12th April 2012 – In Kalpa
Bright sunlight and almost cloudless skies greeted me in the morning with fabulous views of the ‘more’ snow clad mountains. It had snowed the previous night and much of the hill behind the CH had also received a fair share of the ‘showers’. I decided to go for a long walk with little else on the agenda.
While walking back from Rogi village the day before I had stood in front of a mid-sized hotel called ‘The Monk’ to enjoy an unobstructed view of the mountain range. Prakash was sitting on a chair in the verandah of the hotel. His greeting has a special warmth that immediately endears him to you. Inclined to take a break from the walk I stood by and had a chat with Prakash about the Kinnaur Geo Tourism Pvt. Ltd. that has promoted ‘The Monk’ brand through a network of hotels/resorts, camping huts and home stays in Kinnaur. They offer a range of services across the region such as Kalpa, Nako, Shego, Rohru, Sangla and Spiti. They organize customized tours and treks as well as adventure sports to match pockets of different sizes. Their brochure proclaims that a journey through the Himachal Highlands is ‘A journey through Paradise’. Taking on from local lore it further says: God first created Himachal Highlands then copied it to Heaven.
And this morning I walked across to ‘The Monk’, that Prakash was in charge of, to spend some time with him to understand Kalpa and Kinnaur better. I could not have chosen a better person for the need as Prakash turned out to be an amazing source of information based on over a dozen years in Kalpa. The traditional crop of Kalpa is apricot. Households made wine, oil, medicinal preparations and food from it. The oil is used for a variety of purposes such as for cooking, as a rub for aches and pains, for hair and skin care and for treating illnesses like digestion problems, liver complaints, blood circulation, etc. It probably is because of the ‘magic’ of apricot that illnesses are not common in the Highlands. However, use of modern pesticides and inorganic fertilizers in farming has given rise to the phenomenon of ‘modern’ illnesses in the region. Lifestyle changes such as consumption of packaged foods has added to a new set of worries for the new generation of inhabitants in the region. Prakash claims that wine made from the local red grape and aged in burrow pits would put Johnny Walker and Chivas Regal in the shade.
Apple is a more recent introduction in Kinnaur and it has made people immensely wealthy. This has led to a spurt in construction activity and purchase of personal vehicles for transportation. Government provides items of daily consumption like kerosene, dal, rice, wheat, etc at special rates taking cognizance of the harsh climatic conditions of the region and its tribal status. However, law and order is not a problem in the region even with new found prosperity. The justice system of the Panchayat and that of the local ‘Devi’ of the Narayan-Nagini temple is swift and widely accepted. Prakash mentioned an instance when he was involved in a scuffle with a drunk resulting in a fracture in the arm of the latter. While both had been to the local police station to register their complaint the matter was sorted out before the Devi who instructed Prakash to pay a certain sum within a time frame as compensation. It is said that local people ‘fear’ the grilling of the Panchayat more than any litigation in courts. Therefore, the tehsildar and the thanedar are largely less ‘busy’. Break-ins and robbery are almost unheard of and houses are seldom locked. Marriages are conducted in style with the bride wearing gold ornaments from head to foot. The ‘kamarband’ itself may weigh between 10 and 20 tolas of gold, depending on the status. Every family keeps a note of gifts received by them for various occasions from different individuals/households. It is returned as a multiple when the occasion arises. It is not uncommon to pass the hat around for donations to help the needy. People donate quite generously in such times.
I reluctantly tore myself away from Prakash to go for the self promised walk. Muslim, who I met in Rogi village, had told me about the beauty of Kothi village. I decided to walk to the village and explore it. It was a long walk despite the fact that I took short cuts through the forests. But it was worth every minute of it. Kothi is an amazing village, its location in the arms of the snow clad mountains make for a land that one only comes across in fairy tales. When you see such places you start believing in concepts like paradise, bliss, god like people, etc. The mountains seem like they bestow special attention to the village. The traditional construction with slates, stones and wood are common in the village. But concrete and tin sheeting are gaining rapidly in the new generation buildings. The temple dedicated to Chanadika Devi is quaint and well maintained. A gold image of the goddess is enshrined in the sanctum. A couple of girls, watching me using my camera liberally, asked me to photograph them, which I did. They were extremely pleased with the result and moved away as quietly as they had come. This was in stark contrast to my experience near Rogi village where I asked four small kids to pose for a photograph. After I had taken a couple of them the oldest among them approached me with the demand, “Uncle, paisa do’. Perhaps more visitors go to Rogi than to Kothi village and even kids have realized the commercial prospects of such visits.
My legs were about to give way when I spotted a clean restaurant at the exit of the village. I plonked myself on one of the chairs and ordered for a plate of non-veg chowmein. It arrived with a bowl of soup and was quite edible. The Reckong Peo bus stand was not much further from the restaurant. I went in there and confirmed the timing of the bus to Shimla from Kalpa. My stay in the region was coming to an end. I have to leave the day after. If outsiders were permitted to buy land in Kalpa I would have invested in a dwelling here. Its heavenly and peaceful. With the restrictions in place the only way I could own a dwelling is to enter into matrimony with a local lass! Knowing that my time is up for such adventures I am reconciled to return to Kerala!!
The next stop was at a cyber café to upload the blog posts for my TATA Photon connection has gone wonky. The cyber café is also part of ‘The Monk’ network. Immediately as that was done I took the first available bus back to the CH. Eerily enough, once again the skies opened up as soon as I reached the warm confines of the room. It even snowed in the compound for a while. The snow was too flakey to settle on the ground. It was accompanied by stormy winds that made it uncomfortably cold even with a heater in the room.