Why I Think Blind Leading the Blind is Pretty Awesome

I saw a blind Acupuncturist. When I made my appointment I wasn’t sure if it was actual pain that motivated me or plain old curiosity that made me call. I guess it was a bit of both. I have never visited an Acupuncturist before. Neither had I heard of one in the Himalayan foothills where I live.

There are certain people you hear of that you immediately think you would like to meet and there are those that might as well not exist. What caught my interest was the fact that I’d heard this doctor is also a teacher who is passing on his skills to blind students. He has been practising the alternative science/ancient art of acupuncture for the last 40 years!  I’m very grateful he agreed to meet me though he was under no obligation to do so.

This soft-spoken doctor, whose name I shall not reveal, is an elderly gentleman. He’s pretty spritely and energetic, which instantaneously raises the trust-barometer as far as I’m concerned. Healthy doctors do inspire confidence. He’s good-natured too and didn’t take me to be an absolute nincompoop. An added bonus these days. To top it all he is quite tech savvy and has his computer talking back to him.

I was fascinated by just how quickly he got down to diagnosing my problem. Switching between head and limb, asking questions, moving joints, applying pressure he swiftly found solutions to tackling my problem area and showed me extra exercises to improve my overall agility. All without sticking a single needle into me.

I felt I was being treated by a Zen master and was getting my money’s worth except he refused to charge! This, after spending at least an hour of his free time for me – a total stranger.  Quite the man. Overnight I’m beginning to believe ‘the blind leading the blind’ is pretty awesome. You can see why.

How a visit to an obscure Himalayan village proved that my street knowledge of villagers is all wrong

'Himalayan' Buffalo
‘Himalayan’ Buffalo

In fact, it’s all blah. I was invited to Dunda village (Uttarakhand, India) by a colleague who heads ‘Community Engagement’ through the school I work for. These service projects, a collaboration between a hospital, an NGO and my school is a mutually beneficial arrangement between villages and us; mostly, providing opportunities to our students; exposing and sensitizing them to village life, actively engaging them in bringing about change, and hopefully impacting them for life.

Most of these projects are student-driven. They are instrumental in replacing destroyed irrigation systems, roofs, in some cases, houses and providing employment. Besides providing training in revival of more eco-friendly farming, animal husbandry, poultry farming, construction techniques and use of poly houses, building a brand new primary school, creating sand-based water filters  and benefiting lives in other small ways. But this post isn’t what is being done and planned for the village but it’s about my undoing!

Green harvest of the Himalayas
Green harvest of the Himalayas

The familiarization trip in a  glossed-over-by-rain landscape was a great out of office experience. The sound of gushing waterfalls and paddy fields were a sight for sore eyes.  In spite of all the green cover we could see where last year’s landslides had covered up fields with rocks and rubble, devastated irrigation channels overnight destroyed the livelihood of several villagers.

I always thought it was impossible to get two neighbouring villages to agree on anything.

There were 2 villages gathered under one roof that day, representing around 75 families. Though voicing their concerns rather rambunctiously at first, they simmered down to discussing and making decisions on their own.

An alcove originally used for oil lamps in an himalayan village-home
An alcove originally used for oil lamps in a Himalayan village-home

I  believed  a woman has no voice in an  Indian village

The head of the village/gram pradan who is a  young woman chaired the meeting while lots of other women attended.  They are no less vocal than their menfolk. I found out just how hard their lives are;  even basic necessities like sanitary napkins are beyond their reach, making it almost impossible to venture too far from home when they’re menstruating. Plans are on to teach them to make low-cost yet hygienic and eco-friendly sanitary napkins. The younger girls, like all young girls, aspire for more. “English-coaching” and tailoring skills are part of their bucket list.

I was of the opinion that the  ‘caste system’ in villages is set in stone

What really made me sit up and take notice was the fact that these villagers whose lives are steeped and driven by caste equations were nonchalantly nodding their heads in agreement when it came to the ‘right’ to education. They promised us that the new primary school would be open to any child from Dunda and the neighbouring villages.

Was it the collaboration between the facilitators that in turn triggered the collaboration between the villagers? I will never know for sure but it was rather unexpected to see them take a common stand. Perhaps once in a while one  needs to visit a village to look at life afresh. 

7 Reasons Why I Inevitably Head Back To Ranikhet To Recharge

Considering  I  live in Mussoorie, it sounds a bit irrational that I should seek another hilltop to escape to; but there’s something to be said for wanting to get away from it all and I find  Ranikhet is the place for me. Here’s why.

1. There aren’t many places on earth I can see the Himalayan range from Bandarpunch in the Garhwal, spanning across Trishul, Nandadevi, Panchaculi, in Kumaon, all the way to Apa Nampa in Nepal. After a good dousing of rain, the clouds settle and the air gets wafer-crisp. That’s when the peaks start revealing themselves. I can’t begin to describe how dramatically the colour of the setting sun sets the ice-cream peaks aflame.  Come September, right through February, you can see the whole range, dawn to dusk. Imagine that! It’s reason enough for me!

Himalayan range upclose
Himalayan range up close
Himalayan sky at dusk
Himalayan sky at dusk
Himalayan snow peaks behind the foothills
Himalayan snow peaks behind the foothills

2. Connectivity is erratic. Which turns out to be a good thing since the idea is to switch off from the everyday onslaught of data.  Going to Ranikhet feels like checking into a spa where without paying spa rates. With the exception of my camera, I travel light into Ranikhet and feel better for it when I leave.

