Home again

Folks! I am back!

After eight whole days.

I had a fabulous trip. If you ask me to describe Himchal to you in one word, I would say b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l. The other word that comes to my mind is d-i-s-t-a-n-t. It’s really far from Bombay – I spent almost as much time traveling as I did staying there- but in the context of the larger picture, that’s entirely inconsequential.

I spent time moving between a cluster of 15 villages- primarily looking at education programmes of the government and alongside exploring and understanding other developmental activities being conducted there.

Getting around to these villages was not a joke. The distances were tremendous, the roads narrow and winding and the most trusted mode of transportation -hold your breath-the motorcycle! How they consider wobbly, unstable bikes, their “trusted” source of transportation, I don’t know. But I do know this, for the uninitiated pillion rider, like yours truly, these bike rides were a nightmare. I think I revised the Hanuman Chalisa a thousand times over in my head while riding those bikes!! I am not afraid of heights. Nor do I get altitude sickness. But put together great attitudes, high speed and wobbly bikes and you have yourself the perfect combination to stir up throat- parching fear! 😛 But as adaptable as human beings are, by the end of day 2, I had concluded for myself that I wasn’t going to plummet to my untimely death, and that’s when I began enjoying the bike rides. Once I got over the fear of falling off the bike(and the hill), the rides were very nice. The higher up you go on the mountains, the cooler the breeze gets, the vegetation changes to included pines and other coniferous trees and the valleys below look absolutely breath taking. I did manage to take two falls during my stay.I scraped my elbow on a rough edged stone and practically landed on my backside due to a failed attempt to get off the bi. the very next day, I bruised my knee when I slipped on a algae covered pathway. Both the times it was a rather public fall, much to the amusement of the villagers. They couldnt understand how a grown up had problems maintaining her balance. Hmmph. They’ve lived their all their lives, they wont understand.

The weather was beautiful- neither too cold nor too warm, with just a slight chill in the air in the early mornings and late evenings. Being the monsoon, it rained intermittently. The sun played hide and seek with the clouds all through the day and after a spell of rain, a mist would envelop the tops of the mountains- like a halo over their heads. The rains had painted the mountains a refreshing, lush green.

Infrastructure wise- I found Himachal to be very advanced. All villages (or at least the cluster I visited) have continuous electricity supply. Most have roads- either tarred or cobbled. Its a different matter that on some of the raods its safer to walk up than drive up, but roads exist and they are in a good shape. The school buildings are in good condition too. The teacher student ratio is about 1:20!! I dont think I have seen that kind of a ratio in any school in the cities. Literacy rate amongst women is one of the best in the country and school enrolment levels are high too. Most people had well-kept homes- no broken windows, no un-plastered, cracking walls- all indicating that the standard of living was much higher than other states. All this was quite a contrast from what I have seen in rural Maharashtra. I was expecting that things would be worse in Himchal because of the weather and the terrain but I was happy to discover I was wrong in my assumption. Of course , there is no limit to holistic rural development and a lot can be still be done,but I was glad to note that most of the universally accepted developmental indicators seeemed to be in place in these villages.

I found the people in Himachal very warm- everyone wanted to know where I had come from, how long I’d be staying and if I’d like to share a meal with them. If I politely declined the offer of a meal (which I did in all cases) I was offered unending cups of tea. Hospitality was truly at its best there. I found the people were an interesting mix of strength and resilience and mildness. The tough terrain has made them physically very tough but in their heart they remain soft, mild natured,extremely polite people.

Himachal Pradesh is knows for its delicious fruits and I was expecting to find large orchards growing many variety of fruit trees. I dint find any large orchards but I did find plenty of fruit trees, either growing wild or in courtyards. I got to eat apricots plucked fresh off someone’s tree. Those were probably the best tasting apricots I have ever had. Most people in the villages I visited cultivate fruits for self- consumption. So they are quite flabberghasted if you tell them you want to buy some fruits from them. They are willing to let you pick any number of apricots/plums/pomegranates from their trees, but they refuse to charge you for them! On some of the main hill roads, there are a few young boys sitting with baskets full of apricots, trying to strike a bargain with passer bys, but when you discover exactly what kind of a “bargain” they are trying to strike, you almost laugh out loud. A whole kilo of apricots for all of twenty rupees!! And they are willing to bargain on that price !! The region has a local variety of pomegrante. Called “daru”, the fruit grows wild in parts of solan district. It is a smaller version of the pomegranate we eat. Its green on the outiside and is very sour in taste. I was told this variety of the fruit is the one used to make amchur powder.

