It was a bright sunny April afternoon when we were on our way towards Har ki Dun, walking alongside river Thamsa. As we took a turn in the valley, our gaze instantaneously fell upon a bunch of beautiful wooden houses on the mountain slopes. The haphazardly arranged houses almost appeared to be rolling down the mountainside in some form of a disarrayed haste. This was the nest of community living in Osla!
We were awestruck by this neat little village tucked far away in the Himalayas. We took a spontaneous decision to visit the village on our way back with the help of our guide, who had friends and relatives in the village.
The Village of Stories Untold!
Situated in Uttarakhand, in Western Himalayas, every little thing about this quaint little village intrigued us, the city dwellers. Stuck in some bygone age, this unfrequented and relatively unseen village has millions of stories to tell. As we set foot into the village through the narrow pathway, lined with randomly arranged stones on one side and a mountain slope on the other, we noticed the place was dotted with apple trees all over. Just a few meters and the narrow pathway ended at the village temple.
Beyond this, there was no clearly defined pathway. Dedicated to ‘Someshwar Devta,‘ the unique wooden temple has a charm of its own. The area around the temple appeared to be some village square. Young men were idling around, smoking ‘beedis’, while playing cards without a care in the world. Children, with cheeks as red as cherries, chased one another as they ran around unmindful of the dust all around.
Some people say the temple used to worship Duryodhana*, who was a well-loved king in the region but the villagers deny this.
The beautiful wooden homes that had caught our attention earlier had roofs made of flat stones that were apparently procured from some faraway place. The stones provided the much-needed protection during the harsh winter months. With wood appearing to be the primary source of firewood, furniture, and construction, a rapid discussion on deforestation ensued between us, the cognizant city dwellers, only to die down quickly as our focus was on the villagers and their lives.
Community living in India
The indigenous people of the village stole our hearts in an instant with their hospitality, innocence, and simplicity. Untouched by the vices of the modern world, the love and respect they showered on us were overwhelming, something we can never experience in the cities. Almost everyone we met invited us for tea or dinner.
A young girl, Shamita insisted we go to her home for a cup of tea, and we had to oblige. The teenagers, Kashmina and Krishna weren’t tired of showing us around the village.
They even got their best clothes to dress up my sister in their traditional attire – something that the whole village gathered to see and which they found profoundly amusing.
The concept of community living and the self-sufficient people truly appealed to us. There were villagers who were spinning yarn from sheep wool. The sheep is again reared by themselves, and they use the yarn to weave their warm jackets. They proudly announce that their wool is priceless and cannot be found anywhere in the world – a claim that perhaps cannot be denied. We notice that almost everyone in the village was busy doing something or the other, not many are seen idling time away. We were amused to see a lady stomping her feet in a large wooden vessel that had clothes and water. That’s a community laundry where everyone goes to wash heavy clothes like blankets. Also, we were astounded to find children barely 7-8-year-old busily washing clothes in the only tap in the village. Tap would be a wrong usage; it was rather a pipe through which water flows out constantly into Thamsa.
There is just one tiny little shop in the village which sells a few packets of chips, toffees, and potatoes. There is no grocery, no vegetables. The hard working villagers cultivate and grow their rice, rajma, and potatoes. These constitute their staple food. Besides, some thorny leaves, bushes, and roots gathered from in and around also constitute a part of their food.
There is no concept of storing these items; they are simply plucked as and when required. Cows, sheep, and mules constitute their livestock – cows for milk, sheep for wool, and mules to ferry things from outside. The mules also cater to trekkers like us to carry necessities like food, tents, etc. and in some cases carry our bags as well, enabling us to walk light.
The Grim Reality of Rural India
A typical well-to-do home constitutes three floors – upper floor for people, middle one for sheep, and the lowest one for cows. Mules stay outside. Upper floor typically has three rooms alongside a long balcony overlooking the snow-clad mountains. The rooms are minimalistic having only cotton mattresses and quilts. Most of the homes, however, are smaller, constituting of just one room that serves as the bedroom, kitchen, living room, and everything else.
The tough life of the villagers brought tears to our eyes. The village has no network and hence no phones, Internet is out of the question. There are no toilets, no roads, no electricity. A few homes do have solar panels that provide some basic not so bright lighting. Young girls barely 12-13-year-olds carry a minimum of 20 Kgs of firewood regularly from the forests and walk 11-12 Km with that load.
There is a primary school, but children are uneducated as the teacher is always drunk. A few children have the good fortune of being educated in other villages or cities but mostly can’t afford the cost. In some families, especially those with several children get only one or two of their children educated while the rest remain in the village either because the parents cannot afford to educate them or they are needed to run the chores of the home. Amidst all of this, we happened to meet a young man who was completing his Masters in Botany at Dehradun and who had come home during the holidays. This was so refreshing and hopeful indeed!
The worst part is the village has no clinic or dispensary. The nearest medical help is 27 Km away. With no roads, seriously ill patients are tied to a chair that is then carried by four people, who walk 16 Km to reach ‘Taluka,’ where they get transport and then drive another 11 Km, and that’s the nearest medical help.
People with heart of gold!
As we bid goodbye the next day, the villagers packed rajma for us in keeping with their tradition of not sending off visitors empty-handed. With an experience of a lifetime, we left Osla.
We are back to our comfortable city lives with precious memories of Osla etched in our minds forever. However, each time we remember the lovely time we spent at the village it is accompanied by pangs of guilt as our mind does a spontaneous inadvertent comparison of our comfortable lives with the difficult lives of the villagers. The innocent villagers continue their daily struggle relatively oblivious to all the amenities of modern living.
It is incredulous to think that even after 70 years of independence, such remote and backward villages still exist in India. This is strikingly contrasting to the digital India and smart cities that we are supposedly moving towards.