To cross a mountain

In the Upper Seraj Valley, culture intertwines with traditions and life is dominated by hundreds of deities nestled in the serene lap of the Himalayas. Only a person who has travelled into the interiors of the Himalayan region can comprehend what life here has to offer. I’ve been privileged to work as an intern with My Himachal under Mr. Payson Stevens and it has sparked a change in the way I perceive my life and witnessed firsthand how compassion and dedication can lead to a fruitful existence.

Life is but a travel…a journey towards enlightenment as per Buddhist philosophy…my work began in Shimla where I took on the role of a photojournalist sating my passion for photography and honing my writing skills at the same time. 10 days later, I shifted base to a remote village called Jibhi in the Upper Seraj Valley, Kullu District; situated at a height of around 6000 feet, mountains collapse in on this small village encompassing it on all sides livened by friendly and inviting people; atithi devo bhava still exists! I began working under Mr. Payson’s guidance…first documenting, data basing and photographing a rural health camp organized by My Himachal which saw us and a team of doctors from Jibhi CHAI trek to remote villages in dire need of healthcare.

Hospitals here are few and far apart and healthcare, especially among kids is neglected. Interacting with the kids at the schools was a memorable experience…the reality here is a stark contrast to the lives we live…a 5*5 feet room houses 50 kids and a primary school of 200 students has just two teachers. Toilets aren’t available and hence the students are forced to defecate in the open…add to this an inadequate diet and some having to walk around 8 km a day to and fro school…I reminisce about my own childhood…hard but no comparison…their happy and bumbling faces gave no inkling of the problems they face and the smiles turned into grins as I shot them…it was like capturing sunshine without the ghastly flare…

There is a chronic water shortage in these areas. Due to global warming, the sources have dried up and rainfall and snowfall has become sparse. Government supplied pipes are rendered useless due to empty sources and the villagers have to rely on more traditional sources of water such as baudi’s which is a ground water system. My major task during the internship was to visit villages with shortages and interview a group of villagers, survey and photograph the landscape and vegetation so as to establish the ground realities of the water situation there and estimate the topography of the area to simplify the planning and construction process. I did extensive research on ground water recharging, planning and techniques for future reference as well. I visited a total of 15 villages along with the field manager of MH, Mr. Padam Singh often trekking up rough trails to reach villages isolated from civilization …an alternate world of sort…no roads connect them…mobile signals are rendered lifeless…what’s enlivened though are the skies…beautiful stretches of blue on mountainous backdrops with mists swirling in an out of your vision and the true aroma of a rural Indian village.

Life here is self sustained with little need for outside interference or modernity…in fact modernity only helps killing the essence of such a life…what needs development though is the healthcare and education facilities which My Himachal is trying to address. In addition to these projects, I worked on a rural tourism initiative, visiting home-stays and hotels…surveying the properties and photographing them to be put up on the RTNE website.

The entire internship has been a magnanimous learning experience and I’ve been extremely fortunate to work under Mr. Payson who I’ve learnt a lot from. Working on editing a PSA was fun and has helped my understanding and appreciation of editing which has helped me decide my career path in the future…

The eye does not see…it’s the brain that feeds the blind spot…different people perceive things differently…my eyes have been sensitized and the whites have separated from the blacks…I see clearer…Today’s the day and age of social networking…yet cities are unsocial, crowded, polluted and very impersonal. Discos, parties, intoxicants-all a sham…billions of people mere consumers controlled by a handful of families. One person can’t make a difference to the world…let’s not be naive about that…you can however work within your own community…if every village is self sufficient with a bustling economy…there’s no need for the globe to become an urban metallic mesh…

Oh, how easy it is to write…but to feel strongly enough for a cause to put it to practice is a diverging road with hallucinations hindering your sight…I’ve found my path during my short stay at MH…I can only hope others find theirs as well…!

I’ve crossed mountains…literally and figuratively…the Everest of my mind lies conquered and as Micheal Vince once said “Life is not measured by the breaths you take, but by its breathtaking moments”

Photograph and quote of leader: “The reality of rural India is an enormous contrast to the privileged life that students at SIMC experience. It’s heartening to have students come and work with us and have their horizons broadened.”
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