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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A Toy To the Adult by Sandeep Silas

The Kalka-Shimla Railway

Like smoke wafting lazily from a candle, blown by a kiss of the wind, chugs the Kalka-Shimla train.  The mist, held by the hills and the pines, lowers itself in a welcome to the traveller.  Its freshness brings alive the sensations hitherto forgotten and buried under the pace of life.

If you look down history lane with a telescope, you find the gallant  and  fearsome Grouches of Nepal walking  into  Sikkim  in 1814.   The ruler of Sikkim, helpless, appeals to the East  India company and the Company Bahadur extends security.   At the  close of the war in 1816, under the Nepalese Peace Treaty the  British `mandarins retained a huge tract of land, which also included the ridge on which Shimla was later built.

One  Major Kennedy, built for himself a house at  Shimla  in 1822.   The  Governor General’s were quick to  realise  that  the environs  of Shimla offered them an England in India.   Lord  Amherst  spent the summer in 1827, followed by his  successor  Lord William  Bentick.   However,  the journey  was  not  particularly comfortable for the Gora Sahib.  Ponies, or jampans – sedan chair fitted with curtains, slung on poles borne by bearers, over a  43 mile mountain track made mule of a man.

It  was only for a correspondent, to conceive the idea of  a railway  line, that time waited for, till Nov. 1847.   A  passionate plea in the Delhi Gazette by this gentleman advocated the sketching  of a railway line to Shimla – “We may then see these  cool regions become the permanent seat of a Government, daily  invigorated  by a temperature adapted to refresh a  European  constitution, and keep the mental power in a state of health,  beneficial both  to rulers and the ruled”.  The earliest field surveys  were conducted  between 1884-95.  While the railway surveys  were  on, The  Hindostan and Tibet Road, 58 miles, was opened during  1850-56.

The signing of a contract between Secretary of State and the Delhi Umbala Railway Company in 1898 signalled the beginnings  of the  line.  The journey to a cooler paradise became a reality  in Lord Curzons’ time.

The bosom of the highly erratic Shivalik hills was parted by a 96 km. railway line on Nov. 9th, 1903.  Three years  of  labour by dedicated engineers and labourers in limestone and shale rocks saw through an astounding feat.

The line passes over 864 bridges and  under 102 tunnels.  Two-thirds of the formation is  laid  on sharp curves– sharper than a damsels !

The British chose the narrow gauge dimensions of 2′-6″ as the  hills  tolerated no more than a whisper to rise  the  arduous 1519  m   between the plain and the hill.  The treachery  of  the hill formation was bound by a silver thread, reassuringly.  Lofty stone  bridges,  arched in their effort of holding the  rail,  at times  three-tiered  too, arrest the sight of a  traveller.

The dark tunnels aplenty on the ascent, bring more than an opportunity to a honeymooning couple.  Excited whistles and natural  cries rent the air when you travel.  A curious mix of chill and  warmth permeates the atmosphere.

The  journey from Kalka to Shimla is absolutely out  of  the world.  Immediately on arrival at Kalka one sheds off his inhibitions  like snake-skin.  The toy train provides  a  breath-taking view  of the Kushalya river, the moment it enters the  foothills. The  serpentine splash of mercury  keeps disappearing  and  reappearing  with each bend for some time.  Passage through the  Koti tunnel makes you hunt for a coat and the air jabs you, the moment you hit Jabli, 1240 m above sea-level.

Three  picturesque loops near Taksal, Gumman  and  Dharampur provide  photo-opportunity  to an enthusiast.  But wait, more  is to follow.  The ascent is steady.  The train huffs and puffs  its way across green meadows, capsicum fields, red-roofed chalets and half  timbered houses.  Each coach has chuckle under its  wheels. Through  aged  in  service, it does not sigh, for  it  carries  a pleasant  burden.  About seven coaches form a train, to  accommodate  about 200 passengers per trip.  The extremities of  weather do not dislodge the determination of the 700 horse power B-B type diesel  engines.   They run to the call of  duty  in  temperature ranging  from  0-45  Celsius and in snow which  averages  2  feet during  winters.  What to talk of the annual rainfall of  200-250 cm   received  by  the hills!  The average speed  of  25-30  kmph ensures that “hurry” is removed from the psyche and replaced by a naturalness of demeanour.

