“Russet Sparrow” I said, pointing to a little bird perched on the railing around a small cafe in Naggar. We were gorging on some really delicious cheesecake, a well-deserved treat after the last shoot in Himachal Pradesh came to an end. It was our last day there, after which, we would travel to Delhi and onwards to Bangalore. The sparrow fed itself on little crumbles from the biscuits, as reality struck me. My month-long stay in the laps of the Himalayas was coming to an end.
I have been associated with a Pune-based ecotourism organisation called Foliage Outdoors for about four years now. A small eight day window between the end of college and the start of my internship meant I could sneak in a small volunteering assignment. A trek. Uttarakhand. The last time both these words came together was ten years back, when I did my first almost-high altitude trek to Lamkhaga Pass near Gangotri. Ten years was a lot of time, and I was very excited to go back. I confirmed my availability as a volunteer. It was still a month away, and I went back to procrastinating about the final assignment and the subsequent jury.
“Pata nahi kya karte hai log. Devbhoomi kehte hai, aur fir aag lagate hai inn jungle ko.” The driver of the bus was rather critical of the apathy of the Government towards this crisis in the Devbhoomi. His helper was one jolly fellow; nodding to whatever his driver ji said, while being immersed into some really catchy Punjabi music. It was accented well by the curvy roads ahead of Rishikesh on the way to Rudraprayag. Most of the campers were fast asleep, we still had to pass four hours before we could reach our basecamp at Kund, and the horizon wasn’t as visible, courtesy the smoke from the forest fires. The practise trek to Deoriatal was completed the following morning, and the participants were geared up for the main trek the next day.
The start of the day was a rather promising start. The grassy slopes of Chopta, soft morning light falling on it, against the backdrop of the snow clad Himalayas, punctuated by patches of deodar trees. No wonder Indira Gandhi termed it as Mini-Switzerland. The trek started. The trail was a beautiful stone-laden road, with rhododendron trees growing alongside it. Two (or three?) hours later, we were at Tungnath, the highest Shiva temple in the world. The summit was now in sight. A short break later, we were on our way up. 12,500 feet. All the participant, except one had made it to the summit. Happy faces everywhere took selfies, followed by one group selfie taken by one of the fellow instructors. I was known among the group of fifty, to be the Punman. Of course, most of them were bad, lame ones, but at least, it made them keep moving upwards. This came to use when it was time to descend, but not one was interested. Blame the view for that! “A boy can’t get up early in the morning. What is his motto in life? — Dawn Ko pakadna mushkil hi nahi, na mum kin hai.”, and the campers started descending amidst cries of “Arey dada!” and “Kiti panchat!” (How Dilute!). The trek was a success, and so was the subsequent white water rafting on the Alaknanda at Jayalgarh. The time to return to base for a couple of days had arrived. I boarded last on the Air Asia flight from Delhi to Bangalore, having soaked most of Delhi’s wonderful Terminal 3.
Having a bath in cold water on a sultry day always feels nice; having a proper bath after a week is even better. 2 May. My internship had started. I reported to the internship space at 11. I was late on the first day itself. In front of me was a white board, with details of the trip jotted down with a blue marker. 4 May, 1200 hours, reporting to Bangalore Airport. I will skip some details here, and jump cut (heh, I’m a film student) to Delhi. I was back in Delhi under 72 hours. Dodging autowallahs who were ready to charge astronomical fares for a short distance from New Delhi Railway station to Zostel Delhi, me and my roommate decided to walk it, armed with a tripod each, and two bags of our own. It was my first Zostel stay, and boy! It was amazing. The rooms were clean and the AC was working just fine. A couple of calls later, we were on our way to Hauz Khas and later, Connaught Place. Two friends whose paths crossed with mine at different times in my life met me that evening. And that concluded my yet another short stay in the National Capital, as we left for Himachal Pradesh the next morning.
I still remember Sanjay’s words describing the topics of NABARD’s films versus wildlife films. He described them simply as “non-sexy topics”, for me who has immense interest in wildlife. When the point of choosing an internship came, I chose Srishti Films over the advertising firms in Mumbai, simply because actual work would be involved here, as opposed to the “chai-lao; coffee-lao” internship regime back in Mumbai. The sixteen days in Himachal saw us go to five districts, to the most rural parts of Himachal Pradesh. NABARD has funded several projects right now, and we were there to get the story from the people and make a five to seven minute film on it.
Be it Geeta ji, an Anganwadi worker from Sirmour, Daya ji in Shimla or Mast Ram Sharma, the president of a farmers club from Berthin, I met a lot of people on the trip. It was my first experience of watching India’s rural agrarian economy from close quarters. Development is finally creeping in, in the region, the most prominent being financial inclusion. Always good to hear some positive stories! We were at the right places at the right times. So many amazing vistas to see, as I went on a clicking spree. Each region boasted its own special landscape. This gave rise to a Photography set called “Landscapes Ki देवभूमी”.
The people, the fast paced shoots and the overdrive mode that our brains were in, all felt nice. Just the number of people who we met was so overwhelming. I am not a peoples-person, I am happy to be left alone, but this time I loved the interactions we were having. The shoots were extremely quick, and we had to be on our toes, ready to unlock that heavy tripod and block the frame. The fastest shoot was done in under half a day, but that was by the time we had the “drill” ready. Apart from that, having such a huge team, and doing camera for the film meant an extremely huge responsibility.
The overdrive of the brain that I mentioned, existed from the time we reached Hotel Midway Royal in Sirmour, to the time we had lunch at the castle-turned-restaurant in Naggar. It still exists, and these days, like today, when it is a holiday, I’m getting bored more easily. Cheers, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand; you’ve been real gems.