Monday, December 28, 2009

A lotta history - KOTGARH

- Millie Thakur Vanjape

The Nalwa family legend passed down through the ages by word of mouth from father to son, dates back probably to medieval India, the time of the Muslim invasions. Raja Nal was the ruler of a Kingdom in Bharat Varsh, in the Indo - Gangetic plains. He lost his empire in a gambling session. Unable to bear the ignominy of his folly Nal sought refuge in the Himalayas. During the course of his wanderings he reached Narkanda.The locals adopted and offered him land & built him a house at Marni, below Narkanda (batnal), and the Hatu peak, facing Kotgarh. The rani gathered her valuables and decided to follow her husband. They had two sons the elder Bhim Singh and the younger Dhian Singh. Dhian Singh and the rani, perished in a flash flood caused by a cloud burst. A grieving Bhim Singh moved and settled down at Baghot, a place above village Bhareri.The ruins of the house he built are still there. However, in recent times the forest department has built a range hut & damaged the ruins considerably.

Bhim and his descendants lived at Baghot till the onset of the Gurkha invasions. The invaders were called 'Garhias'. Fed up with the daily looting, the lone descendant of Bhim sought the advice of 'Kot Guru', a rishi revered both by the locals and Garhia's alike. The rishi advised him to move down from Baghot to a spot below the ashram, where Gorton High School and the post office is located. This is where the descendant of Nal set up his abode and raised his family.Guru Ka Kot, the rishi's ashram, was situated in Pichla Danthala. The people were in awe of him and feared his wrath. With the passage of time the area of ' Kot Guru ' came to be known as Kotgarh and the residents are till date referred to as ' Kotguru ' The family members have adopted different surnames as Bhaik, Thakur, Kaith and Nalwa. The Mehta's of village Kirti in Kotgarh are also from the Nal Gotra.

Sometime in 1998 my grandpa had met Mr. Anil Bhaik, a petition writer at Rampur Bushahar and learnt from him that several Bhaik families were living beyond Rampur in 15 Bish and he is one of them. Nobody knows from where and when they migrated. Ram Singh Kaith was the Patwari of Outer Siraj in Kullu District. The Deputy commissioner was pleased with his services and rewarded him with the huge piece of land known as Village Koel.

The Bushahar State boundary extended from Kinnaur to Kalka. Raja Shamsher Singh, grandfather of Virbhadar Singh the state congress president,was the ruler during the 19th.century.The state was further parcelled out into small pricipalities governed by local Rana's. Kotgarh and Kotkhai was ruled by one such Rana.The Rana spent most of his time at Kotkhai and just a couple of summer months at Kotgarh. In his absence his representative the 'Mukhia' or chief,looked after Kotgarh.

It is believed that THALADU or his son PALLU ( Dada's grand father) was the Rana's Mukhia at Kotgarh in 1845 AD. During his annual visit that year the Rana saw a young beautiful woman carrying a pitcher of water from the 'khobli ba' to her house in Laptari. The Rana ordered his guards to bring the woman to his chamber that night. The guards immediately went to the womans house and ordered her father in law, Mhashu, to send his daughter in law to the Rana. The woman was the newly wedded bride of Mhashu's son and this proposition was unacceptable. The old man went to the Mukhia and sought his advice. The Mukhia assured Mhashu that he will persuade the Rana to desist from his desire.

However,when the Rana refused to listen to reason the Mukhia asked Mhashu to arrange a feast at his home that evening and invite all the male members from near by villages. The Mukhia had a plan. That night when the woman did not turn up the Rana was furious and ordered his guards to go and bring her immediately. The Mukhia was waiting and when the guards came they were caught and killed. The villagers then attacked the Rana but he managed to flee and reached Kumarsain via Chimla during the night and requested the Rana for help.

The Rana of Kumarsain only helped him to reach Kotkhai. A humiliated and furious Rana plotted and set out to take revenge in early 1846.The Mukhia was prepared and ambushed the raiding party at Hatu and repulsed the attackers. Another attempt met a similar fate. The Rana went to Kalka and asked the British Political Agent for help. The British were always on the look out for such opportunities and immediately dispatched soldiers under the command of a captain to help the Rana. The captain ousted the Mukhia who moved to Danthla. Three months later when the political agent visited Kotgarh and learnt the truth he apologised to the Mukhia and offered him back his land but was not accepted. The Agent then made out a document according to which the British would run a charitable school and hospital on the land.

If ever these institutions were closed down the property would revert to the descendants. Thus a hospital, church and Gorton Mission High School came to be set up - and are still there.

This was narrated by my grand father (Late Shiv Ram Thakur) to my father (Avninder Thakur) on the 1st of January 1999.


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I was born into (woke up one day belonging to) the Nalwa Family!!

I am from Kotgarh... Need I say more

Monday, December 7, 2009

Getting to KOTGARH





Driving Distance from Delhi: 10 Hours.

Route: Delhi - Ambala - Chandigarh - Kalka - Kandaghat - Shogi - Shimla - Theog - Narkanda - Kotgarh.

Time to visit: Throughout the year

Temperature: It vary with the seasons.
May to September have pleasant days (light woolens) and cold nights while April & October have pleasant days. The night temperature may dip to 5 degrees. During winters, there may be snowfall and temperatures dip sharply.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Christianity in Kotgarh

On 22nd February 1910, at the Cathedral Church of the Resurrection in Lahore, Bishop George Alfred Lefroy (1854-1922) inaugurated the Brotherhood of the Imitation of Jesus. Reverend Samuel Stokes (1882-1946), an American missionary, became the provisional Minister-General of this Franciscan Brotherhood. Reverend Frederick Western (1880-1951) of the Cambridge Mission to Delhi and Reverend C. F. Andrews (1871-1940) possessed loose personal associations with the Brotherhood. Its intent embraced service to the sick and education for the young.

The Brotherhood was located at Kotgarh in Punjab. It had ties with the Church Missionary Society and the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States. The Brotherhood collapsed in 1912 when Stokes left it to marry an Indian woman; the later phase of Chritistian religious and missionary activities started to take on a dramatic turn their on.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Samuel Evans Stokes (Satyanand Stokes)

Kotgarh valley is famous for its world class quality apples. The apple cultivation of the place was initiated by Satyanand Stokes who was an American missionary.

Samuel Evans Stokes, an American Missionary landed in Kotgarh in 1904 as a young man of 22 to spread the message of Christ and also with the objective of helping the hill people. He worked at the leper home in the Shimla hills of Himachal Pradesh for two years. Then becoming disillusioned with the missionary way of life, he severed links with missionary organisations and became a sort of a hermit, giving up all material comforts and living for some time in a cave.

Samuel Evans Stokes was involved with the spreading of Christianity however the beauty and the culture of Kotgarh had an effect on him and he converted to Hinduism and took a Hindu name Satyanand Stokes and made Barobag his abode. He found the climate and soil conclusive to apple cultivation (the apple production was at its peak in America) and in 1919 he planted trees on his 200 acres and they began bearing apples in 1925.The natives took to growing apples soon and today it has spread all over the Shimla hills. The Apple boom in Kotgarh improved the economy of the place.