The area has loads of monkeys. Typical of their tribe, the move in large bands, make strange sounds and get raving mad if you come close to their little ones. I am not mad about monkey so I kept my distance. But I did find them extremely interesting to observe from a great distance- so human like, so intelligent and so entertaining!! The villagers, of course don’t see the monkeys as entertaining. They eat the fruits on the trees and destroy the crops in the fields.

i dint miss connectivity one bit. I was quite happy with out it. Not being connected to everyone all the time is, in my opinion, re-charging.

This trip was of just the right duration- long enough for me to enjoy it and short enough to not get home sick! I think I need to make a few more trips like this….soon!

Edited to add: How could I have forgotten to write this??! On my onward journey I had to take a cab from the nearest railway station to the guest house. The company was to send a car to pick me up but in the eleventh hour they informed me no car was available. So I had to take a cab, tell the cabbie where I wanted to go and within 3.5 hours I would be delivered at my destination.I got off at the station, found the pre-paid taxi stand and asked to be dropped to my destination. The driver seeemed ok. I took down his name and car registeration number as a precaution.So far so good. 30 minutes later, the “so far so good” because “so far soo not good”. As we moved away from the station, the population became sparse, the roads dangerously winding and the speed of the car neck-breaking. I was directionless( remember I am the one who is directionless in my own city! In a new place , I am obviously lost beyond words). I tried to tell the driver to slow down. I asked him a few questions to figure out if we were headed in the right direction. He refused to slow down and gave vague answers regarding how long it will take to reach our destination. Panic stuck big time when he made a sudden unplanned stop at a small shop-cum-dhaba ,saying “mujhe maggi khana hai” The shop was extremely isolated. Except for the shop keeper there wasnt a soul around. No huts, no people, no cattle. Not even a stray dog. My mind was running amok with idea. The driver was a man on the state’s most wanted list, who was doubling up as a driver after getting out of the jail. He was taking me to an undisclosed destination of his choise and planned on making me the headlines of tomorrow’s newspaper. Just as I was wondering how efficient the state’s police was, I got  a call from my mother. She said I sounded funny. I said ” well yeah! i donno where the hell I am. I donno this driver and right now death seems certain.” Typical of mothers , she told me not to worry,she would make things ok. I wondered how! She lived thousands of miles away!!  Two minutes after hanging up on her, I began getting phone calls- from the bombay office, from the site office, from my boss, from colleagues.  Everyone wanted to know where I was and how I was doing. Profuse applogies were offered for not being able to send the office car. One the local staff members asked me to hand over the phone to the driver. God knows what he said to him, but after the call the driver was very well behaved. He dint speed, dint back answer and dint act smart. I was at my destination well within time, awash with relief. I discovered soon how my mother had gotten the whole wide world to call and track me. She made one phone call to the top-shot in the organisation and one to another senior staff member, politely stating that her daughter had been sent to some god-forsaken place without adequate arrangements. Realising the lapse on their part, the management kicked into action. For future reference i learnt:

a) its ok to point out errors on the part of the management as long as its done politely and in serious cases. Dont nit-pcik, but if you have a genuine case, state it.
b) if you are going to some distant lands, make sure all the arrangements are in place. Its helps avoiding unnecessary anxiety – for you and others.
c) never doubt the abilities of your mother. Distance is not a deterrant.

54 thoughts on “Home again

  1. Woww, sure sounds like you had a wonderful time… I recall Himachal being a dream come true… i had been there way back when i was in college, ’95… we went to shimla, and i was/am still fascinated by Mall road, i mean its like a city beneath a city~~ and the lush hills, people dwelling in little houses, all with smiling faces…

    Btw, cool slide of pics… heavenly..esp the one with apricots~~

  2. Hey Mandira! Those are some fantastic pics you’ve posted! Really enjoyed seeing the pics and your description of Himachal! What was really heartwarming was the teacher-student ratio! I was really surprised at that !! Happy at the same time that it is good atleast in such places where you usually hear otherwise.
    Btw, are those peaches in the basket? The fruits look really yum! Definitely fresh !!
    Oh, and you’re right about staying away from company! Its a real rejuvenator !

