Wednesday, 25 June, 2008

Himachal Road Trip…

When I saw ‘The Motor Cycle Dairies’ I wished I could do something equally adventurous. Now the truth to be told I am not really an adventurous person. I see suspense movies with one eye shut (it is really difficult, have you ever tried it?) screamed hell lot while watching Psycho etc etc. So I just wished and promptly forgot all about it.
Then late May I got to know that some of my office people are going for a fact-finding trip to Bilaspur district in Himachal Pradesh (HP). I know the name Bilaspur is immediately connected to Chattisgarh (I did it too) but there is a whole district called Bilaspur in HP. The area is pretty, with the Sutlej river flowing by and there is also the Govind Sagar Lake. Bhakra Nangal Dam is built and as a result communities who have been living along the banks of Sutlej and Govind Sagar are all displaced. The government just forced them upwards into the forestland. Bhakra was the first dam of modern India and these people were never properly compensated or rehabilitated. They were given compensation at mostly Rs 10 a bigha (yes you are reading right), in one remote village we heard of a case where the man was given 25 paise per bigha so he got all of Rs2.50 for his 10 bigha of land. Apart from the ridiculous money compensation, these remote villages have no road access, in many places we had to trek to reach, no schools, no hospitals, they gave up extremely fertile land for stone filled barren plots. And the worst of all they are surrounded by water, yet cannot touch any of it. They barely have drinking water and absolutely no irrigation water. The government has no water-lifting scheme, neither are the people allowed to do so on their own. Recently the Bhakra oustees have formed a society of their own, we were invited to go meet them and see their living conditions.
This was the work part, now the fun part, which means the entire trip.
Day 1: Starting Day
We set off from Delhi at 6 am on the 28th of June. There were seven of us—one of our advocates—Jai (100% certified madman who looks pretty and cannot stop flirting and talking—all in same breathe), me—Suchi (frumpy, dumpy accident and fall prone, real pain in this trip) three Indian interns [two boys—Gautam (Mr Maggie-man, with his hair all curled up like Maggie) and Sodhan (the silent participant of the group who occasionally forgot to take his notebook while going for internviews) and one girl—Sonal (she looks like a Khadoo or so Jai claimed, but is a Rajput and a real doll cum sweetheart and a hard worker to boot], one American volunteer/researcher—Nick (most focused one in the group) and last but not the least our Irish man—Michael (who kept wandering away and didn’t even have a phone). We were in a Qualis and started our journey without much drama. But that was the end of our uneventful journey.
On our way we gleefully started on aloo paratha binge. It lasted all through our trip.
The traffic police held us up for about 4 to 5 times, every time Jai who was driving would get down from the car and do his “we are Supreme Court advocates from Delhi…” bit when the police would become really polite and friendly, offering him and us tea and refreshments.
We reached Bilaspur town, which is the capital of Bilaspur district around 6 p.m. in the evening of the same day. Members of the Bhakra Oustees Society were waiting for us. Michael getting bored with all the talk in Hindi decided to take a walk, without letting us know. Now Michael is two and half weeks old in India, does not have a cell phone, cannot understand Hindi. After out meeting (about an hour or so) we decided to go out and soon realized that Michael was missing. The guesthouse people told us that Michael had gone for a walk. Outside we kept a sharp lookout for Michael (it is a small place with one main road)— but no Michael in the small town. While coming back, still with no Michael in sight, we started discussing various possibilities—Michael loosing his way and going up and down the hills, Michael being kidnapped and we receiving ransom demands in Euro/pounds etc etc etc. We came back hoping Michael would be in the guesthouse welcoming us all. But no Michael comes out. Nick goes up to check the terrace (logic—in case Michael fell down while trying to lean or something). I go to my room trying not to worry (I had visions of my boss screaming at me for not taking care of grown up Michael). 10 minutes or so Jai knocks saying, “no Michael yet, lets go to the police”. I come out trying to figure out what to do. Suddenly someone taps me on my head from behind, a smiling Michael looking totally unaffected by all the fuss he caused. I did not know whether to be relieved that he is back in one piece or to be mad—chose relief.
Then some censored things happened like the little milk drinking ceremony between Nick and Jai but I like any decent girl go mum. Who said anything about gossiping?

