Thursday, January 14, 2016

Serenity and Stupefaction: My most ethereal experience in the wild !

By the evening of the second day, Demul had already filled my bag with some stunning moments and experiences I had had while trekking to the village itself and in the time spent exploring and working on channelizing the mountain stream. But for me, Demul had saved the crescendo for the evening. 

We had had an eventful day working in the village channelizing a mountain stream at a bend in the village. Our work involved digging up the soil to a certain depth, leveling the ground near it with interstitial stones and debris so as create an even surface around the route and finally laying down pipes in the dug channels. After the tiring day, we, Geet bhaiya and me went Aparna and Shreya's homestay in the village for the evening. The early evening light had already begun to collaborate with Demul and its people to make everything look so magical, whether it was the cows feeding in the green meadows or the vanilla snow glistening on the far mountains ahead or a solitary lady reaping the produce of her field on a small picturesque hillock. 

The play of lights and shadows 

I have never been a good conversationalist and I was more into observing and absorbing what was happening around rather than chatting with my co-volunteers.

And then, it was while I was looking around, I saw white spots on the highlands above, where I went for a trek last evening. I understood the white spots to be the Spitian horses I had seen on the first day. So I casually pointed those spots to Geet bhaiya and said “Do you see those white spots above? They are Spitian horses I met yesterday". He laughed it off and said "I don’t believe to you". So I was like "challenge accepted, I’ll show you". I took out my camera, zoomed in and clicked a picture. They were still quite far, so I zoomed the picture to see what the spots were. And then it hit me, Geet bhaiya was right! They weren't Spitian horses. It was a herd of Bharal(!) grazing on the highlands! Good heavens! Yes! They were there. 

The white spots? Jackpot!

Surely those spots weren’t Spitian horses!

I asked myself "do I go up there" and of course I had to, however far it was, No matter how tough the ascent was. I had to try. I made a run, ran through the streets of the village, on the edges of barley fields and on towards the highlands! The ascent didn't seem all too hard now, I wasn't panting or tiring up. Imagine a man who isn't in a habit of walking on the steep ascents, running up one. Yes, that was me. I stopped at regular intervals to take a picture and estimate the distance between them and me. To be honest, the fear that I would miss them was beginning to set in. But then everything that Spiti had taught me came back to me...the essence of accepting what I have, gracefully, having the patience, and realizing that I cannot tame nature and its beauty, I cannot own them or take them away, but I can welcome it with open arms, little expectations and absorb it, live in the moment, relish it and then take back the beautiful memories with me. 

I stopped running, calmness overtook the fear inside of me and after hiking a few hundred meters, I stopped altogether. I could see the tiny figures up above with my naked eyes and I could see them better in my camera, so I zoomed and clicked pictures and just stood there watching them in my viewfinder. The fear was gone altogether. 

The herd high above me, zoomed and photographed with help of my camera!

And, in that moment, Mother Nature rewarded me for my patience and virtue, in the most beautiful way possible. Another herd of Bharal surfaced up on a hillside, barely 300 meters away from me! I was stupefied; quite literally, I stood there frozen with my camera in my hand. I zoomed in my lens and I could see every individual distinctly. They could see me too, They looked at me inquisitively (even though I was barely moving) trying to determine if I was a potential predator or not. After a minute or two they got back to grazing on the grass and shrubs, even though they were still very alert, a member(a sub adult male) always keeping an eye on me. I can't really put it into words what was happening, as this small herd of 12-15 individuals comprising of youngs calves, females and sub-adult males went about foraging the hillside gracefully, communicating with each other in low murmurs and gestures. Words cannot do justice to the experience sadly. 

My patience was rewarded as a second herd surfaced up close by, magically!
Suddenly, they disappeared from the hillside. I thought they had gone further down and for a moment thought about verifying the possibility. But I decided against it. Within few moments, I could see them but this time they were just 30meters far (!), yes that close! They had descended that hillside and climbed over to the side of the hill I was standing on!

Up close and personal..Only about 30 meters, this was the inquisitive female!

I stood frozen as a female member came further close, looking into my viewfinder, I felt like she was only a meter away. She looked at me and froze too. For a moment, everything around us stopped except for the Himalayan wind of course. She stood there as kept on pressing the shutter button and then she moved back with her herd. As I stood there, somehow trying to digest what happened a few moments ago, the herd moved back onto the hill I saw them on and in a flash they were gone. I kept standing there for another 15 minutes before finally deciding to look towards the downside of the hill for them. They weren't there. They were gone. I looked up and high up, I could see them uniting with the herd above. I could only smile..thinking about what had just come to pass..

An ethereal landscape, for any nature lover

I turned around, the sun had gone, the lights were receding even from the highest peaks..Demul was preparing to brace the night. As I was looking around, I saw yet another herd, this time on a steep slope of a rugged hill quite a distance away, moving around so effortlessly. I could barely tell them apart from the colour of the hill, no wonder they use their appearance so effectively for camouflage against the predators by staying absolutely still against the colour of rocks!

The third herd foraging on a steep slope

Do not go gentle into the good night..

It was finally time for me to go as the light had turned. I was going back, a richer person than one who came running up fearing he will miss the magic. The evening of 6th July 2015 was what I had always wanted my whole life to be. A life to be spent in the wild, surrounded by its creations, observing them, be accepted by them, be surprised by them, be privileged to see the unseen, experience the untamed and ultimately be a small yet significant part of it all. Our choices define who we are and That evening reassured me that I had chosen the right path when I had chosen to be reclaimed by the wilderness that once roamed free in our very souls. 
About the author: Purvash Jha is a student of Delhi University with a keen interest in Photography. A lot of our facebook albums are courtesy him :) Purvash volunteered with Ecosphere in July 2015.

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