Disclaimer: Not my story. This is as narrated to me by a friend who is a professional trekker. I will write in first person because it’s more convenient to narrate as well as understand that way.
I am a professional trekking leader for a leading agency, which organises treks all across India. Most of our favourite trekking trails are obviously located in the Himalayas because: 1. People love the scenic beauty 2. These places are tried and tested.
I’ve been trekking for the past three years and I absolutely love this life. Our agency pays us well and my hunger for experiencing nature in its purest form is also satiated to some extent. But there comes a point in time when you start to get bored of witnessing the very same terrains over and over again, week in and week out, however beautiful they are. I guess I also encountered this feeling of saturation by the end of my second year at the job.
When I told my boss about it, she actually had a very simple solution to that conundrum – “Go discover new trails then!” And that was it. I took a month off from the routine and went in search of a new trail altogether.
Four days later, I was out there in the Himalayas already. I had taken the train, then the bus for an entire two days, even hitchhiked a ride and then it was time to start my discovery of a new trek. Along NH 26 there is a very small town called Shaor. That’s where I found myself to be. I was hoping to find a new trail amidst these unknown territories, and honestly it didn’t look easy at all. Along the periphery was a forest that seemed sufficiently dense to be not tried, and hence I didn’t enter it at all even when I felt tired. I had been walking continuously for four hours and the only times I’d stop is when I’d see a human being in sight. I’d either ask for water or food. It was around 4 or 5 in the evening when I saw a young village woman coming my way on the road. She had nothing in her hands, so I thought it’d be futile to ask her for anything. As soon as she came close to me, surprisingly it was she who asked me where I was headed and if I needed food or water. I was delighted to say the least at this polite enquiry. Also her chaste Hindi absolutely bowled me over, and so I guessed she must hail from Uttar Pradesh or from some other place up north.
I started walking with her to her village that she said was only 10 minutes away. Along the way I told her about my plans to which she immediately offered me a shelter for the night. I felt strange so I told her that I’d confirm once I see the place.
We finally reached her village – it was called Pindaan. Indeed it was merely 10 minutes away only. Honestly, it all looked really neat and too good to be a remote village. I obviously didn’t complain. An hour later I had eaten a hearty meal at the same woman’s place (her name was Tana) and become really friendly with her family members – all 17 of them. I found them to be extremely nice people and so I did decide to stay there for the night.
At around 7 in the evening we all started hearing drumbeats from outside.
“What is that,” I asked. “It’s the night of a yearly festival,” Tana’s grandfather answered.
“It’s the beginning of the monsoons today. We celebrate it by sacrificing the strongest bull of our village.”
“Why the strongest bull?”
“Since rains bring fertility to the land, sacrificing the strongest bull is a metaphor of bringing fertility to the entire village. This will be good for everyone.”
“Can I come?”
“Yes, of course! Everyone has to be a part of it, mandatorily.”
The ceremony was grand by the standards of a village, I presumed. Tana came and stood by me the entire time. She explained the meaning of all the rituals to me.
“... and since it’s also a full moon night, it makes it extra special. We’re going to feast on bull meat tonight. Do you eat meat,” Tana asked.
“Oh I love beef! But I haven’t had it for a long time now since there are a lot of political controversies going on in the urban areas. So we don’t get beef anywhere.”
“Great! You’ll love it then.”
We didn’t actually get to watch the sacrifice of the bull, but I was okay with it. I realized that Tana and I had been talking for a long time, sitting on a rock quite away from the rest of the villagers. I suddenly found it strange because I had always visualised villages to be staunchly orthodox about their women, but here I was having a good chat with a nubile unmarried woman for so long. I didn’t mind it obviously.
The entire village ate together that night. We all sat under a large bamboo roof and relished on the food. That was officially the best beef I had ever had in my life. I had never tasted anything like that earlier. Since there were about 200 people up for dinner on that night and only one bull, so we all got pretty small portions. I stole a relatively big one and so I felt privileged.
My sleeping arrangements were made in the bedroom of Tana’s grandfather. “Will I share the bed with your granddad tonight?”
“No-no, dada is already asleep somewhere else,” Tana quickly replied.
