Seog.., the human story of the Jungle by Sandeep Silas

They say a jungle teaches you life.  There is order in the jungle; there is beauty in the jungle; there is danger in the jungle; there is an originality in the jungle. No animal eats the other without any reason unlike in the human world!

Seog, is a dense forest 30 minutes from Shimla just after Dhalli. A gate beckons you inside. I missed out seeing the statue of the panther and deer on the gate and only saw the birds on the board. There was an option to cycle but the guard coaxed me to trek if I really wanted to enjoy the forests. It was 7.5 km one way, so a 15 km round trek.

Off I went, camera dangling on my chest trying to hear the birds and then strain my eyes to spot them. It was 10 am and already late as the early birds had already caught the worm and went into hiding. Still, I could see a Whistling Thrush and some others.

An insect clinging to a creeper entwining a deodar tree caught my eye as strange but unique!

Two km inside I heard the Barking Deer and looked up the mountain to see a herd passing through the  forests during the day’s activity. Just then some one called and insisted I talk. The deer herd had vanished by then. So I put it on silent mode not to miss out on the sheer experience and pin drop silence of the forests, occasionally broken by bird calls.  Often I found fresh droppings of the deer, tell-tale signs of it having traversed that way, but no luck anymore. So I enjoyed the overwhelming effect created by the Deodars (Cedrus Deodara) and Moru Oak (Quercus Dilatata) trees.   They become home to monkeys, langurs, birds, insects, butterflies and give shade that the sun too cannot pierce. There was not a soul on the trek and I felt like the King of the Jungle.

Once I imagined that our Mogli boy would emerge out of the shadows and show me some of his territory. The boards said that the forests were home to: Black-lored Tit, Rufous Breasted Accentor, Grey Treepie, Rufous Treepie, Jungle Owlet, Red Billed Blue Magpie, Grey Headed Woodpecker, Alexandrine Parakeet, Plumbeous water Redstart, Chestnut tailed Milna, Rufous Sibia, Grey winged Black Bird, Orange flanked Bush Robin, Asian Koel, Black Bulbul, Variegated Laughingthrush, Black Francolin, Blue-capped Redstart, Long Tailed Thrush, Rufous-bellied Niltava, Chestnut Thrush,  Yellow Brested Green Finch, Eurasian Treecreeper, Pink browed Rose Finch, Green backed Tit, Slaty headed Parakeet, Green Pigeon, Yellow Bellied Fantail, Common Hoopoe, Black-throated Tit, Great Himalayan Barbet, Whiskered Yuhina, Scaly-breated Munia, Common Tailor Bird, Common Rose Finch, Blue-throated Barbet, Oriental White-eye, Speckled Piculet, Rusty cheeked Scimitar Babbler, Black headed Jay, Plum headed Parakeet and so on. The list is endless.It goes further into the types of Butterflies, Orchids, Shrubs and Flowering Trees.


However, there is a season for everything. So when there are Orchids the trees won’t flower, similarly when the weather is cold the birds and animals prefer to hide and bask in their piece of sunshine.

I walked discovering whatever I could till I came to the end of the trek, where stood a water tank and three huts.

A small temple stood at one side of the huts.

Above this settlement was a Forest Rest House, where no one is allowed during the nights.

Here grew in abundance the yellow Spanish Broom flower (Spartium Junceum). It was a beautiful sight especially when contrasted with the azure blue sky. The best discovery of this trek was this flower called with a Spanish name albeit having the fragrance of a French perfume!

There is a Water Catchment Tank built during the British times at the far end of Seog Trek. It captures mountain spring water and supplies to the city. The pipes are so sturdy that they have not yet been changed!

I saw a village lady whom I wished. She asked me whether I would like to have tea. I said a polite ‘no, thank you’. She again asked me for coffee thinking my taste could be different and supplemented that she makes good coffee. I again said a ‘no thanks’.

Then she offered me Chaaj (Skimmed Milk) to which I said a resounding yes. Neelam, (her name), happily brought fresh Chaaj. I have never had such good chaaj. It was perfect. Then she asked me for lunch.  It definitely was lunch time and there was no possibility of finding food in the jungle. I said yes but on a condition that she takes payment for the meal. She hesitated and said that she does not sell food. I did not mean to insult her hospitality but, knew they were very poor folks. She brought me some dal, kadhi and rice, and I must write that it was the best kadhi-chawal I had ever had. Perhaps, the generosity of the poor adds to the taste of food they serve from their kitchen.

