Friday, June 7, 2013

Romancing the Mountains

He is Snow Leopard to the blogging world. Prateek to his family and friends, and will always be cub to me. As an intern with a non-profit Organization in  Satoli(Uttarakhand),when he is not discovering the wonders of apricots,plums and peaches, he's busy taking in the majestic beauty of the Himalayas and the simplicity of a village life.

In this post he pours his heart out to the mystic one (which I suspect is the spider on his wall).

P.S He's still looking for a spoon and fork to have his daa-chawal with and has sent an SOS to Oprah
Dear Mystic Vixen,

I pen down this letter as I watch the sun go down behind the snow clad peaks of Trimurti. What wonders I have seen and experienced in this region, you would scarcely believe. The beauty of the mountains is hard to describe forsooth; but I shall try nonetheless. White mountains rising in the horizon bearing stark resemblance to Angelina Jolie before mastectomy. The Panchachuli near Munsiyari are five snow top peaks standing in unison. The symmetry is such that I am pretty sure God drew the landscape during crayon drawing lessons in Kindergarten. The barren slopes marked by landslides, the dry pine needles daring smokers to throw a lit butt, the roads or rather lack of it, the bus drivers and the sheer drop on one side of the road - all bearing testimony to Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

The mountains ruin you, dear Mystic. One begins to wake up at 5 in the morning and sleep at 10 at night. All the years of conditioning the body and mind to be awake till 6 AM and to sleep with eyes open during classes are rendered useless. But still the mountains seem to have a hypnotic hold on most populace. I have noticed an influx of tourists in the last one week. Come summers and especially the summer vacations and everyone heads north, like a migratory bird; paying heed to some ancient gene from the time when our ancestors were still swinging from branches and throwing poop at each other.


Living in the Mountains also makes you realize that you might be asthmatic. A few minute walk uphill sends your heat-beat into overdrive. In an act of uncalled bravado, I entered my name in a half Marathon that was held in Mukteshwar earlier last month. I now have a very good idea how a fish feels out of water. During olden days, people used to come and live here to attain spiritual enlightenment and be closer to God. I think it is true. You suddenly realize your faith in God when you are packed in an SUV with 30 other people, and I am not counting the driver (who is usually high on hash or as they call it “Dum”). The last time I visited Almora, while coming back there were 34 people in and on a Tata Sumo. The Driver himself was sitting on a passenger’s lap and we had 8 on the roof and 2 hanging behind. I must take this moment to tell you that I have a new-found respect for all the hens in India’s poultry farms. As the SUV sped from one deathly turn to another and as I looked at the 100 feet straight drop on the left hand side, I realized I may not be an Atheist after all.


My journey till Haldwani was in Shatabdi. Since you have travelled a lot and know how food tastes in an Indian train, I won’t go into details. But to give them credit, they did try to make it up to us by printing haikus on the food packets. The shock made most forget that the Omelet served in breakfast looked too anaemic to be palatable. The day I reached Satoli, I was greeted by an enthusiastic native who called me Dada. Later I learnt that everyone here is either a Da or a Di. My first reaction was to check if I had reached Mamata Di’s city instead. Then I was treated to fish curry and rice. I have had that for Dinner about 10 times now. In my books, rice more than once a month is too much rice. Anyway, I really didn’t think about it much till I found a Bong sweet shop in Munsiyari, the place that marks the end of roads in that region. Khushwant Singh’s joke books had prophesied that it would be either the Punjus or the Gujjus who will be found everywhere and not the Bongs. If this is a plot to take over India then you can warn your people; we now know and we are watching you.

It has been about 4 weeks now since I arrived here and that has given me a lot of time to study the customs of the local people. It is traditional here to keep your head outside the windows and throw out half-digested food (or stomach juices if you have had nothing to eat) when riding a bus. I haven’t have had the courage to ask anyone but I guess it brings good luck and makes your journey safe. But more than that I think it is a good excuse to hang on to the window seat. Another mountain custom is to drink McDowald’s rum. Usually it begins at around 6 in the evening but depending on the day and mood, one can spot locals drinking as early as 6 in the morning. It is a strong, dark brown coloured drink that seems to make the otherwise soft spoken men boisterous and brave. The first sighting was when I was walking towards my cottage on the 5th day from my arrival, when suddenly a wild drunk appeared. Since then I have spotted quite a few. Yesterday, I was invited to a wedding in a neighbouring village and the locals have promised me that I would spot many wild drunks there.



