Learning Center
Plans & pricing Sign in
Sign Out

Chapter 3 Palampur Calling


									Chapter 3                          Palampur Calling

Our spirits lift with the hills.

Kangra Valley

Soothed in green as
New things are green.
The air awaits thunder.
The line of bikes proceeds
Flowing about the road
Connected by
Cord invisible.

  Later -- very, very beautiful. We pass big tropical flowering bushes -- purple orchids
hanging on trees -- so much green. We finally smelt pines as we went through a stretch
of forest. A bit cooler, still humid. The mountains are cloaked in cloud, as if it‘s raining
up there. We‘re approaching Palampur – are stopped for the little Kangra train, a narrow-
gauge which stops at little Raj-built stations with laid-out gardens and window-boxes of

 How cool the trees make things, and how dreadful to think that sixty years ago India
was more than fifty percent forested. Trees make it possible to breathe again.
We stop for a chai halfway up to Palampur, and physical wellbeing has begun to set in—
we stretch and sigh and groan aloud, and stamp around feeling our feet and legs again.

  Finally we reach Palampur, and wend our way up to the Silver Oaks Resort, guided by
signs and Anando‘s and my memory. (I‘m going to have to call it Silver Oakless; when
the owner, Flt. Lt. Rtd. Suresh Bhasin, was building it he planted a circle of oak saplings
around the perimeter of the property. In the night the neighbors, in defiant obviousness,
stole them all.) We watch clouds becoming more and more dense over the mountains.
We are now at 470 metres (about 1550 ft. The cool relative to Poona is, of course,
because we are now much further north.)

  Anando and I are surprised when we leave Palampur town and go higher, finally
coming out of the tea plantations, that Silver Oaks has two more storeys than we‘d
remembered, and looks like a tall flying saucer landed there before the mountains.

  The first raindrops begin to fall as we pull into the gravel drive.
  Oh how profoundly we enjoy the breaking of the storm! The dense pines on slopes
above thrash in sudden wind. Cooling gouts of water gush down. The roar of the creek
in its concrete bed is suddenly tremendous.

  Anando and I discover that an entirely palatial room is waiting for us, Rs. 450 per day,
about twelve dollars. Top floor, huge windows over amazing views of mist-draped
mountain; crashing thunder and flashing lightning. The room is clean and very big, and
Suresh has remembered that I am allergic to wool and mothballs and has provided cotton
quilts in cotton covers.

     I take a shower. I take two! I‘m dirty enough.

  The electricity goes off. Enjoyable! Candles appear. After the shower, I towel off and
climb under the quilt beside my beloved, also newly clean. We watch the storm through
the many windows of this huge room. We feel cozy and relieved beyond belief. The
very bones rejoice.

  Later, we have a delicious dinner - Suresh has even gotten unpolished rice for us - and
he has local honey which is truly medicinal it's so good. The new dining room is
inviting, cozy. We all have a good talk with Suresh, who is a very civilized man -- a
retired flight lieutenant from Delhi. He was once years ago on a military expedition to
Everest. All the employees here, too, are warm, helpful, and innocent. We mention we‘d
like to hire a jeep for the trip to Spiti - Lahul - Kinnaur.

  Early next morning. A six-months-old jeep and a smiling friendly mustachioed driver
appear, with talk of reasonable terms, to leave whenever we‘re ready.

   I love this place and I hope it goes on prospering. I love its smells—the combination of
mountain pines and tropical flowers, issuing through on altitude‘s breezes. Earth after
rain. Cooking fires, from this place and from the rather squalid village up the hill a ways.
Food-- oh, food. Arriving hungry after a journey, to the rapid arising of the smells of
good cooking—paranthas* roasting, spicy vegetable dishes, dal.

 And, as with each place on earth no doubt, smells indefinable—the place-essence. The
way temperature itself becomes fragrance: here it is cool mixed with steam. Perhaps the
wildlife, unseen, leaves smell-markers for us though we do not know it—here, wildcat,
monkey, leopard. And rock - rock is wildlife; rock must have smell.