He is the only American to have served in the All-India Congress Committee of the Indian National Congress. He passed away on 14 May 1946, having spent more than 43 years of his life in the country which he had come to change but which changed him instead.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A BLAST FROM THE PAST




A BLAST FROM THE PAST


Reg letter - kotgarh - 1a QV perfin on 2a QV Registration Envelope 1902 Simla Registered to Kotgarh.

Friday, November 13, 2009

HISTORY of KOTGARH

Originally called Sandoch and later Gurukot, little is known about its past before the Gurkhas came to world sway over the region during the early 19th century. The Gurkha rule ended in 1815 when British forces defeated Gurkha armies and retained a few pockets of land in the hills. Kotgarh was one of them and it became a British territory wedged between autonomous hill states.

The British government retained it as a military post and over the years it became a trading centre as well, probably the farthest in the north. But soon the cantonment was wound up and the buildings and property handed over to missionaries. The British government encouraged missionary work in Kotgarh to enhance its influence in the area.

St Mary’s Church was built in Kotgarh in 1873 and schools were opened in Kotgarh and the surrounding villages. Murry’s Handbook of Punjab, 1883, described Kotgarh as a "pretty little place with a post office, a pretty church and a missionary station". Little has changed since then.

Unlike Shimla that grew from a tiny village to become the summer capital of British India, Kotgarh has remained almost frozen in time. The pretty wooden church with its old graveyard, the Gorton Mission School and other buildings that survive today hold lingering images of a bygone era.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Kotgarh from the Sky







Kotgarh is a famous enchanting ancient village on the left bank of river Satluj. The Kotgarh valley is the apple heartland of Himachal. It is at a distance of 82 kilometers from Shimla on the old Hindustan-Tibet road and 6,500 feet above the sea level.

Rudyard Kipling called it the ‘Mistress of the Northern Hills' and mention of Kotgarh could be found in one of his short story 'Lispeth'.

Geography

Kotgarh is situated in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, India, its geographical coordinates are 31° 19' 0" North, 77° 29' 0" East .

The valley is in the shape of an 'U' that adds to the exceptional beauty of the area. It offers a beautiful panoramic view of the Kullu valley and the snow clad Greater Himalayas. About 1800 m down flows the turbulent Satluj fed by the melting glaciers of the Greater Himalayas. Its snaky and glistening appearance add enormous beauty to the view of the valley area. Kotgarh is on the northern spur of the Hattu range overlooking the Satluj.

Rudyard Kipling's Kim/Chapter 14 (Chapter has mention of Kotgarh)

Kim/Chapter 14

My brother kneels (so saith Kabir)

To stone and brass in heathen-wise,

But in my brother’s voice I hear

My own unanswered agonies.

His God is as his Fates assign—
His prayer is all the world’s and mine.—Kabir.

At moonrise the cautious coolies got under way. The lama, refreshed by his sleep and the spirit, needed no more than Kim’s shoulder to bear him along—a silent, swift-striding man. They held the shale-sprinkled grass for an hour, swept round the shoulder of an immortal cliff, and climbed into a new country entirely blocked off from all sight of Chini valley. A huge pasture-ground ran up fan-shaped to the living snow. At its base was perhaps half an acre of flat land, on which stood a few soil and timber huts. Behind them—for, hill-fashion, they were perched on the edge of all things—the ground fell sheer two thousand feet to Shamlegh-midden, where never yet man has set foot.

The men made no motion to divide the plunder till they had seen the lama bedded down in the best room of the place, with Kim shampooing his feet, Mohammedan fashion.

“We will send food,” said the Ao-chung man, “and the red-topped kilta. By dawn there will be none to give evidence, one way or the other. If anything is not needed in the kilta—see here!”

He pointed through the window—opening into space that was filled with moonlight reflected from the snow—and threw out an empty whisky-bottle.

“No need to listen for the fall. This is the world’s end,” he said, and swung off. The lama looked forth, a hand on either sill, with eyes that shone like yellow opals. From the enormous pit before him white peaks lifted themselves yearning to the moonlight. The rest was as the darkness of interstellar space.

“These,” he said slowly, “are indeed my Hills. Thus should a man abide, perched above the world, separated from delights, considering vast matters.”

“Yes; if he has a chela to prepare tea for him, and to fold a blanket for his head, and to chase out calving cows.”

A smoky lamp burned in a niche, but the full moonlight beat it down; and by the mixed light, stooping above the food-bag and cups, Kim moved like a tall ghost.

“Ai! But now I have let the blood cool my head still beats and drums, and there is a cord round the back of my neck.”

“No wonder. It was a strong blow. May he who dealt it——”

“But for my own passions there would have been no evil.”

“What evil? Thou hast saved the Sahibs from death they deserved a hundred times.”

“The lesson is not well learnt, chela.” The lama came to rest on a folded blanket, as Kim went forward with his evening routine. “The blow was but a shadow upon a shadow. Evil in itself—my legs weary apace these latter days!—it met evil in me—anger, rage, and a lust to return evil. These wrought in my blood, woke tumult in my stomach, and dazzled my ears.” Here he drank scalding black-tea ceremonially, taking the hot cup from Kim’s hand. “Had I been passionless, the evil blow would have done only bodily evil—a scar, or a bruise—which is illusion. But my mind was not abstracted, for rushed in straightway a lust to let the Spiti men kill. In fighting that lust, my soul was torn and wrenched beyond a thousand blows. Not till I had repeated the Blessings (he meant the Buddhist Beatitudes) did I achieve calm. But the evil planted in me by that moment’s carelessness works out to its end. Just is the Wheel, swerving not a hair! Learn the lesson, chela.”

“It is too high for me,” Kim muttered. “I am still all shaken. I am glad I hurt the man.”

“I felt that sleeping upon thy knees, in the wood below. It disquieted me in my dreams—the evil in thy soul working through to mine. Yet on the other hand”—he loosed his rosary—“I have acquired merit by saving two lives—the lives of those that wronged me. Now I must see into the Cause of Things. The boat of my soul staggers.”

“Sleep, and be strong. That is wisest.”

“I meditate: there is a need greater than thou knowest.”

Till the dawn, hour after hour, as the moonlight paled on the high peaks, and that which had been belted blackness on the sides of the far hills showed as tender green forest, the lama stared fixedly at the wall. From time to time he groaned. Outside the barred door, where discomfited kine came to ask for their old stable, Shamlegh and the coolies gave itself up to plunder and riotous living. The Ao-chung man was their leader, and once they had opened the Sahibs’ tinned foods and found that they were very good they dared not turn back. Shamlegh kitchen-midden took the dunnage.

When Kim, after a night of bad dreams, stole forth to brush his teeth in the morning chill a fair-coloured woman with turquoise-studded headgear drew him aside.

“The others have gone. They left thee this kilta as the promise was. I do not love Sahibs, but thou wilt make us a charm in return for it. We do not wish little Shamlegh to get a bad name on account of the—accident. I am the Woman of Shamlegh.” She looked him over with bold, bright eyes, unlike the usual furtive glance of hill-women.

“Assuredly. But it must be done in secret.”

She raised the heavy kilta like a toy and slung it into her own hut.

“Out and bar the door! Let none come near till it is finished.”

“But afterwards—we may talk?”

