Instead of going through the tunnel to Aut, we crossed the Beas at the Larji barrage, and turned into the valley of the river Tirthan. The traffic eased off instantly. We passed a point where the road was under repair, and decided to stop for tea. There was little roadside shop. As is usual in these parts, behind the shop front was a terrace where you could sit, and below that, tucked into the slope, was the owner’s house, looking towards the river. From the terrace I saw some butterflies hovering around fruits on a parapet at a lower level. When I climbed down the butterflies were gone, but the peaches remained. Two beetles and many ants were busy eating the peach. This looked like a holiday where I would meet many unknown insects; I was happy.
I could see more interesting things at this level. The peaches were placed near a little shrine made out of a shiny cloth draped over a curtain rod and weighed down by stone idols. I could not recognize the idol. I found later that stone craft in this region is still is alive, and people carve local deities for use in homes. This could have been such a piece. The silvery idol of Durga on her lion seemed to be a mass-market piece made in a distant workshop. The niche and the shrine had an aesthetic which I’d not seen in a temple in the plains. This looked closer to Himalayan Buddhist sensibilities. Perhaps they have a common origin.
I turned around and saw an idol of Ganesha tacked up on a tree. Ganesha comes in a variety of forms; in the last couple of decades I’ve seen a lot of experimentation with the form of this idol. This one seemed to be quite mainstream, except for the belly. What was more unexpected was the XXL sign stuck on the same tree above the idol. I looked around to see whether there was any explanation for this. If there was, it did not leap out at me.
I climbed a set of stairs back up to the road, and I noticed another object which was completely unfamiliar to me. A tree by the road, next to the shop, had been turned into some kind of a shrine. The red cloth and the garlands are typically seen at religious spots. But what were the other things doing there: hub caps, locks, a hammer and a jack do not usually go together with religious flags. There was something deeply different here. I found later that every village has a traditional diety, and its own special festival. Spiritual beliefs in these isolated villages are different from the mainstream. I never got to ask questions here and find any answers. I suppose The Family would tell me “Another reason to go back.”