Himalayas: Trithan Valley
Shrine to Shiva
18th. We stay four nights in the foothills. Steep sided wooded valley, fiery yellow hillsides, terraces climbing high, crystal clear river below depositing granite beaches and boulders. The road runs along the Southern bank, our home-stay is on the North side serviced by a zip-wire with a hanging basket that you can pull yourself across on. Well trodden footpaths lead up in every direction, weaving between terraced maize and orchards. They link the farmhouses together, the highest must be several hours walk up very steep terrain. 200 metres up from our home-stay the path leads us onto the porch of one old farmhouse built into the hill, a bright green wooden veranda jutting out on the first floor, supported by simple wooden pillars and clad in red panels. The walls are lime wash, heavy granite tiles on the roof and a small shrine just visible under the eaves. A larger shrine is on a terrace above the house, green painted wooden frame on a stone platform supports a roof. Underneath the roof; offerings of grain, flowers and gold woven material are arranged amongst more permanent calved figures, tin metal snakes nailed to the eaves and rows of iron tridents on the outside. People pass by this family house and shrine as the path network runs from house to house through one another's backyards. Many carry maize or the papery leaves stripped from the cob used as cattle fodder. Many stop to talk, one mentions the shrine dedicated to Shiva, recognisable in the weathered carved tablets leaning around the shrine platform, they look ancient, older than the farms and the people around, yet there just there in the open untouched. Shiva is the Hindu god of the Himalaya, Great Shiva the Re-Creator and Destroyer.
Over the next two days we get to know the family of the red house; a couple married two years ago, in their early twenties with a 18 month old girl and another baby on the way. An old gentleman said to be the younger's father but must be his grand father. He is kind, bringing us fruit from the orchard, straightening out the shrine when he sees me drawing, a beam is out of place he mimes and some overgrown weeds are pruned. His wife would come and watch us paint fascinated by the process, then drift off to do some washing or spread out the chillies drying on the roof. The old man is death, determined in his communication and resolute in getting his point across especially when he disagrees with how I have drawn something; as is often the case in India, drawings with an audience like this one become a democratic process. His son/grandson tells me he is an artist, a very good painter but my enquiry into this got lost in translation. Through out the days painting the son would visit, sit with us sometimes with his daughter who he sung to, sometimes his wife would come too meeting passing neighbours on the footpath. The old man loved to visit but he was seen as a nuisance to us by the family so would be shouted at a lot if seen sneaking up to peek at what were doing, poke and point at the work in progress. He was a humorous, mischievous character, who once made us laugh by setting down a bundle of kindling on the lawn and lighting it with sparks that burst into such vicious flames that he had to fling himself away onto his back.
19th. We spend Divali here, invited into the family home of our hosts, sitting in an upstairs room with grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and nieces eating sweets. Everything builds up to the fireworks which is an exciting display managed by the youngest members of the family. As a rule the lighted fireworks are something to run towards or throw at each other. 4 -18 year olds immerse themselves in the close proximity of the explosions unscathed, whilst we suffer minor cuts, burns and tinnitus as we try to shelter close to the farmhouse only to be ambushed with bangers by the elders on the balcony above. In the shadows of the farmyard a grandmother goes about fetching things in buckets completely unfazed by the mayhem her family are creating.
20th. This morning I get up to work on the farmhouse painting whilst it is still cool. I swim in the river at midday and manage to stay in the icy water a couple of minutes this time. Once the shade hits the river shore around 3pm, I start a new painting on the beach. I lay out a piece of the large printing paper and with a broad brush wash in the valley sides. Then the wooded banks now turning to silhouette against the orange hillside to the East catching the last light.
I finish the river drawing in the morning before the sun is up, adding the crossing, highlights to the foliage and the boulders on the beach. (um, rs, ru, aur, rmg, qr and pas ...I think).
Trithan Stream and Crossing
Afterwards, hike with Matt towards the East peak, making it as far as eye level with the Griffon Vultures, soaring on the first high ridge, probably 800 metres or so above the river. The views are spectacular on every turn as we climb quickly on steep paths. We make some sketches before descending with a much greater perspective of this valley and reason to return with so much more to explore. A pair of oriental white eyes pick at a plumb tree on the way down, a stunning acid yellow bird the size of a goldcrest, sparkling white eyes; gems hidden on the vast hillside.
Himalayan Griffon Vulture
We walk into Gitiorni and eat a bowl of the fresh spicy pasta they make here, before I pick up a fishing permit and spend the rest of the afternoon spinning for trout in the river. I catch seven brookies, two of which we eat along with three more hooked out by our host's brother in a tenth of the time it takes me. We leave early the next morning for Shimla, travelling ten hours over about 250km on the local bus.
Trithan Valley from High