Kim tilted the kilta on the floor—a cascade of Survey instruments, books, diaries, letters, maps, and queerly scented native correspondence. At the very bottom was an embroidered bag covering a sealed, gilded, and illuminated document such as one King sends to another. Kim caught his breath with delight, and reviewed the situation from a Sahib’s point of view.

“The books I do not want. Besides, they are logarithms—Survey, I suppose.” He laid them aside. “The letters I do not understand, but Colonel Creighton will. They must all be kept. The maps—they draw better maps than me—of course. All the native letters—oho!—and particularly the murasla.” He sniffed the embroidered bag. “That must be from Hilás or Bunár, and Hurree Babu spoke truth. By Jove! It is a fine haul. I wish Hurree could know.... The rest must go out of the window.” He fingered a superb prismatic compass and the shiny top of a theodolite. But after all, a Sahib cannot very well steal, and the things might be inconvenient evidence later. He sorted out every scrap of manuscript, every map, and the native letters. They made one softish slab. The three locked ferril-backed books, with five worn pocket-books, he put aside.

“The letters and the murasla I must carry inside my coat and under my belt, and the hand-written books I must put into the food-bag. It will be very heavy. No. I do not think there is anything more. If there is, the coolies have thrown it down the khud, so thatt is all right. Now you go too.” He repacked the kilta with all he meant to lose, and hove it up on to the window-sill. A thousand feet below lay a long, lazy, round-shouldered bank of mist, as yet untouched by the morning sun. A thousand feet below that was an hundred-year-old pine-forest. He could see the green tops looking like a bed of moss when a wind-eddy thinned the cloud.

“No! I don’t think any one will go after you!”

The wheeling basket vomited its contents as it dropped. The theodolite hit a jutting cliff-ledge and exploded like a shell; the books, inkstand, paint-boxes, compasses, and rulers showed for a few seconds like a swarm of bees. Then they vanished; and, though Kim, hanging half out of the window, strained his young ears, never a sound came up from the gulf.

“Five hundred—a thousand rupees could not buy them,” he thought sorrowfully. “It was verree wasteful, but I have all their other stuff—everything they did—I hope. Now how the deuce am I to tell Hurree Babu, and whatt the deuce am I to do? And my old man is sick. I must tie up the letters in oilcloth. That is something to do first—else they will get all sweated.... And I am all alone!” He bound them into a neat packet, swedging down the stiff, sticky oilcloth at the corners, for his roving life had made him as methodical as an old hunter in matters of the road. Then with double care he packed away the books at the bottom of the food-bag.

The woman rapped at the door.

“But thou hast made no charm,” she said, looking about.

“There is no need.” Kim had completely overlooked the necessity for a little patter-talk. The woman laughed at his confusion irreverently.

“None—for thee. Thou canst cast a spell by the mere winking of an eye. But think of us poor people when thou art gone! They were all too drunk last night to hear a woman. Thou art not drunk?”

“I am a priest.” Kim had recovered himself, and, the woman being aught but unlovely, thought best to stand on his office.

“I warned them that the Sahibs will be angry and will make an inquisition and a report to the Rajah. There is also the Babu with them. Clerks have long tongues.”

“Is that all thy trouble?” The plan rose fully formed in Kim’s mind, and he smiled ravishingly.

“Not all,” quoth the woman, putting out a hard brown hand all covered with turquoises set in silver.

“I can finish that in a breath,” he went on quickly. “The Babu is the very hakim (thou hast heard of him) who was wandering among the hills by Ziglaur. I know him.”

“He will tell for the sake of a reward. Sahibs cannot distinguish one hillman from another, but Babus have eyes for men—and women.”

“Carry a word to him from me.”

“There is nothing I would not do for thee.”

He accepted the compliment calmly, as men must in lands where women make the love, tore a leaf from a note-book, and with a patent indelible pencil wrote in gross Shikast—the script that bad little boys use when they write dirt on walls: “I have everything that they have written: their pictures of the country, and many letters. Especially the murasla. Tell me what to do. I am at Shamlegh-under-the-Snow. The old man is sick.”

“Take this to him. It will altogether shut his mouth. He cannot have gone far.”

“Indeed no. They are still in the forest across the spur. Our children went to watch them when the light came, and have cried the news as they moved.”

Kim looked his astonishment; but from the edge of the sheep-pasture floated a shrill, kite-like trill. A child tending cattle had picked it up from a brother or sister on the far side of the slope that commanded Chini valley.

“My husbands are also out there gathering wood.” She drew a handful of walnuts from her bosom, split one neatly, and began to eat. Kim affected blank ignorance.

“Dost thou not know the meaning of the walnut—priest?” she said coyly, and handed him the half-shells.

“Well thought of.” He slipped the piece of paper between them quickly. “Hast thou a little wax to close them on this letter?”

The woman sighed aloud, and Kim relented.

“There is no payment till service has been rendered. Carry this to the Babu, and say it was sent by the Son of the Charm.”

“Ai! Truly! Truly! By a magician—who is like a Sahib.”

“Nay, Son of the Charm: and ask if there be any answer.”

“But if he offer a rudeness? I—I am afraid.”

Kim laughed. “He is, I have no doubt, very cold[tired] and very hungry. The Hills make cold bed-fellows. Hai, my”—it was on the tip of his tongue to say Mother, but he turned it to Sister—“thou art a wise and witty woman. By this time all the villages know what has befallen the Sahibs—eh?”

“True. News was at Ziglaur by midnight, and by to-morrow should be at Kotgarh. The villages are both afraid and angry.”

“No need. Tell the villages to feed the Sahibs and pass them on, in peace. We must get them quietly away from our valleys. To steal is one thing—to kill another. The Babu will understand, and there will be no after-complaints. Be swift. I must tend my master when he wakes.”

“So be it. After service—thou hast said?—comes the reward. I am the Woman of Shamlegh, and I hold from the Rajah. I am no common bearer of babes. Shamlegh is thine: hoof and horn and hide; milk and butter. Take or leave.”

She turned resolutely uphill, her silver necklaces clicking on her broad breast, to meet the morning sun fifteen hundred feet above them. This time Kim thought in the vernacular as he waxed down the oilskin edges of the packets.

“How can a man follow the Way or the Great Game when he is eternally pestered by women? There was that girl at Akrola by the Ford; and there was the scullion’s wife behind the dovecot—not counting the others—and now comes this one! When I was a child it was well enough, but now I am a man and they will not regard me as a man. Walnuts indeed! Ho! ho! It is almonds in the Plains!”

He went out to levy on the village—not with a begging-bowl, which might do for down-country, but in the manner of a prince. Shamlegh’s summer population is only three families—four women and eight or nine men. They were all full of tinned meats—and mixed drinks, from ammoniated quinine to white vodka—for they had taken their full share in the overnight loot. The neat Continental tents had been cut up and shared long ago, and there were patent aluminium saucepans abroad.

