A nameless village

Dilsher gave us driving directions. The route took us to Gushaini, where we crossed the Tirthan and took a road which wound high above the Falachan river. About a kilometer from the village which was our destination we found that the road was under repair. We parked the car and walked over the broken stones in the road bed. With the directions, and GPS, I know exactly where the village is; I can find it on maps and satellite photos; but I cannot find a name for it. It was definitely worth a trip, just to see what traditional houses and village layouts are in this area.

As you can see from the photo above (and detail in the featured photo), some of the houses are elaborate. This one had thick mud walls at the lowest level, and steep stairs to climb up two levels to the living space. The lowest level holds livestock, the next is space for feed, and the topmost level is for people. Wood is used extensively only in the area meant for people. I’d seen this kind of overhanging wooden box also in the divisional town of Banjar, where the lower floors were given over to shops. Now I saw where this construction comes from.

Not all houses are equally elaborate. You need space for livestock only if you own some; so the big house belonged to someone who was rich in this village economy. Other houses were smaller wattle-and-daub constructions, as you can see in the photo above. Mats are fixed on to wooden frames, and then covered with clay and painted. Interestingly, the house has two stories, and a balcony running across the front of the upper story. The two nearer structures are sheds to hold hay. Since this was lower, I could easily see the admirable slate roof. I was also quite impressed by the solar panel on top of the pole. Is the need for electricity small enough that a panel like this suffices?

I saw no signs of air conditioning; in this place you don’t really need it. Heating for winter would be an issue, but it wouldn’t be electrical heating. I didn’t see refrigerators, but satellite TV had arrived, as you can see from the dish in the photo above. All in all, the amount of electrical power needed per household would be small. I liked these two houses in completely different styles standing next to each other. The one with the upper floor box is unpainted; the one with the balcony is painted in bright colours. The man who you see here was friendly and curious about us. He gave us a little tour of his neighbourhood, trading question for question.

We did not go inside anyone’s house, so I never found out how the rooms are organized: is it one large living and bedroom? Or are these internal divisions separating kitchen, eating and sleeping spaces? The larger organization was clear. The center of the village was a large open square with an enigmatic temple which I have written about earlier. The village is laid out in a series of linked squares with houses around the open centers. The largest houses stand on the square with the temple; the further you go, the smaller the houses become. In a square adjoining the one with the temple I found a well and two children playing. In this photo they lean over the well.

You can see that the social organization is changing. There are new and fairly large houses at the periphery of the village; they climb up the surrounding slopes. The photo above shows one such house. The house itself looks different: the lower floor has windows, which means it is not used for cattle or feed. The roof is made of corrugated metal sheets, and the wood is painted. But perhaps the most striking non-traditional addition is the brick and mortar outhouse with a plastic tank full of water resting on its cast concrete slab of roof. This seemed like it was part of the government’s worthy push to add toilets to every house. The toilet blocks look identical everywhere in this country; they have been designed in Delhi. Fortunately availability of water is still not an issue here; I saw taps outside many of the houses.

The newer houses often use non-traditional materials. This one stood close to the entrance to the village. Again, I saw windows on the lower floor, indicating that all floors are used by people. This house was elaborate: it had balconies and a box just below the roof. I was struck by the use of corrugated metal sheets for the sides. They can’t possibly bear the load of the upper floors, so there must be another structural part of the wall. Is that a wooden frame or a thick mud wall? My reluctance to knock on the door of a stranger meant that I never found out. Of the many things which I did not know about this village, this was perhaps the least. The main thing that I should have asked the curious guide we picked up was the name of the village.

Poison anemone

I have been paying more attention to wild flowers since my trips to Kaas in the last couple of years. It took some time to identify the very ordinary looking flower that I saw on the grassy verge of a mountain path on the way to the Great Himalayan National Park. It is probably the ratanjot (Anemone obtusiloba). This turned out to be special in two ways. Firstly, it is mildly poisonous, since it contains an oil (called protoanemonin; such an inventive name!) which causes severe stomach irritation when eaten, and also local irritation if it touches the skin. I am happy not to be a compulsive sniffer of flowers. The Young Niece is not so careful, but this was growing so close to the ground that she didn’t stoop to examine it. In the perpetual arms race between plants and grazers, this anemone seems to have the upper hand now.

