UnCrushed Leaves – Jibhi (A peek)

The hidden valley of Banjar, the gorgeous village of Jibhi, the loving people in it’s homes. The spirit of this place is fresh and lively. The hard work and honesty embedded in them is inspiring to see. The modesty and kindness comes from the land itself. The calm yet playful river of Jibhi embodies its soul.

UnCrushedLeaves_Himachal_Jibhi (20)

The blossoming valley of Jibhi

#UnCrushedLeaves

Advertisements

UnCrushed Leaves – Jibhi (A jewel in the hills)

UnCrushedLeaves_Himachal_Jibhi (10)

The gorgeous town of Jibhi

Jibhi is a homely jewel in the midst of spectacular beauty. Cached in between the eminent valleys of Kullu, Simla and Tirthan this village feels like family. Banjar might be the market and Jalori Pass the pretty crown, but Jibhi is the bond that represents its values.

It offers the comforts of your own roost. It’s cozy. The people are simple and welcoming. They smile at you and will even come say hello; probably invite you to stay at their guest house or a neighbor’s. The Sainj-Aut road curves through the tiny market.

A little river, scarcely more than a stream, flows through the center of this valley and Jibhi is spread out on the slopes on either side. There is even a summer angling competition where you can catch mountain trout. But it is a catch & release policy.

UnCrushedLeaves_Himachal_Jibhi (19)

Walk the plank matey!

Wander and linger…

There are homestays, guest houses and even cottages alongside the rivulet. You can just step out in the afternoon and drop yourself into one of the eddies. The way across, is to walk a wooden plank laid upon rocks in the water. It’s fun!

The innovation of the people shows through in how they’ve adapted their houses to welcome travelers and stay in tune with the nature around them.

UnCrushedLeaves_Himachal_Jibhi (7)

Find the cottage amidst the green

There is also the Gadagushaini road which crosses over the rivulet and climbs up to the villages on the peak. This unpaved path strings up to a ridge from where snow caps are visible. There is a lotus pond up near the village of Bahu where dogs play tag and run into the muddy pond to cool off.

Freshness…

Over seven kinds of plums and peaches are what we found with roadside basket sellers; and the mouth-watering juicy kind! The fruits and flowers in summer are resplendent and give an aroma to the breeze. It is worthwhile to try the local squash, leafy greens and ‘Lingri’ (fern) pickle. At Rana Uncle’s guest house one can even find homemade multi-grain bread. They have a clay oven which was setup with the help of traveling guests.

DSC_0445cr

Plums and Peaches… yummm!

Organic farming and volunteering brings the conscious tourist here. It builds an atmosphere of bonhomie and mutual admiration. The visitor and the local see each other as peers. If you’re ever in need of assistance, from booking an emergency cab to just borrowing a fishing rod, all doors are open.

UnCrushed Leaves – Kalpa Greens

As you ascend from Reckong Peo, it becomes greener; the air is cooler, the woods turn deeper and prettier. The pine trees surround you and cast their scent in your path. The winding road lets you catch glimpses of the big fat mountains on the horizon.

UnCrushedLeaves_Himachal_Spiti_Kalpa (2)

The winding road through the scent of pine

Kalpa is a village set amidst orchards; we mean the apples might be reaching in through your bedroom window. A lot of the houses and guest houses are set in the fruit groves. When the season is ripe, a gust of mountain breeze will drop the apricots on to your head. The trees by the side of the road are usually picked clean; you know, passers-by!

Don’t steal! But you’re very welcome to ask the local folk for fruit; they’ll gladly let you sample, even point out the particularly delicious ones. Where there aren’t orchards, there are pine trees. So you see that this place is very green!

UnCrushedLeaves_Himachal_Spiti_Kalpa (4)

The orchards in your house

Also you understand that apples, apricots, peaches, plums and fruit in general is the cash crop and means of livelihood over here. And it has brought prosperity and wealth to the people of this village. So much so that many guest houses are sprouting up here.

UnCrushedLeaves_Himachal_Spiti_Kalpa (3)

The village of Kalpa looking up to the mountains

It is beautiful to see how the whole ecosystem comes together for this lifestyle to flourish. The fertile slopes of the Himalayas fed by glacial streams channeled through the fields; the birds and bees pollinating the trees; the lizards and rodents watching over the insects; the livestock putting in hard work; the human beings with their organization; the worms and microbes replenishing the soil; all of it to produce the fruits of labor, quite literally.