In a while her daughter came. I asked her what the daughter was pursuing. Neelam said, that the daughter is a Graduate, and has done some computer courses, takes examinations but doesn’t get placed in a job.

Kalpana, the daughter, and I, spoke. She was full of enthusiasm and was willing to serve anywhere in the country. The girl demonstrated confidence. Of course, having been brought up in a forest where only 4 people (3 of family) lived, she suffered from communication skills in comparison to the city-bred.

I really felt the worthlessness of our University education, which does confer degrees but cannot lead to a job situation. Sloganeering for election purposes is acceptable but, unless education leads to a dignified lifestyle, it is actually not serving its purpose. The issue deserves deep thought at the highest level. What would Kalpana do in a  situation she does not get a job. Live off her parents, already old and sick? Live in the jungle grazing cows? Fall into a trap? Go to a city like her brother and engage for a job much below her expectations? Or at best find a job, for which she has no aptitude?

The girl was taking competitive examinations regularly, but what kind of guidance can she get in a situation like this where the forest is the only teacher and master.

There are thousands of such stories abounding in the country. There are many Kalpana’s in remote corners of India, who are fighting out with destiny and struggling to assert their existence.

Unless the country is able to provide, look after and fulfill their aspirations, can we call ourselves free?

Neelam, told me that the forest is peopled by six types of panthers, those she has seen. They once also had a leopard eyeing their cat, who sat for a long time before their hut.

I was only expecting birds and deer at the most. My return thereafter was a very careful walk. Each gust of wind that rustled some dry leaves made me look around for a leaping panther. I saw some bamboo made shelters constructed for sighting birds and deer.

Luckily, I came out unscathed by any animal attack, but scarred by Kalpana’s story!

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Village of Tosh by Sandeep Silas

Sometimes you must do something that is adventurous or at least near adventuresome! You must never let the spirit die within you. It is just one life and one must live it as best as one can. I somehow connect to Nature in a way that I hear its voice, I see its hidden beauty and I hear its song!

So with two friends I ventured out one lazy afternoon and travelled in car overnight to Manikaran, the place famous for its hot spring and Gurudwara. We took turns to drive and a not so comfortable, but still great under the circumstances make-shift bed in the SUV in the rear was my bed for the night. Lights, stars, passing trucks and street lights kept me mostly awake but still I was in bed! One must be grateful for small mercies.

At 4 am we parked in the parking at Manikaran and slept till 7 am. By 8.30 am we were at Tosh, a village nestling in pristine beauty and caged in the simplicity of a mountain village life. The welcoming views were just breathtaking.

The peaks around Tosh Valley Village were covered in snow, except where there was enough sunshine for the day. It was December and it had still not snowed, thanks to global warming! I kept on looking with the wonderment of a child at the snow peaks around the glacier: Papasura, White Sail, Angduri, Pinnacle and Devachan. Two names definitely English, rest looked like given by the locals. Thanks be to God that no name changing spree by a self-seeking politician had affected the charming Parvati Valley.  Let the names be as handed over to us by Time. After all, it is a layer of history upon another.

But, where was the Village as a whole. I looked back from the glacial peaks and saw a Himalayan village that almost called out to me to discover what lay hidden.

But, first things first. Time to feel fresh and have breakfast. The Cafe at Pinky Didi’s seemed like a nice place and the omelette with buttered bread was just the thing one desired.

Tosh villagers have opened up homes for home stay with basic facilities and there is always a room to stay. Of course, in such scenic surroundings one tries to choose a place to stay with a view and so we did.

As I ventured out in the village in the morning hours I found  facets of life those are unimaginable in city environments. First of all, there was pleasantry and simplicity in the air, which is a rarity in a city these days.

A small boy hanging out on the grill of his home’s balcony was a picture of inquisitiveness and innocence.

 The Village School looked like a neatly wrapped textbook.

Signboards often reflect the educational level of the place and its marketing skills. But, who cares for English and presentation when all you want is good wholesome food in an inhospitable terrain.

