Reflections: The People Of The Himachal Villages

Small friendly gestures, quick laughs, a fleeting romance in the heart or a simple, resonating conversation on the road. Cherished by travellers, these interactions are unexpected and what makes them more special is that they are between complete strangers. You may not know the person’s name, background or any details at all. And yet those moments of camaraderie, love, respect are usually a part and parcel of our travel life. Something we look forward to, expect and love. They often get us through doubts. Re-instill our faith in the world. And sometimes even help us out in sticky situations.

But how little we know about these people. Being on the road we keep moving on, lots of questions but only the moving terrain around us answers them.

Being here in the Himachali mountain town for a month, I had time to find some answers about the people, the culture, economic situation and other random bits like making tea with jaggery (yumm!). And yet, a month is hardly a long time especially for an introvert like me. So I find myself only more curious with more questions. But also some insight about village life and these people.

In Indian villages especially a place like Himachal… the people are one of the warmest and hospitable than I have found anywhere else. And for a city kid like me where even close family members are often too busy to have long, detailed conversations… here the life is slower. And people in general just have the time to talk and listen. Maybe it is the lack of information and noise. Or just the abundance of nature all around, but I felt these people were listening when I spoke. And it is a feeling that is not common in the city.

himachal villages - grandfather
At one of my first village visits. I was riding my cycle and followed the trail to an ancient temple. A villager saw me and we started chatting. He then introduced me to his father who was about 85 years old. He was already a great grandfather and fairly healthy at that. When I asked for a picture, he sat up straight and spruced himself up. It was so cute. For these much older folks, photography was a different matter – a more formal affair than the total time-pass we folks do now…. 🙂

Typically, people who I met daily, would ask ‘how are you’. I presumed it was the city version of a formality more than anything else. Or you may for sake of general conversation share some trivialities. But here, I would ask them ‘how are you’ back.. and that would light them up. Some of them will even bow down in Namaste type gesture for asking them this.

Like what?!

I had no clue what that was about.

But it was a joy to watch the way these people responded to my various statements. It is amazing how even older men and women are so unprepared for situations which are completely commonplace for me. For example, ask a village woman her name and she becomes shy. And sometimes she will share it with a full blush lighting up her face. And when I reply back with my name, it is something seemingly cherished. They will again bow and do a Namaskar.

:O It was just us exchanging names.

I wondered whether this was because they were wary of telling their names to strangers *city brain at work* but then I checked with others and they said they are just innocent. I kind of understand… cause in the city often I am the simple character who starts giggling and piggling on random stuff.

There is something about giggling… a lot of people lose the muscles to do this once they grow up. The laughs also sometimes become forced and fake. So it was good in the village cause I found myself around bigger gigglers. But they were shy. I am not usually shy but I do giggle.

himachal village
Didi knitting a sweater. Just got done with taking the cattle for grazing, now back home. Has two cows in her house. This is often one of the first few things they share, when we start chatting. As an urban who has had nothing major to do with cattle of any kind, tough for me to get the point. But definitely, the cows are a matter of love and pride.

One thing that many of us have experienced when we travel abroad is that people greet strangers (because there are so few of them around 🙂 ). Well, here I found the same. After a couple of weeks, I was feeling quite at home. I’d walk around the mountain trails, which I often found very rickety and difficult, and I would greet anyone that came my way. Namaste 🙂

And they all wished back very happily. Some of them even gave me a very respectful Namaste with hands joined together. The natural beauty coupled with the people warmth and to a certain extent the cultural – religious and otherwise – match makes this a very heart-filling experience.

Sports tournament taking place in the village. Students from all over Himachal had come down to compete. Very interesting to see that their dance was a very local, cultural style (watch video). The sports clothing is competent and western which is good, but their overall local culture seemed to be well retained. Moreover, I had some interactions with these school kids and a lot of them were very polite and friendly just like the other locals. This is amazing for me because I don’t always find students friendly.

Generally, I try to tread lightly with these people, because I don’t understand them and their emotions. I wouldn’t want to hurt them. But the truth is I hardly understand my emotions and currents properly. A lot of us city people become hard skinned and tougher in some ways. And most of the time we are going about things that we have to do and hardly spend enough time to be in tune with our inner calling. But in these environments which are a quieter and closer to nature, it gets easier to be better clued into ourselves.

A lot of writers and yogis have spent a lot of time in the mountains. I think to some extent it is the quiet and the closeness to nature. But more than that, I suspect that it is the people.

And then there is always an X factor in India – the religious/spiritual energy of the place. Because especially in villages, the temples and ancient customs can often impact the ambiance significantly. And here in Himachal, I was very curious about the religious culture. I sensed it was fairly arcane and I was very curious to know more about it. Overall, I found my experiences in this very pleasant and wholesome. I would like to write about this aspect of the culture in these regions and also the overall experience of it, but that would be for another blog. It entails some tricky topics. More than that, there are still some unanswered questions I have.

So, all in all, have returned with a heart full and a smile on my face from my month in the Himachali mountains. Can’t wait to go back.