We were walking to D and D’s for dinner last night, when it suddenly began to drizzle. We hopped into the stadium for shelter, and argued about whether to ask D to pick us up in his car or not. In less than 30 seconds, the rain stopped, so we stopped arguing and headed out. But less than ten steps on the road, there was another little burst of rain, so we rushed back into the shelter. This time, without waiting for other opinions, I dialled D’s number. But the rain stopped again. After some discussion, we set out, argument being ‘even if it rains again, we can reach the bus stand (next point of shelter)’. It did rain again, just as we set out and it turned out to be the wettest 50 metres dash I’ve ever run. D had to rescue the drowning rats from the bus stand. While I enjoyed the coolness of the unexpected shower, I was mighty glad to be home and dry, with a good meal to look forward to.
Not so the people in Uttarakhand. Flash floods, cloud bursts and the turning monsoon over the last week has wrecked havoc in this beautiful hill state. Monsoon C(o)urse as VP Dimri, former Director of the National Geophyscial Research Institute, put it. According to him, the changing temperatures in the hills have caused the monsoons to change course abruptly and move into this region of the Himalayas. Look at this picture from The Hindu, of the Kedarnath Temple – before and after. Such is the impermanence of life.
I have spent 4 months in rural Uttarakhand at different points in my life, first in 2001, on a World Youth Exchange Programme, organised by VSO-Pravah, and then a few years later, for a month in the mountains, organised by friends from Sittilingi. It was called Uttaranchal in those days and still had the fervor of a newly born state. I lived in Anjanisain in Terhi Garhwal, with a group of young people, learning about life in rural India and ‘development’. We were based with the Sri Bhubaneswari Mahila Ashram. Terhi made it to the news for the dam on the river, which despite all the controversy, provides power to Delhi and other far away places, having displaced thousands of hill and forest dwellers and exploded through the mighty mountain ranges. We traveled around to touristy spots – Srinagar, Dehradun, some of the Prayags (sangam or meeting of two rivers) and I fell in love with the mountains. In 2005, the Sittlingi gang were trekking and I was ecstatic when they choose the Valley of Flowers, in Uttarkashi, and Adi-Kailash/Sin La in Pithoragarh. We trekked to Badrinath briefly, where T discovered the priests from Tripunithara (yes, it’s true, there are Malayalis on the moon). We ate simple meals at the Langars, and walked with barefoot Sikh pilgrims who were chanting the holy ‘jo bole, so nihal’ all the way up to Hemkund Sahib. We saw hundreds of varieties of flowers, including the beautiful ‘blue poppy’ that the Japanese come seeking out. We walked over landslides, watching a lost mule, with his trekkers pack still snuggly on his back, wandering on the other side of the river. We stayed at villages, where T visited pregnant mothers, and handed out iron and folic acid tablets. The Indo-Tibetian Border Police (ITBP) made us payasam from their carefully hoarded rations. We walked the paths and roads that have been made by the thousands of feet that had walked before us. Thanked the tireless hands that laid the bridges, blasted the rocks, smoothed the way at 18,500ft. We also saw large dams with huge tunnels, hydel power stations that cut into the mountains. The miles of bleak gray cement deadening the vibrant hues of forests and sky. Unplanned urbanisation, overcrowded towns with exploding populations. Plastic and garbage clogging up the soil and water systems. JCB’s tearing down trees to build bigger roads. Crazy traffic, tourists and pilgrims. Massive forest fires in the pine plantations left over by the British. The ITBP clearing landslips and guiding impatient drivers through. After Darchula, we left the modern trappings of human civilisation behind. No current, no phones, no buildings, no vehicles. Just us on our feet, jippu’s carrying our bags, walking through the most beautiful valleys of the Shivaliks.
A crisis or calamity in any part of the world leaves me feeling both sad and thankful at the same time. Sad for the people whose lives are inexplicably changed, for the lack of rain and water in some parts of the country, while others drown in floods, for the way we treat the planet that sustains us. Thankful that human beings can show tremendous courage in the face of danger or difficulty, that we can share in each others suffering, that nature is resilient, that it’s not yet ‘my turn’ (though I guess that will come, sooner rather than later).
I am no expert on the Himalayas or on climate change. But surely we should learn some lessons from nature. Surely we are reaching a ‘tipping point’ and will topple over unless we do something about it quick. Surely our lives are intertwined, and the consumption I support and the waste I generate here, could cause an earthquake in a galaxy millions of light years away. Insignificant or megalomanic or even inbetween, whichever way you chose to label the activities of humankind, one thing is for certain. We live in interesting times, on a most fascinating planet. Whether ‘for’ or ‘against’, the force is definitely WITH us!