Up above the world so high

SAYLI KULKARNI 
Sunday, 25 March 2018

Himachal Pradesh is the land of scenic beauty but its people are even more beautiful, as this writer realised on her recent visit.

It’s been approximately a year since I visited the gigantic Himalayan Range and I am still under its spell. It is Mother Nature’s biggest miracle and its sheer magnificence makes us realise how small and insignificant the human race is. 

My tryst with the Himalayas began when I was on a salvation and redemption trip to Delhi. After spending 15 days in the capital, I felt there was still something amiss. So my husband and I decided to explore the land of beauty, divinity, peace and tranquillity —  Himachal Pradesh. 

Our 15 days’ trip to Himachal was not a planned one ­— we didn’t want it to be. Deciding on a daily budget, we set off from Delhi to Manali with merely two backpacks. After spending two days like tourists in Manali, our attention was caught by the beautiful valley of Solang. The snow-clad mountains, the roads, the boulders, the tiny little homes and of course the sea green river Beas, refused to leave our minds. 

Solang is known as a premium mountain resorts valley but our budget didn’t allow us to stay at any of its big resorts. Thankfully, while casually talking to the locals, we came across a person called Khem who was generous enough to let us stay at his hotel on a meagre tariff. From our room, we spotted a building with green roof. After enquiring with Khem, we got to know that it was a school. With no sign of civilisation around, we wondered where did the children come from and how did they walk up to the school as the roads were under three feet of snow. This curiosity took us on the road to the school. 

We met two school girls who were walking back to their village situated approximately three km away from the school. The infectious smile on the faces of those little ones taught me that no matter how harsh the condition may be, the mountains will always keep you cheerful and content. The peaks standing tall like white elephants, the lush green valleys and the rivers flowing through them, the humble people living there and their simple lifestyle — all this sums up the Himalayas. 

From Solang, we took a bus to a tiny village called Jagatsukh and met a mountaineer called Pyaareji who was a friend’s friend. With his wife, two teenaged daughters and a son, Pyaareji lived a modest life. I still savour the taste of Rajma-Chawal that his wife made specially for us. 

Our journey to the integral parts of Himachal began from this day. We further went on to explore Sarahan which is famous for the Bhimakali Temple and the great Srikhand Mahadev Range which protects the Sarahan village. 

Life in the mountains can be so unpredictable! On our way, a few kilometres away from Sarahan, while sitting in a bus, we learnt that there was a huge landslide and the locals were making a temporary route to cross the river. We saw a bus losing its balance and getting almost submerged in the river.

Thank god the people in the bus were rescued! So, the roads were closed for the rest of the day and we couldn’t make it to Chitkul. But the family in Sarahan we took shelter with, cooked a humble dinner for us and made the entire day worth it. After exploring the flora and fauna of the place, we packed our bags to go to Chitkul via Recong-Peo. May be this was the way of the Himalayas to tell us that we will get a chance to see the barren beauty of Chitkul the next time we visit it. 

From there, we took our entourage to a small place called Aut via Shimla. On the way, we met an advocate who offered to host us. When we accepted his offer, he asked us to get down from the bus in a jungle. I thought it was a little creepy. He assured us that his home was just a few minutes from where we were. But it was not in sight even after we walked for almost an hour. I was really scared; I thought he was a thug and would kill us for money but having no option, we continued following him. 

While walking, I saw a carcass of an animal on the road, which totally frightened me. But this gentleman with zero expression on his face, told us that this cow (carcass) was killed by a white cat, supposedly a snow leopard. When asked if snow leopards frequent the area, he merely said ‘yes’. Now I was sure that either the snow leopard was going to kill us or this creepy little man. 

Luckily, after 10 minutes, I spotted a beautiful white house which turned out to be the advocate’s abode. The wooden house and the beautiful view around it rejuvenated me and made me forget the worries that I was carrying throughout my climb. 

After getting to know the family, we realised that they owned an apple orchard and were actually very rich, in terms of material possessions and human values. The next two days, we lived like their family members — cooking with them, cutting wood for the chulha and so on. We offered to pay them some money, but they refused to accept and said that we were family now. The gesture made us emotional. 

We came back to Delhi with a bagful of memories. I could actually relate to one of Ruskin Bond quotes — “It is always the same with mountains. Once you have lived with them for any length of time, you belong to them. There is no escape.” 

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