Luggage lift

When you are walking on a mountain path you do not expect cylinders of cooking gas or other kitchen essentials to go sailing over your head (featured photo). But that is exactly what happens in Falachan valley. The whole valley is criss-crossed by overhead wires. I initially thought that there were a huge number of power lines here, but realized soon that most of the cables are luggage lifts.

Sitting a few hundred meters above the river at the turning point of a climb I saw pine cones around me. Once I noticed the cables they were resting on I hesitated to pick them up; the cables could be live, and this could be a fire hazard, I thought. Later it struck me that the most likely source of these cables were the luggage lifts. Usually cable faults of this kind are attended to reasonably quickly (which could be a day up at these heights).

Walking along the road we came across a family back from the market busy sending their stuff up to their home. I liked that loading station: at my head height, off the road. The cylinder of gas was already loaded into the cage which had come down from the village. Something must have been sent up already, and this cage was the counterweight. It was loaded with jerry cans of water. As we watched the young man poured the water down into the trees. The Family gasped. “Do they waste so much water?” she asked. Indeed, in many towns in hills water is scarce. But we saw lots of springs and glacier fed streams up here. Little villages are probably not short of water. Yet. The empty jerry cans go back up in the cage, along with heavy goods filling the rest of the cage.

We watched the two men load up the cage. They made sure that things were properly placed and would not fall off. Then this young lady sent a message on her phone. Soon the cage was winched up. We could see the counterweight descending. “Is there a road all the way to your village?” The Family asked the girl. “Yes, it is about half an hour’s walk away,” she replied. Then she added, “Maybe two hours for you.”

We weren’t the only spectators. An old man with a load on his back stood with us watching this family. These lifts are an innovation. Although this valley was dense with them, I didn’t see them much elsewhere. I guess the locals have figured out a way to string the lines between mountains, and that technique will take time to diffuse into the neighbouring valleys. It took me some time to puzzle through these thoughts. By the time I realized that there was something special about the Falachan valley, it was too late to ask someone how they string cables between hills.

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Peace, quiet, and hard labour

The Falachan river descends from the Zangsu glacier, falling rapidly from about 5 Kilometers above sea level to about 1.5 Kilometers, where it merges into the Tirthan river. We spent a quiet afternoon walking in the Falachan valley at an altitude of about 2 Kilometers. The Family is always magicked by heights. This was the first time The Young Niece had been in the Himalayas, and she was listening to The Lotus talk about the mountains. At one especially beautiful point in the road I took three photos: the featured photo and the two below.

A traditional wooden house with slate roof stood on the road, and below us the Falachan moved rapidly. We crossed a high bridge to a hill on the other side of the river. The untarred path from here moved down in a steep slope to nearly the level of the river. It was late afternoon. We’d eaten a large lunch, and one of Ram’s lovely desserts: chocolate balls dusted with coconut powder. The Young Niece protested about the coconut but ate twice as many as any of us. Now we were walking off the lethargy that usually follows such a lunch.

The glacier-melt of the Falachan was absolutely clear. In the golden sun I could see the bottom clearly. Since we were on a holiday I could take my time to gaze at the hypnotic sight of eddies over the stones at the bottom of the river. There is trout here, but I could not see them. The others walked on, leaving me to catch up. I was trying out long exposures on my camera, but I’d forgotten to bring a tripod on the trip. I would be able to capture a sense of the eddies, but not the silkiness of the water.

I followed the others, crossing a rickety little bridge over a rushing waterfall. It swayed as you walked, and some of the planks were better avoided. In one place a plank was missing and you had to skip over the gap. The stream was not far below. A fall could be nasty, but not fatal. We’d seen bridges like this before, but it was a novelty for The Young Niece. She was very excited and waiting for me on the other side. I stopped on the bridge to take a photo of the rushing water. Two outcrops channeled the water into a narrow stream, creating a very shallow rapid. A tripod would have come in handy here. With a really long exposure I could have got a sense of the silky smoothness of the film of water rushing over stone.

