My Love Affair with Garhwal

As promised in my third post, I’m here to talk about my love affair with Garhwal. Let me start off by introducing the region to you.

Its a mountainous region in the Indian state of Uttarakhand, its people and language are called Garhwali, and its nestled in the lower Himalayas on the Indian side, characterized by a rugged terrain, deep gorges and a few valleys. We are often confused with Kumaonis (our brothers from the same state, but a different region and a slightly different language) as well as with Himachalis (again, mountain brothers but totally different state and language) but our cultures and mannerisms are very similar. I could write on and on about the region but this post isn’t about what Garhwal is, and in any case I am no authority on it. This post is about what Garhwal means to me. If you want to read more on the history of Garhwal and her language, please click here and here.

As some of my friends know, I’m a Garhwali who’s a devout Delhiite, married to a Punjabi and residing in Maharashtra. Whoa! I hear you say. Yes, multi-culturism and multi-linguism run in my blood, and manifest in my language, my attire, my appearance and my gestures. But my Garhwali-ness or Garhwalipana (for those who are Indians) is at the forefront in how I express myself.

I’ve had the privilege of being witness to the beauty and simplicity of the region and its people first hand. As a child, many, many summer vacations were spent at our native villages (both on my Mother’s and Father’s sides), exploring, interacting with the local people, making seasonal friends, enjoying the sights and smells of the wilderness and the cuisine.  Whenever I was there, the last time being just a year back, the one thing that always struck me was just how laid-back and uncomplicated life was in the region. They do not, constitutionally, like things that complicate their lives. Or maybe its an outcome of village life (if that’s the case, I want a piece of that). Simplicity is the way of life there. It seems as if their ambition ends at achieving what you must to lead a comfortable life, and no more. Sure, there are many who go beyond that but even for them their ambitions don’t consume their all… or so, I’ve noticed. Indeed many Garhwalis of my generation complain about how unambitious we are as a people. It’s only now that I’ve come to realise that maybe its not such a bad thing. Crime rate is very low and people are just looking for a good day’s work and a hearty meal to enjoy at night. I see a smidgen of that in me when I dream of a life where I work, but only to the extent that I have enough to lead my life comfortably, but most importantly, return after a day’s work to a cozy home, my people, and a good book to doze off to.


Random backyard in the Garhwali hinterland


The clear azure of Garhwal


My village from a distance

Some of the pictures are very grainy and bad because I used my phone camera, which is saaaaaaad (and that’s an understatement). Besides, I didn’t know I’d be using them on a blog someday.

Tourism, though rampant here because of the many, many, famous Hindu pilgrimage sites, has thankfully yet to touch the hinterland  which is still clean, virginal, untouched by consumerism and commercialism. That is the Garhwal I know and love. A few days back, I read a Greenpeace tweet that around 1/3rd of the world can’t see the milkyway. Well I have, and it was here first that I beheld the beauty of it, when we sat at night by bonfire light and the whole area was bathed in starlight, with our very own star-spangled banner running across the firmament (the area has power, yes, but bonfires and campfire food are a ritualistic affair). It was here that I had my first experience of a snowy morning, and shortly thereafter, my first frostbite. It was also here that I first saw bears and leopards in the wild (they are neighbours at my grandma’s). It was also here that I first got stung by stinging nettle (called bichhoo ghaas) and by leeches found in the rivulet running below our property.


A very old Pine tree


The view from Tip-on-Top, Lansdowne, Garhwal

Most importantly it was here that I fell in love with nature – the sight of cottony mist rolling off the hills in the morning, the tangerine skies at dusk; the terraced farms pregnant with paddy and wheat; hearing music in the sighing of the Deodar trees and the symphonies of the crickets; the sharp, piney air and the metallic, mineral water running from the bowels of porous rocks – everywhere I went, I was surrounded by the magnificence of nature’s bounty. The flowers that would wilt quickly in the unforgiving Indian summer, would come alive and double up in size there… And they didn’t even need much fussing, unlike mine here in the city! The moss that I would find icky otherwise would become a verdant carpet at our feet in the sweet smelling springtime. Even the fruits, oranges, grapes, plums, peaches, apricots, lemons and apples, were tastier and looked healthier because they were untouched by commercial farming contrivances. Mind you, they were half the size than their city-hawked counterparts, but twice as juicy.


Succulents looking happy


Wild flowers in the backyard

No, my Garhwal is not characterized by vintage or old world charm. It’s not even other-worldly. It’s very much a product of this world, today’s India, yet it’s characterized by its pace and by it’s emphasis on clean and simple living. So being a Garhwali for me is synonymous to wanting only what you get for your labours, relying on your hard work rather than on craftiness, learning to forgo consumerism, having a clean and simple, uncluttered lifestyle, and most importantly being one with your surroundings. In short I’ve found my path to Zen living, and the odd thing is, it was always there, with me, a part of who I am. Needless to say, I haven’t been able to achieve any of that. Maybe, someday…

Heavy reading, huhn? Stay with me….