Secondly, it turns out to be extremely variable, with yellow, white or blue flowers. When I read this out, The Family asked “What causes the different colours in the flowers? Is it the soil?” A little searching led me to web sites on gardening which seem to indicate that the colours run true for plants. It is genes and not external factors which affect the colour. That’s a little bit like skin colour in humans. But the flowers seem to be even more variable than in colour; apparently they can be twice as large, or even change in shape somewhat. Since the plant grows across a wide altitude belt, from 2000 to 4500 meters, this seems to be a strategy to attract a very diverse set of pollinators. I was surprised to look at the photo and see that I captured one of these pollinators in the frame. It is a bee which is just enough out of focus for me not to be able to identify it.

But perhaps the biggest surprise to me was that the root of this plant is used in Himalayan home remedies. In Nepal it is mashed up and the paste is eaten to relieve coughs and colds. In the region of Kedarnath a decoction of the root is used as a cure for diarrhoea. I found a paper which investigated its effect on several common soil bacteria, and found that it inhibits the growth of several. This potentially useful plant has developed a defense against grazers, and seems to be surviving climate change till now. Sometimes in your travels you can come across unsung heroes.

An interrupted walk

Before the vacation I tried to find out what walks we could take. My lungs are not good for steep climbs, and I didn’t know how well The Young Niece would hold up to climbs. So I looked for flat walks or gentle ups and downs. I found a nice flat walk at an altitude of about 3 Kilometers above sea level. This was the walk from Jalori pass to Serolsar lake, a distance of six Kilometers each way.

At Jalori pass we took in the sight of the snowy peaks of the distant high Himalayas part of the way to Manali. It was windy and I was happy to be bundled up in several layers. As soon as we walked away from the blacktop road at the pass, the wind dropped. This is typical of a pass. The road passed below a ridge which The Family would climb later to get a better view of the distant mountains. Then the path passed into an oak forest. At this height these were all Himalayan brown oaks (Quercus semiscarpifolia).

An oak forest is alive. There were mosses growing on the bark, and I was sure that there would be insects under that. I wondered whether there are any woodpeckers in this area. I could only hear the deep cry of ravens flying above the canopy. A couple of groups of older people passed us, smiling encouragements at The Young Niece. I was slowing everyone down by trying to take photos of a butterfly which I hadn’t seen before. I was to find later that this was the common satyr. We stopped at a fallen tree trunk which had interesting mushrooms growing on the shady underside of the log.

I was warm, and beginning to shed my layers. Unfortunately, I did not think of asking The Young Niece whether she would like to shed a layer or two. After about three Kilometers of walking she overheated and started feeling giddy. We were bringing up the rear. The Family and The Lotus had walked ahead and were out of sight behind a turn in the road. The Young Niece sat down on the edge of the path, and started taking off her layers. That’s when I found that she’d overdone the warms and had on twice as much as I would have suggested. I called out to our scouts to turn back. As we sat there and waited, a raven came to rest on a branch in front of us and examined us carefully. It croaked a couple of questions which I could not answer. When The Family came back, it decided to fly away.

The family brought news of a copse of rhododendron in flower ahead. By this time The Young Niece was looking almost her normal colour. “Shall we go on?” she asked. The Family and I looked at each other. We didn’t know whether it was the heat or the altitude which had given her trouble. 3 Kilometers is not that high, but the youngster has not been up in the mountains before. We decided to play it safe and go back. I noticed a lot of Himalayan wild strawberries (Fragaria nubicola) flowering here, runners threading through fallen oak leaves. Lower down they were already in fruit. I’d persuaded The Young Niece to eat the small but flavourful berries. The flowers are not too different from those of the Himalyan musk rose; the easiest way to tell the difference is by the size of the plant it grows on.

The Young Niece was probably feeling guilty about cutting the walk short, because she was taking part in the exploration of wildflowers with more enthusiasm than usual. There were some things growing on the oaks (photo above) which completely stumped me. They were thick and fleshy like cacti; nothing that I’ve seen before. We saw a couple of varieties of tortoiseshell butterflies. On a bunch of dry flowers I saw spiderwebs: evidence that there were more insects here than we had notices. Soon we were back out of the forest and near the ridge. We hadn’t walked very long, but we’d seen several different things. As The Lotus and The Family went to look at the peaks in the distance, I walked with The Young Niece past the bunch of shops at Jalori pass into the oak forest below. She would be better lower down and without too many warm clothes.

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.

Trees of the Himalayas

Deodrar tree in Paro

There was little time to prepare for our trip to the Himalayas. I worried about whether I should pack Pradip Krishen’s field guide to the trees of Delhi, but then decided against it; after all most of this book dealt with trees of the plains. There are excellent guides to the birds of India, one for butterflies, ancient ones for other animal orders, and certainly nothing for the trees of the Himalayas. One of the few useful resources I came across was an excellent blog post on the trees of Shimla.

