ENCOUNTER IN THE HIGH HIMALAYAS
Asummer Camp meant exclusively for the schoolchildren was organized by the Western Command of Indian Army at the breathtaking Sanawar Hills located ideally at an altitude which is all of 1700 mts above sea level. The entire neighborhood was covered by a thick blanket of lush green forest cover and the stately Pine and Ban trees offered a picturesque natural backdrop.
This being the peak summer season, most of the schools had declared their summer holidays and it was time for the cherubic young ones to truly indulge in some exciting outdoor recreation and the Sanawar Eco Camp was the ideal place to get one’s adrenalin rush. Being far from the din and bustle of the cities and more significantly being in the lap of the Himalayas, nothing can get better than this – escaping to the Himalayas in search of solitude and peace.
I was on my way home to Chandigarh, when I saw groups of children truly engrossed in exciting activities like Rock Climbing and Rappelling. The enthusiasm of the children had a positive rub-off effect on me and without hesitating, I decided to have a go at some of the exciting activities that were on offer at the Eco Camp.
Even though I was brimming with enthusiasm, I knew my spirit was willing but my flesh was weak. After all, I am all of 45 years and by the time I somehow conquered two small hills on the undulating Sanawar mountain range, I was left gasping for breath. I rested myself under a rocky promontory and took a few deep breaths that made me feel better.
As I lay down and gazed at the superb Himalayan panorama from the outskirts of the Eco-camp, my eyes fell on a young and ebullient Army Officer, broad shouldered and every bit as handsome as a movie star – a la Al Pacino, approaching me. He introduced himself as Captain Bey and was overseeing the children’s outdoor activities at the camp.
I kept looking at him for a while and Captain Bey in his peculiarly accented English was a gentleman to the core. He seemed to be very well groomed and suave. I was curious to know which part of the country he hailed from – Ladakh?
A Karbi Captain from the North East
Mizoram? Nagaland? Manipur? Assam? Sikkim? Finally, I asked him politely as to which part of India he belonged to and the Captain’s reply was – “I am from Assam”.
The Captain was from Assam alright but in my 25 years of service in the Indian armed forces, I have had the privilege to meet many warm and kind hearted tribal people from the North East of India, but never before did I come across a surname – “Bey” and I still kept guessing.
However Captain Bey seemed to understand what was going inside my mind and to clear the cobwebs of my brain cells informed me that he belonged to the Karbi Anglong region of Assam, which is the domain of the Hill Karbis (by the way, Karbi is an ethnic tribal community of Assam). What was more significant was that Bey happened to be the first Indian Army officer from his community (Karbi).
I told to myself – “this guy is special” and tried to get up close and personal with him so as to be able to know the kind of person he was. I asked him rather informally – Do Karbis have any script? The Captain replied – “No, we use the Roman script”. In my efforts to unravel the mystery surrounding this young Army officer, I told him I wanted to hear him speak a few lines in his native Karbi language and to my utter delight he spoke like an AK47 – “Kardom, Ne Men Ke Capt Borlongki Bey”.
It was time to move on and as Captain Bey escorted me to the Rock Climbing Zone. I decided to have a go at the vertical, almost 60 feet high rock. To make me feel reassured, a few Army jawans were sitting right on top of the rock. After a few half-hearted attempts, I gave up and instead took a lot of pleasure watching the energetic children attempting impossible angles.
The descent from the camp top was unexpectedly tough as I had to be escorted all the way to Ground Zero with the strong and sturdy Karbi army man by my side. Dried leaves of Pine and Ban trees made the mountainous terrain somewhat treacherous for the first time trekker and thank god, I had Captain Bey to show me the way through the jungle labyrinth.
It seemed as if Captain Bey knew the terrain on the tip of his fingers and in halfan-hour of brisk downhill trek, we finally arrived at the Sanawar Base Camp. After refreshing ourselves at the Base Camp, the children proceeded to have their meals while I and Captain Bey were left alone and
with enough time and space to muse over the fascinating lifestyle of the Hill Karbis in the North Eastern state of Assam.
As we sipped a few pegs from our favorite tipple, Captain Bey became a touch emotional. And why not? He was thousands of miles away from his homeland – Karbi Anglong, a land steeped in legends and blessed with nature’s bounty. Son of a social worker, Captain Bey’s father Late Khorsingh Bey and mother Mrs. Bina Ronghangpi , still devotes her time and energy for social causes. Captain Bey’s younger brother is a teacher and the youngest of the lot is in 3rd year of Zoology (Hons).
