As our favourite festival of colours – Holi comes to an end bringing the winters to a close, it marks the beginning of Spring. With the shifting of the direct rays of sun across the equator from southern to the northern hemisphere, there is a trend that finds a large population around India similarly shifting north or closer to the high Himalayas, populating small towns with big cars. This is where the trouble begins for me.
I left the big city to live on my “own terms”, as well as for some peace and quiet, for less traffic and better weather, for cheaper rents and closer friends, I left a job and a home for a life which my family and particularly my mother doesn’t approve.
But what do I do when for a month or two my new found small hometown begins to behave like a big bad town? The cars are too many, the clean crisp air turns into fumes. If you still find a table with a view, the view of the menu seems different – with hiked beer prices. I am not venting against tourists or discouraging any visitors – I have no rights to do so.
But I hope that in the future my visiting friends would arrive with more kindness and gratitude with bigger hearts and more understanding rather than bigger cars and fatter wallets. Till that happens I have to do with make shift escape arrangements. For now this is a relief, thanks to a few friends either from the villages around or for friends who left the cities hiding themselves away in some lost corner of the hills where I seek shelter.
I seek them out every now and then when I wish to make a second escape from “my” hill town. I head for tiny villages with almost no names towards a small mud house, with slate tiled leaking roofs and thick walls that keep me insulated from the heat, probably built over a hundred years ago and still standing strong in the middle of a step paddy field, surrounded by glowing golden brown crops and lush green trees. On a lazy summer afternoon I watch the pretty, green colourful Barbet hopping in and out of tree hole while he sings a sweet summer song in tune with the river gushing by, calling me to take a dip into its refreshingly crystal-clear chilly waters while the snow capped Dhauladhars watch from above. I read and talk, I join in and at times cook on wood-fire and coal, plucking herbs and vegetables from the garden to savour the flavours of simple fresh food. I walk and swim, I sleep on a lazy cool afternoons. We smoke we drink, we talk and we ramble, we sing and we play. And we forget, we are somewhere else from where we are “supposed” to be. My mother wouldn’t agree to this life, but then would you? Especially when she hears about the housekeeping tips in the mud house – “House-keeping tip #1: the perfection of a cob web hits you most when you pause before cleaning it.”
And should I let out the names and directions to these places with a fear of ruining the charm and the quietness of it all? I am obliged to believe everyone deserves a second chance. With hope I am willing to experiment.
Especially for my two friends KP and Seena with their two dogs Kurumbi and Lila who have opened their hearts and homes and turned it into a home-stay for wanderers like me, a home with no frills but the basics. So come to the Dhauladhars with your small cars and big hearts. And experience the hills away from the vacation towns. But be patient as you will still have to search them out, no simple addresses or phone numbers here. Find them around the hill town of Dharamsala. They named their home-stay as “The Ballu” after the nickname of a grand old matriarch who pretty much owned the village, wearing big nose rings (Bali/Ballu), while she was around. Her spirit still lingers here. And she is on Facebook!