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Sunday, 30 January 2011

Snowsome Tales 3: Life on Himalayas

Part 1: Har ki Dun
FYI - Route to HKD goes as follows: Delhi - Dehradun - Mussorie - Naugaon - Purola - Mori - Sankhri - Taluka (trekking begins) - Gangaur - Osla/Seema - HKD

The Village of Osla


“Sir, here we don’t roam around with girls for fun; we do so only if we truly love and want to marry her. You tell a girl that you've got money she wouldn't come, but if you tell her that you love her – she will definitely come!”

Rajendar Singh was our porter. Actually a farmer by profession and a student by age; porter - for that extra income. His view of world stretched up to Delhi, uncommon for most of his folks who had been farthest to only Dehradun, the capital of Uttrakhand, 250 odd km from their village. Delhi by comparison was around 500km.

Rajendar, 17 years old, studied in class 9th. Even though his proficiency in studies would fall short of a regular 9th class Delhi student, a couple of days spent with him were enough for one to appreciate his wit, and the good work that has been done by the government in opening up school in such far flung villages. In fact his village, Osla, is the last inhabited village on that stretch of Himalayas.

As an example; he starts dictating me his address as follows - "Name: Surendar Singh, Village: Osla..." but stops short on seeing my amused expressions (borne out of seeing him use English words so jauntily). He thinks that I didn't quite catch the meaning of the word village, fumbles a little trying to explain "Village, sir Village", and then nails it, "Countryside, Sir", leaving us stunned!

"There's a school upto class 8th here in Osla", he mentioned while sitting with us by the fireside in our HKD rest house, "Sankhri has a school upto class 10th and for further education there is a high school upto class 12th in Mori".

"Do all of the kids in your village go to the school?", I asked expecting the answer which I had often heard in Rajasthan...

"Yes they do, in fact most of them start going to the school in Sankhri after class 8th"

"But Sankhri is a day's trek from Osla!", I asked a little befuddled.

"Yes, but for you Sir!", Rajendar mentioned smilingly.

Ah, I thought. His comment made me suddenly snap out of education-in-India to mountain-people-walk-superfast-on-mountains. I had seen children, as small as 5-6 years carrying large bundle of firewood tied on their hunched back with jute strings. Moreover, the grip of their shoes was usually smudged - however, all the same they kept pace with their mothers on the steep downs or gasping ups. These humble creatures make any trekker melt with shame.



On 29th December 2010, an hour after noon we reached Seema: the resting place for travelers located on the other side of the village Osla. Afterwards we shared a light lunch of Khicdi - our ingenious potpourri of crumpled bread, sandwich spread and namkeen.

Inspired from our conversation with Rajendar over last day coupled with my curiosity to get a glimpse of mountain life I, along with Gj, decided to head out to Osla. A few others also joined but gave up after 100 mt or so - abhorred by the idea of walking on a steep climb again.

While going up we crossed several women and children, each heaving a heavy bundle of firewood. Most of the women were neatly dressed, their hairs tucked away inside a tight cloth that covered their head, their face clear and washed, cheeks rosy, eyes with a hint of mascara, ears sometimes adorned with tingling golden earrings, and lips often sporting lipstick. On the other hand children were not so neat: their hair ruffled, clothes often shabby, cheek skin parched and red and face smudged with dirt often as a result of running nose. However, there was one common thing between them - their disarmingly enchanting smile. And with smile many a times children innocently asked, "Sir, Cap?" We did not give them cap, warned by our guide as a precaution to avoid spoiling children. However, I regret for not emptying our medical kit with their village elder or head. That way we could have helped without spoiling anyone. I will make sure I do that the next time I go trekking.

As the sound of Supin became distant, the village came nearer. The first sign to greet us was a small hut made of 4 plastered brick walls and a flat roof structure. The interesting thing were the NREGA directives painted on the hut. As I read through them it suddenly hit me what managing a country like India would entail - one of the thousand complications being the sheer difference in size: at one end are the bulging metropolis like Mumbai and Delhi - each home to over 15,000,000 people to areas as remote as Osla - home to not more than 500 people.