“Are you sure? By the way, I did not see him during the ceremony at all. Where was he all along?”
“Oh, he was inside.”
“But we all ate inside, I never saw him.”
“Don’t worry. It’s late, now you sleep.”
“Ok, good night!”
Tana acted a bit funny, but I was too tired to think about it so I went to sleep after that.
The following morning was sunny and bright, and it definitely did not look like the beginning of the monsoons. Anyway, I was happy with such good weather.
Since I was supposed to be on my way, I quickly took a bath and did my morning chores. Tana met me for breakfast, which was again sumptuous.
It was time for me to leave and Tana’s mother gifted me a small white hardwood sort of a thing.
“What is it?,” I asked.
“It’s a souvenir that will bring you good fortune throughout this journey.”
“Thank you, I’ll need it. Tana, where is your granddad? I’d like to say goodbye to him before I leave.”
“He’s gone to some place. But don’t worry, he’ll always be with you.”
“Oh..ok. Thanks for everything, I’ll take your leave now.”
I was on my way all over again, with a rejuvenated heart and soul and a bucketful of stories to share about that friendly village.
I had been on the mountains for the following five days. Ajog and Purthi were nearby towns that I saw, apart from a couple of other villages I stayed in. Despite a personally successful trek by the Chenab, I realized this terrain was too much to handle for the amateur trekkers and hence I decided to go to some place else in the state. I decided to go to Margaraon, which involved going back the same way I’d traversed. I was happy since I thought I’d pay the Pindaan village a visit again.
Two days later, I reached the same road where I’d met Tana. So I went the same way as she took me.
Half an hour had passed through my walk in the forest and there was still no sight of Pindaan. I thought I’d lost my way, so I decided to go back on the pucca road and wait for assistance. It was evening already. After some waiting, I finally saw a man coming on his make-do transport vehicle. I asked him to stop.
“Hi, can you tell me the way to Pindaan?”
“Pindaan. It’s a village 10 mins away from here.”
“I’m afraid I don’t know about it. And by the way, you shouldn’t be here at this time of the day.”
“Oh. A week ago, I met a girl right here who took me to her village. It was hardly 800 to 900 meters away from here. But now, I somehow can’t find the way to it.”
The man seemed anxious now.
“It’s dark. You should come stay at our village right now. We can look for Pindaan in the morning,” he proposed.
It was 7pm already, so I agreed. There was no harm in it.
I sat in his vehicle, and merely a kilometre later, he started talking again.
“Did you meet a girl named Tana,” he asked.
“Yes! Do you know her?”
“Not personally. Did she take you to a village where there was a bull sacrifice ceremony?”
“Yes-yes! That’s the very same village. That means you know all about it, no?”
“Yes, I know about it. So do a lot of other people all around this place. But, you see, there is no village of that sort anymore.”
“What do you mean, bhaiya?”
“Yes. There is no such village like that here, but many a people have confessed to having visited it.”
“Sir, why would I lie to you? That’s precisely why I got you along, else I don’t what would have happened if I left you there alone after dark.”
“I don’t understand this. I actually spent a night there. There were so many people there.”
“Yes, I know. A lot of people have narrated this story. I don’t know why or how it happens but it always does happen during this time of the year. I personally know at least 4 people who have visited that village, so I already know what you must’ve experienced.”
“Please stop scaring me.”
“On the contrary I’m trying to make it easier for you to understand, sir. Just come with me and have a good night’s sleep at our village. You’ll be fine.”
I was not fine. I just could not believe it. But I stopped thinking about it. It was definitely not a dream, it was all VERY real.
“By the way, did you meet that girl’s grandfather?”
“Oh yes. But only for a while on the first night. I couldn’t meet him after that.”
“Yes, I know. Apparently it’s that man only who’s the “strongest bull” of the village. So, he is the one who gets sacrificed every monsoon.”
I had officially lost my mind by then.
The man continued, “The souvenir that they gave you – it’s the grandfather’s bone only. You won’t be able to find it anymore even if you kept it safely with you.”
He was right, I could not. No wonder Tana told me that her grandfather would always be with me.