From an early age, I’ve found the premise of faith to be intriguing. There seemed to be a strong emphasis on believing blindly in a singular ‘force’. One that could control inter-planetary/galactic motion, and in turn – our ephemeral human lives. Questions were allowed – outside the realm – of what was to be believed; never within. In hindsight, I wish someone had told me to have a little faith in myself instead. That could have gone a long way for a pessimist. But, I guess, that’s how faith works. It’s far simpler to find strength from external triggers. I’ve had my phases with faith. Now, that I’m older, not necessarily wiser, I seek experiences. I don’t believe blindly or pledge allegiance to any following. But I do keep an open mind. Or at least try to, for most of the time.
It was Christmas. I woke up with the sun slowly creeping behind the mountains. I could do with some warmth in the cold. While our folks back home and many elsewhere would be consumed with festivities; I admired the barren mountains and valley below. There were layers to the ranges and each reflected a different shade of light. Few commercial establishments (including our hotel) had fallen prey to the commercialisation of Christmas. But, thankfully, the village below was blissfully unaware. I liked that. Being away from it all. Mostly the isolation.
By the time we were done with breakfast (another gruelling walk to the main street), it was too late to go trekking. Honestly, I wasn’t ready for it and was secretly happy. So, Triund and Bhagsu Falls were scratched off the list. It was the last day of our stay in McLeod Ganj. I hoped to stroll around and slow down the pace. Basil had other plans. He planned on descending the valley below, to reach the river (believed to be formed by Bhagsu Falls) basin below. I hoped, post lunch, he’d change his mind.
We trudged along market roads, indulged in souvenir shopping, tried avoiding honking cars from running us down, and eventually walked the road that lead towards Bhagsu. Flea markets were thriving with Tibetan wares. After a while, the roads turned empty.
Cafes still lined the street and we chose an empty cafe with a wonderful balcony view of the mountains. Hawks (my best guess) glided gleefully in the sky above. We had temporarily escaped the sounds of tourism. Ginger tea with the cool mountain breeze was just what I needed. And then, a tourist and his partner chose a table across us. It was time for us to go.
After grabbing a quick meal, we headed back. I tried to sleep my way out of the valley exploration trail. Unlike me, Basil was eagerly awaiting for our little ‘adventure’. Basil called my bluff pretty quick and soon enough we were off to the valley. Few local women made their way down the rickety stone steps which lead to a mud pathway. It’s not as bad, I thought. There was a house with a car at the end of the road. If we did get trapped, I’m sure someone would come looking for us. Now, the sun sets by 5:30 pm during winter. It was nearing 4 pm and I didn’t think we’d have sufficient daylight. So, Basil agreed to get till the furthest point.
To descend below, we left the marked road and tried to get our footwork right in the coarse path – formed by footsteps of people. A lone goatherd was dreaming idly whilst his goats scampeered all over. He seemed too far below. On our way, we were lucky to see some stunning birds. We reached a water outlet. A Tibetan lady and her local friend were chatting and washing clothes together. They didn’t look at us. Few more difficult steps further and we were lucky to see stone steps.
A young boy ran down effortlessly, while I struggled to get a grip of something to hold. And then, just like that, in the middle of nowhere, we saw this house which had the best view that nature could offer. A woman bathed her young son out in the open. It was terribly cold and I pitied the boy. His sister couldn’t stop staring at me. I must confess, I could’t either. These kids were extremely cute and had a wide-eyed-wonder. Basil initiated a conversation with their mother. She said it was possible to reach the river bed, but, we might not have time to make it in time back. The little girl called out and asked me if I wanted to go to the river bed. I said I wasn’t sure. I asked her if she was afraid of heights and she said, “Yes!”. After-which, they gladly posed for a photograph, everyone, but the eldest boy who we had seen running below.
One of the peaks before us resembled a sleeping T-Rex. We headed back and Basil felt compelled to give them something for their hospitality. I didn’t think it was appropriate. These were people of modest means. By giving them anything (money or sweets), we would change who they would be on their next interaction with an outsider. We had seen young village children (in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan) turn into beggars, unwittingly, because some tourist might have felt the need to give them something.
We retraced our path and observed locals walk along. We found a quiet spot and chose to listen in silence. It was one of those rare moments when I was lost for words.
The only sounds we heard were of birds singing. I know it sounds a bit much, but, when you’re there in the middle of nowhere, with these giant mountains in front of you, everything is magical. Was I ready to give it all up? Leave the life in the city and settle in a mountain town? Not yet. Or perhaps, another town, not this. I’d begun the day with little faith in how it’d turn out to be. Little faith in what I’d do. I don’t think we did much. But, the little that we saw – was good enough.
On our way back, Basil pointed his lens at a lone bull. Unlike, Basil’s other subjects, the bull charged at us. It isn’t easy running up a mountain road with a chasing bull behind you.
By evening, nature held its last show for us. Birds flew back, the sun began a slow descent, and the moon played a game of hide-and-seek with drifting clouds. Tomorrow, everything would be be the same. And probably, that’s what faith is about. In the end, everything will be OK.