OF GODS AND RIVERS
A welcome warning on arrival...
...because, explained a taxi driver, a deluge of water could come rushing down at any moment from snow melt high up in the mountains of Himachal. At any moment, this deluge could be forming up in the mountains and you - wading into what seems like a calm river - would never know till...the deluge rushed down down down the slopes and into you.
We went on a hike, three humans, three dogs, up from the lovely Mirage Andretta arts colony into the jungle.
Pinku, a carpenter born and raised here in Himachal, led the way.
It was already a day of grace in this monsoon season--the sun was out and the sky seemed clear of rain clouds. We walked into a dense forest - fruit trees, white flowers that smelled like jasmine, hanging vines, and pine trees - "cheel" Pinku called them - a kind of cedar whose flattened spines lay scattered on the path. The base of the trunks were tapped with tin cones that gathered resin used for glue. Every few meters, we saw these - the cuts made into their bark formed a red striated design - the shapes felt like humans somehow, ancestors of bark with red ribs sacrificing themselves for resin.
...a loud rustling in the trees and reddish-brown monkeys leapt into branches to our right. The big dogs gave chase at once, running into the trees but one small black dog named Gori (fair one) stayed behind.
Because, Pinku grinned, these monkeys have been known to slap smaller dogs and Gori knows first hand and knows to stay away.
Later, we met langurs - grey fur, black faces - on high branches staring at us. For a few seconds, our gazes met in silence. Then swiftly, they began swinging away - a whole family of them - blurs of grey, shuffling rustling creaking branches and leaves till they disappeared into stillness.
PRESENTLY OUT OF SIGHT
Down there, Pinku stopped and indicated a dense valley, are peacocks, wild hens and wild goats that are present but hiding from us, out of sight.
But in the barsaat, while it is raining, he said, the peacocks dance. Of course they do -the childhood memory came so fast I could almost see it. Was I manufacturing the memory - or was it real - the image of peacocks splaying their indigo feathers in a field of falling green.
PENNIES FROM A TURBAN
We left the main path and took another narrow path going up, lined with small and big rocks, like stepping stones almost.
This was the path of wedding party, back in the day, said Pinku. The whole wedding party would go this way, carrying the bride and groom up and down this path, over rock and through muck, to get one from one village in the valley to another.
When we were boys, he said, we would stand to the side like this, on the edge of the path, waiting for the wedding party to pass. And I remember how giddy we would get when sometimes the father of the bride, as he passed us, he would take small pennies tucked into his turban and hand them to us. Those were the days, he grinned, the thrill of receiving pennies from turbans.
This plant, Pinku said, is "chota ber" because it gives small berries. In Himachali, we call it "bradd" or "jiredi."
The story goes that this plant showed the path that the demigod Ravana took Sita when he kidnapped her from the forest. (for the whole story, see 'The Ramayana.')
The story goes that, along the way, the thorns of this plant clung to her clothes and strands of fabric unraveled and like this, they marked the path of her kidnapping and like this, it showed she had been taken south, in the direction of his island kingdom of Sri Lanka.
For the first day, I didn't see the Himalayas at all. The whole reason I had come was to lay my eyes on them. But in this season of monsoon, all I saw was mist and fog and soft grey where they were supposed to be. The second morning, I woke to slight sun and this day of the hike, as we came up the jungle and around, there was this view - the green sheet of the Kangra valley and lining it, one wall of the Himalayas - the massive rock face of the Dhauladhar range - stretching all across the valley and beyond.
They were gray and hazy but unmistakably rock, unmistakably in front of me, with ridges and crests and valleys, the mountain gods.
In this season, Pinku nodded at the grey shapes and grinned, they don't have any clothes on - kapadé nahi hain - but in the winter, he sighed, oh in the winter, dressed in the whitest snow, it makes your morning to see them...and all day, they are there with you.
We walked downhill with the memory of snow till we reached a mossy cement path near the village After hours of careful stepping on rocks and mud, I slipped - olé - straight into the green...olé. I slid straight down onto the path, flat down into the monsoon and back into the presence of this green season.
The rains began again that very evening, continuing all night into this morning, falling onto the roof with with such force that I woke suddenly. I imagined that the monkeys from the jungle had followed us back - here they were on the roof jumping to greet us - only to learn a few hours later that actually, there had been an earthquake...
...actually there had been two earthquakes this morning...
both around 4.6 on the Richter scale, around medium intensity.
According to news reports, all well and no damage anywhere in the state -- just the ground reminding us that we are here in a land where mountain gods speak first.