The photo that you see above is the longest exposure I could get standing on that swaying bridge. All this water eventually derives from glaciers. Nowadays I cannot help thinking of what climate change would do. The glaciers are melting faster than before, the shallow waters are still not too warm for trout. Not too far in the future, the last of the ice will melt, and the land will become dry. The evergreen forests will already have changed in composition, but as the hills die, the vegetation would no longer hold the soil, and it will start eroding faster. Life in the hills will certainly change. But the afternoon was too pretty to waste on morbid thoughts of a world only The Young Niece would see.

We decided to follow the path up. Was there a destination? We weren’t sure. There were some villages along the path, but we had no idea how far off. This whole area was full of flowing streams and mountain springs, so a high village would not have a major problem with water. Of course, villages tend to grow, and eventually to use up all the water available to them. We had decided to avoid coming through Shimla because it was completely without water. From the road we’d seen a forest of chir pines (Pinus roxburghii). They are the most abundant trees at these lower slopes of the Himalayas, and very little can grow below their canopy. However, chir pine needs sunlight. On this north-facing slope banj oaks (Quercus leucotrichophora, Himalayan white oak) arched over the path.

The Lotus is worse than me at slopes. He decided to rest under the oaks. The Family wanted to walk up a little further. I followed, and The Young Niece, who was still energized by the dessert, came along. There was a steep bit right at the beginning, but then the path levelled off after a turn around the hill. This southern slope was full of chir pines. In the massive trunk of one I saw that rusty iron trishuls had been planted, and they were festooned with the gauzy red scarves reserved for holy sites. Trishuls hold an ambiguous place; they are weapons, but they are also religious objects. I pointed out the rough bark of the chir pine to The Young Niece. The ground was strewn with the pine cones and needles. When the layer of needles is thick enough it deters other trees from growing through.

There was no sign of a village. I hadn’t really expected one closer than five Kilometers away. We could look down into a narrow gorge cut by the stream which later becomes the waterfall crossed by the rickety old bridge. There was a single house by the stream, at the bottom of a cascade of rhododendron trees. Unfortunately the flowering season was over. Looking up-slope we could see another single house at the top of a scarp. This single family had terraced the slope in front of their house and converted it to agricultural use. I thought of all that this must have involved. I don’t think that I will be able to do that kind of physical labour. We turned back from this point.

Gushaini

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.

The little Dipper

I was the last of our group to spot this bird. Dev and The Family were the first, The Young Niece and the Lotus also spotted it soon after. The excited Young Niece pointed it out to me, and gave fairly precise directions for where to look. I was looking right at it without spotting it. Only when it moved did I realize that this was a bird and not a piece of stone. It was a most peculiar bird, as Simon and Garfunkel could have put it.

It was wonderfully camouflaged against the bubbling water created by the small waterfall which splashed on to the rock where the bird was standing. It looked into the water as if deeply pondering an enigma, and then dipped its head underwater and held it there for a long time. It looked like it was foraging under water. I didn’t see it actually dive; the water was too shallow. I’d never seen a bird like this before. So I phoned a friend, and Nosh provided the definitive lead, “That looks like a dipper.” I’d never heard of them before, and when I looked up a book I found why. There are only two species of dippers in India, both of them up in the mountains. This one seemed to be a juvenile of the brown dipper (Cinclus pallasi, subspecies tenuirostris). The bird was definitely hunting; it mainly eats fish and larvae of caddisflies. They are not endangered but rarely seen in India, because their large range overlaps out borders in a very narrow geographical region.

