Sunday, June 28, 2009

Pari Tibba

The hill of fairies. Witches' Hill. The place where all settlement attempts have been answered by lightning. Where ghostly lights are seen, and no one dares to spend a night. How could I resist? I went there this Saturday.

For help, I took along Bill Aitken's description of the walk which is available online here, and my trusty falling-apart-at-the-seams H44G03. To eat: bananas, sweets and water. A cap, an umbrella. The description of what one should do is there in Aitken's article. This is what I did.

I left home a little after six am, and was in Mussoorie (by bus, standing all the way)by 7:30 by which time it was already hot. I needed to go to Landour, but instead of getting down at the Landour bus stop, elected to go to Mussoorie and walk to Landour from there. This is a much flatter route, and also shorter if one wants to go to the parts above Tehri road.

Anyway, I walked to Landour Bazaar, past the clock tower, and took the road to Dhanaulti till I came to the little concrete road that goes downhill to Dhobi Ghat. This is an easy, beautiful path with oak trees, ferns, birds and ladybirds. At one point, just past the electricity sub-station, the path meets the main road again. Here I turned left, walked a few paces, and again turned right into another concrete path. This turning is the one in the photo. This moves steeply downhill past a sports field till it reaches Dhobi Ghat. I loved that I was greeted by several lines of washing when I approached the village. This is to be expected of course, but I was quite prepared for the name to be a vestigial remnant of a washers' village.

I continued along the same path, which turns right and then left to Pari Tibba. This path then flanks the hill and continues down to Chamasari. Some day, I plan to follow this path, go to Jharipani and then Rajpur.This time, I turned off the path and took the one that leads up to the hill top. This is not a broad road, but a little forest path with a comfortable (though slippery) covering of leaf litter.

This part of the walk was my favourite. The path is definitely there, but obscured enough by leaves to be non-obtrusive. The forest is made entirely of oak and rhododendron trees, some of which still had a few dried flowers. There are also some deodar and pine trees- just to keep things interesting. I remember reading Peter Matthiessen's 'Snow Leopard' and drooling hopelessly over his description of Himalayan forests. And here I was! I still cannot believe it, and stood looking at the forest with a more than usually vacuous grin.

I didn’t see too many birds, though I heard rustlings. I did see the maroon oriole earlier, on the way to Dhobi Ghat. But as Salim Ali said, forests are disappointing places for the bird-watcher. But I am not disappointed. This is why. To go downhill, one needs to leave the path and walk along the ridge. I was doing that a little unsteadily and concentrating on suppressing the soundtrack playing in my head (George, george, george of the jungle; Watch out for that TREE! I watched the movie Friday night. These things happen). Suddenly something went Bump! Crash! Just a few feet from me. That had to be a deer. So close. I stopped dead and peered into the trees to try and see it, but no luck. And it is good to know that the deer was smart enough to stay out of sight- there are poachers here.

After this, things became a little difficult. There are many tracks running along the face of the hill, and I was tempted into following them rather than sticking to the ridge. Not surprisingly, I got lost. After spending an hour or so wandering aimlessly around the forest, I made my way to a house I had seen on another ridge. The people here were kindness itself. They offered me water and tea (both of which I gently refused- there is a water shortage in the area, and the nearest source was a long walk away), and pointed me to a path which would take me across two ridges and to a pine tree.

It was funny when he was explaining it, because he pointed at a forest of mixed pine and oak and told me, "go to that pine tree. whatever you do, go there and you'll be ok. There is a water tank and a road that will take you to chamasari"

I of course was looking at Pari Tibba, and said, "oh, ok. The big one in the deodar grove,no?"

"No. The round one on the top of the third ridge"

"splat!" That was my heart plummeting to my toes.

Anyway, the path was good because it followed the contours of the hills and was nearly level. It was also extremely beautiful, with a thick bed of oak litter and bronze ferns just uncurling themselves. All went well till I reached the pine tree. I went up to it, touched it, and circled it. I also cast around in concentric circles like they taught us in the Scouts and Guides. No water tank, no path.

After briefly panicking, I thought of going down to the main drain line that should be at the bottom of the slope and following it downhill. If the Song watershed, I would come to Chamasari, and if the Ripasana watershed, I would come to Rajpur. Either was acceptable. I did that, and it turned out to be a smart move, because I came to a forest path with reasonably fresh cowdung and happily followed it till I came to a village. Make no mistake, people. I was a wee bit scared- running low on water, storm clouds gathering overhead, and I was tired. I was happy to see that village.

