All the recent brouhaha over Tibet brought to mind a trip I made way back in time, which took me to a place about 6 to 7 kilometers from the Tibetan (and therefore the Chinese) border with India. I was about 21 or 22 years old and had the onerous job as a trainee accountant of a ‘site visit’ to check accounts of a construction company building a dam across the Bhaba river in Kinnaur. (I got to really traverse our land as a trainee accountant – I would have of course preferred to do it as a trainee commando, but what the hell..).
So I got to base camp after running the gauntlet inside a Maruti Gypsy driven by the original mad driver across the thinnest of strips of mountain paths, euphemistically called a State Highway. The head of the Site was this middle aged engineer (‘general manager’) who had forsaken the comforts of routine family life for a nomadic existence in various project sites across the country. Later I found that these guys are dotted across the world in all project sites – an interesting sub-genus that thrives on the camaraderie, chaos and an extraordinary satisfaction of Creating you can sense in all ‘sites’.
I was there in summer and the weather was lovely – about 5 degrees, if I recollect right. Have you ever dipped your hand in the rushing, upstream water of a Himalayan river? Well, these guys dipped their beer bottles in the water for about 10 minutes and took out the coldest beer I have ever had (and that includes the beer I had while in a North Sea storm). Many egg bhurjis and beers down, I heard about the rigours of winter living in Kinnaur – how all the cabins would be snowed in every night and how the inhabitants had to light a fire inside the cabin to melt the snow outside to be able to push open the door. It was a man-thing that evening; a camaraderie so palpable you could cut it with a knife.
Next morning we set out for the ‘ice bridge’, a walk of about 3 hours across some of the most beautiful terrain I have ever wandered over. Slopes covered with green, soft grass. The occasional sight of small mountain ponies. A few houses in little villages far above or below. The ice bridge was a place where the snow from one mountainside had drifted down and passed over the river in between and had actually climbed up the mountain on the other side. So, you could walk down one mountain on the ice, walk across the river (you could hear the muted thunder of the water beneath the ice and far beneath your feet) and walk up the other mountain. And standing on the ice-bridge, I kid you not here, I actually heard the far away sound of a shepherd’s flute.
As I watched the Dalai Lama talk to Pranoy Roy last evening, I was reminded of my trip to the wonderful land of Kinnaur, Tibet’s closest neighbour in India.