The wind blew softly through the hill. The only sound we heard was the sound of the footsteps crackling through the pebbles and stones underneath. The forest covered the hill, the vegetation thick, cool and inviting.
The sky was so blue when clear, that it hurt the eyes to look up. The crisp mountain air was refreshing for city dwellers. Located 8 kms away from the nearest village of Pantwadi, the walk to the village had steep sides and the rivulet running through it sustaining the life in myriad form. This was a place striving to find its purpose in transition- from ghost village to goat village.
Here, hidden from stranger’s eyes the residents prepare for their daily struggle, fraternizing with nature with same zeal every day.
Protected by the valley’s isolation and the rugged terrain, the dwellers start their life, pure and free from the pressures of the of the world beyond and below.
I remember the year Roopesh invited us to spend few nights at this place. Work in the preceding years began slowly. The space was measured and marked. Strong hands chipped the stones and swung the hammer. This was the beginning of the journey of dream into reality. Their efforts were not random, they had a vision. Their vision was placed before the chisel met the rock and the wood. As worked progress, the hill swayed to the vision.
But it was not easy when the season changed. Every monsoon, the sky darkened, and the torrential rain hammered the will of the men testing their resolve and tenacity. The thick vegetation covers most part of the village, the pounding of the rain moved the stones and mud downward making the movement of people and animals extremely difficult. Those were the early days, but the dream was slowly taking shape.
Time was measured not in years, but in completion of purpose. The discipline of work and strength of their prayer soon took shape and the village grew.
The outside world was changing, and so was their inner world. The messages of their resolve they put in the foundation, will soon tell their story. Story of oneness with nature, of sustainability and simplicity.
Story that will make people traverse the entire distance to reach their village, asking themselves what the lessons from this abode will inspire people to make desired changes in their life; thus sowing the seed of inner transformation. It was year 2014 when we set our foot in this village fondly called bakri gaon. (goat village). Jostling for space in the crowded chemical infested local food market are the inhabitants of Goat village, 2200mt above sea level, nestled in a quaint valley on one side and majestic mid Shivalik ranges on the other.
As the last flame in the village extinguishes, the signs of life vanish to the comfort of their homes. Silence is all pervasive, you can dream under the starlit sky and stretch your abode to eternity.
Nourishment to the soul- When we woke up early morning, the moon was within our grasp all in resplendent glory and serenity. A group of determined city dwellers went out through the forest to conquer the peak of Nag Tibba, some 3022 mts above sea level. We were joking and talking. One of the guides lit the fire to brew the aromatic wild mint tea, we cupped out hand to feel the warmth of the infusion. The smoke from the fire added to the surrounding haze making the expanse more mystical and magical. It served as a reminder to the caves of accomplished masters and renunciants who dwell in upper Himalayas.
The valley was like a paradise. there were monkeys swinging from the branches. Birds singing and rushing flow of the water in the distance, everything seemed so surreal especially when our ears have grown used to the morning traffic inhumane noise level. We were struck be the peace and beauty of the valley, often scared as silence was deafening. As we climbed up the hill, the contours of the valley opened to a vast expanse, as above and as below. The snow-capped mountain glistened with pride while we prodded between joy and serendipity. The mountain hid the nature’s murals in its lap only to share the intrepid trekkers (our friend Krishna decided to enjoy the parantha at our base camp).
It was at this trek I rediscovered my passion for trekking (my last trekking was through the Annapurna conservation area as a result of renewed resolve to trek every year).
The nourishment to the body- Pantwadi villagers in conjunction with founders of goat village have embarked upon the journey of producing and providing pure and unpolluted seasonal and local grains and vegetables, to the curious and the discerning people of the valley and beyond. The farmland is well fed by mountain water rich in minerals and is naturally sweet.
The village grows most of the grains including millet, lentils, and seasonal vegetables. They are also self-sufficient with regards to milk and meat and often have surplus to sell at reasonable price. One can also marvel at the skill of herdsmen and farmers engaged in the gathering of Morel “gucchi” near Deodar trees in the month of February and March, often their prized possession for the rest of the year and an expensive commodity to trade after drying the bounty.
Though the strong wind and chill makes the land unproductive in the winter months, summer season witnesses a flurry of farming activities, the toil and the cultivation start in the month of March turning the valley into verdant landscape of rich vegetation.
The dinner prepared by the village women on a hearth and wood fire evokes strong bonding and homage to the countless million who have kept their heritage and tradition intact. The soulful morsel, the gently smokiness of dal and vegetable and the aroma of the ghee was all reminiscent of childhood in a village. Though hunger felt satiated, the hands kept moving towards food pushing desire to make friends with reality.
It’s been some years between my sojourn and writing, I always felt indebted to Roopesh and his team for inviting us here in the formative years of his project. It’s a strong coincidence that I am writing about goat village from my dwelling in another mountain, far away from India, yet closer in thoughts to my friends who reside there now.
I wish I could do more (we also started to source mountain ingredients from his farming cooperative), I wish I could go back again to see the dream fructified.
“Namaste” and happy reading.