But they considered the lama’s presence a perfect safeguard against all consequences, and impenitently brought Kim of their best—even to a drink of chang—the barley-beer that comes from Ladakh-way. Then they thawed out in the sun, and sat with their legs hanging over infinite abysses, chattering, laughing, and smoking. They judged India and its Government solely from their experience of wandering Sahibs who had employed them or their friends as shikarris. Kim heard tales of shots missed upon ibex, serow, or markhor, by Sahibs twenty years in their graves—every detail lighted from behind like twigs on tree-tops seen against lightning. They told him of their little diseases, and, more important, the diseases of their tiny, sure-footed cattle; of trips as far as Kotgarh, where the strange missionaries live, and beyond even to marvellous Simla, where the streets are paved with silver, and any one, look you, can get service with the Sahibs, who ride about in two-wheeled carts and spend money with a spade. Presently, grave and aloof, walking very heavily, the lama joined himself to the chatter under the eaves, and they gave him great room. The thin air refreshed him, and he sat on the edge of precipices with the best of them, and, when talk languished, flung pebbles into the void. Thirty miles away, as the eagle flies, lay the next range, seamed and channelled and pitted with little patches of brush-forests, each a day’s dark march. Behind the village, Shamlegh hill itself cut off all view to southward. It was like sitting in a swallow’s nest under the eaves of the roof of the world.

From time to time the lama stretched out his hand, and with a little, low-voiced prompting would point out the road to Spiti and north across the Parungla.

“Beyond, where the hills lie thickest, lies De-ch’en” (he meant Han-lé), “the great Monastery. s’Tag-stan-ras-ch’en built it, and of him there runs this tale.” Whereupon he told it: a fantastic piled narrative of bewitchment and miracles that set Shamlegh agasping. Turning west a little, he speered for the green hills of Kulu, and sought Kailung under the glaciers. “For thither came I in the old, old days. From Leh I came, over the Baralachi.”

“Yes, yes; we know it,” said the far-faring people of Shamlegh.

“And I slept two nights with the priests of Kailung. These are the hills of my delight! Shadows blessed above all other shadows! There my eyes opened on this world; there my eyes were opened to this world; there I found Enlightenment; and there I girt my loins for my Search. Out of the Hills I came—the high Hills and the strong winds. Oh, just is the Wheel!” He blessed them in detail—the great glaciers, the naked rocks, the piled moraines and tumbled shale; dry upland, hidden salt-lake, age-old timber and fruitful water-shot valley one after the other, as a dying man blesses his folk, and Kim marvelled at his passion.

“Yes—yes. There is no place like our Hills,” said the people of Shamlegh. And they fell to wondering how a man could live in the hot terrible Plains where the cattle run as big as elephants, unfit to plough on a hillside; where village touches village, they had heard, for a hundred miles; where folk went about stealing in gangs, and what the robbers spared the Police carried utterly away.

So the still forenoon wore through, and at the end of it Kim’s messenger dropped from the steep pasture as unbreathed as when she had set out.

“I sent a word to the hakim,” Kim explained, while she made reverence.

“He joined himself to the idolaters? Nay, I remember he did a healing upon one of them. He has acquired merit, though the healed employed his strength for evil. Just is the Wheel! What of the hakim?”

“I feared that thou hadst been bruised and—and I knew he was wise.” Kim took the waxed walnut-shell and read in English on the back of his note: “Your favor received. Cannot get away from present company at present, but shall take them into Simla. After which, hope to rejoin you. Inexpedient to follow angry gentlemen. Return by same road you came, and will overtake. Highly gratified about correspondence due to my forethought. He says, Holy One, that he will escape from the idolaters, and will return to us. Shall we wait awhile at Shamlegh, then?”

The lama looked long and lovingly upon the hills and shook his head.

“That may not be, chela. From my bones outward I do desire it, but it is forbidden. I have seen the Cause of Things.”

“Why? When [the] Hills give thee back thy strength day by day? Remember we were weak and fainting down below there in the Doon.”

“I became strong to do evil and to forget. A brawler and a swashbuckler upon the hillsides was I.” Kim bit back a smile. “Just and perfect is the Wheel, swerving not a hair. When I was a man—a long time ago—I did pilgrimage to Guru Ch’wan among the poplars” (he pointed Bhotan-wards), “where they keep the Sacred Horse.”

“Quiet, be quiet!” said Shamlegh, all arow. “He speaks of Jam-lin-nin-k’or, the Horse That Can Go Round The World In a Day.”

“I speak to my chela only,” said the lama, in gentle reproof, and they scattered like frost on south eaves of a morning. “I did not seek truth in those days, but the talk of doctrine. All illusion! I drank the beer and ate the bread of Guru Ch’wan. Next day one said: ‘We go out to fight Sangor Gutok down the valley to discover (mark again how Lust is tied to Anger!) which abbot shall bear rule in the valley, and take the profit of the prayers they print at Sangor Gutok.’ I went, and we fought a day.”

“But how, Holy One?”

“With our long pencases as I [could] have shown.... I say, we fought under the poplars, both abbots and all the monks, and one laid open my forehead to the bone. See!” He tilted back his cap and showed a puckered silvery scar. “Just and perfect is the Wheel! Yesterday the scar itched, and after fifty years I recalled how it was dealt and the face of him who dealt it; dwelling a little in illusion. Followed that which thou didst see—strife and stupidity. Just is the Wheel! The idolater’s blow fell upon the scar. Then I was shaken in my soul: my soul was darkened, and the boat of my soul rocked upon the waters of illusion. Not till I came to Shamlegh could I meditate upon the Cause of Things, or trace the running grass-roots of Evil. I strove all the long night.”

“But, Holy One, thou art innocent of all evil. May I be thy sacrifice!”

Kim was genuinely distressed at the old man’s sorrow, and Mahbub Ali’s phrase slipped out unawares.

“In the dawn,” he went on more gravely, ready rosary clicking between the slow sentences, “came enlightenment. It is here.... I am an old man... hill-bred, hill-fed, never to sit down among my Hills. Three years I travelled through Hind, but—can earth be stronger than Mother Earth? My stupid body yearned to the Hills and the snow of the Hills, from below there. I said, and it is true, my Search is sure. So, at the Kulu woman’s house I turned hillward, over-persuaded by myself. There is no blame to the hakim. He—following Desire—foretold that the Hills would make me strong. They strengthened me to do evil to forget my Search. I delighted in life and the lust of life. I desired strong slopes to climb. I cast about to find them. I measured the strength of my body, which is evil, against the high hills. I made a mock of thee when thy breath came short under Jamnotri. I jested when thou wouldst not face the snow of the pass.”

“But what harm? I was afraid. It was just. I am not a hillman; and I loved thee for thy new strength.”

“More than once I remember,” he rested his cheek dolefully on his hand, “I sought thy praise and the hakim’s for the mere strength of my legs. Thus evil followed evil till the cup was full. Just is the Wheel! All Hind for three years did me all honour. From the Fountain of Wisdom in the Wonder House to”—he smiled—“a little child playing by a big gun—the world prepared my road. And why?”

“Because we loved thee. It is only the fever of the blow. I myself am still sick and shaken.”

“No! It was because I was upon the Way—tuned as are si-nen (cymbals) to the purpose of the Law. I departed from that ordinance. The tune was broken: followed the punishment. In my own Hills, on the edge of my own country, in the very place of my evil desire, comes the buffet—here!” (He touched his brow.) “As a novice is beaten when he misplaces the cups, so am I beaten, who was abbot of Such-zen. No word, look you, but a blow, chela.”

“But the Sahibs did not know thee, Holy One?”

