Sunday, 20 March 2016

The People of Tirthan Valley

The Tirthan Valley
Solitude of the upper reaches 
The lower Tirthan Valley is slowly being strangled by the tourist rupee, ubiquitous resorts and hotels mushroom along the river. it is a moral dilemma, tourism begets income but with it also come also indiscriminate construction and garbage. But beyond Gushaini towards the Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP), the area is only accessible only by foot and perhaps this inaccessibility to traffic still keeps this corner of paradise relatively untouched. Compared to our lives, local people live in comparative physical hardship. Long mountain trails mean walks of many hours to work and back to their lonely homes.  Carrying heavy loads, as everything is backpacked up to great heights, I saw ladies carry 35 kilograms of flour to villages three hours away. Harsh weather ranging from mild summer storms to bitter winters lashed by snow and wind. All these take a heavy toll on these people who age before their time. But irrespective of the hardship, the people in the interior are wonderful, always welcoming and ever smiling. This is a photo blog of some of these happy, dignified, trusting and warm people.

Lalchand guided me for three days.  
Young and agile as a mountain goat;
he carried a load almost his
own weight easily.
He cheerfully helped
 me up ice-slippery mountain slopes
while going for Shilt Hut.
Ever resourceful, he "managed" a hut
instead of using the tent we carried in the park

Lalchand coaxing a fire from wet straw and wood in 
minutes from absolutely wet wood.  He fed me constantly. 
Wearing worn out keds and a faux leather jacket, 
he was comfortable in rain (more often) or shine.
 prized possession through the trip
were the pair of sun-glasses he found on the trail.  

Chandi Devi - Lady of the GHNP, has a hut between the
Park gates and 
Rolla camp.Here she emerges from 

the living area of her hut in the GHNP.
See the beehive holes on either side of the doo
at the lowest level. Symbiosis with nature at its best,

she coexists with the bees and other animals, each giving the 
other something.
Stiff at first, Chandi Devi was a feisty lady
with a great sense of humour. The only inhabitant of the Park,
living alone in the hut by the side of the path, she is almost
 entirely self sufficient. She has children and grandchildren
who visit and supply her, but she chooses to live alone.
Reticent at first, she stood stiltedly for a photograph,
then as I got her chatting, she spoke animatedly
about the leopard that roared the previous night 

and other things.

I will not let the forest department move me out of here she says; 
She talks about how the forest department was trying to get her to move 
and why she was the most photographed denizen of the park!

Her hut has three levels, animals and beehives at the lowest, 
her living space in the middle and a small cooking space at the third tier.
 Unfortunately a camp site has come up around her abode,
an attempt, I think to dislodge her.

The Mother  While walking up a steep forested hill
 I came upon a large dwelling. There was a single lady nearby,
she was very elegant and young. As was common among these
wonderful hill folk, in a very short while she got very chatty
 and extremely hospitable, offering me a chair and lunch
 (regrettably I declined). 

Wistfully, the Mother tells of
The pride of her life, her two sons, both toppers in school
and both studying in college. She ran in and got their photographs,
in which they were receiving a 
prize from a dignitary.  Her husband
 was a school teacher, walking two hours each way
five days a week to get to the school where he taught.

Anjali's younger sister whom I first stopped to photograph. 
A tiny little urchin, at first she was self conscious but  slowly she 
got used to me  finally giving me a bemused smile.
Anjali's mother seemed a harried lady, 
Anjali and her younger sister seemed great kids till the mother 
came, when they would behave spoilt and petulant.

Anjali -  An amazingly precocious girl of six,
I met her at a village on the way to the waterfall above Sai Ropa. 

Around her mother she was  spoilt and brattish but when alone with me
Anjali of the impish smile, never stopped chatting or laughing
striking a pose for me on the way, she spoke of her dreams and hopes,
her life today and what she intended it to become.  
She was acutely conscious of her looks and was
 constantly brushing and clipping her hair.
miss photogenic herself, Anjali was posing for me without
any trace of embarrassment. We parted good friends.

A grandmother of indeterminate age, this wonderful lady was coy,
aggressive and humourous in turn. I met her on a trail in the forest

behind where I was staying. She was laboriously limping her 
way to her children's house some distance away from hers.

Her face was richly wrinkled with each wrinkle probably a story to tell.
The harsh climate and hard life probably has taken a toll on her
as she seems to have aged beyond her years. But she retained
her wry sense of humour.
This gentleman was a bit redolent of some local liquor, however he took
me under his wing in a climb to the temple at Bandal Village.  Even

trying, unsuccessfully, to find the keys to the temple which was locked.

Very gentle and humorous, he explained various aspects
of the temple to me.  Also explaining the local custom of 

restricting access in most temples to people who were 
somehow connected to the construction of the temple.
I stopped to ask this lady directions, she had a delightful manner
and a bewitching smile. She willingly allowed me to photograph her

losing her awkwardness after a few moments.

She gave me directions and chatted awhile, but the effect of
 her hard life was evident in every crease on her face.  
While she was wrinkled on the exterior, there were no wrinkles
on her humour and patience with this city slicker with a camera.

A forest guard I met at a tea stall in Ropa,
 he had a very dignified manner. He allowed me to photograph him,

having a very pensive manner about him all the while. I ordered tea and 
the ubiquitous "Magi" noodles (which were actually
Wai Wai) for him too. Magi has become a generic term 
for noodles in the mountains.

Later I found that he was also moonlighting as a guide to a couple
 who were trekking in the park. Here he is washing utensils
 in the mist at Rolla. The couple he was supporting came dressed 

in biker studded boots and T-shirts to match, 
drank till late at night and left in the morning.

The Shepherd, was on the trail to GHNP, I requested him to gather
his sheep so that I might take a picture and he obliged. There were 

many such herders, what was remarkable is the care and concern with which 
they tended their sheep or goats. It was really touching.
 It was getting dark and I hastily took the pic.


  1. Great experience - thanks for sharing
    Anjali is very cute - God bless her and all :)

  2. Great pics, sir! Each one of them tells a story.... of a life well lived in the incessant struggle, of a life just about to start.

    The human touch in your photos, sir, is something every chap with a camera should try to emulate!

    You should have taken a pic of the "couple in biker studded boots", just to show the contrast.

  3. Delightfully natural portraits... their simplicity and lack of artificiality gives them a particular glow. Anjali is a natural! Specially liked the face of 'the Mother'... something radiant about her.Reading about their individual traits and the lead-up to the photographs enhances them even more. Much enjoyed. Would love to see some of the terrain that surrounded you too...Zee

  4. Enjoyed reading this. The pictures are beautiful and your comments are apt. Would have liked to see more pictures of the natural beauty of the region too.

  5. Enjoyed reading this. The pictures are beautiful and your comments are apt. Would have liked to see more pictures of the natural beauty of the region too.

  6. nk you one and all. my next blog is going to be about the terrain and the country-side. will put in pics there too

  7. Hi, I am Sreshti from Tripoto. I am doing a story on Chatri Devi. Your photographs of her are lovely, I would like to put them in my article, please. You and your blog will be given due credits.

    1. Sure you may, but please give proper credits. I have more photos if you want. Kindly mail me at Also request you to send me a copy of your article after you have written it.