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Resorting to our roots - Fables from Asar Pandhra 2024

One eye sees mess and turmoil,

other sees but miracles of soil,

worms that wiggle and wrangle,

specks with no definite arrangement or angle.

The unfathomable springing out from the filth,

endless bounty, who will but wield?  


Thunderstruck


A guy from Parengtar paraphrased,  “We are in Jaldhaka, literally a place covered in water, expect nothing less than drenching rain, echoing thunder and blinding lightings.”


First day at Parengtar was unexpected to say the least. The uphill drive from Jholung leads us to a plateau-like village with terraced paddy fields and gushing irrigation canals. Mynas and Oriental magpie-robins scavenging on worms as soon as the bulls are done tilling the soil and Egrets staying close to the bulls for their feast of ticks. Commensalism at a glance, esprit at its essence.



The homestay, Mable, was named after the owner’s daughter. Going to a village and living with a resident family is a wonderful experience in itself. We get to hear local narratives from first-hand perspective. As the evening dusked the croaking of the frogs and crickets began to replace the whirring of the ceiling fan.


In late evening we were invited to hilay ground or the marshy ground for a group introduction. One of the pioneers of the Asas Pandhra festival at Parengtar was narrating the relevance of the festival and the need for its inception. He was connecting the real landscapes of Bhutan and Jaldhaka beyond imaginary political borders, emphasizing on the connect between Asar Pandhra and Kholey Dai, also defining the difference between Kholey Dai and Khaley Dai. We were listening to the narrator, metamorphing his words into visuals in our imagination and feeling his emotion in our chests as if they belonged to us, just then, a violet bolt of lightning fell right in front of our eyes. The blast rattled our ears and our legs were left trembling. The narrator with a wide smile on his face said, “ We are in Jaldhaka, expect nothing less.”


Wonderstruck


The second day started with a hike to Dhauley, for me the day started with an Indian peafowl sighting. It was a large male foraging in the paddy field, I saw it and paused, then it saw me and ran, after running a while it spread its wings wide and descended to the forest in the lowlands. In another field nearby a man was ascending uphill with a phough-head, halo, on his shoulders. Such is our relation with food, nature functions through the flow of nutrition. 


The hike had no dedicated pathway, we crossed riverlets, walked across the paddy fields, climbed stairs and proudly celebrated the terrain of our beloved mountains. We came across a sacred grove that also happens to be a spring-shed, muhaan. It is intriguing how our ancestors deemed forces of nature as sacred without any lust to control them, how springs and rivers were deemed as mothers of life and worshiped.



Dhauley is a viewpoint in a forest village, the highlight of the place was that; Parengtar village was wholly exposed to the observer. Zooming out and seeing the place from a distance is actually important to revere any place. We could see the terrace fields filled with water and juvenile paddy plants in the foreground and majestic hills in the backdrop. Those hills are actually in Bhutan, cleaved by borders connected by the forest.



Who wouldn’t love to take a river bath after a tiring hike?


The chilled water of Khaharay Khola, monsoon river, relaxes the body and rejuvenates the mind as the gushing of the downstream river feels like massage on the muscles. As we were relaxing,  immersed in the river a majestic Oriental pied hornbill sored across the sky.


Our third day at Parengtar was the much awaited festival day. Asar Pandhra or fifteenth day of Asar month in the Virkam Samvat calendar is celebrated as the paddy plantation festival throughout the Khangchendzonga landscape. This year Asar Pandhra was on 29th June. The community had worked very hard to prepare the event venue. Tapara, ficus leaf plates were used to serve dahi-chewra, curd with flattened rice, which is a must for this day. The festival started after an elder from the village, gaou bura, asked for blessings from the ancestors. Then Sanginis sang their folklore, children started soaking in the soil and people from various parts of the country participated in games like mud race and tug-of-war.


The very thought of curating our local food culture as an immersive travel experience is revolutionary. It has twofold benefits, it opens up doors to earning a livelihood without out-migration and provides opportunity for cultural conservation.


Now is the time and here is the need !


We have to refute the lies that are being sold to us in the name of modernity and development and reclaim the space for our culture to flourish. This can only happen when we hold reverence for all the efforts our ancestors have put to secure our civilization, how they have lived with the forest for ages, learned from nature and created systems that work with nature. 



Our generation needs to be reminded that we are a part of nature, humans are a part of the ecosystem. Getting drenched in rain and getting soiled in the fields and the forest are much needed experiences for human consciousness. Running away and hiding from nature will only cripple our life experience.  To make ourselves and our culture secure and resilient, we need to start resorting to our roots.



 


About the writer


Abishek subscribes to the identity of an intersectional environmentalist, navigating the subtle yet prominent parallels between cultural and ecological heritage.

Currently working at WWF India as a Project Officer - Communities, he is also a core member of the Zero Waste Himalaya network and a youth representative of the Darjeeling Himalaya Initiative. He is also a co-host at Lumanti FARMS.

He enjoys bird watching and biodiversity documentation, finding solace in appreciating the nature-based systems that have evolved within his culture.


Abishek Pradhan

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