May 25, 2015

The Beginning

It is said that every beginning starts with an inspiration – sometimes human, sometimes divine. And probably this beginning required a divine one. Somewhere in the hills of Himachal, I suddenly realized that it was perhaps time to write more about travel. Himachal, the abode of the Gods, made me realize how travelling makes one a better human being, how travelling together makes you love one another even more. Sometimes, travelling is all the succour a parched soul needs.

Himachal is breathtakingly beautiful. The walks through the villages, the silence of the apple orchards, the cakes from the bakeries that call themselves ‘German’ all add to the quaint beauty of Himachal. From the touristy mall road of Shimla to the quiet of Mashobra, from the snowy caps of Solang Valley, to the roaring waters of the Beas. Himachal beckons you with all the glory of nature.

However, nature can also be devastatingly beautiful. For us, Manali would be always be remembered for the fury of nature at her full glory. As we rafted down the rapids of the Beas, the clouds broke and Beas reciprocated in full. She was angry and her anger grew as she tossed and turned the puny humans trying to keep their raft afloat on her current. When we finally got to the shore, nature had taught us a lesson we would never forget.

Himachal is at the cusp of a change. Civilization is slowly catching up and the green of the valleys slowly are giving way to more and more real estates. The appetite of Delhi for a second home is slowly beginning to spread to both Himachal and Uttarakhand and as the number of tourists increase, so does the trampling of nature by those who for generations had kept it safe. The Palace of the Kullu kings showcase how you can be one with nature and yet build something substantial. But no longer. The palace is now a hotel, while the administrative capital has shifted to Shimla.

New roads, new dams, electricity, schools all spring up as they should. So does new hotels, guest houses and summer residences. And often without a second thought about nature herself.

It does feel at times that more than anything else, Himachal is about Gods. Hindu mythology comes alive in every pebble and every stream that flows through the mountains. The sages of Hindu scriptures have all left their marks across the springs and often you wonder if the seven immortals of Hinduism will suddenly come forth from behind the ageless trees.

The hills and villages have their own travelling Gods and they move from village to village ensuring that no harm comes to the villages. The Mega Gods of Hinduism are revered as well but what sets Himachal apart are these unique Gods. The Village Gods sit in council as well and take a decision based on what’s best for the villages. And then they travel back. At times, there are no roads to these villages and the Gods sit on their own unique ropeways and travel upwards to their destination while their bearers trudge the tricky mountainous terrains.

Shimla herself has the Bengali Kali Bari and the Shimla Church. Ages ago, two communities had made Himachal their home. The Bengalis worshipped the Mother Goddess and the British worshipped Mother Mary in their summer residences. And when you walk in to their hallowed halls you can hear history whispering into your ears. And then far away from Bengal if you miss your food of home, just walk down the steps of the Kali Bari where even today a Bengali can find his heart’s desire of home cooked food.

Close to the Himalayas, you are never away from the divine.