“We were well matched. Ignorance and Lust met Ignorance and Lust upon the road, and they begat Anger. The blow was a sign to me, who am no better than a strayed yak, that my place is not here. Who can read the Cause of an act is half-way to Freedom! ‘Back to the path,’ says the Blow. ‘The Hills are not for thee. Thou canst not choose Freedom and go in bondage to the delight of life.’”

“If we had never met that thrice-cursed Russian!”

“Our Lord Himself cannot make the Wheel swing backward. And for my merit that I had acquired I gain yet another sign.” He put his hand in his bosom, and drew forth the Wheel of Life. “Look! I considered this after I had meditated. There remains untorn by the idolater no more than the breadth of my finger-nail.”

“I see.”

“So much, then, is the span of my life in this body. I have served the Wheel all my days. Now the Wheel serves me. But for the merit I have acquired in guiding thee upon the Way, there would have been added to me yet another life ere I had found my River. Is it plain, chela?”

Kim stared at the brutally disfigured chart. From left to right diagonally the rent ran—from the Eleventh House where Desire gives birth to the Child (as it is drawn by Tibetans), across the human and animal worlds—to the Fifth House—the empty House of the Senses. The logic was unanswerable.

“Before our Lord won enlightenment,” the lama folded all away with reverence, “He was tempted. I too have been tempted, but it is finished. The Arrow fell in the Plains—not in the Hills. Therefore, what make we here?”

“Shall we at least wait for the hakim?”

“I know how long I live in this body. What can a hakim do?”

“But thou art all sick and shaken. Thou canst not walk.”

“How can I be sick if I see Freedom?” He rose unsteadily to his feet.

“Then I must get food from the village. Oh, the weary Road!” Kim felt that he too needed rest.

“That is lawful. Let us eat and go. The Arrow fell in Plains... but I yielded to Desire. Make ready, chela.”

Kim turned to the woman with the turquoise head-gear who had been idly pitching pebbles over the cliff. She smiled very kindly.

“I found him like a strayed buffalo in a corn-field—the Babu; snorting and sneezing with cold. He was so hungry that he forgot his dignity and gave me sweet words. The Sahibs have nothing.” She flung out an empty palm. “One is very sick about the stomach. Thy works[work]?”

Kim nodded, with a bright eye.

“I spoke to the Bengali first—and to the people of a near-by village after. The Sahibs will be given food as they need it—nor will the people ask money. The plunder is already distributed. That Babu makes lying speeches to the Sahibs. Why does he not leave them?”

“Out of the greatness of his heart.”

“’Was never a Bengali yet had one bigger than a dried walnut. But it is no matter.... Now as to walnuts. After servics[service] comes reward. I have said the village is thine.”

“It is my loss,” Kim began. “Even now I had planned desirable things in my heart which”—there is no need to go through the compliments proper to these occasions. He sighed deeply.... “But my master, led by a vision——”

“Huh! What can old eyes see except a full begging-bowl?”

“—turns from this village to the Plains again.”

“Bid him stay.”

Kim shook his head. “I know my Holy One, and his rage if he be crossed,” he replied impressively. “His curses shake the Hills.”

“Pity they did not save him from a broken head! I heard that thou wast the tiger-hearted one who smote the Sahib. Let him dream a little longer. Stay!”

“Hillwoman,” said Kim, with austerity that could not harden the outlines of his young oval face, “these matters are too high for thee.”

“The Gods be good to us! Since when have men and women been other than men and women?”

“A priest is a priest. He says he will go upon this hour. I am his chela, and I go with him. We need food for the Road. He is an honoured guest in all the villages, but”—he broke into a pure boy's[boyish] grin—“the food here is good. Give me some.”

“What if I do not give it thee? I am the woman of this village.”

“Then I curse thee—a little—not greatly, but enough to remember.” He could not help smiling.

“Thou hast cursed me already by the down-dropped eyelash and the uplifted chin. Curses? What should I care for mere words?” She clenched her hands upon her bosom.... But I would not have thee to go in anger, thinking hardly of me—a gatherer of cow-dung and grass at Shamlegh, but still a woman of substance.”

“I think nothing,” said Kim, “but that I am grieved to go, for I am very tired, and that we need food. Here is the bag.”

The woman snatched it angrily. “I was foolish,” said she. “Who is thy woman in the Plains? Fair or black? I was fair once. Laughest thou? Once, long ago, if thou canst believe, a Sahib looked on me with favour. Once, long ago, I wore European clothes at the Mission-house yonder.” She pointed towards Kotgarh. “Once, long ago, I was Ker-lis-ti-an and spoke English—as the Sahibs speak it. Yes. My Sahib said he would return and wed me—yes, wed me. He went away—I had nursed him when he was sick—but he never returned. Then I saw that the Gods of the Kerlistians lied, and I went back to my own people.... I have never set eyes on a Sahib since. (Do not laugh at me. The fit is past, little priestling.) Thy face and thy walk and thy fashion of speech put me in mind of my Sahib, though thou art only a wandering mendicant to whom I give a dole. Curse me? Thou canst neither curse nor bless!” She set her hands on her hips and laughed bitterly. “Thy Gods are lies; thy works are lies; thy words are lies. There are no Gods under all the heavens. I know it.... But for a while I thought it was my Sahib come back, and he was my God. Yes, once I made music on a pianno in the Mission-house at Kotgarh. Now I give alms to priests who are heatthen.” She wound up with the English word, and tied the mouth of the brimming bag.

“I wait for thee, chela,” said the lama, leaning against the door-post.

The woman swept the tall figure with her eyes. “He walk! He cannot cover half a mile. Whither would old bones go?”

At this Kim, already perplexed by the lama’s collapse, and foreseeing the weight of the bag, fairly lost his temper.

“What is it to thee, woman of ill-omen, where he goes?”

“Nothing—but something to thee, priest with a Sahib’s face. Wilt thou carry him on thy shoulders?”

“I go to the Plains. None must hinder my return. I have wrestled with my soul till I am strengthless. The stupid body is spent, and we are far from the Plains.”

“Behold!” she said simply, and drew aside to let Kim see his own utter helplessness. “Curse me. May be it will give him strength. Make a charm! Call on thy great God. Thou art a priest.” She turned away.

The lama had squatted limply, still holding by the door-post. One cannot strike down an old man that he recovers again like a boy in a night. Weakness bowed him to the earth, but his eyes that hung on Kim were alive and imploring.

“It is all well,” said Kim. “It is the thin air that weakens thee. In a little while we go! It is the mountain-sickness I too am a little while at stomach,” ... and he knelt and comforted with such poor words as came first to his lips. Then the woman returned, more erect than ever.

“Thy Gods useless, heh? Try mine. I am the Woman of Shamlegh.” She hailed hoarsely, and there came out of a cow-pen her two husbands and three others with a dooli, the rude native litter of the Hills, that they use for carrying the sick and for visits of state. “These cattle,” she did not condescend to look at them, “are thine for so long as thou shalt need.”

“But we will not go Simla-way. We will not go near the Sahibs!” cried the first husband.

“They will not run away as the others did, nor will they steal baggage. Two I know for weaklings. Stand to the rear-pole, Sonoo and Taree.” They obeyed swiftly. “Lower now, and lift in that holy man. I will see to the village and your virtuous wives till ye return.”

“When will that be?”

“Ask the priests. Do not pester me. Lay the food-bag at the foot, it balances better so.”