Still pondering over such thoughts, we took a few more steps while continuing to breathe heavy, and there - we reached the boundary of the village: Built at one of the most beautiful places in the world to live, Osla village has around 100 houses and 500 inhabitants.

From where we stood we could see the entire village. The houses were built of wood, their sloping terraces covered with heavy rectangular stones and decorated with pumpkins. Standing at any house you could feel the slight though continuous vibrations caused by Supin flowing far below, and turn about anywhere to find staring into mountain slopes.

Gj and I looked at each other, briefly uncertain and a little scared. We were not sure how we would be welcomed in the village. I scuffled looking backwards hoping that Surendar would turn up as he had promised. But apparently the people who had stopped short of the climb and had settled themselves on the rocks besides the Supin had lured him for a photoshoot session. We were on our own...shrugging our doubts we decided to prod on.

Bang at the point where village starts there is a very weirdly beautiful temple, almost surreal in its architecture with some nonsensical figure carved of wood standing in the middle of its roof against nothingness in immediate background...Ha, things made some sense when we later got to know that it was dedicated to Duryodhan!

As we moved further we saw several people outdoors. Most of them were either breaking stones, collecting water or weaving clothes. What more, all of them were females. In fact nearly 80% of the people I met in the village were females (what luck!!!).

Soon the word got around “Sehar ke log aae hain” ["City people are here!"] and we had a huge trail of children following us causing a mixed feeling of immense joy and mild despair on our part. However, they were soon dispersed by their mothers before they could mob us (they wouldn't have - as they tend to me very shy). When the trail got together again - we clicked and showed them several pictures. They were so bloody excited!!!

We were at the center of the village when a weird looking guy came to us. He had no boots, his clothes were torn and over and above that he had an unusually large rectangular face. He came to us and said something which neither of us understood. Gj thought that he is asking for a picture which he then clicked and showed him. However, it failed to change the curious smile on his face. He said something to us and took a little forward to the path where he stopped and asked us to follow him. We did, and through some twists and turn he took us to the highest house on the hill on deserted us. Oh, it was just beautiful from up there. He just knew that we should be up there to get super-mesmerized in the beauty of his village...

On our way down we also found a solar power operated satellite phone (Only Rs 5/- per min STD!!!) After calling our mothers and clicking a few more pictures we headed back to our campsite, negotiating several herds of sheep and goats returning back home as the sun disappeared and the cold fastened its clutches…



Osla was nothing short than a fancyland: The view from each square inch of the place was as breathtaking, natural and genuine as the smiles of people of that place. The warmth they showed even without speaking much gladdened our heart, and even though we were intruders in their daily lives we were more than welcome. I wish to stay much longer the next time I visit any such tiny secluded village to deepen my first brush with their lives.



"Wooooooooooooooooooooooo ha - ha - ha - ha" "Wooooooooooooooooooooooo ha - ha - ha - ha" a long shrill hoot ending in what looks like laughter "That's how girls whistle here, Sir. Amidst the continuous crashing sound of river, this is the only way", quipped Rajendar.

I remembered hearing this when Gj and I reached Gangaur a few minutes ahead of our pack. We were alone in the open and the sound kept coming. We looked around to understand that the source of the sound was a pack of mountain girls on the other side of the mountains. And we blushed.

The Temple of Duryodhana

Story Continued:


  1. Lovely! Totally agree, the mountain folks are so simple, honest and hardworking. And this is true not only in the Himalayas, but everywhere...

    I guess being so close to nature makes one a better human being, when all the time you come face to face with the reality that you are just another featureless point against the might of those majestic peaks...

  2. Yes. I wonder how it would be trekking in Alps! I would definitely miss 'Chai'!

    And totally agree on the 'being close to nature' thing :) And not only does it indicates your tininess, but also gives a glimpse of how several such featureless tiny specks fit in harmony to make the places as lovely as they are!