It seemed empty at first, but soon half-a-dozen little children wandered up. I shared out my sweets and waited till the mother came. She, bless her, gave me water, told me the name of the village (khetwala! At the bottom of Pari Tibba! I wasn't lost after all, I'd merely taken the long way around!), and send the eldest child to put me firmly on the path to Company Bagh. After I said bye to the child and made it a gift of my bananas, I toiled up the long and impressively boring path to Company Bagh, then downhill to Barlowganj, and even more downhill to Bhatta. And home by bus.

So to sum up: The route I followed was Mussoorie-Landour-Dhobi Ghat- Pari Tibba peak- Khetwala-Company Bagh- Barlowganj-Bhatta. This is pretty much a cheat's walk, as barring isolated stretches, one walks downhill all the way. It is also exceedingly beautiful and gives the walker a taste of walking in the forest. If one is sensible enough to stick to the ridge, then it is very easy as well.

Would I do it again? I am definitely planning to. This time, I will take more water (1.5 ltrs is NOT enough) and stick to the ridge. I need to go there in winter to see the peaks, and in April to see the flowers, and a few other times just because.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Waiting for the monsoon

I am craving rain. And not just me, the entire subcontinent is craving it. The monsoons are already a fortnight late and it will still be another 2-3 days before the rains come to Dehradun.

It is difficult to explain this hunger for the rains to those who do not experience the monsoon. In India, it is very difficult to ignore it. But let me try to describe the symptoms.

To begin with, the newspapers deal with the rain on the front page- everyday. The rest of page one might change- a war today, pestilence tomorrow- but the careful plotting of how far the monsoon has advanced stays in place. The conversations at work and play revolve around the rain too. "When will the monsoon come?"  "When the rains come, I will go to Mussoorie." "I bought seeds. I will plant them once it rains." "when it rains, let's go home and make pakoras."

The land looks woebegone.It is asif the earth had a fever. Everything is hot to the touch.The earth is hot even deep inside the soil. The dogs who would normally burrow a foot or two to create a cool spot have given up and now lie panting in the grudging shade cast by a tree. Everything seems sulky and irritable. My skin is irritated, the dogs who would normally run up and greet me are petulant. The birds, poor things, skulk with their beaks agape. It is not only my imagination that the dressed-for-a-ball white-cheeked bulbul is looking disheveled; his Elvis pouf is now sadly bedraggled.

I can tell you all this. How can I tell you of the yearning for the rains? Of how I want the rains so bad I fantasize of the overcast skies of my childhood, the intense expectation of rain that pulls people out of offices and homes to stare at the sky, the first few drops, and then the downpour. The sudden coolness, the moisture, the smell. That feeling of coming home that leads to Indian women speak of 'olava' (moisture) when they crave some TLC. The feeling that at last, one can put down ones arms, that makes Olava such a suitable name for Maharashtra's lesbian rights organization.

The rains will come to Dehradun early next week. It is humid today. Is it a good sign? Will it rain this weekend? How I hope it will.

Monday, June 22, 2009

the sub-tenants

Meet Liz. Not too creative a choice of name, is it? Well, just to make matters worse, I have named them all Liz. Largely because I have better things to do than try and figure out the sex of each lizard I come across, I cant really distinguish between them, and they haven't been objecting too strenuously. (The quality of the snap is atrocious, and I apologise. The clutter in my drawer is also atrocious, and I do not apologise..)

But I like all the lizards. Partly for utilitarian reasons, of course. They do a great job of keeping the insect population down. But also, I have a little affinity towards them. They continually get into scrapes, and escape only because the universe seems to have a soft spot for them. Sounds familar? I thought so. And much as I hate to admit it, I also like them because they are pretty.

And after living in an apartment for so long, I love living in a place where the boundary between 'inside' and 'outside' is more of a suggestion than a law. And it helps that I am currently reading the splendid, observant, politically-incorrect-for-these-times EHA and his 'Zoo in the garden'.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The priest's house

How I covet it. And how can I not? It is perfect in every way. Let us be extremely business-like and look at the place, shall we?

Location: In verdant, arty Rajpur.Perched on the edge of a cliff and cunningly placed so as to catch every breeze that wanders into that valley. It is shaded by a huge, venerable peepal tree that is a poem in itself. And the views!The photo of the Rispana valley in my Rajpur post was clicked when dreaming at a window.

