Walking back from Roghi to Kalpa, a drizzle set in and turned to a steady downpour by the time I was back in my room. Walking the one kilometer to the village center for lunch was out of question as the Clouds were so thick (see below) that none of the mountains were visible at all. So i decided to risk Mrs Negi’s cooking.
After I agreed to have lunch at the guest house, Mrs Negi told me it would take a while. So I went downstairs to the lower level. Right down the slope from where the guest house stands, is a camp – and they were also receiving a few guests for the weekend. Collegiate girls arrived off a minivan and were led authoritatively by a meet-and-greet person from the camp.
Since I was at the ground floor already, Mrs Negi invited me to the kitchen itself and eat. By this time, I knew enough about the usage of the term ‘kitchen’ in these parts to refuse the offer. The kitchen turned out to be wonderfully warm, but was covered with a thin rubberized matting throughout. Mr Negi was sitting on a mattress on the floor. In the center was the stove, different from the one used in spiti but had an exhaust going out the roof as such.
The lentils were hot, and perfect for this cold, damp weather. The vegetable curry was, well just as good as Mrs Negi could manage but the rotis were piping hot and more than made up for it.
I looked to my right and realized there was a strange plastic cabinet next to Mr Negi and he was holding a plastic tube that came out of it. Hesitatingly, I asked him, what that was and he said ‘My respirator’. My expression changed and then he opened up a bit, and told me he had developed a breathing disorder a few years back and the first year was very bad as he had to frequently make the trip to solan for treatment.
“Solan? Isn’t that far?” (I didn’t even recall how far it was)
“Yes, it is. Takes about ten to twelve hours by own car. We stay over in Shimla for the night when we go.”
“How often do you go?”
“Now it has come down to once a month since we bought this machine.”
Throughout my first stay, not once did the Negi family talked of their hardship, such was there belief in self-reliance and hard work. They were polite, respectful and ever smiling. If I hadn’t stepped into the kitchen, I wouldn’t have known anything about this.
Later the conversation drifted to how Kalpa had changed in their lifetime. They mentioned that since a few years, electricity is available and bus / jeep services have improved enabling them to sell the Apple crop without spoilage. Some of their neighbors had taken an easier route still– leased their lands to entrepreneurs from other states. During durga puja, this part of the Himalayas is favoured by Bengalis and at-least three hotels now stand in Kalpa who operate on this model. The easy money however is not always a blessing as many local youth have taken to smoking marijuana, watching satellite TV and in general wasting away their lives.
I asked him, given his situation, why he hadn’t tried to lease the place instead of maintaining the apple orchard. “Well, we’re from here and I’ve planted some of these trees”. It is not an exact translation nor can I translate the warmth of the smile of a proud home owner, a father, who despite his greying hair and failing health was doing what he thought was the right thing to do – refusing to give up.
Out of respect, I didn’t take any photos in that kitchen.
I briefly mentioned that I was wondering if I should stay in peo that night if there was no guarantee of an early bus down to Peo next morning. This suggestion was quickly countered by the entire family who said they would drop me as they have go to Solan the next day. I think this worked well for both parties so I agreed to stay put.
After lunch, I went to my room and rested till it stopped pouring. Around a half past four, I got out of my room, the clouds were parting slowly (seen in the first photo below – also the camp is seen on the right).
Every flower and leaf looked mesmerizing with the droplets on them.
I walked towards the town center and the closer I got to the Buddhist temple, better was the view I had. This one for example, looked like fresh powder had been deposited on top.
The clouds looked exhausted – they neither moved nor rained. Instead they just stood still waiting for the wind to either tear them up or drift them further – like giant pieces of cotton. When they parted, sunlight filtered in and lit up the tops of the mountains.
En route to the village center, relieved that the rain was over allowing them to get out, children played cricket.
Soon, the Gujarati tourists were all over and I went to the Vishnu Nagin temple to escape but to no avail – they were there too. The view was great as this video would show you –
By six PM, I was feeling hungry again (also I didn’t want to trouble Mrs Negi) and ordered two parathas at the hotel blue lotus. While waiting, I noticed that the view had improved even further. Just as my parathas were served, the moon came out providing for this lovely shot.
This scene apparently tempted many others and in general there was no more quiet. First to arrive were the bikers I had seen yesterday -they were Indian and Lithuanian. The second were a large group of Bengalis instructing the hapless hotel staff how to carry their bags appropriately. It turned out that they had just got off their minivan and all were curios to see the Shivling they had heard so much about as quickly as possible. For a half hour, as I alternately ate the food and lifted the camera for shots such as the below, the clouds stayed put.
The indo-lithuanian couple was the worst, they kept asking what I was focusing on and once they heard it from me, tried to get the same frame without even a passing thank you. The Bengalis were a bit better – they spoke only amongst themselves, and unable to view the shivling, out of frustration, left the balcony of the hotel. And then, just as I was about to leave, perhaps by divine will, I saw the shivling – the 6 meter tall free standing rock on top of a mountain that the locals regard as sacred.
And then just as quickly as it had become visible, it turned invisible again. The play was over and the curtain closed but those few moments of Pleasure were well worth the wait. I went back to my guest house and slept early in anticipation of getting down in time for the long distance bus to Shimla.
[Republished after including new images and linking to new source]