If  you want to taste the beauty of nature  in  exclusivity, travel  in the Rail Motor Car.  There are four of them and  three date to 1927, while the last dates to 1930.  A group of 18 can be housed  in  this vintage experience.  You will  be  surprised  to learn  that  the original White & Pope petrol engines  fitted  by Drewery Car Company Ltd., London, were replaced during the second World  War as petrol was scarce.  Americans supplied  the  diesel engines to the car, from General Motors, U.S.A.

Surprises  escape the visage as nature unrolls  its  bounty.  Gurgling  brooks flowing down mountains, passing under the  stone bridges,  present  a pleasing sight.  Clouds of  mist  decide  to tumble down and gingerly touch you, enlivening your senses.   The train  meanders through Kumarhatti, then enters the Barog  tunnel which  is  more than a kilometre long, precisely 1144  mts.  This tunnel  crosses  the Panchmunda ridge, about 900 feet  below  the road. At Barog, it is mealtime, on the morning trip.

 

Through the English firm of “Spencers” which built the restaurant at Barog is no longer there, but the English hospitality continues to live.

From  Barog  to  Kandagthat the train  runs  downhill,  past beautiful  and quaint retreats of Solan and Saloghra.  The  final climb begins at Kandaghat.  Gradually, solemn forests of  deodars and  pines  replace the meadows.  The abundant  green  fills  the soul.   At Shogi, a heartwarming view of the Chail valley  brings numerous  anecdotes associated with a Prince to the fore.  It  is said  that this Punjab Prince, pinched the bottom of  an  English class on the Shimla ridge, and was thence banished from English society at Shimla.  Undeterred, he built for himself a palace  at Chail, a nearby resort.

Past Taradevi, the railways take you under Prospect hill  to Jutogh,  winding  its way like a naughty current of  air  teasing you, tickling you, till it pauses at Summer Hill.

The  prospects of a fullsome holiday brighten up the spirits of each  traveller. Finally,  like the last birth pang it burrows under the  Inverarm Hill, to emerge and deliver a happy child at Shimla.

The  transformation of a traveller from an adult to a  child is  complete.

As little as a train journey brings out the  child in  the  man, to chuckle, laugh and indulge in  childlike  pranks around the invigorating forest paths of Shimla.

 

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Amber Touch by Sandeep Silas

Amber Touch by Sandeep Silas (Borough in the Mist, Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd.; 2007)

 

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Strangers by Sandeep Silas

…….Contd.

(Borough in the Mist by Sandeep Silas)

 

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Twin Lives by Sandeep Silas

 

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Going Forward ! by Sandeep Silas

This is the state of mind of many people. They go #forward in #reverse…till you realise they are being towed by #negativity!

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Communication…lesson from the avian world ! by Sandeep Silas

Clear #communication and shared #vision is the key to #success!

#Management lesson from the avian world!

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Music Divine by Sandeep Silas

(The Pioneer Jan 12, 2002)

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Usta Kaam…gold finger on camel back ! by Sandeep Silas

 

Bikaner, had been successful in evoking may images in the past in my mind; the temple where rats run like devotees, the grandeur of the Junagadh Fort Palace; Lalgarh palace splendor; Gajner palace and the serenity of its lake; the sharp shooter Karni Singh, erstwhile royal of Bikaner, and a somewhat blurred image of gold work on camel leather.

I enquired and set off to search for this Usta Kaam, name I learned later, and stopped by at some small dusty, clumsy shops, where creativity was at its best in humble surroundings. The flawlessness of the work stood out in sharp contrast to the scratches on multi-purpose work cum display tables.

Behind the counter stood a thin young man carrying the burden of legacy despite its odds. He was born in the community of Usta’s, who were originally from Multan, now in Pakistan, and had migrated to Mughal Court. The then Raja of Bikaner, Rai Singh invited them to Bikaner to work on the Junagadh Fort and Anup Mahal walls and ceilings. Naqqashi, is also known as gesso painting and what the craftsmen did to the Raja’s Fort and Palace is nothing short of being miraculous. Delicate floral and animal forms in resplendent gold have left the palace still looking like a decorated bride about to be wed.