UnCrushedLeaves_Himachal_Spiti_Kalpa (1)

Rock lizards of Kinnaur; an essential part of the ecosystem

We came across a large boiling vat throwing off fruity aroma by the bucketful. Upon enquiry we were told that a local liquor ‘Arra’ was being made. It is brewed with Chulli (local name for apricot), apple and some local herbs. The mixture is fermented in earthen pots for a few days and then put to boil. It is a proper distillation process where the steam coming out of the vat is directed in to another vessel via a pipe. When cooled, it has a clear water-like color and texture. And it’s available at the village market for cheap.

UnCrushedLeaves_Himachal_Spiti_Kalpa (5)

Cherish the juicy Chulli (apricot) whilst gazing at the peaks beyond

Enjoy the goodness!

UnCrushed Leaves – Reckong Peo

The first time I saw the name Reckong Peo on a map of Himachal Pradesh, it held my attention. It seemed like a land so far off in a corner of the world, that god knows how one would get there. It seemed mysterious. I conjured up an image of a dusty frontier town with a token government office and a little market for the villages in Kinnaur. One of those towns from the stories and legends of the Silk Road.

UnCrushedLeaves_Himachal_Kinnaur_ReckongPeo (1)

The dusty roughness of the Hindustan-Tibet Road

When one is roughing it out on the dusty parts of the Hindustan-Tibet road, with the mighty Sutlej running deep on one side, and one sees the road-sign pointing to ‘Peo’ (yes, the town has a nickname!); one wouldn’t expect what’s coming.

As we climb, the dusty valley floor turns to bush and shrub, lush greens and coniferous pines within three turns. Each hairpin teases us a little more; there seems to be something opening up on the hills across the valley. Then, suddenly you catch a glimpse of white! It is the snow-line! The dizzying heights of permanent snow!

UnCrushedLeaves_Himachal_Kinnaur_ReckongPeo (6)

Glimpses of heaven tease… as much as they please

In open-mouthed gaping wonder we strain our necks to see more and more of this. Whilst we’re so occupied, we arrive smack in the middle of Peo market. Suddenly there are scores of shops, many vehicles and even traffic cops! Dazed for a moment, we stand in the middle of the square blocking traffic. A sharp whistle and gestures from the cop get us moving and we park to the side.

So this is the district headquarters of Kinnaur, Reckong Peo. I was right in one sense, it is the market and trading place of the region. What I did not expect was modernization. Concrete has come and brought some of its monotony here; sort of a small town mall and shopping complexes that you’d find in urban India; plenty of government offices and buildings. But, this is where you resupply! And we’re thankful for the mechanics, fuel station, batteries, hardware shops, ropes and fried food.

UnCrushedLeaves_Himachal_Kinnaur_ReckongPeo (5)

Postcard views from Reckong Peo

UnCrushed Leaves – Gue (The Question)

uncrushedleaves_spiti_ghiu-27

We all have questions. The answer to which do you seek?

550 years old…

A piece of cloth belonging to the Mummy has been carbon-dated to about 550 years ago. Unlike the common perception of a chemically treated, bandage wrapped sarcophagus, this one is sitting in an upright pose. This indicates a voluntary meditative practice.

The mummy itself is a wonder to behold. Sitting upright, the chin is resting on the knee. An arm coming out from between the tucked legs is held in a pensive manner. The head is held straight and the face looks ahead; whether it’s right at you or beyond to infinity, is something that your beliefs will tell you.

uncrushedleaves_spiti_ghiu-24

The Mummy of Gue!

Science

Mine are challenged by this miracle sitting in front me. The forces of logic and belief are in battle. I look around and Science comes skidding down the dusty slopes like a snowboarder from my school days. He says,

“Do you know where you are? These are the frozen dry lands of Spiti.

What decomposes organic matter?

In the extreme cold, buried under soil and rock, the Mummy might’ve been protected from bacteria and other decomposition microbes. Moisture and oxygen, essential to decay, probably didn’t get to it.

uncrushedleaves_spiti_ghiu-14

The dark soils of the Gue valley turn the milky water black

Anything else unusual?

The uncharacteristic black soil of the surrounding mountains may contain minerals with preservation capabilities. There is such a high concentration of silt in the water that it turns milky white glacial streams in to a black river.

These theories might require confirmation by chemical testing, but they’re grounded in me. I’m Science in this daydream, remember?, he smiles.

uncrushedleaves_spiti_ghiu-28

The gompa at Gue

Spirituality

As I stand up and dust my butt, I turn around to see Spirituality sailing in, atop a cloud. A swan like grace she has. I smile. She says,

“Do you know where you are? These are the magical lands of Spiti.

What gives this place life?