  3. That sounds like one helluva trip! And Himachal Pradesh, wow! No doubt you enjoyed it so much. No dust, no pollution, no crowd, no sky scrapers. Quite hills and all that. I’m in half a mind to switch to the place where you work 🙂

  4. @aaarti-u know wats interesting…i have never been to shimla!! i have seen some 4-5 places in himachal, but not shimla!!now im told its too crowded and populated

    @nishchal- huh?

    @SnS-the peaches look great na?? they were delicious..truly…n that teacher-studet ratio is unheard of , i know.. n thats wats so good about the schools there..

    @lively-hehe…u dont need to switch jobs.. u can just go on a vacation!

  5. excellent.. himachal makes me miss even the most crazy days with rain, getting up at 6am … and walking back home when its really at 7.30pm!

  6. @chakoli- err..no! i was on work!! but it felt like vacation!!
    dint see any apple orchards…coz of climate change, apples dnt grow in this region anymore…they are found higher up..

    @cinnmint- hehhehe… if u hvnt gone to himachal ,may i suggest u do??

  7. yeah i have ya… thts wht i m saying makes me miss all the crazy days i have spend there without sweaters…

  8. I haven’t been to Simla either, though I did visit Nahan in Dist. Sirmaur. Lovely place. We were there during malta season, the trees were just beautiful.
    I’m one very urban type, even though I know fruit grows on trees, I tend to visualise it in petis at the fruit-wallahs. So its always good when I face the reality of ripe fruit actually growing on trees!
    Sounds like a great trip.

  9. @nischal- i know wat jalsa is …but where can u see jalsas in my post, dude!!??

    @diplai- i have been to nahan… in fact i hadnt heard of it till you mentioned ..maltas i like.. but we dont get them in bombay..god knows why…
    yup! the trip was good albeit the scrapes and bruises!

  10. whoaaaaa!!!
    i loveeeeeeeeee apricots… geeeee.. mouth-watering.

    n well, yeh altitudes, bikes and bends- scary combination..

    heeeee, and well, the pisode with ya momma- whoaaaaaa- i guess momma’z the word.. 🙂 always te life-saver!!

    i’m sooo glad ya had a grttt time.. keep them coming in 🙂

  11. Wow…..your mom is a rockstar. i dont know how u kept your cool, girl….I would be crying buckets 🙂 I have been to Simla and Kulu Manali in HP. I think they are the most beautiful places I have visited so far…..Shimla,not so much but Kulu-Manali definitely. And cool slide show.

  12. @jane- apricots are great, i know.. have u ever had green apricots with salt and lal mirch? i tired this combi in himachal and loved it..yup, mum’s the word… always is and always will be!

    @HC- i wasnt gonna cry and show this nut of a driver the hundred kinks in my armour!! actually i wasnt crying coz i was trying to think of wat to do in that situation…
    i’ve been to manali as well….but nt kullu nor shimla..

  13. By God! that driver part sure scared the hell outa me! I always, hence, carry a pepper-spray with me. At all times. You never know when you can miss overseeing arrangements. And mommy is suuuuper, I say!
    Auntie – good job!

    …and oh, the peaches look LOVELY!!

  14. Oye your mom is one hell of a strong woman. My compliment to her. Do remember to convey these please. And where is her blog, is she still wanting to keep it private? I m sure it is bound to be interesting.

    About your Himachal trip, yes it is a beautiful state and the areas you went to , the rural part, I think are better because they are a little away from the run-of-the-mill-hill-ishtashions.

  15. All hail the amma tribe!!! They’re unbeatable.

    What is it with tea and rural india mandira? we have to study this phenomenon someday. seriously, even in rural TN there’s this tea phenomenon!!!!

    Apricots for rs. 20 a kilo – dude you should have packaged some to chennai and bangalore.

    LOL on the header – and you know what I am thinking right?

  16. @SnS-yaar, we dont get pepper sprays in india…at least i have never seen them… i need to find an equally good means of self defence!

    @manpreet-thank u thank u..me thinks me mom rocks too!:D and no the blogs not public yet..:( im totlayy with u on the run of the mill hill stations..they hv been done to death!!

