This is a particularly sweet memory from my life as a nomadic horsewoman in the mountains.
I lived in Manali, where it snows in the winter. Horsemen here rarely stable their horses, preferring to let them loose in the high altitude pastures in the summer, and tying them together at nights in the winter. The horses themselves are hardy, and I haven’t seen them ever come to any harm like this.
When it snows in Manali, all the Khampa and Kinnauri and often even local horsemen bring their horses down from the alpine meadows and migrate to the Mandi district, where it doesn’t snow, so that the horses can graze by day, and their costs of feeding are lower. They return to the higher areas in spring.
Horsemen come together in small groups for the journey, so that you often have a huge herd of about 50 horses migrating together. Manali to Mandi town is about a 4 day trek, and reaching the interior locations with adequate resources for horses takes another few days. Overall, the journey is about 6-7 days.
We used to travel by the highway and roads, so a huge herd of horses was out of the question in the day. The nights are a different story. The treacherous mountain road is deserted of vehicles by night, so this is when the caravans travel. It was a tough time, as we used to walk all night, and had camp work (cooking and other stuff) and grazing the horses to see to by day. Hardly any time to rest.
But this was also a magical time. Just horse lovers and their precious horses in an age old journey. We used to time the journeys to coincide with full moon nights and a favourite song from my city days took on a whole new relevance. Bear with me, as I share it with you.
Thandi hawa yeh chandani suhani
Ae mere dil sunaa koi kahani
Lambisi ek dagar hai jindagani
Ae mere dil sunaa koi kahani
Mere dil, tu sunaa koi aisi dastaan
Jisko sunkar mile chain mujhe meri jaan
Manjil hai anjaani…….
This cool breeze, this moonlight is pleasing
Oh my heart tell me an (enchanting) story
Life is a long way
Oh my heart tell me an (enchanting) tale
Listening to which I come to peace my love
And the destination is unknown…..
And it was like that….. the heart was full of pleasant emotions, as the horses and owners walked in the moonlit nights at peace with themselves…. in harmony….. toward a destination that was an integral part of life for a horse and owner in this part of the mountains.
Saare haseen najare
Sapnon mein kho gaye
Sar rakh ke aasmaan pe
Parvat bhi so gaye
All the beautiful sights around
Are lost in their world of dreams
With their heads cushioned in the sky
Even the mountains are sleeping
And it was like that……….. the world was a beautiful play of moonlight and shadows – a world in black and white – the snow covered mountain tops a very grey against the night. The world indeed seemed to be sleeping, as we walked along the deserted highway through deodar forests silhouetted against the moonlit night. The only sound was the hoofs of horses on the road, and the steady river flowing along.
Aise mein chal raha hun
Pedo ki chaao mein
Jaise koi sitaraa
Badal ke gaon mein
And thus I am walking
In the shadows of the trees
Like some star
In a village of clouds
hmmmm….. drifting along the road…. all night the men, the horses and the night and the journey through the evergreen forests
Thodi si raat beeti
Thodi si reh gayi
Khamosh rutu na jaane
Kya baat keh gayi
Some of the night has passed
Some of it remains
The silent season I know not
What it has said
And the nights….. yeah they passed bit by bit, withthe last kilometer never seeming to end. Its surprising how after walking for 30 km, the last half kilometer seems impossible. It happened everynight, as weary caravans came to open grounds to set camp for the day. Until the night……..
It is a time of my life that was so beautiful, that for all my life, a part of me will remain the simple horsewoman with her simple life and simple cares – away from the complex urban life – far away in the mountains.