Captain Bey is a convent educated guy from Shillong, the capital of the North Eastern state of Meghalaya and it came as no surprise to me to see for myself a
well bred army man, suave to the core and with impeccable manners, who had a keen interest on music and films. From Mettallica to Guns & Roses and Britney Spears to Shakira, his musical taste made me wonder how come he was not born in USA and strummed the guitar – a la Bruce Springsteen and sang the all time great Rock number – “Born in the USA”.
Herein lies the beauty of modern India. The often used phrase – “Unity in Diversity” is very apparent in the case of Captain Bey and I haven’t seen a more dedicated army man than him in my 25 plus years in the Ministry of Defence.
Today, the new India that has emerged on the world scene, is perceived as a nation brimming with exciting ideas in the sphere of technology, of indomitable courage, bravery and resilience of its armed forces and in every walk of life, the Indian identity is evolving not like a thunderbolt but somewhat like a rose bud opening up to the morning sunlight. The world is lapping up everything Indian. No wonder that the National Geographic Channel has identified India amongst the 10 Best Places to Visit in the world.
Captain Bey was a touch poignant when I asked him about how he feels when he goes to his native village located perhaps in one of the remotest corners of North East India, every time he takes leave. He says he went gaga over the civic reception that he was offered as an Army Officer by the Karbi Students Union, and Is nostalgic of the rich folk dance and music of his folks back home, which is steeped in mythology, and of those sumptuous Karbi meals cooked by his adoring mother and has an abiding belief in destiny.
Capt Bey is presently attached to the Gorkha Regiment of the Indian Army and when asked about the most memorable experience as an armyman,
he cited the avalanche in Srinagar, when he was physically under one meter of dry snow and remained unconscious for hours together and then by god’s grace somehow recalled his basic training tips of making air pockets in the snow and finally managed to set himself free. There was one junior officer who was also trapped along with him who was unable to come out of the heavy snow cover and lost his life on that fateful day.
Captain Bey nostalgically mentioned about the exotic dress materials and costumes that his folk back home wear. The male Karbis wear a white inner shirt over which a jacket (Choy Honthor) is worn. The jacket is intricately embroidered. The loincloth is “Rikong” while the headgear or turban is well embroidered with flowery designs. They also carry a “Dao” or dagger for self-protection.
The females wear petticoat (Pini) and flowery designed girdle (Wankok) over their waist. The upper garment is a wrapper passing under their arms and drawn tight over their chest. The shawl over their body is called “Pe-kok” or “Khon Jari”. The females wear beautifully decorated earrings, necklaces, beads and bracelets predominantly made of silver.
How I wished the conversation with Captain Bey to have lasted long enough for me to have a fascinating insight into the fairy tale like Karbi way of life! But due to paucity of time and with dusk descending on the Sanawar Base Camp, it was time to wind up and go our separate ways – I towards Chandigarh and Captain Bey to his Base Camp.
This unusual encounter with Captain Bey made me feel proud being a citizen of India and the fact that India’s tribal communities too are joining the main stream of Indian society indeed augurs well for the nation. Increasingly, the tribals are now coming to the forefront to serve their motherland.
In spite of the global recession and all that hullabaloo about India’s dithering tourism industry, every now and then India comes up with surprises and one such surprise was being a guest of the Sanawar Eco Camp in the secluded Himachal Himalayas and experiencing first-hand the harmonious amalgamation of traditional tribal design elements with the contemporary aesthetic design.
We, as human beings, love being amazed. The magician, the astrologer, the faith healer, the miracle-maker. Despite all the hard work that we ourselves employ in our personal achievements, we view the finished work of another with wonder and awe. Out here at Sanawar Eco Camp, prepare yourself to be stimulated and I can assure you the stimuli here will be a positive one.
Rustic cottages at Sanawar Nature Camp
Hill Top Vernacular Cottages at Sanawar Nature Camp
Children participate in various outdoor activities
Rappeling and rock climbing
Scenic view on nature walk trail
Entrance to the camp
Family swings on a hammock
View from the bedroom
Ethnic Interiors inside the cottage
View from the balcony
Guests savoring delicacies at the Gol Ghar
Cottage in the camp
Entrance to the
eco-friendly residential block
Weather proof Swiss tent inside the camp
Sprawling grounds of the eco-camp
Exterior view of thatched restaurant inside the camp
Lush greenery surrounding the camp
Rubber Plant inside