“Oh, Holy One, thy Hills are kinder than our Plains!” cried Kim, relieved, as the lama tottered to the litter. “It is a very king’s bed—a place of honour and ease. And we owe it to——”

“A woman of ill-omen. I need thy blessings as much as I do thy curses. It is my order and none of thine. Lift and away! Here! Hast thou money for the road?”

She beckoned Kim to her hut, and stooped above a battered English cash-box under her cot.

“I do not need anything,” said Kim, angered when he should have been grateful. “I am already rudely loaded with favours.”

She looked up with a curious smile and laid a hand on his shoulder. “At least, thank me. I am foul-faced and a hillwoman, but, as thy talk goes, I have acquired merit. Shall I show thee how the Sahibs render thanks?” and her hard eyes softened.

“I am but a wandering priest,” said Kim, his eyes lighting in answer. “Thou needest neither my blessings nor my curses.”

“Nay. But for one little moment—thou canst overtake the dooli in ten strides—if thou wast a Sahib, shall I show thee what thou wouldst do?”

“How if I guess, though?” said Kim, and putting his arm round her waist, he kissed her on the cheek, adding in English: “Thank you verree much, my dear.”

Kissing is practically unknown among Asiatics, which may have been the reason that she leaned back with wide-open eyes and a face of panic.

“Next time,” Kim went on, “you must not be so sure of your heathen priests. Now I say good-bye.” He held out his hand English-fashion. She took it mechanically. “Good-bye, my dear.”

“Good-bye, and—and”—she was remembering her English words one by one—“you will come back again? Good-bye, and—thee God bless you.”

Half an hour later, as the creaking litter jolted up the hill path that leads south-easterly from Shamlegh, Kim saw a tiny figure at the hut door waving a white rag.

“She has acquired merit beyond all others,” said the lama. “For to set a man upon the way to Freedom is half as great as though she had herself found it.”

“Umm,” said Kim thoughtfully, considering the past. “It may be that I have acquired merit also.... At least she did not treat me like a child.” He hitched the front of his robe, where lay the slab of documents and maps, restowed the precious food-bag at the lama’s feet, laid his hand on the litter edge, and buckled down to the slow pace of the grunting husbands.

“These also acquire merit,” said the lama, after three miles.

“More than that, they shall be paid in silver,” quoth Kim. The Woman of Shamlegh had given it to him; and it was only fair, he argued, that her men should earn it back again.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Lispeth - A short story by Rudyard Kipling (Based in KOTGARH)

Lispeth is a short story by Rudyard Kipling. It was first published in the Civil and Military Gazette on November 29th 1886; its first appearance in book form was in the first Indian edition of Plain Tales from the Hills in 1888, and it later appeared in subsequent editions of that collection.

Title: Lispeth
Author: Rudyard Kipling


Look, you have cast out Love! What Gods are these
You bid me please?
The Three in One, the One in Three? Not so!
To my own Gods I go.
It may be they shall give me greater ease
Than your cold Christ and tangled Trinities.

The Convert.


She was the daughter of Sonoo, a Hill-man, and Jadeh his wife. One year their maize failed, and two bears spent the night in their only poppy-field just above the Sutlej Valley on the Kotgarth side; so, next season, they turned Christian, and brought their baby to the Mission to be baptized. The Kotgarth Chaplain christened her Elizabeth, and "Lispeth" is the Hill or pahari pronunciation.

Later, cholera came into the Kotgarth Valley and carried off Sonoo and Jadeh, and Lispeth became half-servant, half-companion to the wife of the then Chaplain of Kotgarth. This was after the reign of the Moravian missionaries, but before Kotgarth had quite forgotten her title of "Mistress of the Northern Hills."

Whether Christianity improved Lispeth, or whether the gods of her own people would have done as much for her under any circumstances, I do not know; but she grew very lovely. When a Hill girl grows lovely, she is worth traveling fifty miles over bad ground to look upon. Lispeth had a Greek face--one of those faces people paint so often, and see so seldom. She was of a pale, ivory color and, for her race, extremely tall. Also, she possessed eyes that were wonderful; and, had she not been dressed in the abominable print- cloths affected by Missions, you would, meeting her on the hill- side unexpectedly, have thought her the original Diana of the Romans going out to slay.

Lispeth took to Christianity readily, and did not abandon it when she reached womanhood, as do some Hill girls. Her own people hated her because she had, they said, become a memsahib and washed herself daily; and the Chaplain's wife did not know what to do with her. Somehow, one cannot ask a stately goddess, five foot ten in her shoes, to clean plates and dishes. So she played with the Chaplain's children and took classes in the Sunday School, and read all the books in the house, and grew more and more beautiful, like the Princesses in fairy tales. The Chaplain's wife said that the girl ought to take service in Simla as a nurse or something "genteel." But Lispeth did not want to take service. She was very happy where she was.

When travellers--there were not many in those years--came to Kotgarth, Lispeth used to lock herself into her own room for fear they might take her away to Simla, or somewhere out into the unknown world.

One day, a few months after she was seventeen years old, Lispeth went out for a walk. She did not walk in the manner of English ladies--a mile and a half out, and a ride back again. She covered between twenty and thirty miles in her little constitutionals, all about and about, between Kotgarth and Narkunda. This time she came back at full dusk, stepping down the breakneck descent into Kotgarth with something heavy in her arms. The Chaplain's wife was dozing in the drawing-room when Lispeth came in breathing hard and very exhausted with her burden. Lispeth put it down on the sofa, and said simply:

"This is my husband. I found him on the Bagi Road. He has hurt himself. We will nurse him, and when he is well, your husband shall marry him to me."

This was the first mention Lispeth had ever made of her matrimonial views, and the Chaplain's wife shrieked with horror. However, the man on the sofa needed attention first. He was a young Englishman, and his head had been cut to the bone by something jagged. Lispeth said she had found him down the khud, so she had brought him in. He was breathing queerly and was unconscious.

He was put to bed and tended by the Chaplain, who knew something of medicine; and Lispeth waited outside the door in case she could be useful. She explained to the Chaplain that this was the man she meant to marry; and the Chaplain and his wife lectured her severely on the impropriety of her conduct. Lispeth listened quietly, and repeated her first proposition. It takes a great deal of Christianity to wipe out uncivilized Eastern instincts, such as falling in love at first sight. Lispeth, having found the man she worshipped, did not see why she should keep silent as to her choice. She had no intention of being sent away, either. She was going to nurse that Englishman until he was well enough to marry her. This was her little programme.

After a fortnight of slight fever and inflammation, the Englishman recovered coherence and thanked the Chaplain and his wife, and Lispeth--especially Lispeth--for their kindness. He was a traveller in the East, he said--they never talked about "globe- trotters" in those days, when the P. & O. fleet was young and small--and had come from Dehra Dun to hunt for plants and butterflies among the Simla hills. No one at Simla, therefore, knew anything about him. He fancied he must have fallen over the cliff while stalking a fern on a rotten tree-trunk, and that his coolies must have stolen his baggage and fled. He thought he would go back to Simla when he was a little stronger. He desired no more mountaineering.