The will to be, the perseverance to do and the belief in good. It is Nature that keeps checks and balances. If the vices of the world had come to breed here and engulf this place so close to it, then Nature must’ve sent forth its insight and energy to stop them. What better way to manifest than in the form of man. The very creature which personifies this conflict of good and evil.

uncrushedleaves_spiti_ghiu-21

The blessed village

What does this mean?

The intent of one man, one soul to grow so large that it may shield the village, all its people. To be so strong that it may feed the strength of generations to come. That resolve and dedication is what gave the meditative powers and spiritual energies to this one lama. Tulku Sangaa Tenzin personifies the power of compassion over mortality. The body is a vessel for the soul. The vessel has been vacated but the spirit survives and looks after the village and valley. “

Wisdom

I stir from this sobering reverie and Wisdom dawns upon me from behind a towering peak. It is mellow and it is beautiful. It says,

“Do you know where you are? These are the frozen magic midlands of Spiti. The land that lies between India and Tibet, the origin and the epicenter; Buddhism straddles across this valley.

uncrushedleaves_spiti_ghiu-9

Faith, belief and gratitude

What is the answer?

The battle of logic and belief, of Science and Spirituality is merely that of fact and faith. They are the parallel rivers of man and nature, they live together and shape each other. One unfulfilled without the other. They are the balance of yin and yang. The balance of being, the balance of Nature.

Spiti, thrives in balance. ”

Say “Ciao” to Wisdom!

uncrushedleaves_spiti_ghiu-10

The severe exterior combined with the humility in his posture reflects how nurturing care can be wrapped in resolute determination. To stare into the hollow eyes of one who would accept the burden of his fellows and devote his existence to their well-being, is an awe-inspiring experience.

UnCrushed Leaves – Gue (the legend)

uncrushedleaves_spiti_ghiu-7

I see the mountains, I see the snow… I see myself and I see you.

The fable goes that with commerce and prosperity came greed and dishonesty. The peoples’ faith shifted from the virtues of caring and piety to vain, individual benefit. As the community suffered, so did the land; torrential downpours followed dry years and caused landslides. Man continued to not learn from his doings and Nature sent a plague of scorpions.

Infested, the village wasted away and the people lay sick. A benevolent lama decided to take on the years of neglect and misdeeds upon himself. Word is that he sat down to meditate and cleanse the land. In doing so, he gave himself up to the divine nature and left his body. A rainbow appeared over the valley and the scorpions disappeared. The story and lama were lost over time.

uncrushedleaves_spiti_ghiu-13

The valley of the River Gue

An earthquake and subsequent digging by the Indian Army in the 1970s uncovered the mummy with its skin, teeth and hair intact. In the words of a local, “These Dogras (army regiment) were excavating after a landslide and a gemchi (plough) hit something soft under the rock. They saw what appeared to be a human skull. They carefully extracted the body of a mummified monk. The skin, hair, eyebrows were all there… he was frozen in another time. His meditative pose of thought and his right hand suggest that he was rolling beads and chanting mantras.”

From folklore and the foggy memories of the elderly, he was identified as Tulku Sangaa Tenzin (translation: His Holiness the Enlightened Tenzin). The village has taken care of him since. In 2006, the state government of Himachal Pradesh took an interest and started construction of the shrine that now houses it. A traditional-styled temple with modern construction methods is being built and word is that soon a gompa (monastery) will be attached to it.

uncrushedleaves_spiti_ghiu-6

Welcome to the Mummy Road!!!

UnCrushed Leaves – The Mummy of Gue (Ghiu Village)

The parallel rivers of man and nature, they live together and shape each other. One unfulfilled without the other.

Parallel Rivers

Parallel Rivers

These intertwined paths lead us in to a valley formed by the black river Gue. The mysterious waters have gathered over centuries from glaciers and underground streams. At the edge of their world, they were shielded from the stark austerity of the Spiti Valley. But as all juveniles aspire, they cut through the mountains that sheltered them. They made a dark narrow path that must run deep and turbulent through to the mighty river Spiti.

The black waters of the river Gue

The black waters of the river Gue

In this valley, at the foot of a massive mountain, lies the tranquil village of Gue. The people have guided these waters to spread through the village and irrigate their fields of peas, herbs and flowers. It runs through their houses and taps. They smile at each other and share duties as a community. For a 10 day period, each family is made responsible for communal tasks such as grazing the cattle, mending the water canals, tending to the crops, cleaning the streets etc.

uncrushedleaves_spiti_ghiu-11

Fields of color

The Mummy-of-Gue sits on a hilltop and oversees the well-being of this village. The residents collectively take care of the shrine dedicated to him. It is now being made in to a monastery.