With this bounty of Nature unfolded before me, my poetic sensibilities came to fore and I started looking for the “solitary Highland Lass”, as written by William Wordsworth

The Solitary Reaper 

“Behold her, single in the field,
Yon solitary Highland Lass!
Reaping and singing by herself;
Stop here, or gently pass!
Alone she cuts and binds the grain,
And sings a melancholy strain;
O listen! for the Vale profound
Is overflowing with the sound.
No Nightingale did ever chant
More welcome notes to weary bands
Of travellers in some shady haunt,
Among Arabian sands:
A voice so thrilling ne’er was heard
In spring-time from the Cuckoo-bird,
Breaking the silence of the seas
Among the farthest Hebrides.
Will no one tell me what she sings?—
Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow
For old, unhappy, far-off things,
And battles long ago:
Or is it some more humble lay,
Familiar matter of to-day?
Some natural sorrow, loss, or pain,
That has been, and may be again?
Whate’er the theme, the Maiden sang
As if her song could have no ending;
I saw her singing at her work,
And o’er the sickle bending;—
I listened, motionless and still;
And, as I mounted up the hill,
The music in my heart I bore,
Long after it was heard no more. “
Such were the great poets of the times, whose poetry finds no equal still today in beauty and sensitivity.
I found a mother and child, who agreed to let me photograph her and in the background I saw a painting on the wall of her hut, which had the mother Goddess sitting above a lotus flower and the letters; “The Heavens declare the glory of God”. Yes, that is the faith with which they live in such an area where food for the day is the primary thought and not ambition.
A small girl suddenly came out of the precincts of her home to the common tap. She opened it, but there was no water. So she gave it a tiny thump with her small fist, put her lips to the edge and drank the little sip that came. It was a scene that could make William Wordsworth cry and celebrate in immortal poesy.
I couldn’t resist the tears in my eyes. So much for development and bombastic speeches!
Ahead a trio of boys played cricket without a pitch.  It was amazing that cricket could be the fancy of boys here in Tosh too. Thanks be to the cricket craze furthered by TV and Leagues like IPL. But, this cricket was without rules or a ground. All it meant was that you hit the ball and make runs. That is all the matters in life and the boys were learning pretty early.
During my interview for the Civil Service examination, the last question lobbed at me by the Chairman of the Board was: “So, Mr. Silas, what do you understand by the phrase- “It’s not cricket”.
I had replied instantly: “It’s not fair”.
What is fair and what is not, today I cannot say, having passed through many phases in life of being cheated, betrayed, and made a fool of, by the ones you trusted the most!
Smoke bellowed from a water heating contraption fired by wood in front of a hut.
There was a closed village temple. A beautiful structure built in wood and carved in Himachali style, it appealed as a prominent building in the small village square. I read a signboard “Do not touch”.  On inquiry I was informed that it is run by “Devtas” (spirits) and they had left yesterday, to return back after two and half months!
Time to lift up the gaze back to the mountains and remember the Psalm 121:

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.”

This is perhaps the faith which sustains people and life, here and everywhere!

I was face to face with faith!

It was cold and head and ears had to be well covered. Lunch was at a Cafe which served hot Dal and Cauliflower vegetable, which we ate more than we normally did. When the cold is biting you from everywhere, hot food is more than welcome!

It was time to relax and forget there was a worry in the world. People say that foreign tourists come here for the hash. World’s best hash is grown nearby in Malana.

Evening fell and what was a rocky mountain turned into gold! Such was the effect of awesome Nature!

My friend was brave enough to sit in the balcony  during the night for some time and watch the stars. He found the night sky so romantic and clear, the stars nearer.

The flora at Tosh is Himalayan Blue Poppy, Iris, Marigold, Primulas, Buttercups and Balsam. They say you can once in a while see a brown or black bear. The rest of the sky is ruled by Lamagiers, Bull Finches and Rose Finches.

Next morning it was time to go ahead like travellers usually do  and leave the visited place like a happy memory in the minds eye.

The shepherd dog will keep the watch and count the sheep! So must all tales be told and lived by others who follow in your footsteps!

Distance: New Delhi to Toas by road 560 km; Route: Delhi-Ambala-Surendranagar- Roopnagar-Kasol-Barshana- Manikaran-Tosh.

Trek: Tosh to Kheerganga


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