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Sunday, 1 January 2017

Jalna- A beautiful hamlet in the lap of the Himalayas

"...a mountain, especially Himalaya, especially Everest, is land's attempt to metamorphose into sky; it is grounded in flight, the earth mutated--nearly--into air, and become, in the true sense, exalted." -Salman Rushdie
Himalayas appear like the stairway to heaven. The great snow-capped mountains fill you with reverence and you feel small enough to extinguish your ego. The soul changing experience is accompanied by so much beauty that you want to tear yourself apart to small pieces which can linger on to the bewitching surroundings forever.
We had visited a number of hill stations situated in the Himalayas like Munshiyari, Mukhteswar, chaukori, kausani and many others. Although they are all very beautiful and refreshing, they have been exploited commercially quite a bit. The most virgin of all these hillstations was a small hamlet in the district of Almora named Jalna.
My In-laws are very fond of the himalayas and have visited several beautiful hill stations. On one such trip they discovered Jalna, the small village then quite unknown to most tourists. A mesmerizing valley covered with fir, oaks, birch and blue pines interspersed with bright pink rhododendrons had captured my mother-in-law's heart. She had called me one morning after returning back from the trip and had insisted on my visiting the place at least once. At that time I had never thought that I would visit Jalna without her. After her accidental death, we had all plunged into an unfathomable grief. As time went by the pain never decreased but became more tolerable. After a long pause in our lives, me, my husband and my father-in-law decided to visit Jalna as was my mother-in-law's wish.
It was the month of December and it had snowed everywhere. The valley looked as if it had wrapped a white shawl all over itself. The sky was clear and strikingly blue. Though winters are very cold, the visibility of the Himalayan peaks is much better because of the absence of clouds unlike monsoons.
We stayed in a small hotel called Elphinstone Himalayan Resort which had wooden floors and classic fire places in the rooms. The balcony of our room faced the Trishul, group of three Himalayan peaks that appear like the weapon of Lord Shiva.
In the mornings the golden rays of sunlight would penetrate the windows filtered through the trees surrounding the resort and covering the snow-white valley.
After having a cup of hot ginger tea we would leave for a relaxing stroll in the neighborhood. Everyday we would discover something new. The first day I saw a very big dilapidated house which was supposed to be of the landlord or Zamindar of the area. After the abolition of Zamindari, slowly the following generations had found jobs elsewhere and had left Jalna and their ancestral property. But the house looked very mysterious to me and the fact that it had been standing there for ages as a spectator of history made me dive into the world of imagination.
I was woken up from my reverie when my father-in-law called me to a small shop nearby to have tea with him. As happens in most small villages, the men had little work to do especially in the winter months when it was not time for agriculture. Young and old, men of all ages were sitting there huddled together and chatting over hot tea and Pakoras, a delicious Indian snack. When I asked them about the story of the Zamindar's house, they said that now for several years nobody had come to live in the house. For decades the descendants had stopped living there and now even the short visits had stopped. One of the old men, wearing an artificial set of teeth told me an amazing story about the people living in that house. Though his words came out as half whistles through the gaps between his gums and improperly adjusted teeth, I could still make out the story. He said that the Zamindar was not a very kind man and exploited the people of the village. He had a son who was very good-hearted and was also very intelligent. He had studied abroad and wanted to start his independent business. He was not interested in the ancestral property. The Zamindar was already very upset about the abolition of Zamindari and the denial of his son to look after the inheritance made him extremely sad. To top it all, the son had fallen in love with a village girl and wanted to marry her. The Zamindar being a snobbish arrogant man, extremely conscious of his status and caste refused to let his son marry the girl. The son didn't listen to him and insisted on marrying the girl. The infuriated Zamindar asked the son to leave the house and never come back again. The Zamindar's wife being a mother, couldn't bear the separation of her son and died within a few days of their son's departure. After a long secluded eventless life, the Zamindar died leaving all his property to his son. The son never appeared but years later the granddaughter came to visit the house.
I was engrossed in the story when I heard our national anthem. I looked up and saw that many kids in their uniforms were standing under the glowing sun and singing. Three teachers were also standing by their side. Then my eyes fell on a nearby building and the board on top of it which read 'Government Primary School'. The teachers told me that during winters it is very cold inside the building so they take classes outside. The kids were now sitting quietly on the ground and had taken out their books ready for the class.
I did not disturb them further and went back to the resort to have our lunch. The next day we went to explore the bountiful nature around us. We found a spectacular view point and clicked several photographs of the semicircular snow-capped range of mountains surrounding the valley.
While returning back we found the KMVN lodge which is the Kumaon government tourist lodge, which had recently opened. Some part of it was still under construction. As the day started ending, the sunlight became more and more diffuse. The blue sky turned into a blend of orange and red. The Himalayan peaks started glowing like fire when the slant sun rays fell on them.
We had Aloo Parathas for dinner which was delicious and thereafter we lighted the fireplace. There was an easy-chair beside the fireplace and just like in an old story book I sat on the chair and started reading my favorite novel. The only thing missing was probably a smoking pipe and then the picture would be complete.