Plan: It is a double-storeyed structure with a deep covered verandah. This verandah has a window overlooking the valley. The ground floor has two rooms. It originally had three, but now part of the floor above the bedroom has fallen. This suits me fine, because that means the bedroom (on the G-1 floor) now has double-height walls, with windows on two levels. This will be lovely and cool in the summer. Things might be chilly in December, but there is a fireplace, and well, cold is a good reason to snuggle down, no? Also on the lower floor,There is a wee kitchen and a storeroom, and wait for this- a covered well!

what sold me to the place? the niches for lamps all over the house- at the entrance, on the stairs, at various points in the walls.

Look at the bedroom with my eyes, please. Think of this little shoebox stood on end as it will be when swept and clean. There will be a vase of dry grasses in the fireplace, and the floor will have a mattress and heaps of cushions.The bedspread and cushions will be in purple, pink, fuchsia- maybe a little zari here and there. The walls hung with sarees, again in the same incredibly luxurious colours. And diyas will be lit in all the little niches, filling the little shoebox with their living golden light. And there we will sit and listen to the spring gurgle in our well..

Five Star Friday


asked around, searched for, found, and listened to Khat likh de..

saamne ho to koi unse roothe.


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Bharatiya Daak

I have sung the praises of the phone service quite often. But not so much of my postman- we dont meet too often, and when we do he is a little snobbish.

But now I am talking of the Indian Post as a whole- and they sure do deserve praise. Yes, there are inefficiencies, and with e-mail and courier, the post is fighting a losing battle against changing times- or so it seems in the urban areas.

But I was in the hills on that geology trip of mine, and we stopped for chai in a village called Rauton ki Veli. It is the largest village for miles around, but it is not much, really. It is just that this village is on the main road. There are tens of other villages scattered about on the hill slopes. Visiting one means a trek of several very steep miles.

And the postman visits each and every one of these. This is important everywhere, but much more so in a remittance economy such as one finds in the Himalayas.

Then there is what the post means to the villagers. For many, it is the only means of communication. I dont know about here, but among the villagers I have spoken to, going to the village post office to save a bit of money or to send a letter to a husband in the town is a simple but important assertion of self.

I love the picture of the woman here. I love that she has come alone from her village and that she is not relying on a thumb impression, but signing her name.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

puppy love

As I write this, a small ball of fuzz and drool has smooshed itself up between me and the trunk I keep the computer on, and has pressed a wet nose up against my leg.
It has been 13 years since I have had a pup at home, and you know, it does not seem like it. As I hold this pup, try and guess what it wants, make the choice between tough love and falling for a pair of trusting eyes, it does not seem so long ago since Benjy was a pup.
But yes, this has again reminded me what an intense experience it is to have a pup in the house. And it is not just the hourly feeding and cleaning up, the incessant minor crises that I am talking of. The whole feeling of being totally trusted by something vulnerable, and the intense sensory experience of watching-hearing-smelling-touching it, sometimes feels too much to bear. A lot like being in love, isn't it?
Incidentally, the pup and I are not embarking on a relationship. M has taken it to meet her parents, and they were visiting me. I do, do hope things work out. That pup needs a home.

Friday, June 12, 2009

What i did last weekend

I walked about in Rajpur. The route I took was along the river Ripasana, and then along the river bed. Once, there was a route connecting the Himalayas to the plains. It is said that one could walk to Ladakh from here. This, people, is the route. It is known as the old cart road and one also follows it for a while on the way to Jharipani. It lies on a glacier bed (probably), skirts the Old Rajpur Canal, several water-harvesting structures, the temple I had posted about before, a lovely old lychee grove, and many interesting little nooks and crannies.

There is absolutely no way I can write a more informative, engaging, and comprehensive account of the walk than this report written by Will. If you are planning on a day in Rajpur, I strongly suggest that you take it along.

Since I need to perforce follow the vikram schedules, I could not leave home before 7.30. This meant that I was out walking in the hottest part of the day. This further meant that I came back sunburnt and be-migrained. But it was worth it.

