12 August 2014

A Dark Enchantment

Princess once said that there was magic in the mountains. I had agreed then. I still agree, but there is a 'but' now. Over the five year long relationship I have had with the mountains, I have gotten to know it better. Three of those five years, I have gone to the mountains in the months of monsoons. True, the mountains have their magic. But the magic dons a darker hue in these months. I prefer trekking with a certain individual for many reasons. So I wait for him to be free of other engagements and plan my treks accordingly. His work load drastically reduces in the months of monsoons and so we find ourselves in the lap of the mountains when the rains batter down hard on the earth.

And it is never easy. The very first time I had gone trekking I had to cross a landslide. The memory is still etched in my brain. It was then that I had lost my fear of heights. Standing awkwardly on near perpendicular ground; with loose mud and rocks to support my weight; unsteady and excited. It was the most adventurous thing I had done till then, maybe it still is. But that was not the last of it. Every year that I go to the mountains, there is some patch or other of freshly slid land that makes for an adventurous minute. Last year we crossed a really fresh one, not too steep but with boulders still falling down. One guy on the lookout shouted out when it was safe to cross. You could feel a rock tumble down behind you as you raced across thankful that you did not hesitate that extra second or your foot did not slip at the wrong moment. This year it was there again, right towards the end of our foot journey. Another fresh one but not sludgy. Very steep, with hardly any foothold. I had my troubles. The ground shifted and groaned under me more than once. Had I slipped, there was nothing to break my fall. Not for a hundred feet at least. The novelty of such dangers wears down after a bit. And you wonder. What would it be like to do this on a daily basis?

The pahadis have adapted to it. They race across barely putting their weight on a spot long enough. But it is a risk anyway. One that they take every single day for more than a month every year. And it is not just landslides. Wash outs, complete disruption of communication, broken bridges. Monsoons wreck all kinds of havoc up there. And the pahadis rough it out. There are other tales of horror from my last visit. We had stopped the jeep for a hour for a police officer who had gone across the valley to assess the damage done to a few households the previous night when the rains washed away the houses. I am not sure if there was a loss of life. Then, in the same jeep when we resumed journey, a young man sat next to me. Told me how he and his group had braved the river on his way here. The river had washed out all five bridges that connected his village to this side of the mountain. He told me how a rock had crushed the foot of a girl who was with them. She was supposed to go down to Mori to attend school. They had to go back and leave her at her home. All this said in a manner of casual banter. It was an everyday thing for them. Stories fit for entertaining a townsman. Then there were the talks with S didi later the same evening. The problems with the mountains are not limited to the monsoons. The state of education and health in the mountains are pathetic. Schools are barely staffed. The teachers do not show up. Communication as well; no mobile network even in the more inhabited villages. Imagine a life where you would have to travel 30 kilometers just to get mobile network, if you are fortunate, that is, else it would take close to 60. In the mountains, going to and fro that distance is an entire day's activity. It is always with marvel that I hear B speak of the problems that plague the mountains and its denizens. His passion to help his fellow pahadis borders on rudeness. But he has seen both sides of the coin and has every right to be opinionated.

Still, B dreams of settling down in the mountains on some future date. The life there is quiet and relaxed. He always smiles when he speaks of this future that he has dreamt. I can imagine why. Even I have harboured such dreams. Despite all the dangers that the mountains hold, I do keep going back to them and the duration keeps growing longer with each passing year. There is much I should be thankful of to the civilization in the plains. Concrete buildings to keep me safe against lashing winds and rains. I should be thankful I never had to brave a river and risk getting my foot crushed to attend school. I should be thankful that I can talk to my dearer ones whenever I can. I should be thankful that my commutation concerns involve rash drivers and not sliding faces of a mountain. I should be thankful that I have the luxury of having petty troubles. But I still yearn for the mountains when I am back in my sheltered life. Princess once said that there was magic in the mountains. I had agreed then. I still agree.

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