“Chalo chaley, samay ho gaya!” said Babaji, right when we were starting to feel cozy in his little hut. It seemed as if his biological clock was synchronized to a different time-system. Reluctantly, I gathered my belongings to make our way to the main road, a steep hike of about 2kms. While we were limbering up to prepare for the hike, I could not believe my eyes as I saw the old man take off. He was a marvel of vitality, performing a series of galloping leaps and literally sprinting like an arrow shot off from the bow of life. I realized it was impossible to keep pace with him; imbued with feelings of awe and humiliation, I decided to enjoy the slow walk up that hill, while trying my best to keep the air within my lungs.
It was a welcome relief to learn the next leg of our journey was to be embarked in a four-wheeler, and our chauffeur happens to be a temple priest, an old friend of Babaji. We exchange brief greetings before getting into his Maruti Alto. I can’t help but notice the same mischievous look in his eyes and the bidi pursed tightly between his lips. Not a word is spoken during the first thirty minutes of the ride, and then our chauffeur priest breaks the ice by giving a historical and mythological account of Kullu valley. His descriptions are not as meticulous as his driving, but we are entertained anyway. We are to make our way to Bhuntar, which is about three and a half hour’s drive from Baijnath. Backpackers and tourists heading towards Malana and Kasol usually make their way to stoners paradise via Bhuntar bus-stop. For Rs 60 you can catch a local bus to Kasol, but we were to hike to Shat village, which is halfway through Kasol. Disembarking at Bhuntar, we walk through dreamy villages endowed with nature’s abundance, occasionally stopping for chai and finally making it to picturesque Shat after a 13km hike.
Shat village is one such place that hasn’t been perpetually abused by social media and it was our first pit-stop on the way to Bijli Mahadev. Warm sunshine greeted us along with crisp blue skies and virgin pine forests; far away we could see the ageless snow-laden peaks hung in the sky and a winding river merrily making its way through the gorgeous Kullu valley. Crests and ridges span the entire length of the valley, from west to east, as far as the eye could see. There were no imposing structures or fine dining restaurants, and yet Shat was a social commune established in harmony. A village where the clamor and furor of life hadn’t yet been tainted by commercialism, and where simplicity and hard-work were the virtues that people lived by. A sight to behold! And not to mention, Goddess Lakshmi – the universal archetype for wealth, had bestowed her grace upon the inhabitants of this village. Their lives were transformed after they started growing Red Delicious – a strain of sweet juicy apples introduced in the early 20th century by an American missionary Satyananda Stokes, who is rightly hailed as the economic emancipator of the Himachal Valley.
Our host, Dulleshwar, a docile and non-confrontational personality, is a local resident and he guides us through the village to his house. The house, which is made almost entirely of cedar-wood, reflects the vernacular architectural style of Kullu valley. Cedarwood is plentiful in the valley and is used for construction for its high durability and thermal capacity. Entering our temporary abode, I’m surprised that my head almost touches the ceiling. Dulleshwar explains that low ceilings and small windows help prevent heat-loss, hence keeping the place warm during harsh winters. As we make ourselves comfortable, we are treated with some freshly harvested, purely organic ultra juicy apples from their orchard. We thank mother nature for her bounty and bless late Satyananda Stokes before savoring the divine fruit. The warm hospitality showered by the family makes us feel at home.
Curious to explore the village, we request our host to show us around the village. He gladly obliges and Babaji tags along guiding the way while freely distributing sweets to the village kids. Chatting with the village folks, our conversations range around family, fields, and cattle. In a typical mountain village, day time is defined by hard labor, while leisure is well spent in pursuit of beauty. The luxury of time is a huge contributing factor in the development of their aesthetic abilities, handicrafts being an indespensible part of the life of people here. The colorful Kullu shawls and the graceful Pattoo are a testimony to the aesthetic prowess acquired by the people of this valley. As we were walking around the village, it was also interesting to observe that the quality of intelligence has been replaced by innocence among the mountain folks. Their eyes reflected child-like curiosity and an inherent joy for life. This was a sharp contrast, as well as a welcome relief, from the smugly self-satisfied digital zombies that I’m used to seeing. Perhaps, there is an inverse correlation between intelligence and innocence. Maybe these isolated villages tucked away in the laps of mighty Himalayas hold a secret message for us, and it is an open secret once you synchronize with the harmony that embraces chaos within it.
The sun is racing down the horizon, and the evening skies are painted in shades of orange, pink and red. But we are in no hurry. Having found an isolated spot on a hilltop, we lay out a mat to rest our bums. The setting is ideal to roll a doobie. Babaji strings together some wisdom and says, “We need not look for adventure outside; when our hearts and mind are at peace, the beauty of life is revealed in every moment.” Although floating in the stratosphere by now, I let his words settle in, for they might fit into the puzzle sooner or later. We make our way back to Dulleshwar’s house, tomorrow he will guide us to Bijli Mahadev temple via the jungle route.
The Aristotle in me is aroused in the cold contemplative setting. I feel, by traveling to distant far-away lands, a person traverses the dimensions of space and time, entering a unique time capsule, whose boundaries are defined and given meaning by its people and their ways of being. Each place offers to the curious seeker, a subtle transference of identity, a peephole into a new dimension of existence. A person travels to experience more, to become more, however, to travel one must renounce. Only when you leave a place do you arrive at another, and the intensity of our experience rests on our ability to leave behind whatever that we’ve accumulated, our emotional and cognitive biases. The longer you stay at a place, the more you start reflecting its essence, which later integrates into your own personality. As Mark Twain succinctly sums it, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”
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