A Tough Life! But a Beautiful One

 

Janglik, a small village where around a 100 families live is about 150 kms from Shimla. It was the starting point for my trek to Chandernahan lakes. It is one of those rare villages in modern India that remains untouched by the wave of development in the name of modernisation.

The beautiful drive from Shimla to Janglik along the Pabbar river took us almost 8 hours and was exciting to say the least.

Along the way there were apple orchards and our group of trekkers stopped by to savour the freshly plucked fruit.

We were told that the bridge connecting to Janglik was broken and that we would have to walk the last 2 kms. We asked the driver when the bridge broke and he said, “kuch teen saal pehle.” We were amused but had no idea what was in store for us.

The broken bridge was a sight!

Our group crossed the river and were then asked to just follow the trail to the village. Carrying our 10 kg backpacks we struggled to negotiate the steep climb to Janglik. It took us close to an hour to reach the village and to me it felt like the longest 2 kms ever.“I don’t believe we paid to do this!” I told a friend on reaching the village.

The village is so cut off that we, so used to our urban comforts wondered how the villagers managed to go about their daily lives. What do they do for a living; how about school and medical facilities and how to they travel anywhere? Were some of the questions that troubled all of us.

It took my clouded urban mind some time to shrug off elitist perspectives and appreciate the stunning simplicity of life in this remote village. The villagers who were our guides for the trek were perhaps not very ‘qualified’ by urban standards but their understanding nature and the world they lived in was inspiring. There was so much for us to learn from them and so little that we could teach them.

Our first interaction was with a young school going kid in Janglik. He led us up the hill to a beautiful village temple.

He told us about his primary school in the village and said that his school team had many champions and that they had even won a trophy at the district level for Kabbadi!He introduced us to some of his friends. Most of the children were shy but curious. They told us about their families, parents working in fields or apple orchands and were quite amused that we had all come so ‘dressed up’ for a simple trek to the lakes. They children told us that they had all been to the lake as it was of religious significance.

Trekking up and down the mountains carrying heavy loads was evidently a way of life for them.

After breakfast we started on our trek. Through the first part we walked right through the village.

It was amazing to see the villagers at work. There were people tending to this plots of land while some others were plucking apples.

There were shepherds who took their sheep out to graze and there were families where some members were shearing wool

from sheep as others working with the wool.( I later learnt that the wool was used to prepare shawls for use by the locals.)

Walking with me was our cook cum guide, Prem. Prem was great company. He told me that the village was self sufficient. He said that the fresh mountain air kept the villagers healthy and that they had lovely water.

There was a beautiful river flowing by the village and innumerable little streams that flowed through forests and went on to feed the river.

The water from these streams he said were full of medicinal properties. As we walked past a stream, he picked up some fruits that were fallen. He asked me to try the fruit. It was delicious. He told me that eating that fruit would ensure that we do not get tired as we walk. I assume he meant that it was highly nutritious. Soon he stopped by another plant and picked out the tiny red berry like fruit. He said that eating that fruit would help anyone with stomach infection. As we walked I felt thirsty and stopped to take out my water bottle. He told not to drink water and led me another plant. He asked me to chew on the stem. I made a face but did chew on the stem. It was an odd taste but my thirst vanished. Prem said that the villagers chewed on the stem of that plant to prevent dehydration. I was amazed at his knowledge and understanding of the plants and trees around him.

He pointed out to some more shrubs and plants and said one of them could ease body pain while another was used for injuries and bruises. ‘Yahan toh har cheez ki dawah hai’ he told me. Just listening to him was an experience.

Prem said that over the next few weeks, villagers would remove all the grass and plants from the mountains.

He said that it was an activity that the entire village would participate in as they needed to stock food for close to 5 months.

We were also told that the villagers climbed to the higher ranges of the mountains every summer in search of a specific herb that is extensively used in ayurvedic preparations. Just 1 kg of that herb was worth 50000Rs.

Among the guides, the head was a person we called ‘Mushairiji”. On a clear sunny afternoon he ‘smelt’ the air and told us that we may not be able to climb up to Chandernahan lake as it was likely to pour the next day. That night it started raining and for the next 18-20 hours it rained without a break.

We had to spend a day at the ‘Litham’ camp. The evening was very cloudly and we asked Mushairiji if we would be able to head back to Janglik the next day. Once again he looked at the sky, ‘smelt’ the air and said that the next day would be sunny and that we should have no problems trekking back. And yes ! the next day was sunny.We asked him how he was able to gauge the weather conditions so accurately. All he said was, “hawa ki khusbhbu se pata chalta hai!”

Mushairji also happened to be a wonderful singer and that night, our guides the local people sang and danced for us.

They were also wonderful with the animals that lived and worked with them. A mountain dog, a friend of Prem accompanied us through the trek.

He assumed the role of watchdog and was extremely protective.

The mules that carried our tents and food stuff were also treated like babies.

Mushairiji told us that the mules did not like to get their feet wet and would never step out in the rain!

We also met shepherds along the way. Some of them had camped along the mountain with their herd. Some herds had as many as 400 sheep.

We were told that these sheep were very valuable and some of them could fetch as much as 15000Rs.I noticed one sheep limp.

Prem told me that the sheep must have had a fall. He then said that the villagers usually killed these injured sheep for meat.

Some of these shepherds wore a lovely while shawl. It looked coarse but extremely warm and comfortable. When asked if I could buy one in the village, they looked embarrassed. They told me that these shawls were made from the wool got from these sheep. City people like me should buy it from bigger towns. What I did not realise that the barter system worked there. They probably exchanged shawls for some food produce.

I did not persist as by now I was aware of the hospitality of these people, they might have insisted I take what they had.

Rajma was a staple at the camps. We were served rajma for almost every meal.

We learnt from our guides that rajma was one of the most popular crops in the region. Most villagers owned a plot of land and grew rice, wheat, rajma and some vegetables. Those who did not own plots of land usually worked in fields or apple orchards. The barter system was still prevalent and no one in the village went hungry.The life in the village is definitely tough but it is also beautiful. It was wonderful to see the villagers understand, respect and co-exist with nature.

I completely agree with my son’s sentiment. The villagers have everything they need and they value it.

P.S Our trek was 100% zerowaste and the local people made sure that we did not litter on leave anything behind. Back at Janglik I noticed that the only sign of modernisation was perhaps the beginning of the garbage trail.