Birthday in that Himalayan village on the Border

There are certain places you dream of visiting once in your lifetime and then there are these other places you accidentally come across and want to visit again and again your entire life.
Chitkul is one of those places.
It was two weeks before my 22nd birthday  I decided that  I do not want to spend a fourth consecutive birthday in a city I dont even like that much. I wanted to spend my 22nd some place like home, some place that felt just quite right.
In April 2016 a friend visited chitkul and after seeing the photos and knowing that it is the last inhabited place in India, I was already sold.
So I started my journey on the 30th of August 2016 and left for Chandigarh from Delhi carrying a backpack, a best friend and loads of expectation. And both Sangla and Chitkul lived up to my expectations, rather beyond my expectations.
I reached Chandigarh at around 1 in the morning (31st August) and started inquiring about buses to Chitkul.  Good lord! Nobody knew of the existence of such a place, which gave me immense pleasure and I responded with little smirks everytime someone gave me a “Where on Earth  is this place” look.
Finally , I met some sane inquiry officer who told us that bus to Chitkul has already left, Excuse me! What?
After an hour the other officer told us the bus will arrive at 5am.
So,  a bit confused we accidentally boarded a bus with destination Sangla, which is 20 kms away from Chitkul.
I left Chandigarh bus station at 5:30am on 31st and reached Sangla at 7pm.
The bus ride started getting exciting and picturesque one we entered Kinnaur. This highway has been declared as the “Most Dangerous Road in the world” by History Channel.

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I was a bit disappointed when I reached Sangla and saw just this small.town with nothing exciting. But, I was wrong, wrong about Sangla just like folks these days are wrong about Nationalism being same as Patriotism.
So I wok up at 6 the next morning  and decided to wander about this “not so happening” place called Sangla valley,  the heart of Kinnaur .

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I walked till the last hotel or guest house on the the main road and took this little road downhill from where I could see a temple kind of a structure. I went inside and it was a pretty interesting place of worship with Nag temple on one side and a monastery on the other,  in the same premises.  It was the time for.morning prayers and the sound of “Nagarah” was  in the the air. . I sat there and spoke to few old ladies who came to seek blessing of the nag god.
The structure of the temple was quite peculiar, one found nn pahadi or himachali region.

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There was this small shop outside the temple and I asked for tea but the shopkeeper instead asked his wife to take us upstairs to their house for teas and a warm conversation. She gave me a tour of their ancestral house which  They were planning to renovate. This disappointed me and I asked them not to, I dont know if they were even convinced by my not-so-convincing puppy face.
She then showed me the album of her brother in laws wedding and how the Nag god was  brought outside the temple to shower blessings upon the newly wed.

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I left the place and trespassed someone’s apple orchard to get  near to the baspa river. Spent an hour there and decided to go back to the guest house, with of course few flcked apples.   While paying the rent I had a little chat with the manager and when he came to know that I was from Jammu and Kashmir he told.me about the small settlement called Azad Kashmir, half an hour away from main sangla.  I got so excited and decided to ditch the 12 PM bus to Chitkul.
My imagination and expectations  went wild and I thought of numerous things about this place called Azad Kashmir.
OK, so this was literally crossing rivers to reach your beloved.
2 river streams, quite a few apple orchards, one village and a wild forest to be specific.

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stream #1

 

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Stream #2

When I finally reached there I could see just handful of houses there. And the on thing I saw was the board of MNREGA.

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I peeped through the wall of the nearest house and started calling out for the man loitering around in the house.
He cam out  and saw me suspiciously as if I was there to rob him off the apples he had kept for drying on the floor. Although his suspicion was quite legit if we consider my shady peep throughs.

I told him the whole story of how I was from Jammu and Kashmir and how I got rather way too excited knowing of this place
He invited me in and asked his wife to prepare a cup of tea.  He then told me something that ym rainbow scented mind didnt want to hear, the place did not have people from either of the Kashmirs. It was just them, pahadi/Himachali people.
He then told me the origin of the name. The first settlers there were the Army personnel and they named it so because the place was as calm and peaceful as real Kashmir.

*coughIRONIEScough*

I then bid them good bye and asked if I could take a picture of the dry apples there.  They were making scotch out of it and not for sale but for personal family use.
While going back to main Sangla  met a woman who started a conversation with me and when i left after 15 minutes , she called me back and gave me 4 out of 6 pears she had just bought. I kinda melted right there,yeah!

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We were  waiting on the bus stand from 4:3o for the 5pm bus to Chitkul. It was 5 but no bus. That day the Chief Minister of Himachal had to deliver a lecture in Sangla, hence the place was a bit crowded. So, we had loads of people to talk to, amongst whom we met these two primary school teachers.
5:30, no bus.
6, the bus came and very enthusiastically  I boarded it just to see that the whole bus was occupied with ITBP personnel and only a few locals who too left in Rakcham.
While on the way to Chitkul, the bus was driving through the river stream.