The quick field guide which I made for myself can be useful on future trips. There is such an incredible variety of trees across the Himalayas that anyone could spend a lifetime studying them. The little part which is captured in this small list served me as landmarks to orient myself by.

Namealtitudecharacteristics
Deodar
(Cedrus deodara)
Himalayan cedar
1700-2750 meters
across Himalayas
conifer, 40-50 meters tall, 10 meters girth, generally grows on northern slopes
search
Rai
(Picea smithiana)
spruce
2250-2750 meters
Western Himalayas
conifer, 40-55 meters tall, 3 meters girth, higher branches are upward pointing, really long needles, generally grows on northern slopes
search
Rau
(Abies pindrow)
silver fir
2500-3700 meters
Western Himalayas
40-60 meters tall, 7 meters girth, gray-brown furrowed bark, overall conical shape with level branches, needles have a white streak on the underside, dark purple erect cones, generally grows on northern slopes
search
Chir
(Pinus roxburghii)
Himalayan pine
500-2000 meters
across Himalayas
heavy cone, 40-50 meters tall, 6 meters girth, rough bark, needles are arranged in bundles of three, prefers southern slopes
search
Kail
(Pinus wallachiana)
blue pine
1800-4300 meters
across Himalayas
long cone, 30-50 meters tall, needles are arranged in bundles of five, bluish in colour, generally grows on northern slopes
search
Banj
(Quercus leucotrichophora)
Himalayan white oak
1500-2400 meters
Western and central Himalayas
15-25 meters tall, twisted gnarled trunk, rounded canopy, underside of leaves is white and hairy, acorns edible
search
Moru
(Quercus floribunda)
(also Quercus dilatata)
Himalayan green oak
1700-2700 meters
Western Himalayas
25-30 meters tall, 6-9 meters girth, straight trunk with dark reddish brown bark, leaves 4-6 cms long and green on both sides
search
Kharsu
(Quercus semiscarpifolia)
Himalayan brown oak
2800-3250 meters
Western Himalayas
25-30 meters tall, 4.5 meters girth, straight trunk with domed crown, dark grey bark broken into small plates, 2.5-10 cm long leaves, with brown underside
search
Phaliyant
(Quercus glauca)
ring-cupped oak
also Japanese oak
widespread15-20 meters tall, straight trunk with domed crown, dark brown furrowed bark, leaves purple red when new, powdery blue-green underside when older
search
Bras
diverse genus
rhododendron
1500-3000 meters
across Himalayas
shrubs and small trees, glossy leaves, sometimes with a scaly underside, bright flowers
search

First stop in Tirthan Valley

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.”

People of Himachal

On a visit to a traditional old village high above the Falachan river, The Family and The Young Niece skipped ahead of me. I walked behind them, feeling disgruntled as ever because I’d not got a good shot yet. A young woman walked ahead of me on the stony path leading two kids. She had a big woven basket slung over her back. Is that the equivalent of my backpack, I wondered. The kids dragged her off the road in their eagerness to crop at the grass. As I passed her, I stopped to take a photo. This was the definitive photo of the day: exactly like a shot from the Hindi movies of the sixties and seventies; village belle, sheep, grass and stone, terraced fields and mountains. I was happy by the time I reached the car.

One of the photos I already had in my card by then was this one of two children who seemed to be the only ones I saw in the village. I took a couple of photos before they were aware of me. Then when they saw me with my boots, backpack, and camera, they came running towards me. They posed, I took their photo and showed it to them. They were absolutely thrilled and went running and skipping away. I wondered for a while why they were not in a school; this part of the state has done very well in bringing all children to school. Then I realized that they were probably a bit younger than school-going children.

Old men in the hills freeze up when confronted with a camera. When I saw this old codger bent over a stick while walking between huts in the village, I knew that I had to try taking a photo without him noticing me. My problem was partly solved when two young men said something to him, and he turned towards them. Unfortunately his back was to me, and I couldn’t get a photo of him with his stick. I did get his very expressive face and that lovely Kullu cap. I wanted more, which is why I remained grumpy till I got the featured shot.

Now looking at these photos I wonder about the difference between the children and the old man. Is living so hard here that a lifetime robs people of their joy?

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.

Mountain mules

I leave cities now and then, but it seems the city never leaves me. I’d taken a mountain path from Gushaini towards Ropa village, which is the starting point of the Great Himalayan National Park. The path follows the valley of the river Tirthan for a while, so I kept looking over to the other hillside, which was full of wonderful slate-roofed traditional wooden houses. You can see one of these in the featured photo. I kept wondering about how they would bring the building materials to the construction site. I assumed that it would be easier to bring the wood and mud to the site than to bring bricks. I completely forgot two things.

