I am just back from an extended vacation in the western part of Himachal Pradesh and still crazily daydreaming about the last few days of serendipity. Himachal is a state not only abundant in its natural beauty, but also is fortunately gifted with (still) peaceful and a maiden colorful culture. Not that there are no poor people, as in every state there are but I found Himachalee people to be hardworking and engaging in both traditional occupations like sheep-herding and novel ones like the rabbit boy. I travelled through Chamba and Kangra districts and collected memoirs of precious moments that define warming of hearts; human relationships with self and others that illustrate happiness.
1. At Kalatop, this little one made some dance moves as the sun went about home for the day. Clearly, the dance was never rehearsed and it was almost like one being done for absolutely no reason whatsoever and probably that is why it was super cute. Behind her the shadow belongs to her brother who stood watching and maybe contemplating his own moves.
2. He sledged through the downward slope that also made me want to explore the narrow hilly road.He seemed to be so much occupied with his little game that he did not realize someone was stalking him, literally!
3. A little older one – she all the time seemed quite moody to me – restrained smiling even when I did – she lived in her own world and couldn’t care less about the rest. In this photo, I found her singing an unknown mountain folk in a low voice and swinging her legs to it. She looks as if she is part of this whole scenery; she belongs to the place naturally.
Post-script: These children belong to the caretakers of the Kalatop Forest Rest House – one of the best maintained government properties I have ever stayed at and/or a few more local people who stayed at the tiny village, comprising all of four to five shacks made of a combination of wood, flattened stones and sometimes tin sheets on top. That’s how tiny a village it is – extended down within a couple of blocks from the main rest house. Moreover, it is quite cheap compared to the once-in-a-lifetime views of sunset and sunrises it offers; and that of fresh farm products made into simple meals that one can have at epic dining locations. The amazing food that the lady cooks is beyond forgetting, and you gotta taste the chicken curry if you are ever staying back there. It is outstanding, a foodie Bengali states! Period.
Booking woes: Reservation procedure for government properties across Himachal is a little sketchy as everywhere we found that prior booking only means enquiring about vacant places and what works is you actually showing up. They do not accept advance payments nor provide any receipts, FYI. So, it is your sheer luck that you travel several kilo meters uphill by foot or by car, and find a place to rest.
Fun fact: The 2014 Bollywood film ‘Lootera’ was partly shot in this rest house – and substantiated the argument that Kalatop is utterly and significantly romantic. One can most explicably feel the silent romance when they stand still or walk and are able to hear the sound of winds hissing past the dense Deodar and pine forest. I heard the silence at the liminal phase at about four-fifteen am, when the beauty can make you go literally LUNATIC.
4. I found this pair of father and son (I assume) in McLeodganj, engaged into something very funny in the mobile screen, and was able to capture their moment of laughter together. After all, they’re making the best use of a smartphone, they’re sharing laughter.
5. The above photo is that of a mother and her daughter (I am pretty sure of the relationship); I really wanted to post this on Mothers’ day.
Post-script: Mcleodganj stole my heart with its generally warm culture, resembling and reflecting the strong European and Tibetan influences on the town stretching up from mainland Dharamsala. The hippiness, probably taking in from a layered combined dose of Bob Marley and Kasol (which is often called the stoners’ paradise) is pretty strong, so is the Buddhist traditional features in most establishments and on people – including young as well as elderly Lamas and local men and women who wore Tibetan robes and listened to “Om-mani-padme-hun” like an anthem. I picked up the Tibetan incantation mantra on the second day, sitting up in one of the cafes and was taken over by the still, soulful and intense calm that it brought to my thoughts and made sure to export it along with me to the busy city life.
This little town, culturally somewhat reminiscent of Leh (in Ladakh region) and Pondicherry (in Southernmost India) is a generally safe place for women to move about on their own, without bothering about prying eyes except at times in peak of summers when a lot of north-Indian and other tourists from downward states crowd the place seeking cooler weather and some of them cause discomfort with their inherent patriarchal eye sights. Nonetheless, most of the local men (and women) are absolutely charming and well-mannered, and so are the foreigners who reside for varying durations in Mcleodganj to volunteer, learn, photograph, paint, trek or study a number of subjects.
There is also a lot of positive street manner in Mcleod that the rest of the India should learn from- these include greeting the first person you meet in the morning with a smile on your face. I really loved this nice influence from European countries. And also, the café coolness; I sat and wrote at a café for several hours with a hot chocolate worth only sixty bucks and nobody gave a damn about me; (except for one nerdy guy with glasses and spiked hair that indicated that he took care to dress up – he sat across for half and hour and stole glances at the girl with a cup of cocoa and nothingness, interchangeably.) He looked straight out of the bed (in reality, it was me who was….) though exactly not too hippy (you mean the ones with really, stupidly old jodhpurs that are left tattered at weird places for even weirder reason. Ugh). He was the nice, balanced type 😉
Anyway, coming back to point, I really loved this ability to get into the invisible version of myself; in reality, it is just a good cultural amalgamation that sets Mcleodganj apart from the creepy Indian urban culture of ‘civil inattention’, which is so common in metro cities including Delhi and Kolkata – i.e., to make it a point to pretend you haven’t seen strangers and religiously ignore people passing by.
Oh, and the food. Mcleodganj has some of the best bakeries in India and they all serve very fresh, albeit limited menu all through the day. I am really lucky to have not seen any Mcdonald or KFC banners around, and instead really quaint, little ones with lot of local yummies to offer. And the best part is everything in food here is quite reasonably priced – at least compared to the metro cities given the formers’ qualitative and quantitative goodness.
Himachal is a mixed feelings land; on one hand, I felt very welcome given my cosmopolitan lifestyle and a penchant for egalitarian, open-minded day-to-day life, and on the other hand the strong traditional cultural ethos and occupations are being preserved, sustained and fought for.