We reached Chitkul at 7:30 and went straight to bobby bhaiya’s guest house but he was nowhere to be seen. A local guy about to leave for his home in Rakcham  called him and gave us company till bobby bhaiya arrived
A voice of reason and a lover of nature, Bobby Bhaiya originally from Nepal was born and brought up in Shimla.

It was 1st September and my birthday was 4 hours away. It was chilly so we tucked ourselves and slept like horses and of course, missed the 12 am birthday clock strike. Also, because my phone was completely out of network.
I woke up at 7, had a cup of tea which got cold in 2 minutes and sat on the terrace of the guest house looking at this small village of which hardly anyone knew about, one of the most remote areas in India.

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We then left to wander about chitkul village. A river stream runs across the whole settlement where the houses are of typical pahadi architecture, made up of Timber and Stone.

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after reaching the end of the village we trekked to the mountain, at 3500 meter. Sitting there overlooking Chitkul on one side and a mountain on the other,  beyond which lied Tibet. and I though to myself. One day, Tibet, One day.

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After 2 house we trekked back to the village and saw red carpets, microphone, canopies and people. “Who’s getting married, Alok Bhaiya.” “CM is coming to deliver a speech.” “DAMN!”
We saw Bobby Bhaiya hiding in his Attic room. “I hate crowd and people.” “What? are you like our BFF?”
we then headed towards the “Last Road” of India, no we didnt react Tibet because most of the road is under the watch of ITBP. so we just sat on the edge of the road and appreciated the beauty of this untouched placed, Chitkul, where people very  happily call themselves hindus and Buddhist both, where they are away from the regular urban life worries and where they are close to the most beautiful thing Nature!

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Chitkul is  a place where you would love to visit Solo, with parents, your beloved or BFF. because this time, its the places that matters and not the people you travel with. Its the place that makes all the difference. Chitkul is magic!

Snow Months: November to April.

Travel and Stay:

Delhi to Chandigrah Bus (ISBT Kashmere Gate): Rs. 250
Chandigarh to Sangla: Rs. 550
Sangla to Chitkul: Rs. 40

Baspa Guest house (Sangla): Rs. 500 per night
Kinner Heights or Bobby Bhaiya’s Guest House: Rs. 500 per night.

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In search of a home: The Rohingya Refugees

In India the Rohingyas are living in refugee camps in New Delhi, Hyderabad etc. In New Delhi, Zakat Foundation provided them with land in Kanchan Kunj area, where Rohingyas have been living since 2012. The only mark of identification they have is an identity card provided by the UNHCR.  the latter also looks into their grievances and immediate needs. The men of the camp either work inside the camp in small constructions or are employed outside in local market.

There is a school for children in the vicinity and the fees is paid by the Zakat Foundation  itself, but as one of the kids said, the foundation is planning to stop the fee payment soon.

The camp comprises of 50 families, although all share common grievances there is  psychological violence inside the camp. Also, there are many activists amongst the residents who organise regular protests, sometimes near Jantar Manta while other times outside the Embassy of Myanmar. ‘We just want our voices to be heard amd get the attention we deserve.”said Mohammad Farooq who owned large farms back in Myanmar, (“I had 5-6 people working under me. I had a well established Construction business”)and has rescued around 10 Rohingya girls who were being trafficked from Bangladesh to India.

Cover Photo: Ms. Tasleema with her youngest and the oldest child. She fights against all the odds and social pressure within  the refugee camp to make her daughter Mizan an educated   woman. Apart from school she sends her to tuition . Her husband is a drug addict and doesnt care much about the family hence taking a very strong move , she is planning on giving him a divorce.

This article has been published on Huffington Post India as well

 

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in 2012, Rohingyas migrated to India and in New Delhi settled on this land provided by the Zakat Foundation. At Present, the camp comprises of 50 families living in small packed room made up of ply wood or just curtains or bamboos.
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there is a school for children in vicinity. they have english as one of the subjects but its hardly been taught to students.
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Mizan (13): She studies in 4th grade and aspires to be a Doctor. Her father works in the nearby water park and is involved in drugs,hence doesnt contribute much to the household expenditure. she narrated me a story how a 13 year old girl was killed by a young boy inside the camp itself,after her family refused to get her married to the boy. after instances like these, she is very scared and hardly talks to people around and doesn’t even move out of her small room in the camp except going to school.
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children peeping through, watchin T.V. Inside the camp only a coup;e of houses have facilities like these.

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Sanjeeda Begum

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construction of a masjid for the refugee camp. many men of the families residing there are employed in this construction. they are paid Rs.300 per day.

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Sohail Khan, before migration he was a student of Sociology Honors. At present his grandfather stays in the United States but he is unable to join him due to lack of any national identity.

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Sumi (13), she witnessed her father s death due to the clashes between the Muslims and the Buddhists in Myanmar. she aspires becoming an Engineer here in India itself.

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