He made small haste to go away, and recovered his strength slowly. Lispeth objected to being advised either by the Chaplain or his wife; so the latter spoke to the Englishman, and told him how matters stood in Lispeth's heart. He laughed a good deal, and said it was very pretty and romantic, a perfect idyl of the Himalayas; but, as he was engaged to a girl at Home, he fancied that nothing would happen. Certainly he would behave with discretion. He did that. Still he found it very pleasant to talk to Lispeth, and walk with Lispeth, and say nice things to her, and call her pet names while he was getting strong enough to go away. It meant nothing at all to him, and everything in the world to Lispeth. She was very happy while the fortnight lasted, because she had found a man to love.

Being a savage by birth, she took no trouble to hide her feelings, and the Englishman was amused. When he went away, Lispeth walked with him, up the Hill as far as Narkunda, very troubled and very miserable. The Chaplain' s wife, being a good Christian and disliking anything in the shape of fuss or scandal--Lispeth was beyond her management entirely--had told the Englishman to tell Lispeth that he was coming back to marry her. "She is but a child, you know, and, I fear, at heart a heathen," said the Chaplain's wife. So all the twelve miles up the hill the Englishman, with his arm around Lispeth's waist, was assuring the girl that he would come back and marry her; and Lispeth made him promise over and over again. She wept on the Narkunda Ridge till he had passed out of sight along the Muttiani path.

Then she dried her tears and went in to Kotgarth again, and said to the Chaplain's wife: "He will come back and marry me. He has gone to his own people to tell them so." And the Chaplain's wife soothed Lispeth and said: "He will come back." At the end of two months, Lispeth grew impatient, and was told that the Englishman had gone over the seas to England. She knew where England was, because she had read little geography primers; but, of course, she had no conception of the nature of the sea, being a Hill girl. There was an old puzzle-map of the World in the House. Lispeth had played with it when she was a child. She unearthed it again, and put it together of evenings, and cried to herself, and tried to imagine where her Englishman was. As she had no ideas of distance or steamboats, her notions were somewhat erroneous. It would not have made the least difference had she been perfectly correct; for the Englishman had no intention of coming back to marry a Hill girl. He forgot all about her by the time he was butterfly-hunting in Assam. He wrote a book on the East afterwards. Lispeth's name did not appear.

At the end of three months, Lispeth made daily pilgrimage to Narkunda to see if her Englishman was coming along the road. It gave her comfort, and the Chaplain's wife, finding her happier, thought that she was getting over her "barbarous and most indelicate folly." A little later the walks ceased to help Lispeth and her temper grew very bad. The Chaplain's wife thought this a profitable time to let her know the real state of affairs--that the Englishman had only promised his love to keep her quiet--that he had never meant anything, and that it was "wrong and improper" of Lispeth to think of marriage with an Englishman, who was of a superior clay, besides being promised in marriage to a girl of his own people. Lispeth said that all this was clearly impossible, because he had said he loved her, and the Chaplain's wife had, with her own lips, asserted that the Englishman was coming back.

"How can what he and you said be untrue?" asked Lispeth.

"We said it as an excuse to keep you quiet, child," said the Chaplain's wife.

"Then you have lied to me," said Lispeth, "you and he?"

The Chaplain's wife bowed her head, and said nothing. Lispeth was silent, too for a little time; then she went out down the valley, and returned in the dress of a Hill girl--infamously dirty, but without the nose and ear rings. She had her hair braided into the long pig-tail, helped out with black thread, that Hill women wear.

"I am going back to my own people," said she. "You have killed Lispeth. There is only left old Jadeh's daughter--the daughter of a pahari and the servant of Tarka Devi. You are all liars, you English."

By the time that the Chaplain's wife had recovered from the shock of the announcement that Lispeth had 'verted to her mother's gods, the girl had gone; and she never came back.

She took to her own unclean people savagely, as if to make up the arrears of the life she had stepped out of; and, in a little time, she married a wood-cutter who beat her, after the manner of paharis, and her beauty faded soon.

"There is no law whereby you can account for the vagaries of the heathen," said the Chaplain's wife, "and I believe that Lispeth was always at heart an infidel." Seeing she had been taken into the Church of England at the mature age of five weeks, this statement does not do credit to the Chaplain's wife.

Lispeth was a very old woman when she died. She always had a perfect command of English, and when she was sufficiently drunk, could sometimes be induced to tell the story of her first love- affair.

It was hard then to realize that the bleared, wrinkled creature, so like a wisp of charred rag, could ever have been "Lispeth of the Kotgarth Mission."


-THE END-
Rudyard Kipling's short story: Lispeth

Saturday, November 7, 2009

LINKS - KOTGARH

Some excellent choices sites on KOTGARH

http://traveller.outlookindia.com/issuecontent.aspx?pagenum=0&id=725

http://himachaltourism.gov.in/post/Kotgarh-(1830-m).aspx

http://www.nityin.com/about/

The Big Race - Chapter 4 - Kotgarh

Chapter 4 - Kotgarh
[source - SHARK FEEDER http://shortstoriescounter.blogspot.com/]

The next day was a busy one. I toured the city like a curious tourist and was awed by the grandness of the city's heritage, culture and food. Qutab Minar was much taller than my expectation and the Red Fort was indeed red, the museums had the past saved for us and the satellite town looked real rich buzzing with glamour and imposing modern architecture - India had come of age.

I picked up warm clothes, medicines, a torch, candles, replaceable battering, rope, a Swiss knife and some more things which I though would come handy. I felt excited like a school kid who was to take on his first scouting lesson.

Neena and Joe preferred to stay in and do some homework on the challenge ONE. They gather information about the place: how to reach there, the weather, people and what could surprise us. They handed me a sheet with the details of their findings, I neatly folded it and placed it in my wallet. Neena wanted me to stay for the drinks but I was tired and wanted some time alone. I left them to discuss their life experiences.

The hotels concierge was gracious enough to keep our belonging till we return. We pooled our money, 5,000 each as asked and Neena was to keep the checks and the balances. As per the plan we checked out at 07:00 and by 08:00 we were on the bus to this quaint and quite place, Kotgarh. I pulled the paper from my wallet which Neena had given me. It read:

Distance: 82km from Shimla via Narkanda on bank of river Sutlej.
Transport: Bus service between Shimla and Thanadar.
Location: District Shimla, Himachal Pradesh. Situated 6 km from Thanedar and 18 km from Narkanda.
Occupation: Apple cultivation.
Climate: Pleasant Summers (June-Aug) with cold snowy winters (Dec-Feb)
Landmarks: Old church built by the British in 1843, Gorton Mission School, Harmony Hall, Pahari style temples, Tani-Jubbar Lake and Hattu Peak.

We were in Shimla by 17:00. When we disembarked the cold wind pierced my coat and hit me like a sharp arrow. I could smell the fresh air and people appeared much happy and content and in no hurry to go anywhere. I smiled at everybody who looked my way and they reciprocated, they didn't make me feel stupid. I declared to my team mates that I already like this place and might never go back to the Oberoi's to collect my stuff. We decided to hire a taxi to Kotgarh as there was no other mode of transport available until next morning, when the HRTC buses would roar.

The clue card said that we had to meet Jawala Ram in Kotgarh and he was to give us more information and lead on the next phase of 'the big race'.

