We are in Himachal, in the Tirthan Valley, staying with our friends Shefali and Christopher.
I consider this place, and their home, as my home from home. It is one of my most favourite places ever.
I was trying to calculate this morning when we first came here, and I think it was in 2007, making it – gosh – 14 years of knowing these lovely people and this beautiful part of India.
Inevitably, over the years the valley has changed.
Obviously it has.
Pretty much every time we come here, I am struck at the speed of this change.
Because the drive is so familiar, and the last few kilometres after the Banjar turn-off is always like an emotional homecoming, I look out for landmarks that tell me I’m nearly ‘home’.
And so naturally changes are immediately obvious
A new roof here.
A house repainted there.
But this time, the changes are mind-boggling.
We were here almost 6 months ago, our first joyous trip out of Delhi after 6 months of lockdown, but in those not-quite-six-months, new buildings have shot up, there is even a new temple, and a recently constructed hotel sports a big, flashy Oyo sign.
Many of the new buildings are home-stays, and tourism is clearly the destiny of this valley. I get the feeling that people are leaving agriculture for tourism, possibly thinking that running a home-stay will be a more profitable, and perhaps an easier way of life.
I imagine that the locals are banking on a rush of domestic tourism, since international flights are still banned, and I wish the valley folk nothing but success.
it is disconcerting to see construction everywhere, and new buildings mushrooming, and familiar, old buildings suddenly sprouting extra floors.
The first evening here, I’ll admit to feeling almost a tad despondent, which is selfish of me, I know, but everything has changed so much in 6 months. I got a bit maudlin, wondering whether “my” valley would lose its specialness.
(As if it’s “my” valley, anyway…)
The next morning off I set to walk up and down the valley, which is what I do while my husband fishes, and I met Neerat, the village carpenter. Neerat has taken me on a few treks, and given me lunch at his home, so it was lovely to see him. I said I was sad about the rain, and he gently pointed out that the valley desperately needs rain, so I felt suitably reprimanded.
“And we’ll climb the mountain in a few days, when the rain has stopped” he smiled, before striding off down the road.
A little later, whilst staring open mouthed at a construction site on farmland that hasn’t changed a jot in all the years (see the video above) a car stopped. My friend Dam, who lives higher up the valley, and his cook Chetram, with whom I did 3 treks last year.
”Can we go back to Bashleo next week?” I asked Chetram, who laughed and said that the pass is full of snow, but yes, we’d go trekking.
I continued on my way, and yet another car slowed down. Viku, the village school teacher. We exchanged news, and he told me not to fret about the weather, that it would improve, and that he’d call in and see us in a few days.
And just like that, I felt “home” again.
Home changes, but the people and the friendliness remain, and that’s what counts.
Now I just need all this admittedly much-needed rain to stop, so I can climb my hills and explore new trails.
Home is most definitely where the heart is.