  We have been travelling along a stretch of foothills to the mightiest mountains on
earth. If we look above the house there is a hill—up, up. It‘s not snowy now; it leaves
that to the real mountains, hidden from our eyes yet.

  Our room has a big-tiled floor in a kind of bright tan with black running through it in
diagonals. Wooden furniture. Plenty of places to put things. And such a big clean
    roasted heavy bread, quite buttery or oily, and crusty and flat but thick. Yummy.
  Clouds lie down around the tops of the mountains. It reminds me of Les Diablerets in
the Alps in Switzerland, the view out the window there. The creek rushes with such
intense force, so loudly! Just while having lunch on the huge terrace, we saw monkeys,
eagles, ponies. Huge lizards with blue tails cling to the brick wall. And apparently the
aforementioned leopards have come down and eaten dogs hereabouts.

  It‘s late afternoon now. Soon, I‘m going up on the very top of the unlikely roof to see
how the laundry is doing. I cut Anando‘s hair up there too - he suddenly asked me. He
asked for it to be very short, and on one side it looks a bit as if a leopard had come down
and chewed him too. ―Rest is ok,‖ as they say here in India.

  Well. Kiya is sick. The Tinadozole didn‘t help, which means it‘s not a parasite. The
doctor came and checked him and said if the trouble hadn‘t gone away with the
Tinadozole it must be hepatitis. But he took blood to do a test anyway. I had a
conference with the doctor, which is just as well because Kiya forgot to tell him about the
Tinadozole. Kiya is a really horrible patient, won‘t stay in bed, is constantly hanging
about looking weak, eating things he shouldn‘t. He said he‘s never been still in his life.
(I see inside myself that I‘ll be really disappointed if he can‘t see the mighty mountains
we have an assignation with!)

  The wife of Suresh—a sweet, wise-I-think, alert, generally invisible woman - has now
brewed for him a herbal treatment which she says cures jaundice in four days, with
another eight days of other herbal stuff and good diet (as is always prescribed for
hepatitis). He‘s starting the stuff -- which, if you don‘t have hepatitis, won‘t hurt you
either—now. The wife said people come from all around for this treatment. I would
think that if Kiya does have the dreaded Yellow Peril, it would be lovely just to stay here
to recuperate and be waited on hand and foot; but he says he‘ll get back to Poona and let
his ayah cook for him. (He‘s participated in , in the space of three months, Fresh
Beginnings {a Primal group process}; Transmitter Relays { a strong colorpuncture
series lasting six weeks} and AFH! {Anti-Fischer-Hoffman—another super-strong,
cathartic childhood-trauma-release group}. No wonder he‘s sick!)

  He is really terribly fidgety; it would have been fun to have him along but what to do, I
guess we‘ll be a slightly more placid crew now. I wonder if it‘ll still be worth it to have
the jeep. We‘ll have to have a conference. Suresh and his wife are so helpful. My gum
has completely calmed down, knee also feels good. Perhaps it‘s the climate. I thrive in
the cool.

Saturday 9th
 Afternoon. We had a rather unsatisfying lunch; white rice again after all, and I gave
Suresh a lecture on brown rice and pellagra, or is it beri-beri? He had no idea brown rice
was healthier than white rice. Can you imagine? He‘ll try to get some more.

 Much conferencing has been going on. I try to avoid it - I like to just go along with the
others‘ decisions -- but half the time I get involved in it anyway. Lots of male restless
intensity; sometimes I feel as if my stomach is being traversed by rails from all
directions -- such is the intensity of their beams. For example, Pranesh didn‘t want
Suresh to come along on the trip with us-- (I had not known that Suresh might come)
―zuh Indian mind - I don‘t vant to talk zis bolitics every night‖. Then he gave in. I think
Suresh will be very valuable to have - and he‘ll only be along for the first week, then turn
around and take a bus back. And I like him. And his expression said he‘d love an

  Kiya has an infection in the liver, not hepatitis. So he‘s on antibiotics, and is feeling
better. He‘s decided to come after all.