I was glued to the scenic beauty of the Himalayas all the way to Kotgarh and couldn't blink, I had never imagined that there was place so pristine and beautiful. From Narkand we took a small byroad which wandered through the thick deodars and then through the mesmerising apple orchards. The apple tress had shed their leaves in preparation for the harsh winter and the sweet smell of the pine wafted in the air. We all gazed at each other and were dumbfound by the natural beauty of the place. We were in heaven.

Jawala Ram was in his mid thirties and lived on the forest side of Kotgarh. It took us 10 minutes to look for him - it appeared that everybody knew everybody there. He seemed be waiting for us eagerly. His sweet manners further charmed me. His house was a three storied house surrounded by apple orchard. He had animals on the ground floor, lived on the first floor and the kitchen was on the top story - a typical pahari old style house. He had 2 small kids and a lovely wife to complete his world.

He showed us to the adjoining house facing the forest where we were to spend the night. It gave look of desertion and neglect but our room was well made. We all were to stay in the same room. It was roomy enough and was heated by a charcoal fire. They got us dinner which we three devoured and slept at about 22:00.

I felt somebody walk over me, I was jolted out of my sleep. I didn't see anybody there. Neena and Joe slept quietly in their corners. I dismissed it as a nightmare and tried sleeping again. A little later I heard wailing noise coming from the forest, I was in sweat. I pressed by hands against my ears and I didn't know when I feel asleep.

[SHARK IN A POND]

The Worm Has Turned

Up & Away (Source :Outlook Magazine | Jun 08, 2009)

Climate change has severely affected Himachal Pradesh's famous Thanedar-Kotgarh apple belt and other mid-altitude apple-growing areas

This year's apple crop is expected to be 30-50% less, due to rising temperatures, lack of snowfall and rain

Studies have established that from 1973-1990 to 2000-2007, average winter temperatures have gone up by 3 degrees centigrade and snowfall has decreased from 190 cm to 95 cm

Apple farmers are now turning to mangoes, pomegranate, flowers

Apple cultivation is now shifting to the higher altitudes of Lahaul-Spiti and Kinnaur districts, though arable land there is limited
***

"The Golden Delicious is a very fine apple indeed and I am working to make Kotgarh the headquarter of this fruit in India..."

—Excerpt from a letter from Satyanand Stokes to his mother in the US in 1930

"We haven't had a white Christmas in the Shimla hills for quite a few years now. And for the last six months, not a flake of snow has fallen in these parts," says a despondent Prakash Thakur in Himachal Pradesh's famed apple-producing belt of Kotgarh. It has taken a while for people here to realise that the climate is changing, the hills are warming up like never before. The days of heavy snowfall are all but gone, except in the higher reaches, and this has resulted in a slow shift of Himachal Pradesh's apple belt to even higher altitudes.

Himachal Pradesh's apple boom is credited to Satyanand Stokes, an American missionary (he later converted to Hinduism) who first introduced high-quality apples in the state's mid-altitude hills in the 1920s. From a small orchard in the Thanedar-Kotgarh belt, Stokes demonstrated how high-quality apples could be produced at altitudes of 4,000-6,000 feet. Since then, Himachal Pradesh has been synonymous with apples, producing Rs 1,500 crore worth of apples each year. Stokes's daughter-in-law, Vidya Stokes, a former minister of the state, now manages most of the family's orchards.

"The last few years have been quite bad and people have slowly begun to cultivate other fruit," she told Outlook. "But climate change has hit us the hardest this year. I expect production below 6,000 feet to be down almost 50 per cent because our orchards have had virtually no moisture this year."

So what really is happening?

At the Y.S. Parmar University of Horticulture & Forestry near Solan, Dr K.S. Verma and his team of scientists have been studying changing climate patterns in Himachal Pradesh over the last 40 years. They took the average temperatures from 1973-90 and called it the baseline. "After comparing temperatures from 2000-2007 with the baseline, we found that in the mid-hills, winter temperatures have increased between 2.5 to three degrees centigrade. And with each degree of increase, the apple belt shifts upward by about 300 metres," says Dr Verma. As for snowfall, which provides the vital chilling essential for apple cultivation, it's down from 190 cm during the baseline years to 95 cm now. And while it used to snow in the mid-hills from November to April, now, snowfall is confined to January-February and only above 6,000 feet. This deprives the crop of sufficient moisture and chilling hours.
"This year has hit us the worst. Production below 6,000 feet is likely to go down by almost 50 per cent." Vidya Stokes, Ex-minister, cultivator


Ideally, apple trees require temperatures below 7 degrees C for at least 1,500 hours during the growing season to yield a good crop. "If this trend continues, we might see apples vanishing from Himachal Pradesh, unless intervention in the form of low-altitude varieties of apples is made," Verma says.

Meanwhile, farmers are trying—as best as they can—to adapt to climate change. The best apples from Himachal now come from the high-altitude districts of Kinnaur and Lahaul-Spiti At altitudes of 8,000-9,000 feet, where nothing much grew some years ago, apple cultivation is transforming the socio-economic profile of the tribal residents. Many of them used to live a hardscrabble existence, but things are now changing for them. Tsering, a marginal farmer in Kaza in Lahaul-Spiti, says, "Everyone who has any land at all is now planting apple trees. The extremely cold climate is most conducive to apples, and our apples fetch a good price in the markets of Delhi and Shimla because they have longer shelf life."

Meanwhile, in the traditional apple-growing areas of Kotgarh, Jubbal, Kullu and Kotkhai, where the fruit has brought unprecedented prosperity to the people over the last 50 years, there is a measure of envy at the shift in prosperity to the high-altitude tribal belt. "They are today where we were 30 years ago. They are the new apple kings—extremely prosperous, with huge properties in Shimla and Chandigarh," says Chet Ram Chauhan of Pamlai village, who has pulled out his son from a job in Shimla to help him in the orchards. "Earlier, we did not need to put in much effort for a good crop. A good snow cover ensured that our orchards got ample moisture and chilling through the slow melting of snow. But now, with little rain and even less snow, we are frantically trying to irrigate our orchards artificially, and anyone who can afford it is digging ponds to store rainwater," Chauhan says.

At the bottom of the hill is Samathla village (altitude 4,000 feet) where Gopal Mehta has cut down his apple orchards and is now growing mangoes on the terraced fields. He has another orchard above 6,000 feet where he still has apples, but even there, worried about being overtaken by bad news, he's replacing apple trees with cherries. Most apple orchards below 4,500 feet, where production has fallen drastically in the last few years, are being replaced by apricots, peaches, pomegranate and, in places like Bajaura in Kullu, with vegetables and flowers.

Warmer temperatures also mean more pests and a heavy dose of pesticide for the crop. This increases input costs, besides lowering soil fertility. As Verma points out, "Production is also coming down because increased use of pesticide is killing bees and insects so essential for pollination of apple blossom." But these problems are virtually non-existent in the cold heights. Apples from here come late in October and November, are virtually free of pesticides, and are of good quality. Since it is a cold desert landscape, farmers manage to provide irrigation from channels carrying snow melt from even higher reaches. But though this provides an opportunity for exploitation of newer areas, the fact is that the high altitudes have very little arable soil and areas that can be brought under cultivation are limited.

Apple-growing in Himachal Pradesh is certainly in a churn. The next few years will see more high-altitude areas coming under apple cultivation. But what will happen once the mountain tops, too, become too warm?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Life and Experiences in Kotgarh

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