I arrived at my mountainside hotel this morning after a 6:30 flight from Delhi to Dharamshala. I had a day to rest before I was to start my tour with my guide tomorrow. I headed out with my camera and cell phone to explore the mountain trails. It had just snowed the night before, and the further up the trails i climbed the more remains of snow I found. Most of it had already melted. Everyone here thought this was REALLY cold, but I assured them that for me, this was more like early Spring weather back in Iowa. The sun was shining and the clouds were just starting to hover over the mountain peaks.
The road i hiked down the mountain and through the woods was very narrow and steep, but was paved well. As this is off season for this area (peak season picks up after March) I had the trail all to myself. I saw an occasional car, a few local women out gathering wood and walking their cows but that was about it. It is very green and lush up this far. It is about 1500 ft above sea level in this area.
I took the road as far as it appeared to go, and ended up at a little “store”. I would learn that this was the only store for the little hamlet/village of Barnet that was a little further down the road. The paved road ended, and I had to walk down a rugged dirt trail to reach the village. Before I descended further, I stopped to have a chai and practice my Hindi with the young men at the “store.” They told me the village had about 400 people. The boy who made me coffee told me he was in a local college to study economics, and that when he finished he wanted to have his own business in the area. He had no interest in leaving Barnet. He said he didn’t like the big towns. I asked him what sort of business he wanted to open, and he smiled and said “I have an idea.” His cousin was working with him, but he understood little English and spoke none.
After finishing my chai, i walked the steep dirt trail down, down, down until I was literally at the edge of the village. There didn’t appear to be any sidewalks or a logical way to walk into the village without going directly into someone’s yard. Just then, a small boy spotted me and yelled “HI! One photo! One photo!” He saw that I was carrying a camera. I was glad to have gotten a response from someone and felt a little more comfortable waking further into the village. More boys ran after the first, and we took selfies. I noticed that women were popping out from behind their houses and peeking out their doorways (I saw no men at all). The first lad said “Thats my mom!” and we walked over to her and took a few photos. The boys spoke pretty good English, and the mom spoke a little. They assured me that it was fine to just wander through the village and explore if I wanted to.
The last house in the village was occupied by 5 women, 4 of which came out and encouraged me to come into the house. I told them my shoes were dirty but they insisted, so I climbed up on the porch. Then they immediately asked me if I was married. I said no. They said “So, no kids?” I said “I have a dog” and pulled out my cell phone and started showing the photos of Etter. I chatted with them for a bit, and discovered that one of the sisters was not married. I told her to enjoy her freedom! Just then, another young woman showed up. Her older sister said “She isn’t married either! Come in for Tea!” I could see where this was going, so I told them I really appreciated the invitation but I had a long ways back to the hotel and I needed to get going. I skedaddled out of there fast.
When I got back to the “store” they had a fire going and asked me to sit and rest a bit. I had another Chai and learned that the car sitting there was actually a taxi. I decided to get a ride back up the hill to my hotel, as it was getting on in hours and I knew it would be a very long walk back-all up hill. He told me it would be 250 rupees, which is $3.50 in US dollars. I told them that was fine. It was obvious on the ride back that this young kid loved to drive a car, he was speeding around the curves and dodging things left and right. It was a very quiet, peaceful day in a very beautiful area. I suspect this is very different from what most people think of when they think of India.