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The Hillfolk of Kandbari-A Photo Essay


Simple and Contented

If I had to choose two words that define the ethos of the hillfolk I met during my brief sojourn in Kandbari, they would be simple and contented.

This is the fifth in a series of ten Hubs on a holiday in Kandbari.

Photo courtesy the author. Note the light vermillion mark on her forehead which signifies she is a married woman.

Photo courtesy the author. Note the light vermillion mark on her forehead which signifies she is a married woman.

Himachali Beauty

Beauty abounds in the hills of Kandbari, as much in nature as in the people who inhabit this part of the world.

It is only fitting that I start with a photograph that I think epitomises beauty. There is something about this Himachali woman that took my breath away. There she was, looking out of a window of her home when I happened to wander by. I must admit it was with some trepidation that I took the shot, but the person who wrote about faint hearts and fair ladies was absolutely right: if a fair lady's shot you must have, just go and shoot.

I decided to depart shortly thereafter and without much ado as they said in Shakespeare's time. There is no point in stretching one's luck. I never got a chance to talk with her and therefore can give no insight whatsoever to her persona.

My Young Friend Pankaj

Photo courtesy the author

Photo courtesy the author

Pankaj is a bit of an enigma. He is presently a source of concern for his mother and assorted relatives including his grandparents who live in the upper reaches near the Hydro-electric project because he has left his job after a tiff with his boss. Jobs aren’t easy to come by, hence the concern.

Like so many of the young men in this area for whom it is almost de rigeur, he aspires to join the armed forces or at a pinch even the police force. He has appeared for the army examination and though he fared well, he was not able to pass the physical test because he couldn’t do the requisite number of pull-ups.

So what have you done to improve your physique, I ask. In reply he takes me to a tree near his home where he has hung a rope from which he practices and builds his muscles by doing pull-ups. Not so, laughs his friend Vikas who is standing nearby. This is just for show. He tries doing pull-ups once a week on the average so how will he ever pass?

Pankaj's Grandfather With Hookah

Photo courtesy the author

Photo courtesy the author

A Venerable Old Man

I was informed this old gentleman, Pankaj's grandfather, whose name I never got to know, passed away a few days ago. When I met him, he was sprightly for his indeterminate age. Constant exposure to the strong, high-altitude sun would have aged his skin prematurely. Walking with the aid of a walking stick, peering through thick glasses, sensing rather than seeing the ground so familiar beneath his feet. But his handshake was warm and firm, a good indicator of the state of the man's health.

I asked him whether he would share a whisky with me. Yes, if you share the hookah with me was his brisk reply. That is a promise, I said, the next time I come to Kandbari. Alas it was not to be. Perhaps we shall do so in the hereafter. Does God keep smooth single malt whiskies and hookahs? I wonder.

Pretty Dimples

Photo courtesy the author

Photo courtesy the author

Young Indu

Those pretty dimples and that sunny smile make Indu stand out among her peers. Her eyes sparkle as she scampers around with her classmates, mischief writ large on her face.

You have to see life in Kandbari through the eyes of a child like her as they look up at a passing aircraft and ask  “Have you ever been up in a plane?” Or those of her friend young Golu who I came across while he was standing motionless, petrified because he had to walk through a heavily-forested area rife with monkeys who threaten and intimidate solitary children.

Young Indu's eyes haven’t seen the plush interiors of designer homes in Delhi. Nor have they seen the layer of thick smog that hangs over Delhi in winter. Will she and her friends ever get the chance to make the choice between the environment they have grown up in and the one they aspire for because of images seen on the TV? Only time will tell.

What I do know and have seen is that these little hands can wield a sickle as well as they can a pen. These small bodies are capable of carrying loads many times their own body weight when it comes to helping their mother heft the corn crop into the storeroom. Life may seem tough, but they bear it with a huge smile.

Education is so evidently important to the people of Kandbari. Every morning, small groups of happy children with thankfully light schoolbags can be seen walking o'er hill and dale as it were, traipsing their way to school.

Spare a moment to see this video if you haven't seen it before or see it again if you have.

The Solitary Reaper

Image courtesy the author

Image courtesy the author

Image courtesy the author

Image courtesy the author

Behold him, single in the field,

Yon solitary Kandbari man (so unlike a lass)!

