“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world” – Gustave Flaubert
Rajkumari sat reminiscing her younger days, on the flat surface of the hill at the base of which lies an oval shaped lake. It was almost dusk in this sparsely populated village in the Western Himalayas. A hundred sheep around us chewed away at the overstretched foliage as a translucent sun behind the mountains turned a burnt sienna. With the sky getting darker and the horizon melting into a dark twilight, they slowly gathered closer to their human masters.
Illiterate, Rajkumari had been married off as a child into a nomadic shephard family. She had never visited any Indian city and had no idea that her own countrymen have been to the moon. But coming down to the small town in the plains was a special occasion when she would feel with all her heart the energy of bustling bazaars, inhale the aroma of sweet jalebis being deep-fried in huge iron kadhais and shop for sarees etched with fake gemstones, warm kullu shawls and glass bangles. She took my permission to try my sunglasses. Wearing them, she burst into giggles, like a five-year old looking at the world through plastic sunglasses that her father bought her at a village fair.
A tall man wearing a handmade sheep wool jacket walked towards us. He was the main priest of the wooden temple which stands at base of the hill next to the lake. Perched at a height of 2730 metres from sea level, the Parashar valley is named after an ancient Hindu saint.
The man, Jagadeesh, explained to me about the caste system in the hills and how everyone would stay put to the rules, naturally and without the need to be imposed upon. There was a division of labour and everyone needed everyone else’s service. Yet, he did not care for my disdain for the caste system. Neither did I feel the need to strike a debate. Sometimes the beauty of a moment is way too much to want to destroy it.
A little white sheep in pain was being treated. Her occasional cries merged with the shriek of a large bird as it flew above my head. The temple below was still dark, with only a flicker of fire here and there. The wind dropped its warmth and eventually the tip of my nose and the base of my ears started feeling glacial.
But all I did was tightly wrap arms around my sweater.
Because it felt like I have come so far just to spend an evening with Rajkumari and Jagdeesh, sitting on top of a hill and sipping from this little steel glass hot tea mixed with freshly drawn goat milk, dollops of cream and fragrant herbs. I was not leaving yet.