May 25, 2020
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Kumaoni Recce

Kumaoni Recce
I'VE just got back from a diagonal tour across the length of Uttarakhand. Although it's only 200 km as the crow (or helicopter) flies from Mussoorie to Munsyari, such is the tediousness of the bus journey that it takes three days. I passed through places I hadn't visited for 30 years and was on the lookout for generational change. The most obvious was the total replacement of the Kumaoni woman's hardy ghagra by the flimsy mill sari. Although a loss to cultural tradition, I imagine women must rejoice in the lighter, more hygienic and colourful option. Two items of diet that have survived intact are Almora's bal mithai and Berinag's home-grown tea, both retaining the wrappings of the '50s.

Our hill transport revolution was triggered by the Chinese threat of 1962. Prior to that you walked or hired pack animals. Then overnight, roads for strategic purposes appeared, plied by the daily Kumaon or Garhwal Motor Owners bus whose driver would deliver you to your doorstep miles off his root route if he discovered an affinity with his "upper" passenger. (You were warned sternly neither to fall asleep in the front seat nor to stick your feet out of the window!) Feeder services saw the emergence of the tearaway Government Roadways buses whose drivers drove like the clappers and made realistic such trunk route possibilities as a daily bus between Delhi and Dharchula. And recently, thanks to bank loans, every hill parav (halting place) is blessed with local taxis hypothecated to unemployed graduates who will bounce you into the interior, squeezed hard against the neighbourhood goats and chickens.

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