Friday, April 11, 2003

In the couple weeks since my return to Dharchula, the days have been hot, the trees have all broken into leaf, and I’ve gotten the good word that the trekking pass up to snowy Milam Glacier in remote Kumaon (even more remote than our town) has opened up. I’ll be headed over as soon as I can organize my guide Jithu, late of the aborted skiing trip. His dedication to getting me where I want to go has been admirable, and as opposed to our run to the snow-less slopes of Auli back in January, this is a trip he’s made dozens of times – although I remain his first “foreign,” as in non-Indian, client. Let’s just say that his English is improving….

Nonetheless, I am psyched to finally take advantage of what the region has to offer. For the time being, I am over the conflict of “playing” in a place that has no concept of leisure outside of the few kids playing cricket in the street and the few adults whose pastime is knocking back fortified beer every other night. India is rough this way with only the wealthiest members of the middleclass emulating Western tourism activities such as hiking and bird watching. The rest are intent to let the splendor of this place dwindle away in the face of rampant population growth and the rush to modernization. There are those hearty souls from all walks of life who make pilgrimages to the high Himalayas and Tibetan plateau where Shiva is said to reside, but the relationship between such religious activities and sport was sundered long ago.

You can see this divorce in the relationship people have to the land here, with the incessant litter and the burning of fields and forests that has been taking place all winter and continues now into the spring. A full nation has forsaken god’s country as it were; this so-called agricultural practice – still practiced in the West, as well, I realize – clears fields, but also threatens to destroy what little wildlife habitat remains. I’m guessing already 80-90 percent of the forest has been cleared, mostly long ago by the British in order to construct railway ties. The subsequent terracing of hillsides for small farms, picturesque though it may be, combined with an overabundance of grazing animals such as goats and the ubiquitous holy cow means that the forest cover has only grown back in places where trees have been intentionally planted as a crop.

Yes, it can be a real bummer to learn these things. But there remain pockets of beauty everywhere; last weekend we tackled about 10 miles just outside of town, following a creek to near the base of nearby Cobra Mountain. We bathed in a lush, hidden waterfall and spotted many birds. By continuing to head beyond the edges of the towns and villages and taking a peek at what remains, I guess that I might hope to discern something of how it once was hereabouts and whether there’s any chance to sustain what’s left. As has been observed by brighter minds than mine: Don’t knock such rationalizations, where would be without them?

With a little luck I’ll be trekking next week, and in the meantime C continues her research at a rapid and ready pace. Our housing in the “tribal” neighborhood has helped her to break the code, and she now has a short list of informants more than willing to help her piece together the grammar of the Darma (as opposed to dharma, a religious concept) language. It remains to be seen when this work will be completed, but having survived the winter in Dharchula, we’re sensing that another few months beyond our current stint, either this fall or next spring, could be in order. I’ll try to fill in some of the gaps before I head out, but “Happy Trails” otherwise.