The village of Gue/Ghiu

The village of Gue/Ghiu

Traditionally known as Ghiu, this place hasn’t always been so gentle. Like the cyclical nature of time, this hamlet had its dark days once. Just as its river had carved through to the outside world, its people had reached out and traded. It became a via-point for the lamas of Tibet to rest on their way to Spiti.

Currently only 4kms away from the Chinese border as the Himalayan raven flies, it is a meticulously guarded village.

The seat of the Mummy!

The seat of the Mummy!

(To be continued…)

UnCrushed Leaves – Paths in Himachal Redefined

When we thought of sharing our wanderings in Himachal Pradesh and more particularly in Spiti Valley, we wanted a theme to put in perspective the beauty of this region.  Out there, we realized how important “Paths” were, as most of the time we struggled to find one.  Couldn’t have been a better theme than “Paths”.  Be part of Paths in Himachal.

Gramphoo - It is!

Gramphoo – It is!

KunzumLa - Call of God & Nature

KunzumLa – Call of God & Nature

 

Komic - World's Highest motorable village

Komic – World’s Highest motor able village

Spiti Valley - Calling of the Path

Spiti Valley – Calling of the Path

We shall be back with more.

#UnCrushedLeaves

UnCrushedLeaves – Coonoor (The Story)

Marian-Anna

The people on Coonoor’s streets are a very friendly lot. Most of them speak English, wish you good morning and politely enquire if you need directions or assistance; not too shy at all. Let me give you an example of their benevolence.

Beautiful paths of Coonoor

Beautiful paths of Coonoor

I was enquiring around town for a motorcycle rental so that I may wander around the slopes and paths in the short time I had. Unlike Ooty there weren’t many options and the one person that did, wanted to charge exorbitantly.  So I was on my way down from Upper Coonoor to further probe. I said hello to the security guard at the YWCA. We struck up a conversation where he told me he is from Wellington, the little town 3 km away. His name is Marian and he is an ex-army man. Whilst exchanging facets of each other’s lives I mentioned my quest. He immediately proffered his motorcycle to me. But I would have to come to his house in Wellington and start it myself since it had been lying unused for a while. Taken aback and sincerely thankful I took him up on his proposal and set a time to go see him the next morning.

The Man and Machine

The Man and the Machine

A 20 minute hike down to the town center and a 15 minute bus ride later I was standing on this strip of road with little shops on both sides. The army cantonment with its barb wires and ‘Keep Out’ demeanor was across the railway tracks. On the other side of the road a hill rose up covered in small houses and dusty by lanes. Accompanied by the hearty old Marian-Anna (anna = big brother in Tamil), who’d come down to receive me, we went about a km up the steep climb to his house in a tiny alley. He sat me down in his little sleeping room; his wife made us some tea; he showed me a picture of his son who was in the Navy. The picture showed his son ushering Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam in a blue safari suit. He explained that his son had since risen up to be a presidential guard. It was his bike that he wanted to give me.

UnCrushedLeaves_Coonoor_Indian Experience Bike

I wiped the dust from his motorcycle, siphoned a bit of fuel, spent 15 minutes kick-starting it and it came to life. I met his wife, daughter-in-law and grandchild, thanked him profusely and zoomed off. That day was spent fruitfully exploring the countryside and making merry in the misty rain.

Evening time I went back to return the motorcycle and wanted to compensate for his kindness. He sat me down and explained, over a glass of local moonshine, “You are like my son. What’s his, is yours.”

The Family

The Family

With ardent gratitude in my heart and blessings for his family, I slipped a couple of hundred into his grand-daughter’s hands and bade farewell. Thank you Marian-Anna.

#UnCrushedLeaves

The Beautiful Sky of Coonoor

The Beautiful Sky line of Coonoor

 

Fragrant view of city of Coonoor

Fragrant view of the city of Coonoor

 

Am the closer to you then you think, Fragrance of me is from you within.

Am the closer to you than you think,
Fragrance of me is from you, within.

 

The Paradox - New & Old at Coonoor

The Paradox – New & Old at Coonoor

 

At Coonoor, the realization that one is close to nature, history & beauty is all pervasive. To top it up, a hot cup of tea with muffins from a local bakery is just a stone throw away.  Life is beautiful here.

In out next post, we shall narrate an experience that has etched Coonoor in our minds for ever and talks of the people of Coonoor with a beautiful heart.

#UnCrushedLeaves

UnCrushedLeaves – Coonoor (Picturesque)