As an obvious introvert, I find myself comfortably hiding behind a book, in a corner or under the open sky by myself. And then there are those smiles that infuse me with curiosity to reluctantly make me leave my hideout to hear their stories.

Have you noticed how mountain people have a twinkle in their eye? Call me biased, but I could sip endless cups of tea till I get to know them more. And their accent and our compatible sense of humour works as a garnish for most of our conversations. So this time, in Kumaon, I left the introverted-self in my room and head out to make a few memories with strangers.

Meet Dewan Singh Bisht

Posing with Dewan Singh at the entrance of his home.
Posing with Dewan Singh at the entrance of his home.

While walking around the trails of Keanna Village Home, I noticed an old Kumaoni home with burnt-blue windows. I peeked and climbed a step or two to take a photograph. Caught off guard, I turned around to see Dewan Singh Bisht who, in the next two minutes, took me around his 100-year old home, explained the architecture and insisted we stay back for tea. Here it wasn’t like the cities, where we make appointments weeks ahead to meet our friends to eventually call them off. I enjoyed the ease of simply stopping by and talking with him.

Even though I spent only 10 minutes there, I saw a beautiful, traditional Kumaoni home and the delicate carvings on it, which I fell in love with. This was my first brush with the Kumaoni hospitality. As we headed back to Keanna, I learnt that he is married to Munni, a staffer at the homestay and that he spent most of his time on the fields. I am glad the rains that day made him stay back and I got a chance to meet him.

Meet Kaushalya

Saying by to Kaushalya.
Saying bye to Kaushalya.

The first thing I noticed about Kaushalya is her sharp Kumaoni accent; next I noticed her traditional earrings. A closer look at them and I understood that they were tied together by a woolen thread.

Apart from working at Keanna, Kaushalya is involved in the household chores, farms, rears domestic cattle and cooks at the village school. She is the head-chef at the junior girls’ school and after she finishes her work at Keanna, she goes there to prepare midday meals for students. She has also learnt how to knit at Keanna and when time permits, she knits different winter-wear which is later sold through the homestay to encourage an extra income.

Having done all of this, Kaushalya is unable to go home alone by herself, after sundown. Invariably, she calls her husband, Chandan Singh, who comes and fetches her. After all, good company always keeps us content.

Meet Kheema’s father

Talking to Kheema's father and other relatives, at their sit-out.
Talking to Kheema’s father and other relatives, at their sit-out.

Walking away from Gangachaur, near Mukteshwar, we decided to explore the nearby village. We stopped by Kheema’s home who had returned to her in-laws’ home though we were luckily enough to meet her parents.

We sat there for a while, talking with Kheema’s father. He told us how the unprecedented rains and the hailstorms had destroyed and stunted his farm. Overlooking their house, I could see he grew mustard, coriander, spinach, potato, wheat and plum. He sells potato to Haldwani Mandi (vegetable market) and the transport includes moving kilos of the vegetable by a donkey first and then finally by a vehicle to the city. Some of us don’t have a choice but to work hard.

Meet Kushal Singh

Kushal Singh in his shop.
Kushal Singh in his shop.

Quietly hidden along the path that leads to Trishul Orchard near Mukteshwar, Kushal Singh’s tea shop is easy to miss. One evening, our crave for Maggi noodles took us there and that was the best Maggi we had had in our stay in Uttarakhand.

Kushal Singh, tea vendor, opens his shop at about 9 AM every day for guests until 6:30 PM in the evening. He serves tea, related accompaniments, Maggi and chole-roti (chickpeas with bread). His home is six kilometres away and he tries to get a car drop on his way back, especially if the weather is unfavourable. Since his shop is on Trishul Orchard’s property, he pays a monthly rent of Rs. 250 and peacefully carries on with his business.

During our stay, we stopped by twice at his shop. He cared about what he served to his guests. He remembered to maintain the sugar in the tea and the spice in the noodles, as we had told him the previous day. I thought our power to retain information was decreasing, until I met him.

Children walking back from school in Nathuakhan.
Children walking back from school in Nathuakhan.

And as I go along my travels, I hope to remember what each one of these people have taught me. As Bill Nye said, ‘Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.’

While travelling around the scenic Uttarakhand, Dear Earth’s organic travel kit kept me company.

Amrita Das

I have been a travel and culture independent journalist. My bylines have appeared in many publications worldwide including National Geographic Traveller India, Lonely Planet Magazine India, The Indian Express and World Travel Magazine. A fellow of Media Ambassadors India-Germany 2019 program by Robert Bosch Stiftung and Centre for Media Competence, University of Tübingen. Currently, I am the photo editor for RoundGlass Sustain, a wildlife and conservation e-publication. I live in India.

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15 thoughts on “People of Kumaon, Uttarakhand”

  1. Nice post, Amrita.. I enjoy talking to people, though I find it incredibly hard to click photos of them or even write about them. Yet, those conversations are what make a trip memorable. Reading this post of yours makes me want to make more of an effort and actually write about those people.

    1. I know what you mean Anu. I have struggled most of my life trying to photograph strangers. For some reason, I’ve never broken the ice until last year. You know, once you speak with them, the camera works as a bridge to the memories, rather than becoming a divide. That’s what I’ve learnt. Travelling with Siddhartha earlier this year also helped me understand the nuances. And with your smile, I doubt if anyone would shy away from your camera :)

  2. Interesting read Amrita. It is so good to stop by and listen to the stories of local people. I met and had food with local villagers in Bardo. They were so friendly and offered me food. Being brought up in Delhi conditioning, my mind kept on thinking about what they wanted in return and I had to consciously bring myself back to the moment. :) I think sometimes we city dwellers try to balance out everything by giving money in return. But answer to everything is not money. And these people understand it very well even though they need money more than us.
    Anyways, I could talk on this for hours. So bye :) !!

    1. I agree Gaurav. We’ve lost our ability to lose ourselves with people unless it is a transaction; especially with strangers. I always let my naivety get the better of me. I have specially experienced this in Arunachal. We’ve literally camped at a stranger’s home there! I don’t know how many of us would welcome that in our own homes in the city? But that’s the idea to travel I suppose. We give chance a chance and spread the love :)

    1. Thanks Alka. As a traveller, I’m sure you know such stories keep us going. Couldn’t resist sharing them :)

  3. thanks for sharing Amrita. What a lovely post, thanks for sharing people’s lives with your readers.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it Andrew. It’s been an apprehensive start for me but some stories need to be told.

    1. Thanks Shalini. I agree, but somehow it is the people who make the place for me. And this post is just my attempt to share their stories :)

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