    @nishcal-ok ok ..i get it!!

    @nidhi-yeah… was totalllly soothing…n reviving…

    @lakshmi- we’ll call it the ” universal tea-obsession research”..i am thinking of getting into a business of apricot sales… its will be super successful, i think…and no, im not sure why u r “lol-ing” the header… help me out here plzz!! 😛

  17. Mandira, we must muster courage and speak at the right time. It can be life saving at crucial time. Always speak up when you are right, nothing to fear, my dear. Be fearless.

    And know that there are some critical moments when important decisions have to be taken, so take quick decisions. Fear nobody.

    Be bold and fearless and take all the experiences of life to know what it is all about! Live life to learn!!

    Enjoyed reading your blog. Now you better read mine. You rock, sweetheart!

  18. Wow! That’s a wonderful experience (minus the driver of-course!) It’s wonderful to see villages in the eyes of a city bred person. I’ve never seen any village or experienced the village life, but all that you said makes me want to go and explore the country at its grassroot level.
    Really nice write up and superb pics! 🙂
    And super-mom!

  19. wow…looks like you had a good work cum vacation.. you made me nostalgic… about 8 years ago i went to himachal and jammu tour ..it was the most wonderful place i have ever gone to ..
    i cant forget my stay in dharamshala .
    and nearby temples made in tibetian style.
    cool pics by the way

  20. @mom- thanks for teh words of wisdom.

    @niveditha-if u get the opportunity, try making a trip to rural india. its a different experience all together.

    @deepali- yeah, nitpicking is required once in a while..cant give u mom;s blog address.. its a pvt blog still!:(

    @arvind-:D i hv never been to dharamshala… i hear its really beautiful..

  21. GPS doesnt cost much..there are cheaper things available.. besides.. atleast from the start point u wud have known if u were going in the right direction…

  22. @chakoli- template is OLD by now.. only header is relatively new!

    @cinnmint- may b its doesnt cost much, but i like to do the “gareeb social worker” drama..:P

    im not sure the gprs wud help me… i was born with no sense of direction WHATSOEVER!!!

  23. Kya mast episode ban sakta hai yeh last part pe toh! Kuch action vaction….drama…dhanno type…mazaa aayega agar aisa episode ho toh! Neways…mast tha…

  24. Oooh.. love the header… buckets of peaches~~

    yepp,shimla was quite crowded, n i think we went in oct which is like “yayy, its holiday season,,everyone pick up your tickets to…. u know where.shimla..’ hehehe… 🙂 but we had fun~~

    woww, what do u do that takes u to such places on work????hmmmmm . any openings??

  25. @nishchal- very filmi na??

    @aaarti- i love the header too!! even ppl in bombay are crazy about shimla…everyone thinks its the perfect honeymoon destination!! thats why its teaming with ppl all thru the season!!
    will let u know if there are any opening…

  26. just to let u know that i read your blog regularly even if i dont leave a comment. i tried to leave a comment on this post three times but my phone failed all three times. this is the fourth time and i am writing nonsense completely unrelated to the post. you wrote very well. i could feel like i was there with you. 🙂 thank you. thank you for bringing in a new opinion of Himachal for me and reawakening the HP in me that I had seen when i was really young. the HP i saw in December 2007 when I was there this trip to india is here:

    so yes, thank u very much, darl, and keep wriiting! 🙂 and i wish i was in india to try your baking too. i myself cannot stand baking. was just telling husband that today. i LOVE watching baking shows, love freshly baked stuff, the smell et al but dont like baking it myself. :/ too much darned work and patience required. who has it? definitely u and certainly not me. 😀

  27. @nishchal- 😀

    @roop- ur dedication towards reading my blog is , in one word, UNBELIEVABLE! 😀 THANKS!!!
    HP is really nice…iam sure u too loved it there…

    about the baking bit- im not huge on patience myself…but im kinda getting addicted to this baking madness…shud i ship some stuff to u?:)

  28. u have to read the link i gave you to see if i found it nice or not, u LAZYBONES! :PPP haan baked goodies bhejo!! considering the time it’d take to get here, wouldn’t it be easier for me to just go to the closest bakery and buy something? although it would miss the love that you’d prepare it with. 😀

  29. Pingback: This time the destination is …… « Churningthewordmill

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