As soon as I woke up after a comfortable nights rest I ran down the stairway to check the visibility of the mountains. The CH is situated at almost 2900 metres above MSL; it was cold and the views were not clear enough to identify the Kinner Kailash and the ‘Shivling’ atop it. However, I walked around and took a few pictures till Sharma brought me a double tea in a glass tumbler. Late last night a few people had checked into the CH. One of them came out and I got talking to him. Mr. Acharya worked with HIMFED. He was part of a team that was on tour to probe complaints from farmers about the quality of a spray that was supplied by IOC through HIMFED.
Interacting with the officials of the government, the caretaker and my contacts produced a wealth of information about the local customs, practices and the changes that have come about in the recent past in Kinnaur. An interesting social custom is that all brothers marry one lady. This is unique to HP and is still prevalent. The adverse sex ratio had something to do with it in the past but it arrests property division and the wealth remains within the joint family. The lady is all powerful controlling the finances and the men work in the orchards.
Households are licensed by the Excise department to ‘manufacture’ their own liquor for private consumption and fairs. It is not meant to be sold. A variety of local hooch is prepared using apricot, cherries, peaches, etc. However, the apricot distillate is said to be the best. I have to tap my contacts here to try and get a sample. The products that are supposed to be the specialty of the region are wild apricot oil, apricots, chilgoza, walnuts, rajma and black jeera, apart from apples, of course. Chilgoza is an expensive dry fruit – it is obtained from stubborn pines that grow on sheer rock faces.
HP is known for apples and the Kinnaur apples are considered to be among the best produced in the country. The local people consider the Kinnaur Golden to be superior to all other varieties of apples produced in the region. Since the external demand is not so high the superior variety sells for much less than the more sought after ‘Royal’. The Golden apple keeps for about 8 months in the Kinnaur climate. The ‘C’ grade variety of the apples is procured by HPMC and HIMFED to support the farming efforts. These apples actually go in for processing – there is a prevalent view that the apple juice that is on offer from the HPMC outlets is not what it should be for the juice is prepared from the most inferior variety of the apples produced in the region. In the recent past certain companies have stepped in to the apple business such as Jindal Agri and Container Corporation of India. They buy the best variety directly from the farmers and use a network of temperature controlled warehouses to withstand seasonal variations. This ensures that the apples are available round the year. But all is not hunky dory with the government procured apples. Lack of proper warehousing facilities takes their toll during seasons of bumper crop – it is reported that 8 lakh bags of 60 kgs each were rotten and destroyed in 2010.
The recent past has seen lot of money in the hands of the locals with the development of power plants and roads. The compensation is large and through protests and organized demonstrations they manage more. The entire Kinnaur district has tribal status which gives it protection from ‘outside’ influences. For instance, ‘outsiders’ cannot buy land in Kinnaur. The only way out is to marry a local! In HP ex-servicemen have a direct quota in civil administration and attached offices. This is because of a large number of people from the region join the armed forces. It is said that the Kargil war brought home this fact, poignantly though, with the steady arrival of coffins. However, the government jobs have improved the purchasing power of the people and mushrooming residential construction is a direct offshoot. To survive the harsh winter all items are dried - meat, fish, vegetables, et al
After a heavy breakfast of aloo parathas I took a bus to Rogi, about 8 kms from the CH. The magnificent sights on the way confirms the great natural beauty of the place. It makes one believe in the local legend that the area with all its charms fell from the heavens as a gift from the gods. The drive is exhilarating as the road is trickily carved out of sheer rock faces. The village is pristine with apricot trees in full bloom and apples getting ready for the new fruiting in August. Along the way the simle village folk wish you and a few of them even stopped to enquire if I liked what I saw. There are a few houses in the village that claim to be the last house in the village, beyond which is sheer vegetation and forest. However, there is lot of new constructions taking place and most new constructions have a garage for parking vehicles too. After spending an hour in the village soaking in the clean air and the divine sights I decided to trek back to the CH. The walk back made me appreciate the glorious views of the mountains, the orchards, the greenery and the peculiar rock formation and even designs on them. The deep gorges can make your head spin. In fact, the ‘suicide point’ is a favorite among visitors to appreciate the precipitous rock faces.
Mohammed Muslim got down from the bus that I had taken to Rogi. Disarmingly he asked me, “Uncle, where are you from?” He guessed that I was from UP. He is part of a large group of boys from UP, mainly Sitapur District, who visit various towns and villages selling cheap carpets, thin mattresses and the like. He confessed that the profits from the sale are substantial. Some numbers he mentioned had my head reeling. He has been in the business since the age of 19 and has been touring Rajasthan, J&K and HP for the past 14 years. He claims to foot it to most of the villages in HP. His knowledge of the local customs and practices were indeed interesting to listen to. He virtually abandoned his work for the day and struck to me throughout my tour of Rogi. He claims to have only one meal a day, and that too mutton biriyani in the evening – walking the mountainous areas on a full stomach is not possible. Muslim gave me information about places to visit and when to visit them. He even invited me to a meal at his residence, a rented place where four of them stay together. Sale is normally over by 2 PM and then it is TV, cooking and eating for the rest of the waking hours.
I took a few short cuts through the forested roads and reached Kalpa village – must have walked at least 12 kms from Rogi – and took a bus to Peo. There I had lunch at the Punjabi dhaba, a small and not clean eatery. But it served hot food. I ordered for rotis and dal fry. The excellent dal fry made me oblivious to the surroundings. Thereafter, I went to a provision store and sourced apricots, oil, chilgoza, almonds, walnuts and rajma. I returned to the CH after making arrangements for a visit tomorrow to the Sangla Valley and Chitkul. It was not a minute late for me to reach the CH as the heavens opened up, as it were. With such heavy rains the prospects of any outdoor activity seemed bleak.