Night and Day, Kullu Valley
Go Slow - Walking back from Malana.
At times like these you wish the laws of the land were less intrusive.
The Roerich Art Gallery in Naggar stands a little further up the hill from Roerich House. Urusvati, as the gallery is known, houses multifarious works of Nicholas Roerich and his illustrious descendants. Lithographs, paintings, sketches, photographs, sculpts, writings, and even a small chemist’s lab adorn this lovely cottage which was also once the studio of the Roerich family.
The patriarch, Nicholas Roerich, much like William Blake, and our own Manohar Malgonkar, was a person whose interests spanned diverse fields. His deep understanding of the arts and profound reflections on life show in his paintings and writings. His long study of the Himalayas and the exactness of his drawings of the Himalayan ranges are astounding - a master blend of exploration and artistry. We were greeted by the bold colors and thick borders in his depictions of the Himalayan mountains. Blue, magenta, violet, cyan, and so on draped the mountain folds on canvas after canvas, and thick borders of indigo, red, purple, blue, and so on guarded these magnificent peaks.
If you walk in order from the entrance, along the left wall starting from the ground floor of Urusvati, up to the first floor and make the circle, your journey culminating at the entrance again along the right wall, you’ll have a sense of having lived through a story - there are boatmen and night-messengers, old women and little children, desolate peaks and dreary landscapes, scorching suns and soothing moons, mountains teeming with life, and warriors engaging in combat. Of course, the paintings could be better arranged, more paintings could be put up on some of the bare walls, and more importantly, some of the paintings could be moved away from the big glass windows and taken off the floor where they are paid generous but detrimental visits by the sun and the rain.
The quietude of the place is enhanced by the large estate surrounding the house. In the shade of the huge deodars we sat awhile to take in the various scents of pine cones and flowers that float thick in the cold air of Naggar. The tall grass that we sat on rose above the foliage underneath which beetles, ants, and leafcutters roamed about. In the air, bees, dragonflies, and butterflies jostled with each other in a frenzy. A house or an estate, any property in fact, over time becomes an extension of one’s self. The impact the property has on the individual and the effect the individual has on the land, remain cognizable long after. We know not if the land was as attracted by Roerich as he was by the geography of the place, but the place continues to pay homage to its erstwhile owner.
Earlier this year when we met Ms. Amruta Patil at her residence, conversation inevitably turned to the artwork of Adi Parva, and we commented on the similarity between the geographical drawings in the work and Roerich’s depiction of landscape. ‘Oh yes, Roerich has had a big influence on me!’, Ms. Patil said with a smile. The rich features, the colorful ranges, the striking contours, and of course the thickset borders owed their existence to the sleepy slopes of Naggar, before settling among the coconut groves of the Goan coastline. We talked some more about the man Nicholas Roerich was, and the influence he might have exercised over his family. Whether or not he was a disciplinarian is debatable, but we agreed upon his sense of discipline and outdoorsmanship.
On the bus ride back from Naggar, we were joined by a Russian couple. Though we waged bets over it, we were unable to find out if they were Roerichs.
Roerich House, Naggar, Himachal
Walking gingerly, Buddha and Padam lead the way to Goecha La 2. We continue to tailgate them. ‘I want to grow up to be him’, Padam confided in us pointing to Buddha as we rested at Goecha La 2.
Despite Thamel, Kathmandu and most of Nepal is home to an ancient social order that is largely based on tradition and to a certain extent conservative. The relationship between successive generations is marked by respect and utmost reverence. Les personnes âgées are mindful of the passions of les enfants and cut them much slack.
At the heart of this harmonious co-existence lie the magnificent temples of Nepal. The grand durbars (courtyards) of Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur not only present grand architecture, but also reflect historical societal norms.
'You see everyone likes sex, but everyone doesn't speak sex. Sex is not allowed to speak, only to do. Fathers can't tell their sons what to do, and how to do. So they bring them here, to the temples. They say they bring their family to temple, but they actually bring their young sons and daughters to see these images. They see, they learn. No one needs to speak sex, they can see sex', our enthusiastic guide explains taking us around the Patan durbar. He is elucidating the sexual imagery that abound the pagodas here and elsewhere.
Much like the sculpts of Konark and Khajuraho, these images depict various positions and stages of copulation. Our guide emphasizes their educational value breathlessly. He is sincere, passionate, and persuasive, perhaps having entrusted himself the task of dispelling any doubts we might have about Nepali tradition. We assure him about the existence of similar sculptures back home. He displays a smile of understanding.