What did I do? I walked. I spent some time sitting in the old priest's house (details in the report) and marvelling. That house deserves a separate post all to itself, and it shall have it. I sat under a peepal tree and watched birds, and listened to the leaves rustle. Clambering over the river bed was most fun. It was interesting to look out for animal spoor (deer and a small predator), look at mineral deposits, watch fish and frogs, and try and see the landscape through a geologist's eyes. There are times when the riverbed looks like a slag heap ,and this was the most unpleasant part of the walk. But it is nicer to think of how that lot of chipped rock got deposited there, to think of glaciers and upstart mountains.

I deviated a little from W's route and also walked up the left-hand tributary of the Ripasana. This part of the area is more secluded and quiet. It also has some interesting limestone formations and cliffs to wander by. When I decided I had enough, I crawled under a bush and sat there for a while looking out across the valley.

After that, I walked about a little in Rajpur. Sadly, both my preferred lunch options were shut ( because it was a Sunday, and for renovation). But no matter, I came home instead. All in all, a very good day.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

of leeks

Last night, I was reminded all over again just how far I am from home. You see, for me leeks are an exotic vegetable. I have read about them but the first time I saw them was last year in Seattle. And so they are linked to that year and to Vio's magic filo pie.

Imagine my surprise when I saw a vegetable handcart heaped with the things. I expected that they were one of the forced exotic veggies that are lately coming into Indian markets to accommodate urban curiosity. The price (20 rs a kg) convinced me otherwise. Here they are called 'vilayti pyaz' (foreign onions) which I suppose is as good a name as any. One of the cookbooks I have suggests that this might have been brought in to the northern cantonment areas by homesick Britishers. Well, good for me.

So I took them home and cooked up a quick and satisfying supper. I cut up a potato into little cubes, diced a capsicum, sliced two leeks and 100gm of mushrooms. I browned the potatoes in a little oil and then added the leeks. When the leeks had softened and just begun to caramelize in places I added the capsicum and then the mushrooms, seasoned it, and allowed all this to soften while I beat an egg and a good bit of mustard. Added that, let it set and slid it on to a plate.

Ate it in bed while watching 'Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron'.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Dressed to thrill

The cattle egret in breeding plumage..

Saturday, June 6, 2009


The one thing I like about these Haridwar visits is the chance to gawk. The bathing ghats at Har-ki-Pauri are the Gazette of India come alive. People flock there from all corners of India, though mainly from the Ganga River Basin. And either because this is a family occasion, or because most of these people are rural, they wear traditional dress. I was fascinated last time by the sadhu family, and I wrote about them.

But I also saw a group of villagers from the mountains. M identified them as Nepalese, and it was interesting to see that even in the afternoon heat, they were wearing multiple woolen layers. I commented on this, as I expected these to feel extremely hot in the plains. It was then explained to me that multiple woolens are the usual dress, and they would no more think of dispensing with their sweaters than I would go topless because of the heat.

This time around, I was captivated by a family group from Kutch. more than the family, it was the women's clothes that fascinated me. Most desirable were the lovely hand-embroidered dupattas. Red, yellow, rani-pink, maroon. And embroidered with silk and zari in fine chain-stitch. The designs were interesting with all manner of flora and fauna and more besides. I lusted after the dupattas so much that I did not notice the rest of their clothes. It is only when they packed up and began to walk away, that I noticed the skirts. Each skirt ended in a precisely pleated 6-9" band. These pleats swung as the women walked so that this swinging, combined with the fecundity on their dupattas had a rather sexy effect. By the way, the photo is taken by M.

There were a lot of groups that I did not recognize. And this, more than anything else, made me hunger to travel a lot more in India.

It was not just the people that were interesting. The groups were interesting too. I enjoyed trying to decipher the type of group- family, village, SHG, paid tour. I was struck that many people seemed to have little identity tags pinned to their shirts. This made me realise what a huge trip a visit to the Ganga must be for some. If any of you are bristling at my looking at people as objects of curiosity, you will be glad to know that we were at the receiving end too. The funniest episode came about when M and I saw a strange group of men.

They were strangely dressed- even by Har-ki-Pauri standards. But good-looking, too. They were tall and lean, with dark chiseled faces and hair that just touched their shoulders. To set off the hard cragginess of their features, they were enveloped in yards of white. Each man was dressed in a voluminous long gown, cinched at the waist with an equally large cummerbund. Sadly, this rather splendid effect was spoiled by their headgear. The elaborate white turban looked well enough, but this was further capped by a little brass dome with peacock feathers sticking out of it. They were not wearing the entire feather, but a bunch of the little tendrils found at the base of each tail feather. I am not sure if they were wearing salwars, because we were trying not to look at them too openly in fear of being thought rude. They however, did not have such inhibitions, and stopped to stare at us. What made me burst out laughing was M's plaintive protest," why are they staring at us? They are the ones wearing fountains on their heads!"