I tried to mingle with a group one day. We went into the Jungle and drank till late night. It is another fun to drink under the moonlight. The people here have a lot of stories to tell which are either stories of animal attacks or ghost stories. Animal stories are rare and far in between, but how they enjoy a good horror tale. It seems every evil spirit has made the mountains its abode. We are planning an overnight stay at a local crematory and if luck is on our side, will be able to interview a wraith.

The wildlife here is something out of this world. In evenings if the Electricity gods are kind on us, we get to see a myriad of insect life that gets attracted to the solitary light bulb hanging outside our cottage. It is a wonderful swarm of different sizes and varieties of flying and crawling and slithering insects – or as Bear Grylls would call it: An all you can eat buffet. But they also help pass the time in the evenings. I amuse myself watching my roommate perform various slapstick routines while shitting his pants in mortal fear of the creatures. The spiders here are huge, scary but shy. The other day one as big as my palm was sitting near my pillow but ran away the moment it saw me. After that I have caught the shy giant spying on me when I am in the bathroom but quickly scampers away and hides when I go near it. But whatever their nature, they do shorten your time on the pot by 90%. And yesterday I saw that my spider was accompanied by several little ones of same shape and colour but one-tenth the size.

Talking of shit, did I mention my trip to Munsiyari. It was on day two of the trip that I had an upset stomach. I spent a good part of the 3 hours at Nachini (a small town on the way) squatting on the banks of 
Ramganga while two mules gave me disapproving looks. So technically, I was making an ass of myself in front of two asses. The dogs here are quite different. I think the people just domesticated bears instead of wolves and decided to call them dogs. The locals claims that these dogs can bring down a Leopard and Moon has advised me to wear sunshades to fool the Dogs.

This is an Apricot country and I have been loaded with freshly plucked fruit from the orchids. The village folks are too eager to share their fruits of labour, and you can’t say no for fear of offending them. Then there is the Apricot Jam and Apricot Squash and Apricot Oil. After this stint is over, I am going to start a campaign to ban apricots. Another thing I found quite amazing is the fact that the people here prefer to eat rice (and dal and curd and everything) with their hands, despite the fact that spoon and fork are available. And they don't have a single Disco/Bar/Pub here. Not even a Costa Coffee or a KFC. 

I am literally living in the “Dark Age” here. There are power cuts that last for more than 35 hours and the internet reminds me of the dial-up connection we used to have in the late 90s and early 2000s. Since it is a remote area, we get newspapers when anyone happens to go to Almora, which is the nearest town about a 2.5 hour drive away. The good thing is that the newspaper vendor there keeps all the old newspapers for us. The long powers cuts ensure that neither my cellphone nor the laptop have any charge left. This means that most of my evenings have been spent drinking while sitting under the moonlight and gazing at the various constellations.


The reason I don’t like this is because then I have to talk with other people. This is something I usually don’t enjoy that much. My roommate has a morbid fear of everything – the ghosts, the dark, the insects, the silence etc etc. That does give me a chance to amuse myself watching him shit his pants because a moth entered the room. So I guess every cloud has a silver lining.


It is almost 9 now and I will call it a day soon. But before that I have to Whatsapp a few landscape photos to people in Delhi, just to make summers for them more miserable.

Yours truly,


P.S. I am teaching a neighbourhood kid English and Maths. I hope he won’t quit studies in disgust.
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37 comments:

  1. I so want to go there! One of your better posts Snowy! Loved it from start to finish. Now if you would just marry a nice Mountain girl and live happily ever after, we can make a Bollywood film of this one.

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    1. I see you have been watching too many Hindi movies. Now repeat after me - "Real and reel life are not the same" and write it 1000 times.

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  2. Clearly, the brave cat is having the time of its life in the hills! But pray, why no mention of the gaon ki goris?

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    1. Yes, my question exactly!

