The first thing we did on Day 3 was shift to tents that were located in the valley. We would be spending the night in those tents. Now, I was under the impression that the stay in tents would be uncomfortable with no proper sanitation facilities and bed space. However, I was mistaken. These tents almost matched our hotel rooms in facility, except that these were temporary structures and three sharing.
Immediately after keeping our bags in the tents, we proceeded to Sangla Kanda. This is a peak point from where therange can be viewed in all its majesty. We had hired four wheel drive pick up trucks to take us there. Some of us decided to stay inside the jeeps while the adventurous ones hopped on to the pick up trailer. Even though I wanted to join them, I was sceptical because of my leg injury.
The climb to Sangla Kanda was something in its own respect. The respect that I already had for Pahadi drivers multiplied manyfold after this trip. We started in the morning around 9 and reached the top at around 12–1. We had also bought a case of beer to enjoy at the top, at the risk of the beer losing its chill, by the time we would reach the top.
( The Road Trip in four wheel drives to Sangla Kanda)
We climbed up the mountain with the wonderful valley on our side. On the way, I noticed the small settlements that seemed like villages. On inquiry our driver said that these were temporary villages which were occupied by migratory farmers who would live in them during the summer and spring and cultivate crops. I assume this has to do with the fertile glacial moraine that settles on these slopes when the ice melts. When the winter sets in they would migrate back to the valley because it would be impossible to live at these heights in the freezing cold.
Once we reached the top, everyone was left to their faculties to enjoy any way they wanted to. Some of us decided to play Kabbadi, some decided to walk still further up, while a small group including me decided to settle with a beer and the view offrom my side of the mountain. There was something curious that one of the senior officers who settled with my group pointed out. There was a glacial stream that was flowing nearby and we could simply chill our beer in the stream. It would render the beer even colder than it would be in a refrigerator. We decided to try it. It was like one of those Mountain Dew ads. We left our beer in that stream for some time and lo! and behold, chilled beer from nature.
We sat there, sipping that beer and talking about a lot of things. My mind meanwhile drifted in between to the beauty of the mighty mountain that stood before me and how insignificant my life seemed before it. At the same time, I also felt lucky that I could sit there and enjoy that view as part of a group that was selected on the basis of one of the toughest competitive exams in India. My making into the list must have meant that another deserving candidate missed his chance that year. Fate flows in mysterious ways, I thought.
Soon we had our lunch in the base camp and then after a small break we proceeded back to our tents in the valley. I would come back and have a nice sleep to wash away all the fatigue that I had accumulated over the past two days.
The Night Trip to Chitkul
I recounted how during the trip to Chitkul on the second day, some villagers had informed some of us about the Nati that would take place at night the next day. My Senior DAG and I along with two of my friends had decided to slip away during the night to take part in this festivity. It had to be kept a secret so that the plan could actually be executed.
Our course director also decided to come with us, but at the last moment she decided not to. So at 11 o’clock in the night, we started for the last village of India, to witness their festivities.
We reached at around midnight and there was music blaring from distant darkness. Someone pointed us towards a flight of steps. We climbed up the steps, that extended outwards like a black carpet that was welcoming us. All of us had our mobile phone flashlights on. We reached the temple that was lighted with its facade open and spacious.
There was already music blaring and I was surprised that this was through electronic speakers. Quite unexpected in this remote place, I thought. Some ladies started to gracefully dance to the music that was playing.
The great thing about the Himachali dance is the graceful movements that consume very little energy. The emphasis is on the flow of the movement, not the speed or energy of the steps. There is an advantage to this kind of dance. The performance could go on all night. Unlike the Punjabi Bhangra, where there is much expenditure of energy and the performance unable to last more than a few hours, here the performance would go all night long.
(Sometime when the Nati began. The entire village would join in on the dance and the sight of everyone moving around in a synchronised manner in this square was amazing )
The grace in the movement combined with the beauty of the Pahadi women makes the dance very attractive. Their slight movements were like a call for the men in the village to join in on the dances. Some men also joined in on the performance from the other side of the square. Within no time, one by one, the entire village would start dancing. The way in which men and women, girls and boys of an entire village, started dancing without the slightest botheration about the gender, complexion, age etc of the participants made me feel very happy.
A very beautiful pahadi girl was sitting next to me. She asked me to join in on the dance. I politely declined, thinking that I might offend some of them. The whole atmosphere made me feel like dancing. However, I decided not to act on it. Minutes had passed when another guy came to me and asked me to join them, saying that we were their guests. My friends were doubtful of joining. But I jumped at the chance without hesitation and went one full round around the square with the villagers, trying to ape their movements. Now, my friends also joined in the dance.
After some time they retired back to the stands, while I continued to dance. Meanwhile another villager with whom I struck up a conversation asked me to join them to share their local wine and food. I asked him if my friends could also come and he nodded. We were taken to the back side of the temple where many youngsters were seated squatting in the ground. They smiled at us and asked us to join them.
They offered us a local dish, whose name as I remember it was, “Gimtu”. It was made out of goat’s blood and intestine and flour. Even though I flinched at the description, I did not want to offend the hosts. I took a bite. It tasted bland to me, and I did not proceed. Now they brought out kettles which contained the local wine. I initially thought that they were bringing tea. However, the guy who brought it asked me to extend my hand and cup it together. Once I did that, he poured the wine onto my hands. It had a very smokey flavour and I was reminded of Laphroaig whiskey that I had once tasted. I found it very difficult to contain what they poured in my hand without spilling while the guys sitting next to me did so with ease. I looked around and found that my friends were also struggling to do the same.
We started introducing ourselves. Many of the villagers had found employment in the Indo-Tibetan Police Force. Being a border town, they made the perfect fit for the requirements of the ITBP with their familiarity with the terrain and their adaptability to the conditions. Some of them went to study in college in and around Shimla. When I said that I come from Kerala, a few of them exclaimed that I don’t look South Indian. May be they were expecting a dark skinned, chubby nosed person. I did not try to correct them, but just grinned sheepishly.
After some time we took their leave, with my track pants smelling heavily of the smokey wine. A day was well spent. To drown the smell of the wine, I lowered the window pane of our innova a little bit. We hoped that we would sight a leopard or bear, so that the day would have been perfect. Somewhere inside all of us knew that it was overambitious. As we knifed through the dark night, I could still hear the Pahadi tunes humming in my ears. My mind was still swaying to the grace of the Himachali dance and the rhythm of the music that played.