Wednesday, August 20, 2014

An evening in Gangar, a remote Himalayan Village (also Part 3 of our HKD trek)

There are places and people that you eye with a shade of undisguised envy while passing through. One such place was Gangar - one of the most beautiful villages I have ever come across - colorful trees, a river flowing by the side, a mountain backdrop, wooden buildings, terrace farms, everything that could fit into a postcard. We had seen this village on our way to Har Ki Dun valley. Thankfully, on our return leg, we camped near the village, and had the energy reserves to walk around the place.

This a neat little bridge with the sheen of newly polished wood, connecting the village to the trekking route and the rest of the world, set over the nascent blue waters of the Har Ki Dun Gaad (River).

The dormant engineer in me got a wake-up call while looking at the basic structure. This bridge was rebuilt recently, but the underlying architecture is more than a few decades old. Just look at those long wooden rivets! (I hope those are indeed rivets. My engineering knowledge, for the lack of a better word, sucks.) 

Here's proof that I crossed the Rubicon. I wonder why I was wearing that jacket though.

Another bridge on the trek route, a few kilometers away. I was amazed at the simplicity and efficiency of these structures, built using locally available material like wood and rocks. This is also how the Gangar bridge might have looked, before the renovation.

Engineering art at its basic best, a different sort of support mechanism.

A small mustard field at the entrance of the village. Now that's what I call landscaping!

We had to walk a bit to reach the center of the village. Some houses had micro mustard farms adjacent to them. Notice that the houses are also built with locally available material - stone slabs for roofing and wood for the structure.

Carpentry must be an in-demand profession here. There was a good amount of new construction and renovation happening. Loggerhead!

A typical Gangar house. The lower floor is taken up by the cattle.

The connection point to the rest of the world for a long time - the ubiquitous India Post.

People here build storage facilities like these, separate from their main houses.

The epicenter of the town - the village temple. All action happens in and around this place.

Another reason for me to repeat the word ubiquitous - cricket. The playground is by the side of the village temple. Can you spot the red tennis ball? 

We were invited into a house to have a taste of the local brew. (Double entendre intended) The hospitality of the place is to be experienced to be believed.

The streets of Gangar!

Men playing cards are a common sight in the Garwhal region (No, I am not going to repeat that ubiq.. word). Women tend to take up bulk of the household and even farm work. Flocks of goats and sheep form the bedrock of the Gangarian economy. Who takes care of them? Surprise! ....Women and kids.  
Scene in front of the temple. I call this cold play.

Community hall of sorts.

This is the temple of Someshwar Devta (more popularly known as King Duryodhan, the kickass/badass character from the Mahabharatha). This temple that worships a villain, in itself, represents the multitudes within the idea of our nationhood. Btw, back home in Kerala, we do have a temple in Malanada, dedicated to King D (also the sight of a horrific tragedy during a fireworks display 15-20 years ago).

Duryodhana is worshiped in some places in Uttarakhand, and legend has it that the mountain folk fought by his side during the Mahabharatha war. He is still their king and keeper - talk about the loyalty of mountain folks. Here's a link with some more interesting information regarding the choice of deity.

Motifs on top of the temple.

Two Bhotia dogs - two different moods.

Inside another house.

Biju wanted to buy some cloth that the locals use to make their sweaters. This material, available in black and grey, is made from wool, and is known to be more effective in resisting cold than some of the more modern materials. The granny in the pic above took us to her store/storage so that we could do some shopping.

In shopkeeper mode! Notice the artwork even in the storage structure.

Caught in action. 

Coming back to construction, a house like this costs the locals about 4-5 lakh rupees to build. I think the bulk of that would go into labor, as construction material is locally sourced with relative ease.  The wood used comes from deodar trees, available in the hills, and known for its ability to withstand dampness. (They are not selling, btw, as far as I know; in case anyone is rubbing their hands in glee (a) looking at undervalued assets or (b) hoping to live in a slice of paradise.)

The lower half of the house is reserved for livestock. Compare the basic efficiency of these rural construction ideas with the monstrosities masquerading as urban architectural brilliance.

A house being constructed.

Local real estate boom - a new one that's ready for a family to move in to. I cannot but help notice the metal roofing that's turning its back on tradition. That said, it might make better sense to have these (instead of stone slabs for roofs) in a seismic zone like the Himalayas.

We were amazed that they had managed to get this village connected using a satellite dish. All of us called our families from here after a gap of five days. The telephone booth is run by the village pradhaan (chief) who is seen waving us goodbye. He was an unabashed Modi fan, and told us that this time around, the entire village was going to vote for change. Voting had not happened by then, but his POV turned true when the results came out around 45 days later.

One last look from above. You can see our little tents in the far right corner of the picture.

A flour mill in front of the village in action.

The water flow that powers the mill.

Gangar was an amazing experience is simple living. That said, there were casualties (1) health care and (2) education. I have written about the absence of healthcare facilities in earlier parts of this trek blog.

Education is a tough proposition in the hills. Teachers who come to the village schools on deputation often leave quickly, unable to cope up with the weather and the absence of modern amenities. Gangar is a relatively better off village, and some of them solve the problem by sending their kids to nearby towns for schooling.

Teachers, btw, are pretty much treated like heroes here. We were told that in Gangar, the resident teacher does not even have to cook. He or she is considered a guest, and the villagers vie with one another to invite the teacher to their houses everyday to provide him/her the best that their kitchens have to offer. that gave me an interesting idea! While idling over a brew or two at the camp that night, I discussed the idea with my fellow trekkers. I should not have, because the idea just blew up inside the tent.

The villagers switched off their solar-powered lights by around 7.30. We partied outside our tents long after our trek support (trek support - I like that phrase) had gone to sleep. This was the last cold night for us for some time, and we were determined to extend it till we dropped.


Next day, we moved on to Taluka. While waiting for our crew to arrive at Taluka, we spent some time at this shop drinking tea, eating omelets, and playing with these kids (including buying stuff from their shop and giving it to them). The older girl in the pic is Kajol and here she is playing bhooth (ghost) with her younger sister.

The younger one in a thoughtful mood. 

Kajol inspired my wife to do what I believe is one her best creations till date. (Notice that we are all stiff when it comes to posing for pics! :-)
On our way back, we saw some Gujjar huts. Gujjars are a nomadic population that survives on herding cattle. You might be able to make out the buffaloes in this pic.

I leave you with the image of a peacock with something up her derriere. This was at a Hotel in Purola, where we stayed on our way back to Dehradun.

The return journey was kind of eventful. Biju had booked a flight from Dehradun to BLR, while Randeep and I had booked a train. The train connecting us to Delhi (supposed to come in by around 11 in the night) was delayed by a few hours, which meant that we would miss the Delhi-Bangalore train. Randeep immediately booked a taxi to Delhi while I decided to act silly and book the flight for the next day (dreading the taxi ride as well as another two days in the train). Back in the Hotel, I tried to book the tickets and watched in horror as the rate climbed by 1,000 Rupees every time I tried to book. All said and done, my tickets were booked at a rate 30% higher than what I had seen on my phone while I was at the railway station. I went to sleep realizing how that peacock would have felt, had it been real.