  So… Kashmir is full of Indian troops, with Pakistani ones staring at them from over the
border to make sure they are really only going to try to clean up the mess in Kashmir, not
rush Pakistan. So Anando and Pranesh and Kiya can't go up to Kargil later; they‘ll have
to decide on another trek. Anando takes it all very easily. Also, Wildflower Hall, in
Shimla, where we had booked for tonight and where we were supposed to meet Vimal,
has burned down and is closed. So, poor Vimal will turn up and not know what to do!
The only thing we could think of doing from here was to contact the Tourism Information
Center and leave a message for him there. Luckily, Suresh is into doing that. Let‘s hope
Vimal thinks of going there.

  Political discussions with Suresh are occasionally enlivened by the presence of one Col.
Robinson, Rtd., who lives not far away in an extraordinarily well-ordered little house
with seven-foot manservant and impeccably bourgeois Brit-style accoutrements –
including a photo of the Queen on the mantel. He is a handsome man in his sixties,
chronically drunk but in a very decorous way – it takes awhile before he starts teetering.
(Whiskey is his tipple.) His voice is extremely booming. On a previous journey Anando
and I much enjoyed a very peculiar evening at his place. This included Anando being
attacked by a leopard he was trying to photograph – there was a chain-link fence in
between, so no damage was done; the leopard hadn‘t liked the sight of the camera lens
pointed at it through a hole in the link. (A wildlife preserve is near the Col.‘s place.) At
dinner we were regaled with Army stories, including one about a bear in the mess-hall.
After the evening was well-advanced we were insistently plied with sweets which exactly
duplicated lavatory porcelain soaked in mint-oil; I had secretly expelled mine from my
mouth into my hand, which I kept cupped under, until time to leave, when I slipped hand
and cold sticky thing into my glove. At that point Col.‘s huge mastiff, named Panzer,
took a great interest in the hand and kept trying to get his nose inside the glove, exciting
comment from his master. Finally we had escaped into the lovely cold mountain dark to
roar back to the hotel on the bike.

  Now the Col. lounged in the Silver Oaks dining room in what looked like boxer shorts,
holding forth; his forceful, half-inebriate energy, which had no doubt struck terror in a
thousand young recruits, gave an eccentric and wayward feel to any proceedings.
   Anando took me to Palampur town today - actually I walked partway, then got on the
bike with him. He was very attractive in his jeans-jacket, dark glasses, short hair - it was
nice to be alone with him. I had to melt down through layers of sediment this morning to
really meet in our valley together, so deep I cried some… a feeling of the mountains
entering my opened-up body; becoming the mountains, all this massive amount of
wrinkled rock… as he already is the mountains. We could meet there, me stretched, him
at home. And I could allow all that only by going into my own valley—that is how I am
wide enough. Not searching excitement, peaks, with him, but letting go into depth.

  Anando got a pillow, with a deep-pink cover, made; I got a green plastic large basin to
wash fruit and clothes en route. It‘ll be a housekeeping jeep. I also got a couple of the
awful magazines - Femina and Women’s Era - (ha! They just instruct poor women how
to be subservient to their men!) to indulge in, (I mean, magazines aren‘t really reading,
not like books) perhaps after my meditation. It was fun to scrounge around Palampur,
which is an unprepossessing little wood-built village with wooden sidewalks against the
muds, and vendors selling unattractive sweaters out in the lovely fresh air. Palampur is a
tea-growing place, but was never famous for that or anything else. I love the quiet of the
leafy roads as you go down towards town. It‘ll probably get ‗discovered‘ sometime.