Himalyan Babbler after a dunking
Himalayan Babbler after a dunking
A differnt hue of Himalaya
A different hue of Himalaya

3. I can enjoy the simplicity of pastoral scenes that are becoming rarer by the day.  I know I’m in Ranikhet when I see women carrying enormous  piles of grass on their heads and sickles in their waistband.  Or visit smoky tea shops where the tea and ‘fen’ taste better for reasons I can’t quite pin down.  I love seeing village girls neatly turned out in school uniforms, their hair plaited with red ribbons, cheerfully walking miles, to school.  I  enjoy the sound of cowbells as much as I like chatting with locals who treat me like an old friend even time I visit.

Village woman from Ranikhet
Village woman from Ranikhet
Women working the fileds in a Himalayan village
Women working the fields in a Himalayan village
A Typical Kumaoni house
A Typical Kumaoni house

4. Wildlife comes to me. I don’t have to pay an arm and a leg to enjoy nature. Jackals, foxes, martens, Sambar, Barking deer and Serows, pheasants and leopard have literally crossed my path. As a nature lover, I  can’t help but spew rhetoric about being awakened by the sweet melody of whistling thrushes on my rooftop.  Or sipping chai in my garden watching the sunlight bounce off the iridescent head of the Flowerpecker. Or listening to the Francolin clearing his throat before every call.  And hearing a carpenter drill only to discover it’s a Yellow-naped woodpecker.  Or check out the latest leopard kill on the golf course. And seeing a jackal and a Steppe eagle soaking in the winter sun side by side! Or following butterflies that look so exotic, it’s a miracle they aren’t extinct. Need I go on?

Himalayan Khaleej pheasant
Himalayan Khaleej pheasant
Himalayan butterfly
Himalayan butterfly

Moth hawk
Moth hawk


4 blog

5. There is no home delivery.  No Mc Donalds, Pizza Hut, or Café Coffe Day outlets here as yet. Definitely no malls. And yes, I’m grateful for the “unspoiled ” flavour of the place. There are any number of restaurants and a proper market; so one won’t starve for want of sustenance. For those of us who have homes here, our small soirees end long before city-wallas begin their nightlife.



woman drying food on roof

6. Every house has a fruit tree,  flowering pots or a vegetable patch.  It could be the humble geranium in a rusty tin or the ‘kaddu’ drying on the rooftop; they make Ranikhet homely.




jacobean lily


7. Not too many tourists. Funnily enough some of the reasons I love Ranikhet are the reasons why it’s not a  popular holiday destination. Lucky for me!

mt silo

Lifeblood of the hills. The coolies of Mussoorie

Prompt delivery thanks to Manoj and coolies like him

Ever since we moved to the meandering, steep slopes of Mussoorie, I’ve been wondering how anyone, let alone the Brits of yore, could survive the hills without the intrepid Nepali coolie. (Coolie is a corruption of the Tamil kuli=wage or wage worker) I moved here from Ranikhet and we don’t see so many coolies there though I am sure most other hill stations depend on them a great deal. Initially, I rarely noticed the Nepali coolies myself; they do tend to blend into the hillside. You could say, it was my indifference  that made me not ‘see’. If you were to remove all these coolies from the hillside, life here would be another kettle of fish altogether.

Manoj, one of the nicest coolies on the hillside
Manoj, one of the nicest coolies on the hillside

I live on a  hilltop, a good 45 minute-walk from the market. Hypothetically speaking,  if I choose not to leave my home for a month I could get by just by ordering on the phone. The car doesn’t come to our door step. No prizes for guessing who delivers all my provisions, carries sacks of manure for my potted geraniums, the 1/2 quintal of chopped wood for my winter stove… Or worse comes to worst, carries me out on a stretcher if I fracture a leg and can’t walk. For crying out loud, the house I live in wouldn’t have been built but for these coolies carrying the foundation bricks on their backs. At the cost of sounding flippant, I like to think of coolies as the Flipkart of the hills; they deliver. Moreover, they’re far more efficient, their work, far more commendable.  I confess I haven’t stood in a queue since I moved here or waited days-on-end  for a gas-cylinder refill! If you’re thinking ‘hills’ for an healthy lifestyle, find a hillside without coolies. They make life too easy! Nepali coolies are the hardiest workers I’ve seen; virtually unstoppable. You’ll pass them  digging road side trenches bare handed in the grips of our Mussoorie winter and getting soaked to the bone in our cold monsoon-rain for a  bread and egg delivery. Despite the cards they’ve been dealt, I find Nepali coolies to be a cheerful lot. I don’t quite subscribe to the theory that being mountain people they have more RBCs than most of us and therefore, are genetically stronger. So what ails our local hilly-billies? Can someone check their blood count and tell?

Prompt delivery thanks to Manoj and coolies like himIt’s the attitude and not the altitude that makes the Nepali coolie indispensable. It’s no secret that migrants work harder. Some of these coolies come from remote villages in Nepal 3-4 days journey away from here. For what, you wonder? Every coolie-dependent business is flourishing. Yet, the coolies’ earnest simplicity hasn’t got them too far. They’re  ignored till required, kept at arm’s length and left to their own fate. They carry 25-30 kg loads multiple times a day for 5-6 km uphill for peanuts! The rate per load/day probably hasn’t changed for years. What can we do to improve their lot? Acknowledge their existence for starters? Treat them as humans not mules? Realise their worth?  What do you think?

12 cartons of milk, 1 tray of eggs, flour, butter 2 litres of oil, 5 kgs of rice et lots more.
12 cartons of milk, 1 tray of eggs, flour, butter, 2 litres of oil  et lots more.

Our Cheerful Coolie