My brother trying to pet an unimpressed calf

I’m sure many of you may have come across posts like you know you are so and so when you are doing so and so. Well, to end on a lighter note, here’s my view on you know you’re a Garhwali when you do this

  1. You know a word for every kind of conceivable odour – dog – kukkriyan, piss – chiryan, burning clothes – kutryan, burning woolen clothes (or wool)- kumriyan, burning chilli – kikhriyan, leopard (called Bagh in Hindi) – bughyan, fish – machliyan,  and so on… and no, attaching a ‘yan’ at the end is not the way to do it.
  2. When you use the word kablaat  (a feeling that you get which is a mix of emotions like anxiety, fear, uneasiness, nausea).
  3. When you exclaim  with terms like Eee Ram! and Eee Boi da! (Garhwali equivalents of Oh God! and Mother swear!) on a regular basis.
  4. When your expletives don’t go beyond tyar kapal phutalu (your head will break), nirbhaegi chora/chori (wretched boy/girl) and tyar kapal ma dhungu pade (your head is full of rocks).
  5. When the most happening thing in the marriage is the dancing and you dance to baedu pako barah masa (Bedu, a fruit, ripens twelve months a year, and this song is quintessentially Garhwali).
  6. When you see every woman in the wedding party wearing a ginormous nose ring, as big as the size of your palm.
  7. When the boys’s side in the wedding procession carries a white flag before the wedding, and carries a red flag after the wedding is over and the bride is returning home with the groom.
  8. When you stay at a place whose name ends with a khal (valley) as in Jaiharikhal, Pokhal, Gumkhal.
  9. When rutti khaya li (have you had bread) becomes a conversation starter. Also, when rutti (meaning Indian bread) becomes synonymous with all the components of your meal.
  10. When you feel like you’re in Smallville because everything around you is small-ish (small is daani in Garhwali) – the people, the dogs, the cows, the doors, the windows, the ceiling, the fruits, the khachhar (mules), the Bagh (literally, I’ve seen many to attest to that).
  11. You feel like an outsider when you’re called desi, because even though desi means ‘from India’, in Garhwali desi means from the plains (a.k.a. outlander).
  12. When almost every third member of your family is in the Armed Forces (I’m proud to count several, several of mine in the Indian Army specifically).
  13. When your music player plays songs by Narendra Sing Negi… mostly.
  14. When you call peach aadu and you get to feast on buraans ke phool ka sherbet and kaphal (both are plants indigenous to the area).
  15.  When ghiskodi becomes synonymous with Ice-skating for you.
  16. When khadu laapata (the missing goat) is a dog-eared book on your bookshelf (its a famous Garhwali play).
  17. When bagpipes play as part of the wedding procession and you ain’t Scottish.
  18. And oh! when bul (meaning that, as in ‘he said that’) becomes as frequent a conjunction in your language as ‘and’ or ‘but’, sometimes being used as a filler like err and ummm.

42 thoughts on “My Love Affair with Garhwal

  1. Wow, Garhwal looks beautiful. I can see why you have a love affair with it. I never actually heard of it before but I’m glad you made me aware of it. The photos look amazing too!


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  5. It’s true garhwal is blessed with natural beauty. Having been to kumaon and Garhwal, I can tell you with certainty that Garhwal is beautiful. As for Garhwali being simple..yes, that’s true. But the moment money starts entering and commanding life, this all will change.
    Bichho Ghaas? I have tried this as a cuisine..more like a chutney! Frankly, I didn’t enjoy it much. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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  7. For months my wish to go visit the regions is only increasing. I must go! I will soon. Thank you for this post, and the pictures. 🙂

    Coincidentally, “Eee Ram!” is something that even Bengalis use a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You should. It’s a beautiful place like no other in India. Wild and yet unsullied by tourism. Don’t go to the usual spots if you do decide to go. Look for unfrequented places.

      Eee Ram is in Bengali too? Haha! That gives me an odd feeling of familiarity with all Bengalis now 😂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, I mean to go trekking at some of the locations not frequented by tourists. 🙂

        And me with Garhwalis!! 😀

        BTW, just mean to point out, some of the hyperlinks have the underlines going to the next word or the space between that word and the next, only for this post. For example, “Garhwali”, “Punjabi”, “pilgrimage” etc. I hope you find no harm in the criticism. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I must have been reading about the Garhwal region for years but today, I learnt more in an hour from this post than all those years put together. And leopards & bears as neighbours? That just made me sweat a little! 😀
    I got introduced to the region in Ruskin Bond’s stories and even after all this while, the region’s beauty never ceases to amaze me. My friends who have trekked in the region tell me stories of the simple people who live in the scenic villages and the warm greetings they share with strangers over a cup of tea. I can’t wait to visit the region myself!
    Amazing write-up! Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

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