It was only when I started reading that my vague feeling about how strange this bird was began to take on a definite shape. More than a century ago, in 1905, the high noon of zoology, Leonhard Stejneger, a famous naturalist, wrote a very readable account of these species for the Smithsonian Institute. He says “As a [songbird] with the downy covering and diving facility of a water bird, the dipper certainly is an anomaly,” and then goes on to give his reasoning why these birds (there are only five species of them) should be placed with the thrushes rather than wrens. Interestingly, modern molecular phylogeny techniques agree. The two papers are separated by more than a hundred years, but, using totally different techniques, come to the same conclusion: that dippers are most closely related to thrushes, and that they probably arose first in Asia.

Modern genetic techniques add the information that the dippers probably differentiated about 4 million years ago. Interestingly, the climate of that era is close to the greenhouse that our planet is likely to become in a few decades! The subsequent global changes in climate allowed the bird to first migrate to the Americas, and then split into separate species. In fact, present day evidence indicates that in the past ice ages, these birds were restricted to small areas of the tropics where they differentiated into the multiple sub-species that we see today. What an amazing lifer! I come across so many species new to me just because I’m a complete beginner.

A bend in the road

As we walked along the road above the Falachan river valley, we came to a bend. There was a little temple here, a couple of houses, next to the road, and a few more above and below. The temple doubled as a bus stop. There was a little general store next to the temple. This was the center of life in this village. It was the best place to take a few photos, I thought. A couple of men were waiting for the bus, and obliged to be my subjects. You can see them above, layered up against the chill that would descend as soon as the sun disappeared behind the mountains, and with that wonderful Himachali cap. Unfortunately, neither of them had tucked a flower into the cap, a style that I saw several times in passing.

A few women sat in front of the store chatting. They agreed to let me take a photo. I saw both men and women running businesses in Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh. The two women on the right seemed to run this shop. They are also layered up against the cold. But while the men wear closed shoes, the women wear open sandals. I liked the clutter in the shop, food and clothes shared display space.

I walked back later and found these children strung around the slope chatting. I think they must have been discussing whether I would stop and take a photo (I must have become a famous photographer in the village that afternoon). As soon as I asked one of them whether I could take a photo, she broke into a big grin, called the others and said something like “Yes, he will.” The local dialect is not far from standard Hindi, and they switch back and forth easily, although they use only the dialect with each other. The whole bunch of them came together for this shot.

Some Himachali butterflies

Himachal Pradesh rises from the plains into the high Himalayas. On this trip the highest point we reached was Jalori pass, which is a little over 3.1 Kilometers above sea level. At this height I expected to see the butterfly called the Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui). This is the commonest of temperate butterflies, apparently found on all continents where flowers grow. We could have seen it, but I have no record of it. I keep confusing it with the other tortoiseshell butterflies. They are slippery chaps, seldom settling down long enough in one place for one to take a photo. The mountain tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae, in the featured photo) eventually settled on a flower by the path to Serolsar lake. The Young Niece was pretty excited by the sight of this plant with a butterfly “flower”. True to its descriptions, it flitted from flower to damp ground and back again. This was my first sighting of this species.

It is very slightly different from the Indian tortoiseshell (Aglais cashmiriensis, which you can see in the photo above), and in the field it is very hard to tell them apart. As you can see from the photos, the forewings are almost exactly the same, and only little details in the hindwings distinguish the two. In fact, the otherwise excellent booklet published by the Zoological survey of India on The Butterflies of Himachal Pradesh misses out on A. urticae.

By far the commonest butterfly on this walk was one I’d never seen before: the common satyr (Aulocera swaha). As we walked through the stony path to Serolsar lake, inside the forest of oaks, we saw these butterflies sitting on stones (photo above), or settling on dry leaves on the path. The Young Niece asked me what it was called, and I told her that I did not know, but would have to look it up later. I think these three are all that I noticed near the pass.

Most of our time was spent in the narrow grassy valley around the rocky course of the Falachan river at an altitude of about 2 Kilometers above sea level. This place was full of some of the common butterflies which you also see in the plains. The Indian cabbage white, various grass yellows, and, possibly, some pioneers were common. I must have missed an enormous variety of butterflies here. One I did manage to take a photo of was the plain tiger (Danaus chrysippus, photo above).

