A peek into some lives in Himalayan villages

It is again this beautiful time before Diwali. Five years ago, I got a glimpse into the simple and spiritual lives of villagers off the beaten track in the Himalaya.

„Would you like to come to some villages around Chamba?“ a friend had asked. I happily said yes. He wanted to visit the kin of former domestic help of his family and bring them gifts before Diwali. After buying boxes of sweets and drawing money from an ATM, three of us set off from Mussoorie.

The air was crystal clear and the snow peaks shone in great splendour. How beautiful to be out in the open at the height of 2000 metres! What wonderful surroundings the villagers live in. Blue mountain ranges were rolling one after the other like waves of the ocean. Kids in school uniform walked on the road. Their school may be much simpler than those in cities, yet the location is enviable and the openness of space may be conducive for an open mind.

Our first stop was in a tiny village near the old road to Tehri town, which has been submerged in the Ganges due to the Tehri Dam. It was a steep climb down the hill. An old woman was sitting in a courtyard sieving grain. She had few teeth left, yet her smile was warm and welcoming. It was a surprise visit, and immediately her neighbours gathered, too. “Kursi lao” I heard, and children brought chairs from a neighbouring house.  The woman lives alone in an old house. Her husband, who had worked for my friend’s family for decades, had passed away several years ago. Her only daughter is staying with her in laws.

We had to stress really hard that our stomachs were very full and had no place even for a cup of tea. Yet water we took and she sent a girl to pluck some lime. My friend had to show her how to use the zip on the jacket he had brought for her and then the talk was mainly about people she knew from the olden times and about crops.

When we left, she said she would come to Mussoore to see the father of my friend who was about her age. Will she still be able to climb up the hill?  Probably she can do it. Village folk are hardier than city folk.

Next we drove to a tiny village some 30 km away. It was 2 hours’ drive in wonderful surroundings. The car climbed over a mountain range down into a valley and in the end very high up on a kachha road, which was only as broad as our jeep. It was frightening. A mantra kept automatically and nonstop repeating itself in my mind.

We were expected, because Panditji, as his former cook was called, had a mobile. Two boys waited for us at the road head to guide us further up and a table with sweets and namkeen was already laid. His three daughters are married nearby and his eldest son is working in Hyderabad.

After leaving my friend’s house some years ago, Panditji became a part time pujari in a mandir further down the hill – for Rs 150 a month. Even five years ago, this was an incredibly meagre salary. Meanwhile he stopped going there. The climb was too tough for him. He was offered a full time job as pujari for Rs. 1100. (No, I did not forget a zero, only Rs 1100 for a month). It would have required him to stay the whole day and sleep in the mandir, too. He declined the offer as he felt that he was too old to live alone. If something happened to him, nobody would know. His son is sending him money from Hyderabad.

His house had two rooms with a buffalo staying downstairs, and here too, neighbours gathered straight away when we arrived. The view from his narrow veranda was truly spectacular. It became dark and the hills lit up with lights sparkling everywhere, down in the valley and above in the sky.

Last we went to a house near Chamba on the new road to Uttarkashi to visit the widow of one more former help. My friend was all praise for this man who was with his family over 40 years ago in Kalkuta, when my friend was still in school. Once, he went home to Chamba for a holiday. While there, he started working for daily wages on road construction. After a few days a rock fell on him and he died on the spot.

His wife was young, his only son barely two years old and physically slightly handicapped. Now his wife was in her sixties and lived with her daughter in law and three grandsons in the village and her son worked in a restaurant in Ludhiana over 200 km away.

When we reached the simple house made from mud and wood, she had just come back from Ludhiana after a check-up in a hospital. Her health is not good. She has water in her lungs. Yet her nature was very sweet and loving. It was a pleasure to be with her, her bahu and the grandchildren in the small room, which had a garlanded photo of her husband on the wall.

Their belongings were stashed away in trunks and boxes, quilts were neatly folded, and only school books were piled up on a trunk. Though she must have been tired from the long journey, apart from being ill, she enquired about everyone she knew from that time, while her grandsons were leaning on her. Her hard life has made her into a beautiful person.

I once again realized that it is neither status nor money that ultimately counts. Important is how one takes the experiences in one’s life; whether one can accept them or not; whether one has trust and faith in life or not; whether one feels support from within or not and whether one can ultimately let go of one’s life when the time comes.