Later on, the Usta’s shifted their work to be executed on camel leather as in declining kingdoms and later Independent India there were no royal courts to patronize their work and provide sustenance. The process though appearing simple is very painstaking. First the camel hide is softened and stretched and then placed on clay moulds. To remind you of the strength of camel hide, it was used to make saddles for horseback warriors and shields in war! The mould is removed after drying it for two days in the sun. Then the craftsman draws lines of the design he is going to make on the piece. The items can be in different shapes, like wine flasks, with long or short stem as the case might be; goblets; vases; perfume containers; water-bottles; jewellery boxes, lamp shades, picture-frames; wall hangings; and mirror-frames!

Akbara, is the technique of the design process, wherein a paste of powdered bricks, animal fat, jaggery and fenugreek seeds is embossed on the surface. The coloured portions are first painted and then outlined with fine black lines. Then the glamorous green and red colours are applied on the item and finally a coat of chandras, local varnish seals the fate of the beauty!

Kamladevi Chattopadhyay elaborates the process thus, “The portion to be ornamented is raised by repeatedly applying a special preparation of shell powder, mixed with glue and a kind of wood apple. Alternatively, sand from a ground earthen pot is mixed with glue and jaggery to create the required paste. The embossed surface is then painted upon. Usually a colour called paveri is applied first. Then a colour made from sindur and rogan is applied. Rogan is prepared by mixing chandras and linseed oil. Bat is applied to area where gold is to be patched.

Mohammad Haneef Usta distinguishes between different kinds of Naqqashi:

  • Golden lacquered Naqqashi, in which flowers and leaves are golden
  • Golden lacquered Naqqashi with mina, in which colour is applied to flowers and leaves
  • Golden lacquered Zangali, in which the work surface is emerald green and rest in different colours
  • Golden lacquered Tantla, in which surface is golden while flowers and leaves are in colour, and details are in white
  • Ranga Baijee in which the work surface remains white, flowers and leaves are painted in transparent colour and partly shaded

He further clarifies on motifs:

  • Turanj, in which identical patterns are transcribed at the base and the top
  • Chande, in which a small and intricate design is repeated all over the decorated area
  • Bharat, in which the entire surface is filled with motifs and patterns leaving little visible “

The most popular patterns are called Tarabandi; star-studded sky and, Naqqashi; floral and animal patterns!

Before the families practicing and nourishing this art are forced to abandon it for want of poor network and appreciation in international markets, the society or a start-up should think of ingenious ways to reach this rare art to markets and museums of the world! It is a gift of God!

Unable to curb my urge to possess one such piece I requested Javed, an artisan to make me a wall hanging with the profile of a famous Rajasthani princess in the centre portion…like she is sitting in a chhatri and waiting for her lover with longing in her mystic eyes!

Note: All photographs have been shot in the natural environment of an artist’s workshop !

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The #Oriental White-eye by Sandeep Silas

I photographed the #Oriental #White-eye in my garden today. It hardly settles down for a fraction of a second. Here, in some photographs the bird can be seen drinking droplets of water from jasmine leaves. Sharing the beauty !

“The Oriental white-eye (Zosterops palpebrosus), is a species of white-eye in the Zosteropidae family. It is a resident breeder in open woodland in tropical Asia, east from the Indian subcontinent to Southeast Asia, extending to Indonesia and Malaysia. They forage in small groups, feeding on nectar and small insects. They are easily identified by the distinctive white eye-ring and overall yellowish upper-parts. Several populations of this widespread species are named subspecies and some have distinctive variations in the extent and shades of yellows in their plumage.This bird is small (about 8–9 cm long) with yellowish olive upper parts, a white eye ring, yellow throat and vent. The belly is whitish grey but may have yellow in some subspecies”. (http://animals.wikia.com/wiki/Oriental_White-eye)

To be with Nature is to be in Nature!

May 18th 2017

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