The rocky edges of the Falachan river was also good terrain for spotting butterflies. I don’t think I’d seen the common wall (Lasiommata schakra, photo above) ever before. They are found in a range between 1 and 3 Kilometers above sea level, and probably easy to photograph because they settle for longish periods in sunny spots. I think that white streak around the eye-spot in the forewing indicates that the individual in the photo is a female; the male lacks this feature.

The generally mottled brown and yellow-orange colour of this butterfly in flight first fooled me into thinking that it was a painted lady. But when it settled on a stone, and I took the photo which you see above, it became clear that it was not. It took me some time to figure out that this was the common Punch (Dodona durga). The ZSI pamphlet on the butterflies of Himachal Pradesh says that this has been reported in May from Chamba and Shimla districts, so I’m happy to put on record this sighting in Kullu district.

Lower down, at an altitude of about 1.6 Kilometers above sea level, we started a walk to the gates of the Great Himalayan National Park, near the village of Ropa. Near the beginning of the walk, we came across the flowering tree which you can see in the photo above. There was a cloud of butterflies around it. I mistook them first for the red Helen, which belongs to peninsular India. The correct identification for the butterfly you see in the photo above is the great windmill (Atrophaneura dasarada). Later we saw that they had been joined at this tree by a large number of orange tips.

We had raced through the lower slopes, with a single stop somewhere in the district of Solan where I immediately saw the butterfly whose photo you see above. This is the common Leopard (Phalanta phalantha). I’m sure if one spent even an hour at this lower elevation, below a kilometers, one would be able to spot an enormous variety of butterflies.

Angler’s test

I’m not a trekker. When I’m in the hills I want to go on easy walks. However, the Himalayas and Sivaliks are full of hardened trekkers, who, when they hear me say “easy walk”, suggest trips which make my heart sink into my boots. I found that a foolproof way to do easy walks with company is start angling. The Falachan and Tirthan river valleys are full of anglers, so getting into this sport was not difficult.

My instructor, Dev, taught me the basics in half an hour. With a little box full of artificial lures, he taught me how to thread them into the line and attach them to the hook. The art of casting was not too hard. It was a little harder to free the hook from underwater object where it had snagged. After that it was a matter of understanding the “psychology of the fish”, as Dev told me. Fooling a fish involved lesser skills like holding the rod steady and reeling in the line at a constant rate.

The exotic brown trout (Salmo trutta) was introduced into Himalayan water in the mid-19th century and have taken hold here since then. They thrive in glacier-fed rivers like the Falachan, whose waters are seldom hotter than 20 Celcius. These rivers are also fast-flowing and turbulent, strewn with boulders and rocks (see the featured photo) and with patches of sand and silt where the water eddies into relatively calmer pools. Dev claimed that the trout lurk under these stones at the edges of these clear pools, and dart in to catch insects which land in the water near them.

I practiced the throw and the reeling in until I was good enough for Dev to pronounce that I was doing fine. This was not enough to catch fish, as it turned out. I caught no fish that day, but Dev caught three (which were duly photographed before being released into the stream again) and hooked another which escaped before it could be reeled in. I recalled having read that the brown trout has displaced the snow trout which previously inhabited these waters, but apparently it is not clear that this story of ecological destruction is true. The brown trout mainly eat mayflies, caddisflies and mosquitoes, whereas the snow trout live on algae. There is no competition between them. It is amazing how little we know about our environment, how shallow the reach of our country’s science is. I wish there was some way to recruit anglers into a network of citizen scientists to monitor the health of these rivers, and the diversity of their fauna.

As for me, I had my first taste of fishy science while examining the photos of the fish that Dev caught. I admired the lovely spotted dorsal fin on its back, the adipose fin just behind it, the paired pectoral fins roughly where the forelegs of a mammal would be, the paired ventral fins on the belly, the anal fin behind the pair, and the caudal fin or tail. The ray-finned brown trout seems to be as good as a textbook diagram of fish physiology!