While walking up to the road two young men passed us on the narrow track. “Hi!” one of them said in a tone that one hears occasionally in cities, yet it sounded odd in the village. “Where are you from?” he asked further. “Germany”, I replied. “Oh, I worked for 3 years in a restaurant in Munich”, he surprised me in German language.

Driving back to Mussoorie several jackals got trapped in the light beam of our jeep. We stopped in the silent night and admired the vast expanse of flickering lights down in the valley which was Dehradun.

What a rich, inspiring day it was! I had been allowed a glimpse into different lives which are side by side on our beautiful earth. Each person is the centre of a unique, private world that depends heavily, if not fully, on the mind. The outer circumstances may be determined to a great extent. Yet the option to be at peace with one’s life seems to be open to everyone.

By Maria Wirth

14 comments

  1. What an outstandingly inspiring piece Maria ❤️

    ‘Her hard life has made her into a beautiful person.’

    ‘Each person is the centre of a unique, private world that depends heavily, if not fully, on the mind. The outer circumstances may be determined to a great extent. Yet the option to be at peace with one’s life seems to be open to everyone.’

    Indeed. Thank you for sharing this short trip into the hilla and its grounded lightness

    1. Thank you, Ananda

  2. Manighandan · · Reply

    Hi Maria Ji, thanks for sharing this in Koo. A poignant read for me as I can relate to the hardship of people living in & around Himalayan area yet their honest & simple mindful living. Albeit very little materialistic comforts they are more cheerful with high compassionate spirit. You have captured it all in your writing.
    Warm Regards from Tashkent,
    Mani

    1. thank you

  3. GRC Nair · · Reply

    Hi, Maria, Thanks for taking us through the Himalayan villeges with their unique life style, simplicity and charms.
    Prof GRC Nair

  4. Ayushman · · Reply

    Very beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing your experience. My heart fills with joy when I sense the beautiful life around me and my happiness knows no bounds. Everything is consciousness, whether stones and rivers or celestials – all divine and blissful. Life lived with patience and wisdom, in both good times and bad times, is a peaceful life. Let the life be full of happiness, as an independent manifestation which emanates from ourselves, expressing itself through all our actions, nurturing within and without the very life which is contained in that happiness.

  5. Rajesh Patil · · Reply

    Wonderful!!
    Your writings are ever inspiring and encouraging us to visit HimAlaya!!
    immensely Dhanyawaad!

  6. Hans Grob · · Reply

    “Oh, I worked for 3 years in a restaurant in Munich”

    Sounds good, but everyone in the forgotten realms seems to have worked in a restaurant in London or Berlin. Munich is already less probable, since only the 2nd largest city of Germany. And people from underdeveloped countries always think that one must be in the biggest place wherever, although the net income after expenses is often higher in less overcrowded places. Holds true also for countries, in Europe and globally: income is average the higher the smaller the country is. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(nominal)_per_capita Germany is the most populous country in Europe, but salaries are at least 15% lower than in all surrounding countries, except France and the former members of the COMECON.

    Maybe the guy has memorised that sentence ICH ARBEITETE DREI JAHRE IN MÜNCHEN.

    Why would he not have stayed for longer? By which law was he allowed to enter? There is no such possibility for unqualified personnel – Europe in not a Gulf state.

    1. i don’t doubt him. His “Hi” suggests it too… in the Indian restaurants in Germany, the waiters are Indian or more often Pakistanis and Bangladeshis… so how do they get visa? there must be a way. His German was good.

  7. N K Mathur · · Reply

    I have been fortunate to visit that area more than once. Every time it was a pleasure to talk to the locals. What a contrast to the city dwellers ! It is all in the mind.

    Thank you for such interesting description. May Goddess Saraswati be with you always !!

    N K Mathur

    1. thank you so much. Hope you are well.

  8. Thank you for sharing your experience and feelings. You got lots of “return gifts” for your Diwali, while meeting “karma yogis” from there.
    This line is beautifully depicts life – “Her hard life has made her into a beautiful person.”

  9. N.MURALIDHARAN · · Reply

    Pranaam , Acharyiniji !! A few photographs of your visit here would have looked Very Good in this travalogue

    1. i always forget to take photos. luckily my friend took a few and sent this… no photo from Panditji and the widow of their first servant from 40 years ago…

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