Highlights from my recent journey into the Himalayas
I stopped on my way to Chopta to stay the night by the Mandakini river in a town called Siyal Saur near Agastyamuni named after a famous Hindu sage. The guest house was simple. In the kitchen men sat around drinking and smoking chillum while preparing raat ka khana (dinner). Walking to my guest room I found a wooden stick with strips of rags fastened to the end of it with a string. I stared at it, and admired it for its design fit the function of it being a feather duster/rag perfectly. Then I asked, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
Why didn’t I think of that? And the answer that came back is I never had to. I grew up thinking feather dusters came in multiple colors for $10 and were in the back of K-Marts aisle 9. The amount of a money, labor and raw materials spent on advertising, packaging and producing the plastic handled feather duster was in an unconscious world far far away from just make your own with what’s lying around. Its anathema to the whole organic, raw and slow food movement. Why make complex costly systems to produce a packaged unhealthy Apple pop tart that requires distribution, packaging and advertising, when you can pluck the apple right from the tree?
The recycled feather duster set the mood for the entire trip.
When I arrived in Chopta I knew my options would be chapati and dal, aloo and rice, Maggie and eggs. Badri Kedar is a small guest house with a clay oven, similar to a tandoor, called a angeethi ( a wood based cooking fire). Everything is cooked over it. After nashta, a man I only know by Bhaiji (brother) took a metal pail filled with dirt and water and dressed his oven with fresh mud. This is how he maintains his appliance: with mud.
I wondered with all the high Himalayan pasture land that was around the area, why none of it was being used to supply vegetables for the guest house. Then later I discovered a small stone fence enclosed space with some round heads of something that looked like cabbage. They were neglected but edible. They are grown with cow dung as the soil amendment. And they grew under snow which had only melted off two days prior. Cold hearty cabbage!
From Chopta it was back to Rishikesh, here I eventually made my way to a camp by the Ganga, a 1 km walk through the jungle from Chandpur. I discovered a deciduous tree called a Morus plant relative of the Mulberry. This tree was called a Shahtoot or Persian Red Mulberry, Pakistan Mulberry or Himalayan Mulberry.
An Indian man who works gardening at the camp, climbed into the tree to pluck the top berries for me. A man below took his shirt and folded it over his arms to serve as a basket. I searched the ground.
This mulberry is found at an altitude of 1200 to 17o0 feet in the Himalayan region
They are found at an altitude of between 1200 and 1700 feet in the Himalayan region. All mulberries including these contain resveratol and antioxidants which is believed to prevent cancer. It also contains high levels of potassium. The young leaves are used as a boiled vegetable containing calcium, phosphorous and potassium!