In all fairness, we were wearing pens in our that counts as odd headgear.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

a mob is not necessary to intimidate one

sometimes, a custom-made ledger is sufficient.

While travelling in Uttarakhand, I have stayed in hotels that have not got the reasoning behind why their business is called the hospitality industry. The strangest prejudices are seen, and given full play with the convenient right of a hotelier to refuse admission.

I first came across these prejudices in Champawat when I noticed that the ledgers are not quite standard. In addition to the usual name-address etc, there is a column with the heading 'relationship'. And no, 'blissful' is not an acceptable answer. That is apparently to disallow friends or gasp! unmarried couples from polluting their rooms. This irritated me, but not too much. I would just mentally shrug and think, ' ah well, it's not like I would want to come to this dump with The Wonderful One anyways."

But yesterday, I returned from Haridwar where I had gone to conduct a survey (again). I had gone there with the Amazing M (who, as you remember, is a woman too) and with A, a male colleague. A had friends in town, so we just needed a room for M and me. We entered a hotel-disguised-as-dharamshala and the receptionist was rudeness personified.

Me: Do you have a double room available?
He: for whom?
Me (indicating M): my colleague and I
He: just the two of you?
Me: yes.
He: Two ladies only?
Me: yes.
He: is there anyone else with you?
Me: no
He: any gents?
Me: no

This was followed by several questions about where we are from- over and over again and much checking of photo IDs. After that,

He: why have you come here?
Me (thinking fast): It's Ganga Dussehra. We have come to bathe in the Ganga.
He: Fine, give me your cell number.
Me: Sorry, I don't give it out to commercial establishments.
He: We need a number.
Me (trys out intimidating glare):---
He: well, your office number will do.
(labouriously copies it out)
Me: hey! you haven't noted down anyone else's numbers!
He (beligerent and defensive): look. here and here. I take down the numbers of all the suspicous visitors.
Me: !!

I was extremely angry at the end of that little exchange. It angers me that women traveling alone are assumed to be do i put this across politely? be members of a profession that requires the renting of rooms. If I was alone, I would have been interrogated a lot more, and possibly been refused accommodation. A, when we related the episode to him, made matters worse by attempting to rationalize this attitude. He justified this by saying that there are cases where men come with their lovers and murder them. But in that case, interrogate the men! And that was not all. In addition to the usual entries, this ledger had a column for 'caste'. I left it blank, and he did not argue. From his point of view, I suppose that once his establishment became tainted with the presence of two painted Jezebels, caste became irrelevant. But isn't that illegal? or shouldn't it be?

Now, however, I am beginning to find the episode funny. It is still wrong, of course. But this is the first time I have been asked for my phone number and then placated by being told it is because I am a suspicious character. Nothing personal, just business.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

what the brain does not know..

The eye does not see. This was brought home to me this weekend.

I was lucky enough to be gadding about the Himalayan foothills with a group of geologists. Well, not gadding about exactly. I was participating in a training session on spring conservation, and it was lovely. I learnt a lot, and met up with old friends from Pune. And there was the field trip.

Look at the photo of the hill side. I would not even notice this if I was walking in the hills by myself. If I did notice it at all, I might just shake my head at the loose soil and think wistfully of the hard base rock of the Western Ghats. Geologists see a lot more. When he saw this, H painted for us a picture of a young, enterprising world. He spoke of the pushy sub-continental plate and how it challenged the much larger Asian plate. He spoke of a sea and its inhabitants, and of how they died, but are still present in the rocks. The rocks were folded up, and squeezed, and each fold, each crack speaks of that struggle that is still going on. But that is not all.

As we were standing there in the sun and looking over a fertile valley, he spoke of a world that was much colder and lonelier. It was not silent, though. glaciers were there, challenging the mountains, and in turn being challenged by ever-hotter summers. The glaciers are gone now, but they have left behind the story of their struggles. The loose deposits are layered, and each layer speaks of a time when the glaciers receded, amassed their forces and moved onwards again.

When I was standing there and listening to this story, I felt like a little illiterate child who holds a lovely book in her hands and cannot do more than look at the pictures till someone reads her the stories, points out things in the picture that she might have missed otherwise.