EN­COUNTER IN THE HIGH HI­MALAYAS

Airports India - - CHITRA RAMASWAMY - TEXT: SUB­HA­SISH CHAKRABORTY

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

Adult games

Chil­dren par­tic­i­pate in var­i­ous out­door ac­tiv­i­ties

Rap­pel­ing and rock climb­ing

Com­mando net

Scenic view on na­ture walk trail

En­trance to the camp

Fam­ily swings on a ham­mock

View from the bed­room

Eth­nic Interiors in­side the cot­tage

The gazebo

Zip-lin­ing

View from the bal­cony

Din­ing area

Guests sa­vor­ing del­i­ca­cies at the Gol Ghar

Burma Bridge

Tall conifers

Cot­tage in the camp

Out­door seat­ing

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

the Camp

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