How I celebrated New Year with Rural Odyssey
Very often we see people, who talk about their passion and love towards traveling and the stories of how they have traveled around the world. Well, no doubt, traveling is an addiction. A person once bitten by this outlandishly and eccentric travel bug is nowhere to get rid of it. This travel bug probably bit me the very day I set my foot on this planet Earth, but with time it became intense. And not long back, it’s ferocity reached its zenith and set its claws on me and my life became like it was never before. But it was still unbeknownst to me that how responsible tourism can bring about a change in many lives, the travelers and the hosts. My first trip with Rural Odyssey to Alchauna was an eye opener to me that made me aware as to how responsible tourism works, and it was all quite fascinating to me. During the trip, our facilitator Kush mentioned about their next trip to Munsiyari that they would be organizing around New Year. It was then when I made up my mind about how I wanted to mark the beginning of 2017.
We left from Delhi on 28th of December night. Almost 20 hours of continuous road journey later, we reached our destination on 29th evening. We were completely exhausted. Although we were all bushwhacked by now, our enthusiasm for meeting our new pahaadi hosts subdued our exhaustion. Not to forget, the beautiful, breathtaking landscapes during the road journey also worked as our power boosters. And then, we were there, the very place I planned on spending my New Year’s Eve at. I was all delighted and tickled. Well, I am not scared to admit that I have been having New Year blues, just like any other normal human being might have around this time of the year, and I desperately wanted to go past them. And this is how I had planned on getting rid of them. No doubt, I was a bit apprehensive about it as to will my New Year turn out to be as I have imagined it, or even better than that?
(Smirks) Hah! That’s right…or even better than that. Obviously, I had no second thoughts about it. I was absolutely sure that my New Year’s going to rock. After all, Rural Odyssey never ceases to surprise people by their own unique ways of celebration.
As soon as we reached Shankhdhura, Basanti Didi and her family welcomed us with a bonfire around the house and a delicious treat of chai-pakodas (tea-snacks). Shankhdhura is a small village nearly 2 kilometers from Munsiyari where we were going to stay, and Basanti Didi was going to be our host. We had four people in our group this time including our facilitator Chandni. It was I, Fulsmita and Dr. Yadav. We enjoyed the bonfire session with Raju bhayya (Basanti didi’s husband) while Basanti Didi and Guddi prepared the meal for us. The first day of the trip ended with interacting conversations and the traditional pahaadi dinner with our lovely hosts.
We were suggested by Chandni to wake up early the next morning so that we can get a picturesque view of the sun-kissed Panchchuli peaks that look like as if emerging from the courtyard of Basanti didi’s home stay. But damn the winters man! Early mornings, especially in winters, sounds a bit cruel. Don’t they? As we already missed the early morning view of Panchchuli, we planned on not missing anything else and hence hastened. We were all ready by 8:30 and then realized that Basanti Didi has been waiting for us for a while with our breakfast prepared and lunch boxes packed. My God, she is fast! Chandni had our whole day itinerary planned, and we were not returning home until evening. Our village tour guide for that day Pushpa Didi was here, and we were all set to go with our fanny packs.
We started with the village trek when Pushpa Didi started us telling about flora and fauna there. She showed us many plants and explained us their uses. With a continued photo trek journey, we went to the local village temple where we saw some people cooking as if for the feast in huge utensils. We were told they are here to celebrate Dev Puja. On asking, they agreed to let us watch the whole ceremony, in which they were to sacrifice a sheep to the Goddess as an offering. Afterward, we moved ahead to reach ‘Maati.’ As I mentioned earlier, Maati is a local village organization run by the village ladies under the guidance of Mallika Didi, for the betterment of the village economy. Now, I don’t want to sound too freakishly immature, but for the time I was in Munsiyari, I constantly had a strong feeling that this could be the plot of the sequel of the Bollywood super hit ‘Swades.’ Mallika Didi came to Munsiyari almost 25 years back with her husband Theo and had been living in the village since then. She along with Theo and their son Zanskar takes care of the community and also promote tourism for boosting the economy of the region. They are like the guardian angels of the people of Munsiyari. There are even more gems who have devoted their lives to the splendid grandeur of Munsiyari, but for now, let’s get back to Maati. While we were in Maati, we had an introductory session with the members of Maati followed by the village ladies singing a song called “Geet gaa rahe hain aaj hum, sathiyon ko dhundhte hue…” Their melodious voices touched our hearts, as we were lost into the enigma of the song. We even bought some woolens like hand knitted caps, socks, sweaters, etc. made from pure angora wool. Maati women are also skilled in making carpets and other such stuff. Not to forget, Munsiyari is a home to 18 different kinds of Rajma beans. As it started getting darker, we all decided to leave. We said our goodbyes to everyone until tomorrow. Basanti didi accompanied us back home.
