We were having dinner sitting on a flat rock near a fire on the first night of Kuari Pass trek. I wish I could say there were a million stars in the sky but almost every day by afternoon, clouds would come, cover everything and would not lift till sunrise again. Still, we were a merry lot, Sesha and I, our guide, Sonu and two teenage kids, Vikrant and Virendra. The horses that carried our tent and food belonged to Vikrant and Virendra.
The conversation that night had the awkwardness of people not knowing each-other well. Dinner over, the kids and Sonu vanished for a while. The fire started going down and Seshadri took it on him to rekindle it. After many futile attempts we concluded maybe, it has gone too low. Vikrant came back after a while and gave it merest of wiffs and it started crackling again.
Three nights later, we were in Pana and after a nine hour walk my knees protested loudly even at the slightest movement. At dinner a fire was roaring again courtesy Virendra and Vikrant and food ready to be devoured. Suddenly, large drops start falling without any warning. I struggle to get up from the stone I have been occupying and we ran inside the other tent. It starts pouring hard, our tent is watertight from below too but the other one is not. We offer that everyone move in our tent, they tell us they would only if absolutely necessary. Virendra gets busy with a knife, digging a nali (small drainage) all around the tent so that the water will flow out and not enter the tent. 15 minutes later the nali has ample water flowing through it. It rained for a couple of hours but the other tent remained dry too.
At Jhingi, after walking on stones, once again my knees are sore. I start looking through the photographs on my camera display and yearn for the tea that Sonu is making. The horses have been left to roam and they start munching happily through a potato field. Vikrant starts running after them full stride. Don’t they ever get tired?
Vikrant and Virendra are almost my elder nephew’s age. After two-three days it was easier to talk to them thanks to the rapport build by washing vessels with them twice. After two days they would just shoo me away declaring “Aap bahut thak gaye hain, iske koe jarurat nahin hai, hum kar lenge (You are very tired, no need to wash vessels, we will do it).
One of them has given their 12th exam as a private candidate. They tell me in the summer, they move with their heard of goats as far as Tibet boarder. But in cities, they have never been farther than Joshimath and Ghat.
I frame my next question carefully (somehow it has a very hollow ring to it out there). “Tum dono karna kya chahte ho?” (What do the two of you aspire for?) The younger one says, “Abhi aur sochna padega, hum khali nahin baith sakte, bakri bahut hai aur kaam bhi bahut hai. Kabhi khali baith doo din TV dekhna ho to pareshan ho jte hain” (Will have to think about it more, we have a big heard of goats and a lot of work to do, we can’t sit idle and watch TV even for two days). Further inquiry yielded that they get the Doorshan DTH (National TV, direct to home) channels in their village.
Last day of camping and Sonu wants a mirror; he wants to shave before he reaches home. To their surprise, I am not carrying one. They manage to get it from the village. Shaving done, he shouts if someone has cold crème. I was loitering nearby and I offer to fetch one, but Vikrant gets it out of his bag. Sonu cries out loud “Fair and Handsome!” Seshadri laughs, Virendra says it belongs to Vikrant, he has got nothing to do with it and I tell them they anyway are so handsome they don’t need it.