 I sent a postcard to Nisarg, my best girlfriend, and a Mystery School colleague, in
Poona; with a much-abbreviated summary of events so far. The picture on the postcard
was of nothing much - a pine tree and the side of a building in Palampur with some
white in the background which might have been a mountain. I wrote:

Beloved Nisarg, this very stupid photo doesn’t show all the green and flowers and
butterflies and monkeys and eagles and ponies and creeks and low-hanging mists…
…Meditation and writing are good,had a wonderful meeting with Anando where all
mountains were present in my body. Awesome. Often I feel empty and sad as always
when I’m away from Buddhafield. Watching. Who knows??? High mountain adventure
starts after Shimla… Love

Letter to Himachal Tourism Information Office, New Delhi

Dear Sir/Madam,

  From where you sit, would it be so difficult to arrange that some postcards are created,
and widely distributed, in Himachal Pradesh, which do some justice to the beauty of the
mountains? What is available is so unrepresentative and of such bad quality, that it is
painful to contemplate them! I would like to send beautiful postcards to relatives and
friends in the States and Europe -- I do not take photos myself, and love to collect and
send postcards wherever I go. In virtually every part of the world -- on the many
continents I’ve traveled-- postcards are available which try to show the place in its best
light. India is the only country I know where the postcards make the scenery look much
worse than the reality!

  Today I went through Palampur town; nobody had postcards. I was informed by a
friendly shopkeeper that the Department of Tourism only allows postcards to be
distributed through Tourism places; he told me to go to the hotel T-Bud. I suggested to
him that this was a sad state of affairs; why didn’t he hire a photographer and have some
made? This seemed far too ambitious an idea to him.

  So I went off to the Hotel T-Bud, without much hope, because, having been to Palampur
before, I had seen the postcards and knew their pitifully abysmal quality. There I was
made to wait for twenty minutes while someone fetched the key to the cabinets; then the
postcards were brought out. I am sorry to say not a single one was worth purchasing --
my friends and relatives would have got a completely mistaken idea of this place. So I
have to content myself with word portraits.

  I suggested to the clerks behind the counter that some good postcards would be a great
thing to have, and explained how good postcards can help attract people. They didn’t
even bother to answer me -- they were so utterly, completely uninterested that they just
simply didn’t care. The air of lassitude and heaviness in that place was so thick one felt
wrapped in molasses. In despair I finally chose three postcards of very inferior quality
and two brochures with some good photos on them – (why not use those photos on
postcards?) --for which I was charged Rs.10.

  I beseech you, take advantage of the fantastic technology available today on this, our
fast-disappearing beautiful planet, and get a few really superb postcards done! Take a
tip from Nepal! Hire some Germans or Swiss or Japanese if necessary! It might even be
fun for all concerned -- including the people who visit from Bombay, Delhi, Sydney,
Tokyo, Zurich, Munich, etc, etc. and want to share with their loved ones some of the
beauty of what they’ve seen.

 Thank you for your consideration.


 (Note to me: Why, why do I bother??

  ( Really, here I‘m trying to turn them into ambitious Americans, I‘m embarrassed to
say, as Anando tries to turn them into correct Germans. But we‘ve left those places!

  ( And, how capable I am, when under duress particularly, of becoming a correctively-
bitchy and officious tourist! In tune with Anando in some arenas though not in others,
this; but The Prim Western Lady, the Memsahib, is often in top form in my Indian
travels. It will be useless for me to apologize for her; she is too well-woven throughout

  (After all, the citizenry here likely is riddled with the same parasites we fear; as well as
their being sure they will have many, many more lives in which proper postcards can be
churned out, if such turns out to be the longing of the Gods and Goddesses.)

  Packing tonight.


