Sunday, December 14, 2008

Back from Champawat.

Have just travelled about 3/4th of the width of Uttarakhand- a 16-hour bus journey, most of which was spent with my haversack on my knees. I was totally tired when I got back. But the journey had its moments.

I got down to the market square at about 5.30 am. It was cold, and dark, and quiet. But beautiful in a travelogue-ish way. Picture a large open square, lit by a couple of sodium vapour lamps, and a few small fires around which some people are standing. The parked taxis seem almost menacing in this un-earthly orange glow which looks like nothing so much as light reflected from Hades. The chai-shop is an oasis of cheery warmth, and there I go. It is brightly lit, tidy, warm, and the gas and the kettle are competing to out-hiss each other. I sip a chai and discuss mine and other’s travel plans.

When we finally leave, a good hour later, the sun has still not risen, but it is light. The fields are dreamily lovely. The harvest is over, and now the fields are covered with short grass. This morning, the fields have a coating of frost. The first time I saw frost, people, I was indignant because I thought someone had been spraying the lawns with chemicals! But now frosty mornings are a matter of course in my workplace.

When we climb the mountains and drive around a mountainside (oak forests, and then pine), there is the sun! And the sky is orangey-pink, and the world is golden. The driver greets the sun with a Namaste. I notice he does this to every shrine we pass as well, and am quite glad that I have such a devout person in charge. Now if only he did not close his eyes and bow his head in prayer while he is driving I would be happier.

The evening was lovely too. Here, the light was the same as when I started but in reverse, you know? Starting with golden, then pink, and finally grey. But while my morning was crisp with frost and laced with a few tendrils of mist, my evening was dark and warm. We were passing through a sugarcane belt, and the harvest is in progress. This means that the entire area is scented with jaggery. The farmers boil down sugarcane juice till it solidifies, and at every stage the smell is complex and warm and delicious. And this is done over wood fires, so the smoke adds its own touch of darkness and complexity. Sugarcane farming leads to over-extraction of ground water, reduces the fertility of fields and sows the seeds of a dozen social ills; the harvest however, is an incredibly sensuous time.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

humour with the praying driver, beauty with the love that you feel for the place and then the concern about over-extraction of water...
you write well.