Rosalyn D'Mello: The hills are alive, but for how long?

On the Kheerganga trek, revel in the majesty of the pristine landscape but also witness how man is bent upon destroying this paradise too

The 13-km trek from Kalga to Kheerganga was exhilarating. We traipsed across meadows, climbed uphill through rough-hewn paths, accompanied by the clamouring trill of the Parvati river, stopping at the half-way point, the much-advertised Waterfall Cafe, a yellow tarpaulin tent with a bench that serves up a range of Maggi-based concoctions as well as anything with Nutella spread over. We took turns dipping our tired feet in the gushing cold stream that had sprung forth from that great height, and soaked in the fresh altitudinal high before the final 6-km ascent. I expected my body to be lagging behind but somewhere along the way, I found myself intoxicated by an endorphin buzz that roused me into speeding along, Road Runner-like, beep beep! When we made it atop, we stopped to catch our breath over piping hot cups of chai.

We basked in the bewildering view of snow-capped peaks and the orange-yellow haze of sunset’s glow, right until midnight, when the almost full moon first peeked at us, then presented itself in all its majesty
We basked in the bewildering view of snow-capped peaks and the orange-yellow haze of sunset’s glow, right until midnight, when the almost full moon first peeked at us, then presented itself in all its majesty

Then we surveyed what lay ahead in the near distance, a throng of unsettling trekkers occupying the makeshift restaurants lining the half-a-kilometre-long trail to the hot water spring, the scene resembling the cacophonous nightmare that is the Baga-Calangute stretch during peak tourist months in Goa. Empty plastic bottles lined the way. Music blared competitively from each restaurant’s speaker, making you wish there was no electricity. We were immediately repulsed.

Our impulse was to stay as far away as we possibly could from this madding, despicable crowd. We huffed up towards the hot springs and encountered a dreadlocked foreigner who recommended we check out the Lonely Planet campsite. “Do they play the same kind of music they’re playing below?” we asked. “We play psy-trance at night,” he confessed. But the tents we were to occupy seemed reasonably distant from the actual restaurant, so we soon sealed the deal so we could head to the hot springs to rejuvenate our tired limbs.

We deigned to have lunch at a restaurant around the pseudo-hippy trail. Two minutes in, the volume had been increased and we had to endure an unappealing demonstration of the non-subtleties of trance. Post lunch, we sped towards the hot springs. The section for men was fairly vast, the pool large and spacious, and so the landscape was inevitably dotted with hairy specimens of the Indian male species in their skimpy chaddis, some with bellies spilling out. The women’s pool was smaller and fenced in, with a thin net-like fabric suspended over the top resembling a roof, for privacy, I imagine. The floor was slippery all around, thanks to all the algae, but I managed fine. The water was just the right temperature, hot enough to feel soothed, yet not hot enough to scald the skin. There weren’t too many women when I went in, but it was wonderful to witness each one who was there seem so comfortable in their bare essentials, simply ‘being’ in the absence of any prowling male gaze.

I emerged completely refreshed, as if I’d bathed in baptismal waters. Then, I joined two friends as we foraged for firewood to make a small bonfire. We beseeched the friendly local who’d helped us secure chunkier wood for the fire to also arrange for dinner, so we wouldn’t have to schlep down to the noisier stretch, and we basked in the bewildering view of snow-capped peaks and the orange-yellow haze of sunset’s glow, right until midnight, when the almost full moon first peeked at us, then presented itself in all its majesty.

Sadly, I was woken up at 3 am by the pounding beats of horrible psy-trance, making the genre seem like the kind that tortures the soul of anything that resembles music. I was angry. It seemed wholly insensitive to disrupt the peace of such an otherwise placid landscape. My tent-mate woke up too, and after we watered the plants, so to speak, we decided to share her set of earphones and counter the din with some good-old fashioned Miles Davis, so we could be seduced into a more endearingly hypnotic trance.

On the way back to Barsheni the next morning, I saw a message painted on a rock. It read, “Technology owes Ecology an Apology.” I couldn’t agree more. It pained me and my friends to experience what had happened to a once pristine Kheerganga. It had been ruined by trekkers whose main draw for coming there was to get high on drugs and disturb the peace with that vile form of sound, with no concern for the ecosystem it contained. Humankind seems to revel in destroying anything resembling raw beauty. In two years, Kheerganga will be ruined. We could already hear the alarming humdrum of more permanent structures being built, had already seen the waste that was being carelessly generated by the callous disposal of plastic.

It made me think about the kind of traveller I want to be: the antithesis of the travellers I encountered there.

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D’Mello is a reputed art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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