Finally, we are here. It’s 31st of December, the New Year’s Eve. Being all artsy and poetic, I decided to mark the beginning of my year 2017 with a good note. I woke up early and witnessed a beautiful, enthralling view of the Panchachuli peaks. I sat in the courtyard as our pet friends Bhalu, Cuto and kitty played around. And then after having our breakfast, we all left for Heera didi’s home where we were to meet Zanskar, who was our guide that day.
After trekking for around an hour, we finally reached Mesar Kund. While others sat around clicking pictures and enjoying the view, Zanskar started with the preparations of tea. Well not to forget, I definitely ticked some first timers here in Munsiyari off my list. Looking for wooden twigs and making tea in the middle of a forest kind of party has always been on my to-do list. After the tea break here, we moved towards Mallika’s house, climbing trees on the way (another first timer) and clicking umpteen pictures. Now Mallika’s house is like one of those beautiful houses from the Hollywood movies with cute little puppies, goose, cows wandering out in the meadows and the birds chirping the songs of ecstasy. We spent some time there chatting about almost anything we felt like and also spotting the birds that are found in the region. Munsiyari is home to more than 300 kinds of bird species, although we spotted a few called Laughingthrush, forktail and few others that I can’t seem to recall. Further, we moved ahead to the adventurous rope course that Zanskar has set up himself for satisfying his adrenaline rush. It had three levels, the first we all accomplished somehow after a few attempts. It feels like a blithe to be doing things that you don’t actually do in your daily lives. The second level kept us involved for a long time, as it was self-challenging and you are always on the verge of reaching almost there. With fun-filled venturesome memories in our hearts, we headed back home, realizing that Basanti Didi has taken good care of our upcoming New Year’s party. Speakers were set up, snacks were being prepared, bonfire ready and invitations sent to the village folks. Looks like Basanti didi have got some quite good managerial skills. Our day ended with everyone dancing and singing to the beats of the Kumaoni and Bollywood songs, the lyrics of one of which were too catchy that I even whisper it sometimes when I am alone. ‘Neema chori re… kheti gaon ki…’
At midnight, we all wished every one for their New Year and went to sleep after an exhausting day. Our journey was almost coming to an end and we were all quite unhappy about it. And so we decided to make most out of every moment and hence woke up early the next morning. All these days, we had been hoping for it to snow. And today, the very first day of year 2017, we have been informed early morning to carry our raincoats with us, as there are chances of snow. We were more than happy to do so. Ram, another gem of Munsiyari, who also settled here long back and helps Mallika with her work, was our trek and bird guide today. We went to Danadhar, also commonly known as the Nanda Devi temple. It provides a perfect 360-degree view of the Gori valley. And Ram’s company made it even better. He is a true prodigy. He told us the basic scientific information about the trees found there and also helped us understand how to distinguish between the chir pine and the blue pine and much more. After Danadhar, we headed towards Mallika’s house where we were to have a community get together with the village folks. By far the most exhilarating moment of our trip, we played many games with the village folks. One of them was called Guana guana khabardar, kar tu mera khet paar that required everyone chasing the other team members all across the meadow. Frolicking about the grassland as some women were busy singing a song ‘Jo swarg hai kahin agar, utaar la zamin par…’ I was wondering,
This indeed is thy heaven,
Where men is so pure and sacred,
Nature seems to nurture you.
Where Gods sprinkle the dust of love,
That everyone is in awe and woo.
God decided to join in the party. It SNOWED. I don’t really think I’ll be able to justify the exact feelings if I try framing them in words because some things truly need to be experienced.
Note: The work was originally published on ghumantooin.