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Farther From the Madding Crowd

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FOG, mist, cloud, rain, and mildew - these were the things the British must have looked for when selecting suitable sites for the hill-stations they set up in the Himalayan foothills 150 years ago: Simla, Mussoorie, Darjeeling, Dalhousie, Naini Tal, all soggy with monsoon or winter mist and dripping oaks and deodars. The climate must have reminded them of their homes on the English moors or the Scottish highlands.

I have survived all that some 30 mountain monsoons that have been thrown at me; and having gone through the annual ritual of wiping the mildew from my books and a certain green fungus from my one and only suit, I decided to leave cloud country behind for a few days and be the guest of Cyril Raphael, an old friend who left these misty regions years ago and now administers the Bhuvneshwari Mahila Ashram (a social service organization) at Anjani Sain in Theri-Garhwal.

Pine country this, dry and bracing, with the scent of pine resin in the air. I have always thought 5,000 to 6,000 feet a healthier altitude to live at, but perhaps I'm prejudiced, having been born in Kasauli, which is pine rather than deodar country. Anjani Sain is about the same height and gets the sun all day. Given adequate food and pure water, it's a healthy place to live. Contrary to what most people think, Garhwal is not a poverty-stricken area. Almost everyone has a bit of land and does at least h ave the traditional do-roti for sustenance, which is more than can be said for the urban unemployed in other parts of northern India.

This area has always been known as Khas-patti, probably because it was special in several ways - climate-wise and probably economy-wise too. Down in the flat valley, there are green fields and even mango trees, the descent to lower altitudes being quite sudden in these parts. The small Anjani Sain bazaar, with its single bank, post office, and chemist's shop, shimmers in the noonday sun; it looks like a set for the gunfight at the OK Corral. But this is, generally, a peaceful area.


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