  There‘s a big conference out on the cool terrace, with the mists down over the hills like
wooly hats and scarves. Now the guys have decided to bring a cook (one of Suresh‘s);
are making a food list; planning to get a trunk to put the food in: X number of kilos of
brown atta (wheat flour-- the cook will have to be watched not to sieve it,) brown rice,
potatoes, onions, etc. It fills me with a bit of horror but at least I don‘t have to cook and
all the rest of it. The atta is ground at a watermill just nearby. A pressure-pot will be
bought, as cooking things at high altitude takes so much longer than at sea-level.

  It seems Wildflower Hall has not all burned down, and after much hassle Suresh got
through on the phone and shouted in Hindi a lot, so Vimal can now we hope get our
message. Pranesh entertained us with tales of lighting a bottle of insect repellant with a
lighter and producing a three-foot high flare which keeps away lions, cheetahs, tribals
and other natives with machine guns.

 Anando and I much enjoyed hot Caro-Café (German roasted-grain coffee substitute)
with Coffeemate and honey. Pity the Caro-Café is almost gone.


10th July

  Rain is coming down thick and fast. I‘m sitting in the jeep, which is packed to the
gunwales and will yet receive a trunk in the village. We‘ve (they‘ve!) done it-- hired the
cook and bought all kinds of pots and pans and food - sacks of flour, freshly ground,
whole wheat we hope; lentils, etc, etc. Suresh is not coming after all, since his (autistic)
son had a fit and he has to look after him. This is a bit disappointing as he would have
been a lot of help - nice for him too to have a holiday. However, I don‘t know where we
would have put him.

  The driver has some Indian music on, which I hate. Also there‘s a smell of petrol,
which I‘m deathly allergic to. Prim Western Lady; meditation-sensitized woman. I was
a very allergic child. There‘s a big metal container of the stuff in the back. I realize this
is no doubt utterly necessary; but it just reminds me of my misgivings.

  These things remedied: music turned off, to dismay of driver. Petrol moved to a more
olfactorily muffled position.

  Best moments of the morning: sitting alone in the jeep looking out over the deep
chasm near Silver Oaks where the rushing river in full monsoon spate roars. I was eating
mangoes and throwing the peels out for the monkeys, who eat everything you throw them
and never say thank-you. They just keep looking from the sides of their eyes,
presumably for other monkeys who might steal their food. I feel dismayed by the
incipient coldness I see in those eyes—they so resemble us; are we just like them, but
fooling ourselves? And if we are different, why?

  Kiya‘s motorbike had a broken fuel-cock or something. More hours delay while
Anando took Suresh on his bike to town, got the fuel-cock, and came back. Much
siphoning of gasoline, discussions, fiddlings, and fixings. Much fumes, which is why I
retreated to the jeep, which was no retreat.

  Now we‘re in the village, all our vehicles in a queue, while the food-trunk is loaded.
Pranesh is to be in charge of everything to do with the cooking-trip. (I hate messy,
chaotic cooking-trips! Enough pioneer-woman in my past, with all those wild-west

  It is still raining hard. Poor Kiya says he‘s totally soaked. His waterproof gear isn‘t
waterproof. He wanted to stop taking his antibiotics today and I told him a horror story
about a disgusting infection, a gap in antibiotics, the germ become resistant, a super-
strong toxic antibiotic therefore administered, and the miserable side effects which
followed. I made him take off at least the top of his clothes, rubbed him down with the
extra quilt-cover Suresh had given me, all in the middle of an all-too-earthly din in the
metalwork shop where we stopped for the trunk. Crash! Bang! Indians were standing
around, crowding in while Anando and Pranesh sorted out the packing of the trunk; I
dried Kiya, and made him put on my white turtleneck, big pink jacket, and rain parka,
which is at least truly waterproof. He stuck his red motorbike-glove-gauntlets on his
hands/arms. His hair is all flattened-spiraled-wet. Anando of course is the robust and
expensively elegant sportsman in a fantastic array of Goretex colors, with spats, gloves,
gauntlets, wonderful jacket-hood, trousers, goggles.

To top