A month ago I’d not heard of Gushaini. Then it became the point around which our travel plans revolved. Eventually it became a little town in Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh through which we passed every day. As you can see in the featured photo, Gushaini sits where the Falachan river falls into the Tirthan. Behind the tallest building in the town you can see a path snaking up a mountain; this road eventually leads to the Great Himalayan National Park and the popular trek to the 5.2 Kilometers high Srikhand Mahadev peak. Beyond this is the Zangsu glacier, which, according to maps, seems to be the origin of the three main rivers in this area: the Falachan, Tirthan and Sainj.
The bridge across Tirthan that you see in the featured photo was one we crossed daily as we forked off along the Falachan river towards Bathad village. Every school in the region has a different uniform. We got to recognize the pink and white of the Gushaini school after many encounters with children running up and down mountain tracks while we sat gasping after a short climb. The Family said she wished she’d grown up here.
I wondered. Children who come to school from outside the main town run and skip through the hills, but the children who live in the town, in “modern” houses made of concrete and bricks, seems to have little space to play in. My overwhelming impression of Gushaini was of narrowness and constriction. Terraces of most houses were incomplete constructions, left over for expansion in future, not places where children could run around. I noticed two young girls playing with a ball in a little corridor formed accidentally between two buildings. Life in towns here is perhaps more constricted than in Mumbai or Delhi. Probably bringing up a child in a middle-sized city like Chandigarh is best.
One day, after a morning’s drive Soni stopped on the road to buy some food. I looked into the shop with its samosas, pakodas and jalebis and took this photo. I was keen to get to the wonderful lunch at our hotel, but The Family was torn. The issue was decided by Soni having to drive off because the car was blocking the narrow road. The heavy-duty backpack that you see hanging over the door at the back is common here. I wonder whether that’s just old trekking equipment being recycled into things of daily use.
It is easy to block this road. The only bus which plies the route along the Falachan river seems to do this very effectively every time it comes along. I was there once when it came to a stop on the road. It immediately gathered a crowd around it. One person tried to get on immediately, and was roundly told off by the conductor. The rule is the usual: people get off before others can get on. For all the chaos, the crowd is not unruly. The route is Bathad to Kullu and back. I don’t know how often the bus plies (and I couldn’t find information on the web) but it is at least thrice a day, and very likely more frequently.
While most of the people on the street gathered at the bus, I turned to take a photo of the rest of the village. Unplanned houses leaned over the road: different styles and colours jangling together. Traditionally houses seemed to be of stone and wood, with mud plaster. It is slowly giving way to brick and concrete. I guess this lasts longer, and could be no more expensive in the long run, but it may have a larger initial cost. The one constant change in going from village to town in these parts is that the ground floor is given over to shops rather than cattle. It is certainly true of Gushaini. A man staggered down the road smoking a cigarette, the town drunk, I guessed.
The only shop selling meat in the town was this dilapidated hut. I was amused that the huge shop selling liquor was in a concrete structure, and well lit. What does this say about the region, apart from the possibility there may be more profit in selling liquor than a major item of food? I saw this hut as picturesque, but I’m sure that most locals would disagree strongly. The planks which you can see stacked on one side are the doors. They are put in place across the entrance every evening, and taken away again every morning. They do not secure the place. They only signal whether or not the business is open.
The family wanted some fruits. We stopped at one of the vegetable and fruits shops and bought some. Local fruits are exotic to our eyes: plums, apricots, cherries in addition to the usual apple. Mangoes are in season, but they are brought up from the plains. We wanted cherries, but it was too early here for them. The shopkeeper was chatting with a friend, and got up to wrap our apples and mangoes in an old newspaper. There were plastic bags hanging in the shop which you have to pay for. I found later that Himachal was the first state in the country to ban some plastics by a law adopted in 2003. These laws are not universally obeyed, but they are not ineffective.
We took leave of Gushaini as haphazardly as we’d come across it. The Young Niece pointed at the signboard atop a closed restaurant and smiled. I looked at it. It promised you everything: sweets and Chinese food, breakfast, lunch, dinner, tea, coffee were merely the beginning of a breathlessly long list which ended with “et cetera”. The local speciality, siddu, put in an appearance. We’d had it once; a steamed rice bun with a nice spicy vegetable filling. I took a photo of the signboard. It turned out to be the last photo I took of Gushaini.