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Vijaya Sharma
Gopal Singh Rawat
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Arun Gupta
Dr. Wazahat Husain

Madhulika Choudhry
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Dr. M. A. Rau
Sandeep Puran Singh
Pradeep Sharma


The Taste of Wild Water
Sandeep Puran Singh

I then pass the whole day in the open air, and hold spiritual communion with the tendrils of the vine, which say good things to me and of which i could tell you wonders

- Goethe

Uncle Som Dev as we call him has his house not far away from where we live in Dehradun. If I were to visit and went rummaging about, amidst neatly stacked books old and new ranging from taxonomy of orchids, to temple architecture, I would very well chance upon a dairy meticulously maintained in inimitable Somdev uncle fashion and were I to open to take a peek- it may very well read as follows:

We Start with a Prayer

We hires our porters, our cook and the cook's assistant. Friday evening July 21,1957, and they were to report to the Dak Bungalow by seven 'o' clock the next morning so that we may get an early start. At seven 'o' clock the sky was clear, a beautiful day for a trek I thought. But the porters had not arrived. Ten 'o' clock came and still there was no sign of them. There was however, signs of rain, low dark clouds were creeping up the Kulu Valley and blotting ridges and peaks from view. By noon, when the porters arrived, dark clouds were high over Manali.

"Why the delay?" I asked Budh Ram. Budh Ram was my cook, at 21 years of age, was a rangy, good natured, with a big Roman nose and large ears that stuck outlike sails. His younger brother, Man Das whom I had hired as my personal aide, was shorter with a slight built and immature for his age. Man Das was a quite, introspective lad who I later discovered was frightened of the mountains and high passes. it was he who always wanted to turn back. Man Das was an easy victim of the fears and alarms that beset the trek. But Budh Ram was calm and unperturbed and when questioned about the delay, he replied reverently with eyes wide open " We had to pray for rain".

There are gods and spirits in the hill country of India, whom the hill people believe manage the affairs of humans and have the power to correct them when they go badly. THe duty of this region so goes the folklore earlier resided in Kashmir but forsook that country long ago on account of wickedness of the people and came to the Kullu Valley. There are several deities in Kulu, one of the most important being Hirma. Nen take an oath on Hirma,the people beiieving that no one


would  dare swear falsely before her. Her suppliants propitiate her by driving nails into deodar trees; and as a result there are deodar trees at Manali heavy with iron!

....then came the porters- some bare footed, some with handmade grass sandals, all of them wearing course, short trousers, brown skull caps trimmed with red and heavy brown woolen coats coming to their knees. They were smiling except the last man who was carrying the heaviest load. Single-file we turned north at the bridge towards Rohtang Pass and settled to about two miles and hour.

The trail follows Beas for three miles or so before it climbs up sharply. In this stretch- in-fact, throughout all the eight miles between Manali and Koti- the valley has the grandeur of a vast open park. There are horse chestnuts, deodars, maples, elms, poplars, mulberries, and walnuts - all sown with an uneven hand among scatterings of fir and spruce. There is an abundance of wild currants, barberries, red raspberries and gooseberries. One finds here the madder from whose roots the local people obtain a brown dye.

The canyon walls, rising six, eight, ten thousand feet, are made of layers of slate whose sides are covered with moss and lichens and whose top is capped with granite. Cascades of pure water tumble in white spray of dizzy cliffs. Hundreds of springs send trickles of water dripping over rock and oozing through the thick sod of upland grass. The elevation is so low for the latitude (Manali: 6,400 feet and Koti 8,100 feet) that by late july most of the wild flowers are gone. But the day I passed this way there were fresh violets on the mossy banks and golden streaks of mimulus along the small creeks that feed the Beas.

Such was Som Dev uncle that I knew- a man who lived his life by the principles he believed in. Dedicated but caring, full of knowledge, yet inquisitive like a child, plants intrigued him as much as people, diversity in vegetation as much difference in culture.

He could tell you more about the British in the Doon Valley than any book of history, just as much he could identify the bell shaped ubiquitous pendulant white flowers you plucked from the river.

He was not just a store house of botany, a collector of plant specimen in his herbarium and amazing bits of information- he was a lover of humanity, a great human being who always inspired people and brought out the best in them in ways very few people could. Inscrutable to the last- he was Som Dev Uncle

I wish to be wholly understood what I have become to Nature and what Nature has become to me.If you wish to understand me only passably, you must know how nature found me and I found Nature during our first encounter: then you will have the history and the exposition of my perceptions



Sandeep Puran Singh
23rd March, 2005