High in the mountains of Himachal Pradesh is the land of truth — Sarchi — where justice lies in the hands of the goddess
Apple-laden trees all around, a full rainbow high up in the clouds, a green fantasy land in the mountains —aah! if only I could take this back home. Sarchi is a tiny village — home to about 130 families — 2,220m above sea level.
We are lucky, the rain gods go to sleep but leave behind the dark clouds and cool breeze. The curvy drive up to the mountains, past the green deodar trees is probably a fantasy that seems real or was it the other way around? The cloudy peaks in the distance watch as the breeze ruffles my hair. We are staying at Tirthan Anglers’ Retreat in Banjar and Sarchi is just an hour’s drive. The Great Himalayan National Park also lies within this area, so birds and butterflies are our companions at the lower altitude.
Land of truth “Sarchi is sach ki dharti (the land of truth),”, says 52-year-old Jivan Lal. He was the village pradhan or head till 2000. Dressed in a typical Kullu cap and a sparkling white kurta-pyjama, he is a farmer, like the many others who live here. With his grandchild in his arms, he sits with us in the village centre, which is a six-bigha green ground. It houses a 250-year-old temple of goddess Gada, a form of Durga, and a well which is now enclosed.
There is a tall tree, which looks like a tall pillar and Lal tells us that by simply touching the tree, one is absolved of all sins. I immediately do that, as he informs that almost 21ft under the well is a room for the goddess. There are steps leading to it but the well was enclosed when his grandchild fell in it and died at a young age. Even while recounting the incident, he keeps sadness at bay. “People attain nirvana when they die on a holy spot,” he says.
Sarchi is the base for most trekkers, who like to trek up to the many peaks around. “I can reach Lambri top in two hours,” smiles Lal, pointing to the misty top at a distance.
I look at the mountains and ruefully reply, “It would take me half a day then!” He just smiles, as I very carefully tread on the uneven path at the edge of the mountain.
Just a trek of two kilometres takes one to the village of Jamala. Lal urges to go there as the grass is as soft as ‘mulmul’. But the clouds and the time deter us. We want to know more about the land of truth.
There is a school nearby. But for college, youngsters go down to the Tirthan. “I did it daily,” he says, “It used to take me two hours.” The valleys of Tirthan and Seraj are connected via Lambri top which is more like a ridge. “Some people also camp at the meadow near Jamala. The view is beautiful. From Lumbri, we can go to the Jalori Pass too.” We have been to Jalori, we tell him. And that’s quite a trek!
Meeting the guardian
The goddess is visiting the village. “Gada Durga is here in one of the homes. During certain periods, the goddess goes on a procession through the villages in the area. She comes here four times a year,” informs Lal.
While we don’t get to meet the goddess, we do get to meet her guardian, Khodu devata, who is staying in the home of an English teacher. He is all decked up for the procession and stays in a special room.
We climb up some narrow steps to reach this special room on the first floor. Praying to the guardian, we are offered ghee as prasad.
And we enjoy a few moments when an elderly gentleman toddles in on all fours. He is challenged but makes a beautiful sargi, kind of a fan or decoration for the goddess. “This is my 83-year-old uncle. He is the only one in the village who can make the sargi, no one else has learnt it. People gather the colourful bird feathers and give them to him. He takes about a month to make two,” the English teacher tells us.
The gentleman gives us a hearty, toothless smile and goes to the ground floor to show us these pious pieces. “These are first cleansed and then made. They are given to the people who ordered them, only when they are ready to be offered to the goddess.” But we are lucky, he shows them to us and even lets us take a picture.
How does the God decide where to stay? The question pops out. While people believe that the Gods choose their homes, actually there are volunteers and one is chosen through a lucky draw.
The village might be small but it has many lanes. Most homes are made of mud, wood and stone. They need to be repaired after six months, sometimes sooner. Small children, women and old men are at home. Their contagious peachy smiles brighten up the day more. Their trusting attitude is so welcoming.
We cross a family of three—mother and children—picking through the dry garlic. These will then be taken for sale. And then we find a man with a millet grinding machine. He is busy making flour. The villagers smile and ignore us as Lal keeps walking with us. They are used to tourists and trekkers. But that doesn’t alter their way of life.
“Some have gone away to the cities to earn. Some have built concrete homes too. But even then, we live as the goddess wants us to . People don’t lie or cheat here. There is no need to lock the homes. People don’t steal,” adds Lal. Eyes wide open, I ask, “What if someone does steal?”
“The goddess delivers the justice,” pat comes the reply. “We know something has happened when the dry twigs from the tree pillar fall. We have to then go searching for a new tree to bring the order back.”
While that seems like a natural process to me, who am I to question this beautiful belief? I click more smiling people—an old lady carrying fodder on her back and a man with a farming tool. The network plays truant here but then who needs the network when the rainbow is there.
• The only way up is a drive from Tirthan, which should best be done during daylight as I didn’t see any road lights.
• You could carry some snacks, just in case you might not find the single teashop open. It serves Maggie too.
• There are homestays here, besides the camping.
• Take some time to trek to the gate of the Great Himalayan National Park near Banjar, as you will only find yourself walking with the butterflies on this route.
• If you would like to see the rustic way of grinding flour with water and stone, then there is a water mill aka kharat too.
• Jalori Pass is a beautiful trek as is the Raghupur Fort.