In the foothills it is blue skies and yellow fields. Meanwhile, in the high hills it is grey skies and white slopes.
The slope was covered in pine trees, a cloud burst followed by sudden gush in waters cleared the slope in a few seconds and dumped debris from high mountains creating a frightening look. Fresh snow changed it into a beautiful sight.
The beauty of the Himalaya is that, along with seasons its topography changes, from multi shaded slopes to a thick blanket of pure white snow. In my initial years of work in the alpine zone, I was mesmerised to feel the drastic change – floral beds from where I documented hundreds of species disappearing under many feet of snow, then again springing back with more vigour as the sun moves to the northern hemisphere.
Tea pruning is the process of removing plant parts like leaves, branches, roots or buds. Pruning of tea plants improves the overall health of plants. The process also helps prevent insects and decay causing organisms to enter the plant, remove unwanted branches, shape and control the growth to provide sufficient sunlight and air to all new leaves resulting in the overall yield and quality of the next crop.
Pruning helps the plants channelize energy for the production of new leaves in large numbers, which is the most important commercial part of a tea plant. More importantly, it helps in maintaining the height of plants to help in easy harvest of its leaves.
In north east India, December and January are the months when the otherwise green estates turn brown.
It is now more than a decade that I enjoy my days in the eastern Himalaya, mostly in the high mountains. In the range I work, the conditions are at its extreme, no matter if it is raining or winter. Very seldom I got the opportunity to be in foothills, especially in the winter days. This year pandemic brought me to the tropical zone, closeted in my camp house since the end of March.
Hence, for the first time in my orchid hunt days, I am enjoying the cooler days in the foothills. It is awesome, blanket or no blanket, running water or warm water, it is like hide and seek. Warm and chilly moments overlapping each other.
But, the afternoons are quite enchanting. After lunch, under the canopy floored blue sky, embracing the slanting sun rays, enjoying the old melodies of Isaignani Shri Ilayaraja, a short nap.
Heaven seems to have come down, courtesy lockdown!
Winter brings all sorts of fresh vegetables into the market. Cauliflower, cabbage, radish, carrot, many leafy vegetables etc., all from the farms of foothill Himalaya, hence organic (almost). I am fond of leafy vegetables, notably spinach (Palak).
Palak can be consumed raw as well as cooked. In the raw state it is with almost 90% of water content, hence having it during long treks helps in not getting dehydrated (carrying water is heavier than carrying Palak!).
On winter days, at least twice a week, our radio lingo communicates “Double P”, our code for Palak-Paneer. The combination is full of iron, calcium, Vitamin K, protein etc., and keeps the body warm also. I love it.
With no orchid hunt, I am working on a group of winter visitors. Evening hours are in the open on the bank of a mighty river. I leave the field after the last set of birds flew back to their nesting location.
When I reach home, my body and my fridge have something in common – the °C factor. Then the homemade vegetable soup comes handy. A bit of all available vegetables in the kitchen, little ghee, pepper, vinegar, soya and tomato sauce.
Done………..then running the air conditioner, annoying my neighbour and those roosting pigeons.
With the onslaught of winter, the topography of the high slopes in the Himalayan range changes dramatically – from green to white. With hundreds of vehicles loaded with tourists negotiating the winding roads uphill to see and play with snow, there happens a silent migration of men and beasts downhill.
With high slopes under many feet of snow, the scope of finding food for cattle remains impossible. Not just about food and water, the temperature goes so low, that remaining in the high slopes means disaster. Hence, they move downhill where fresh fodder and favourable climatic conditions are available.
Nomads in the Himalaya face threat from habitat destruction as well as a decreasing numbers in their own population. With many challenges including financial prospects against their livelihood, many members in the nomadic community who were traditionally cattle grazers moved to towns and cities looking for other income generating jobs.
The disappearance of the nomads in the Himalaya is only a matter of time.