At the end of the day I had finished my walk, leaping from one boulder to another along the course of the river. I also realized that I don’t have the patience of an angler. I’ll keep with angling as a disguise for easy walks along mountain streams, but that’s all my skills are good for.

The last lap

The road from Chandigarh to Kullu passes through the Aut tunnel. We didn’t need to do that. At Aut, we turned left instead, and passed over the barrage on the Beas, just downstream of the junction with the river Sainj, with the famous Larji barrage. We’s climbed steadily since we passed Mandi, and we were already at an altitude of 1 Kilometer above sea level. At these places the roads are not always open. You can come to a halt while an earth-mover pushes a fallen boulder away from the road. I took the featured photo at just such a stop.

A few tens of kilometers before we had passed a section of the road which was being widened and relaid. The look of an industrial wasteland created by a combination of earth-movers, road rollers and sundry other equipment can be impressive, but does not stop the traffic. I’d taken a photo as we whizzed past. To travel to a time table is to miss opportunities to take photos. This was one such place. I could have easily spent fifteen minutes at this point taking photos.

I got an opportunity as we moved into the Tirthan valley. The Tirthan river falls into the Sainj just beyond the Larji barrage. As soon as we entered this stretch of the road, we passed an earth-mover at rest. I got the photo which you see above as we passed by. At the forced stop a few kilometers on, where I got the featured photo, one of these machines was at work clearing the road. I suppose that these things are parked at various points along the road, so that they can quickly reach where they are needed.

The photo which you see above illustrates one of the confusing points about the topography of these rivers. This is the junction of the Sainj and Beas. I would normally have expected that the straight channel is the Beas, and its tributary, the Sainj, comes more or less at a right angle to fall into it. Here, it seems that the Beas takes almost a right angle turn. I suppose this is due to a convention by which the bigger of the two streams which join at a confluence gives its name to the river downstream of the join.

Once we had passed an altitude of a Kilometer, the lifestyle of people clearly changed. I began to see structures similar to those in the photo above. The shed on the roof of the house stores hay and cut grass for cattle in winter. I’d earlier seen these sorts of structures in the eastern Himalayas. I took it to mean that there can be some snowfall in this region, so that storing cattle feed becomes important in winter.

You can see another specialty of houses in this region in the photo above: the roofs tiled with thin sheets of slate. I looked around and began seeing slate in the rocks surrounding us. The other main rocks here seemed to be quartzite and gneiss. I guess that the presence of so much metamorphic rock should have told me something about the geology of the Sivaliks range of mountains that we were in. But I’m a dud at that; I just enjoy the view.

As we climbed up the Tirthan river valley, the vegetation changed. We stopped to admire a Jacaranda tree in bloom. The Family and I were reminded of our trips through Bhutan a decade ago. The Young Niece had not seen Jacaranda before, and was quite thrilled with the bright purple flowers. The Lotus said that he hadn’t expected the area to be as beautiful as it looked. I could agree with that. Once off the Kullu highway, there were few other people on the road. We seemed to have left the haphazard growth of villages behind. There was a sense of peace that descended on us, in spite of the fact that all our phones were running out of charge. But there were few junctions on the road, and the GPS was not really needed.

The road rose and fell. At one point, when the road had come down almost to the level of the river, I saw this beautiful house near the road. In the golden light of the setting sun, it looked perfectly peaceful. We could have stopped and looked for a place to stay the night. But Dilsher from our hotel sent us a message saying that they were waiting for us. So we went on.

We stopped briefly for tea. It was our first halt since lunch, more than four hours before. The temperature had changed completely. We were now at an altitude of 1.5 Kilometers above sea level. The heat of the plains had vanished from my memory. I put on a sweater as I got off the car. We sat on a terrace at the level of the road and had our nice warm tea with some biscuits. As you can see from the photo above, this was just the upper floor of a house. You could climb down from stairs from the road, and the main part of the house was downslope, with a nice vegetable garden opening out in front of it, above the river. Dilsher called, and I said that the GPS showed we were less than half an hour from the hotel.