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    2. Because the cat wrote the post before meeting the Gaon ki Goris

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    3. Or after the Gaon ki Goris saw the cat? :)

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  3. Well I love the mountains but then this is an entirely new perspective ! I have had my fair share listening to spooky stories by the villages and yes everybody imbibing the golden liquid after 6 pm is so darn true !I have seen more drunkards in the hills than anywhere else !
    Brilliant post Prateek !

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    1. The wild drunks are the most dominant species

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  4. Nice post... the only sad part was an unnecessary reference to Ms Jolie. It left a sour taste in my mouth early on.

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  5. Very nicely written Prateek :-).
    Since you mentioned 'I realized I may not be an Atheist after all', do you think the strange behavior of that spider might be because in your and its (a human in previous life) previous life, there was a situation where you wanted to drink water to survive and it (then a human)did not give you and you died because of thirst.
    Then you were born as a human again, but the spider due to its 'wrong action' in the previous life became a spider?
    It (now a spider) realized who you are and wanted to apologize to you. But then it might be scared and you know what I mean? :-p
    Just wondering :-)

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    Replies
    1. A lot of tale telling.. after a tale it self. :)

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    2. Woah! Now if you would just replace Spider with Snake, then this would could be the plot for Nagin 2: The return of the Icchadhari :)

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  6. well, I have had my share of mountains though meager.

    I identify with "catch-window-and-puke-all-juice" syndrome. :)

    :D nice read.

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  7. Oh! Hello! You missed talking about the village belle! :)

    (Nice Post BTW .. itching to write again)

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    Replies
    1. :O Why are you so interested in the village belle, hmmmm?
      And stop itching and start writing

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  8. I had been to a Kumaon trip in my 10th class. Saw the Panchchuli mountains as clear as the teacup in my hand. It really gives you a feeling of bliss and serenity. The towering mountains as seen from Binsar seem so near but are actually much farther away. Lovely post, reminded me of these times. :)

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    Replies
    1. They are something aren't they? Glad I could make you shed a couple tears :)

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  9. Dear Purba,

    I am Sakina and I work in the marketing team of The Four Fountains Spa. The Four Fountains Spa is India's largest chain of affordable day spas and we are located across 10 cities. I just went through your blog and it was a wonderful read. It was something interesting and refreshing to browse through.

    I would like to invite you for a complimentary therapy at our spa. If you find it worthwhile, your review about us on your blog would be greatly appreciated by us. Would wait to hear from you if this would interest you. If you could let me know the place and branch convenient for you, i can do book the appointment for you. Incase you need to reach me my mobile number is 9820739116 and my id is sakina.b@thefourfountains.in.

    Looking forward to your response and your subsequent visit :)

    Regards,
    Sakina

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    Replies
    1. Dear Sakina,

      I live in Brisbane.

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  10. Ha ha . like that drive in the Tata Sumo. It is so true. To make some extra buck, they accommodate as many as they can.
    Well written.

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    1. And did I mention they do this without seat belts

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  11. hmmm
    there were times when I was fascinated, amazed when visiting a blog or website
    because that will add insight and knowledge I course. thanks for nice post

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  12. Half of my khandaan lives in the mountains and those ungrateful creeps take them for granted.
    And every time they visit us, they bring suitcases of ghost stories. Your post made me nostalgic.

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    Replies
    1. You should make them watch some gore movie the next time they visit

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  13. What a line "making an ass of myself in front of two assess".... I am still in splits...Keep them coming.

    Thanks Purba for introducing to Prateek....

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    Replies
    1. Thank you. Appreciation is the best known ego booster :)

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    2. Appreciation is a well known ego booster. Thank you :)

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  14. Prateek, mountains do hold a hypnotic charm. After living in urban jungles the fresh air is to die for.
    And yes, the breathtaking view can inspire anyone to wake up at six in the morning.
    Engrossing read, as always.

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    Replies
    1. More than the view it is the sunlight that fills your room. And you have to get up, whether you want to or not.
      Thanks :)

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  15. u write so well. Found your post A-musing while searching for how to deal when I have maids. haha!

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    1. This is a guest post by Snow Leopard :-)

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