The first was that no motorized vehicles come over these narrow mountain roads. The second is that slate tiles are the heaviest part of the material. These two forgotten points passed me on the path in the form of a train of mules carrying slate tiles. My aha moment was prolonged. By the time pulled out my camera, the mules had gone past. I still managed to catch the picture which you can see above. In the mountains everything has to be hauled up. Most of these narrow tracks are too narrow for trucks, so there are no alternatives to carrying them up yourself, with the help of porters and mules. Bricks and concrete are options only when there are roads.

After the mule train had passed I recalled having seen it earlier on the path. I’d failed to get a good shot of slaty-headed parakeets and taken out my frustration by clicking a photo of this mule grazing. A car had been parked nearby, and I’d missed a shot of the birds because it started up, startling the parakeets. So I guess a truck must have brought the stone up to that point, and then transferred the load to the mules. One of our companions on the walk volunteered the information that someone was building a large house near Ropa. That was probably where these mules were going. Every bit of construction on the hills is labour intensive, until a road is built.

A small town in the hills

If Gushaini is a large village, then Banjar is clearly a town. It’s not just the size, other cues kick in too. For example, there were policemen trying to prevent people from parking on narrow stretches of road. The Family wanted to look at a shop we’d been hearing about: it sold shawls and other traditional woolen clothing made by a cooperative of local weavers. Soni was waved on by a policeman immediately after he deposited us at the shop. I walked along the narrow main road at a leisurely pace, taking in the sights. The bright pink hair dresser’s salon was called “New Honey”!

Banjar is built on a slope above the Banjar river, so the main street is rather narrow. The beautiful old wooden houses are now squeezed between brick and mortar construction. I admired the carved wooden panel just below the box windows of the first floor. The new construction always leaves me wondering about the economics: in the plains there is an economy of scale when you use construction material which is widely available. These bricks have to be shipped up to the hills, increasing their cost. So why don’t people continue to use wood? Has the cost of wood increased in recent times? Is that just a question of supply not keeping up with demand?

Just because houses are made of bricks does not mean that the local style has died out. I stopped to look at this three-storied building. The ground floor is a nondescript shop with rolling steel shutters. The upper floors are dazzling gems. Look at the reproduction of wooden carved panels in plaster and cement, and the closed windows which are transplanted from the traditional architecture. I found the upper floors to be quite a statement.

It was a Thursday and I was looking for interesting doors. I found a set in this row of shops. Steel cupboards are quite the rage here. Unlike the old times, these come in interesting colours. I liked these two: one with doors painted the same pink as the hairdresser’s cabin, the other a lovely bottle green. The series of shops has the look of hasty municipal construction. The concrete slabs of the floor and ceiling quickly cast, the walls thin, the doors made of prefab panels which don’t quite fit. The private houses here are built with care, so the town corporation is probably run with a small budget.

Himachal is known for its fruits. Mid-May was too early for cherries, but apples and peaches were in evidence. But the fruit of the season is mango, and that does not grow in these hills. They have to be trucked up from the plains. Everything else looked local and fresh. I wasn’t really checking; Dilsher’s cook, Ram, was doing a wonderful job. The district of Kullu has five divisions, and Banjar is big enough to give its name to one. The route from Shimla to Kullu over Jalori pass travels next to the Banjar river until it falls into the Tirthan. As a result, Banjar is an important town, with a large market, and some low-end hotels for travelers who might be stuck for a night when the pass is closed in bad weather.

Lack of space has an interesting effect on the buildings in Banjar: spiral staircases. All new houses seem to have these curled ribbons of masonry tacked on to the outside. The stairs in traditional houses are more like steep ladders. They don’t bother locals, who are used to such slopes everywhere. The more gentle stairs here are wonderful for city people like us. I think this is also something that people of Kullu can grow to like. I would guess that if I were to come back here ten years later I would find these spiral staircases on almost every building.

There was a temple festival on in Banjar. Apparently villagers carry their local idol across the valleys to another temple once a year. That week the villagers of Bathad had come to Banjar. I kept an eye out for the festival, but the only thing I spotted were the special sweets on display in this shop. The shopkeeper was clearly unhappy when I pulled out my camera after inspecting the sweets. The festival takes place in a field well away from the main road. The morning’s rituals were over, and the evening was far away. We decided to give it a miss. Soni was happy to go; he did not like policemen.