We climbed higher. Eventually I found that the road would climb to an altitude of almost 2 Kilometers, and our hotel would be in a valley whose bottom was 1.8 Kilometers above sea level. The terrain had changed again. We went past Gushaini, a village which straddled the confluence of the Falachan and Tirthan rivers, crossed the Tirthan river, and branched off along the Falachan valley. The surroundings looked quite different again. We were still in the Shivaliks, of course, but in its upper reaches. The vegetation was a mixture of middle altitude trees.

As we climbed, the vegetation changed. I took a photo of the hillside covered with a single variety of trees, with electrical lines threading through them. The only trees which I have seen before outgrowing its competition at similar altitude are Chir pine. So I thought that’s what I was looking at. But now, looking at the photo above, it is clear that these are not chir pine. Pines, firs, spruce and oak are among the main trees which grow at this altitude. I’m almost as bad at identifying trees as I’m at geology, so I have absolutely no idea what these trees are.

We were almost there. Just before the batteries of my phone drained out, I took a photo of the sun setting into the Falachan valley. Fortunately, we reached our destination before sunset. We marveled at the 100 meter slope we had to climb down. Dilsher in person was quite as welcoming as he had been on the phone. I congratulated The Family for finding a wonderful place. It took us a day to realize that the distance from Chandigarh to the hotel, which we had taken about 11 hours to cover, could be done in around 7 hours. Soni had driven very carefully, and we were happy with that. But as we sat next to the river and drank a tea, I couldn’t help feeling that if he had kept to the average time on these roads, I might have had time to stop for better photos.

Views of a river valley

Up in the foothills of the Himalayas, rivers come down rapidly from the heights. It is said that it takes a week’s hiking to reach the snout of the Tirth glacier, from which the Falachan river flows, but the water takes only half an hour to reach the village which we stayed in. The valleys are deep, narrow and twisted. We climbed about a 100 meters every time we went up to the road from the resort, and then climbed that same steep route back down on our return. From the road I took this photo of the sunset over the valley. In a narrow platform along the road, villagers cultivate wheat in this season. The further hills are the cliffs on the other side of the valley. Our resort takes up all 200 meters of the valley floor.

The climb is too steep to do with baggage, so there is this ingenious rope-way to winch baggage up and down. The counterweight to a loaded basket is one with jerry cans of water. That’s really clever. Our first climb down was hair-raising. There was a narrow and steep path down the cliff, with eight switchbacks. This was the first time The Young Niece was outside a city, and I had to hold her hand all the way down. Children learn fast. By the time we left, she could do it by herself while carrying her own backpack.

It was a wrench to leave this secluded valley. Before we walked up that path for the last time, I stood near the middle of the valley and took two photos to remember the place by. The Family talked of going back next year. But the world is full of wonderful places, and I’m sure that next year we will find somewhere else to go to.

Going with the Flow

Visa delays made us cancel our trip to Milan and Venice. While I was busy canceling flights, hotel bookings, advance tickets for various shows and viewings, The Family was also busy. She planned an alternate trip in a couple of days: with all the hotels, cars, and flights booked in the twinkling of an eye. The trip involved a flight to Delhi, a really long road trip through Chandigarh, Mandi, Aut, then up the valley of the glacier-fed river of Tirthan, and finally branching into the valley of the river Falachan (also fed by the same glacier, Tirth). All I had to do was sit in the car and then, after arriving at our resort, take photos of the fast-flowing river.

Idle holidays are full of deeply trite thoughts. As I played with exposure to capture the flow of water over stone, I thought to myself that water is the unbeatable strategy in a game of paper-scissors-stone. Water dissolves paper, rusts scissors, and covers stone. When your thoughts run so shallow you realize that you are shutting your mind down for a good restful holiday.