Day 2: Journey to the Villages begins.
We start in our car and the Bhakra Oustees’ Society people show us the way in another one. On the cat, after about an hour or so I realize that my pen drive is back at the guesthouse. I am sad, but there is not much I can do. Sit and brood for sometime. Then we come to the first village, split up into two groups—Nick, Sonal, Digvijaya (another lawyer from HRLN Shimla offide), Gautamji from Bhakra Oustees Society and me, we form a group. We get up on Gautamji’s Indica car which was being driven by a smiling Subhas. The first village we went to, we were all pretty confused and rather self-conscious. In the meantime I realized that I have found my pen drive but lo and behold my phone, my one and only connection to the rest of the world is missing!!!!!!! I was pretty shaken up. Also it was our first village so the discussion and interviews were also a little slow. In the second village we just met one lone shopkeeper. The third village was a whole new experience. Apart from the men, about 30 women turned up, some of them having trekked 5/6 kms of hilly roads to meet us. Sonal and me, we had a lovely time chatting with the ladies. Good thing was a bus was organized to get the ladies back home.
Both the groups met in the evening. Jai and Micheal were pretty disappointed to know that we met all the pretty ladies and not them. But in the last village some women and girls turned up. One lady who had met us in the morning, went back to her village to tell some women about us. She got the other ladies to come and meet us. It was pretty humbling. We finished pretty late, slept at an army man’s house.
Day 3: Journey to the villages continues.
My phone still not found. Worries continue. Oh we did a very sweet thing. After breakfast while coming out of our host’s house we saw a two-room school in progress. The children stopped midway their lessons shyly when they saw us. Then I heard a teacher telling one of the students “ padahi kar lo, phir yeh log tumko apne gari main ghumane le jayenge” (study and after you finish studying these people who take you for a ride in their car). So we took about 30 school children for a ride in our car.
Rest of the day was pretty much work in different villages. Except that there came a call from a lady who picked up my phone from roadside. I was overjoyed and Jai the hero he is drove all the way to the very first village and got my phone for me.
The house where we broke for the night was a real mud house. This was my first time in a real mud house. We slept in a row on the roof. It felt great to stare at the stars.
Another funny things that happened on day 3 was that Nick, after a long hard day, sat next to me mumurning to himself "mera chappal! mera chappal!". When asked, he said he was trying to remember the song which started with chappal which he had apparently picked up in his Hindi class before coming to India. When assured there was no song with mera chappal, Nick got really puzzled. Then we realised Nick meant old Raj Kapoor song 'mera joota hain Japani...".
Day 4: More villages and some sickness
Though the day started fine, I fell sick and landed up spending most of the day dozing in the car.
Met some cute children on day 4.
End of our work, by the end of it we covered a total of 21 villages and spoke to some 400 odd villagers. Nick and Sodhan catch the bus back to Delhi while the rest of us decide to head to Dharmashala.
Day 5: Now for some fun
A smaller group Sonal, Jai, Gautam, Michael and me head off for Dahrmashala. We drove through Dharmashala and then proceeded up to McLeod Ganj. After a long drive we reached around 3 in the afternoon. We checked in a really nice guesthouse a little above the main town.
We got to know that there was a nice river near by, so decided to go for a trek. Now I am not much of a trekker but I also went. After going through a long-winded hilly walk we finally came to a bridge and a river coming down from the mountains. There were two shacks selling Maggie, cold drinks etc. We ordered some Maggie and decided to go and sit on the rocks. When we initially dipped our feet the water was ice cold. Then the others got a little more adventurous and decided to go further up. I also decided to follow and before long I was plunging into the river. I was rescued soon enough but my phone and camera had a severe dunking. While I fell I disturbed the entire rock demography and as a result Jai’s phone which was on a rock slid down and fell into the water. It stayed there for 15 minutes or so till Michael fished it out.
No adventures are not over. While coming back two pahari (hilly) cows with big scary horns kept running after me. So the queue went something like this a scared me, a laughing at my expense Jai, the two cows, Gautam chasing the cows, Sonal and Michael.
That evening we went to McLeod Ganj, saw Dalai Lama’s palace, shopped a little and then went to have dinner. There was a very noisy open-air music show happening outside playing all Bhangra music. So dinner was a bit spoiled. We got a local Himachali wine back with us. No one liked it except me.
Day 6: Back to Delhi
We started around 8 am and took a longer way down, crossed some tea gardens and all. It was a cloudy day and the drive was really nice till we reached out skrits of Delhi. We were stuck in traffic just outside Delhi for 2 hours. But there was no lack of entertainment. Jai had us laughing hysterically over the various girls he dated—girl who cried at drop of a hat, girl who fainted, and girl who was mad…. so you see by now he has dated almost all the mentals, gentles and quintals!
Finally when I reached home it was past midnight.
Every village we visited, we met very friendly people who were eager to talk to us. Everywhere we were offered water/tea/food. We ate our meals for three days in various villages and everytime it was a feast. Our host, it was predecided by the Bhakra Society who would be feeding us which meal at which date, would be going out of his/her way and serving us awesome food.
When he started the trip Nick was just saying namaste but by the end of it he was saying half sentences in Hindi. According to him, Delhi is a bad place to learn Hindi since most people can speak in English.
Somehow along the way I was given a new identity-- I was turned into a practicing advocate of the Supreme Court when I am not a wakil dur dur se (not an advocate at all). I corrected them a couple of times and then I stopped and just let them say what they were saying.
This is one of the best journeys of my life-- work, adventure and fun packed in tightly.

1 comment:

  1. Himachal Pradesh is totally a mountain state and a delight for the visitors,...Himachal Pradesh is home to several hill stations. Situated on the River Beas.... Nice to see this post here,Seriously this is a informative post or feel awesome when i read this...So keep sharing...!!!
    Travel in Himachal


Hey there, thanks for your comment, let me take a peek and I will soon post it. Cheers!