'In old days it was better. No TV, no dance bars, no vulgarity. They did things in private. Unlike now. You can bring your son here, sit on these steps, let him see these pictures, and go home wiser. And the atmosphere is sacred. You can even bring your daughters here, and mothers can teach them the techniques. Shy children can wander about on their own. No one points out the statues to them. They just explore on their own. And everybody knows the family went to a temple. It is religious', he continues. It seems this tradition is followed to this day when children come of age. Of course the exercise is a mere token now, devoid of any real need.
We click some pictures before returning to Thamel where our nightly jaunts present us with entirely different visuals.
Inside Shiva Valley, Goa
These kids are born to be wild.
With a ₹2 coin, we had his curiosity.
With a laddoo, we had his attention.
Sometimes our guile shames us.
In the background, desh hoga barbaad (country shall go to the dogs) screamed the papers.
At Jana Falls, Himachal
One-eyed dog, Jana, 2013
Jana waterfall is almost 20 kms from Naggar, and thanks to the new road built under the gram-sadak yojana, it takes less than an hour to get there. HPTC buses ply twice daily from Naggar to Jana - at 8 am and 3 pm. In winters however, snowfalls upset this routine and buses are frequently late, or cancelled. If you are not shy of walking, you could hike up to the fall and return before it’s dark.
Jana waterfall lies beyond the small village of Jana, surrounded by multiple eateries all of which were closed when we visited. We were lucky that the owner of one establishment was around. ‘We stay here all through the year. Who has the money for multiple houses? Since other dhabas are closed, the few tourists who come here, eat at our place. Some nights we go into the village when it gets really cold’, he said while splitting logs for firewood.
We ordered thukpa, sidu and tea. The sidu when had with ghee is heavenly. It’s not much unlike the enduri pithaa we have at home. A one-eyed dog ambled along and kept thrusting its nose, perhaps sniffing all the other canine companions we’d had on the trip. We had walked for more than an hour to the waterfall. The bus had dropped us some 8-9 kms from the village owing to sleet on the road. The driver did his best to zoom past the snow, but to no avail. We began walking in a group, but soon the two of us fell behind. Unlike the villagers who had to attend to business, we were on a leisurely walk. They kept looking back to check on us, and when our paths diverged, they gave out instructions in meticulous detail for us to reach the waterfall.
The waterfall was partially frozen, and verily quiet. The trickling water landed softly on the snow, and slid under our feet to the lower reaches. One can imagine the fall in summer, when entire families and loud tourists must show up here. The dhabas would be full, and you’d have to wait for your turn. In the quietude, we could almost hear the shrill cries of kids and admonishing shouts of their guardians. Whereas now there was a lone one-eyed dog digging away at the snow, how many snowmen and castles must be built by enterprising children during les pleines saisons. The carnival of human satiation never entirely leaves a place, it is present in the air and surroundings, in the trees and their leaves. It was only momentarily muted, dormant in winter, till the spring and summer aroused it, and filled the chairs in the dhabas with hungry tourists.
We stood silent, gently caressing our one-eyed companion. The tree tops were white, and the blanket of overhead snow gradually thinned down the slopes. Villages on the leeward side of the mountains were lit up in the sun and the green fields blinded us as we emerged from the shadow of the snow. The smell of the rich pines, firs, and deodars was thick in the cold air. Male and female pine cones lay scattered bearing testimony to the importance of chance in all creation, including life. As we walked back, a posse of horses passed by in a single file, disciplined enough to keep to one side of the road. The young horsemen followed, chatting in high spirits, perhaps about girls, or more likely, their horses. The dog bid goodbye as we crossed the village, its territorial lordship limited.
The spot where the bus had left us had turned into a waiting area. ‘Perhaps the bus will come, perhaps not. We’ll return to our villages if it doesn’t’, one of the villagers told us. We debated whether to wait for the bus or to keep walking. Since we were not tired and there was enough daylight, we decided to walk all the way. After perhaps an hour, hearing a beep, we flagged a van and got a ride from an elderly gentleman, who was preoccupied with the noise coming from the rear. Twice, we stopped to investigate. The third time, he lay on all fours and bingo! One of the wheels had come loose! As we tightened the screws, the import of his anxiety dawned on us. Our still-youthful enthusiasm is yet to learn not to be dismissive of elderly caution.
If you are in Manali, don’t miss Naggar, and if you are in Naggar, don’t miss Jana. Perhaps the one-eyed one shall welcome you too.