There is also another side to this… 

As I grow older it gets harder to choose sides. I was more clear in my 20ies whether its trees or people. But today when I see an old man who had to carry his wife for 3 days for a treatment in Dharchula…my idealistic tongue curls up and holds back. But there is a middle ground. We can leave these places remote if the government can allow these villagers more access (the army already flies in emergencies) to the air sorties that go to and fro.  And if the focus can be on eco-tourism that can bring in the prosperity that the villagers are hoping from roads and businesses… the people there know how to live with the land. It’s their land after all. The trouble begins when this land will be seen as a business opportunity by outsiders for other developments.

Thinking of these thoughts I walked along with beautiful views of small buggials (meadows) across the mountain. The path became more undulated and there was a slight chill. We came upon Bongling village and stopped for some refreshments. Sunita the girl who ran the place was a striking beauty. We placed our order for spicy maggi, coffees, tea, and chowmein. Yummmm. My mouth still waters as I am writing this. There was a hint of rain as we entered her place so the warmth from her stove made things tastier. I'm sure the smell of woodsmoke is a like a primeval memory for all. It confuses my mind with images I am not even part of along with some that I was…like the campfires from childhood camps, our old family cook cooking fish in the outhouse kitchen in my granny's ancestral house in Kerala during one vacation as we cousins looked on (it was forbidden to cook meats or eggs in the main kitchen). Water boiling over and the hissing of the burning wood, a fireplace in Shillong with my dogs and where lucy always singed her fur by sitting too close, old men crouching over a fire in winter,  cavemen cooking the days catch…..these memories are always in warm fiery tones and shadows... and with the promise of food and comfort.

Our stomachs full, we walked along. The path ahead was flat and we all got a chance to walk together and gossip. No I'm not sharing that. But it enlivened things up. Dilip passed us by and Babita quickly changed the topic:) it’s so strange; across time from my parents to my friends…men always frown at women gossiping. It’s another matter that men are bigger gossips and exaggerate truths and also love their exaggerations.
We missed Panchachuli 2 (Arjun parbat) as it was clouded over and walked on to reach Son village which was our base camp.

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