Cutting grass and singing by himself;

Stop here or gently pass!

With apologies to the truly gifted William Wordsworth and his poem "The Solitary Reaper".

Not to be outdone by Willy, our man relates an old hill saying:

Madham Kheti Uttam Bopar

Naukri Kare Gwar

which loosely translated means that in days of yore, business was considered to lie at the top of the social ladder, followed by farming. Only the unlettered villager will take up a job, the saying concludes. The multinational corporations would have had a difficult time recruiting back then.

I have hands made of iron he tells me proudly, displaying fists that are disproportionately large for his slight frame. I am willing to believe it as I see his scythe cut sharply through the dew-laden grass. The morning is cold but he prefers this time of day as wet grass is easier to grip though it turns his hands icy cold in the bargain.

I survived a bear attack some years ago, he says, showing a scarred leg. But he bears no grudge to the bear that bared its teeth. Barely so, I would think.

The Sandman

Image courtesy the author

Image courtesy the author

Anil is one of the men who make a living lifting sand from the riverbed and delivering it to a shop for use in construction around Kandbari. His packtrain of four donkeys is led unsurprisingly by a horse. After all, would you rather put your money on a donkey or a horse?

Anil bought the horse in Ladakh for Rs 17000 (USD 380) during a trek from Kandbari to Leh. That is a distance of 650 km (400 miles), a long way to have a couple of donkeys for company. I wonder whether the donkeys realise their democratic right to leadership of their own has been usurped by another, cousin though he may be? Would they be considering a putsch of some sort? And what would Anil do if the donkeys were to rise up in rebellion?

He earns Rs 30 (70 cents) per animal per trip from the riverbed to the shop and is able to do an average of three trips every day. This nets him something like Rs 4500 every month (US$ 100). That does not sound like a lot but it is enough to keep the smile on his face, enough to send his children to school, enough to live a reasonably contented life.

A Gold-plated Nosering

A Gold-plated Nosering

Silver Necklace

Silver Necklace

Local Jewellery

On seeing me tramping around with my camcorder and tripod, some of the womenfolk of Nain village volunteered to change into their finery for a photoshoot. The hand-crafted jewellery of gold and silver they wore is generally taken out for festive occasions so it was an honour for me that they took the trouble to wear it.

The joie de vivre is evident in their voices and in the exuberance of their dance. Their songs speak of their love for their land and fields, of life-giving rivers and trees.

Womenfolk contribute to the local economy by helping in the fields, looking after the cattle, chasing dangerous monkeys away from the corn crop and a myriad other ways.

And like each of us, the hillfolk of Kandbari have many stories waiting to be told and many books waiting to be written, whether they are about surviving bear attacks or about the most efficient method of managing a business involving donkeys.

It's just that their voices have not yet been heard.


sabu singh (author) on January 29, 2011:

I am indeed touched Ralph by your kind words and thank you sincerely. I have not been able to visit Hubpages as often as I would like but hope to rectify this soon. Thank you once again.

Ralph Deeds from Birmingham, Michigan on January 29, 2011:

I just revisited this beautiful hub. Thanks for sharing your excellent photographs and writing.

sabu singh (author) on January 11, 2011:

Thank you for your kind comments Mr Katoch. The Katochs actually belong to that area and I am glad you have found the time to read my Hub.

lekhchandkatoch on January 11, 2011:

nice pic n excellent work done.

sabu singh (author) on November 08, 2010:

Many thanks for your kind comments Doc Snow. I have just returned from another visit to Kandbari; it only reinforced my earlier opinions.

Doc Snow from Camden, South Carolina on November 08, 2010:

Well, their voices may not yet have been heard, but your Hub spoke beautifully of their humanity!

Thanks for an affectionate glimpse into another world.

sabu singh (author) on August 14, 2010:

Yes you are right Girish. I am a hill man at heart and I did spend my childhood in the hills. Thank you for visiting.

Girish1000 from India on August 14, 2010:

You are really a hill man and i think very close to your past because it's related to heart.

sabu singh (author) on June 17, 2010:

Thank you ever so much for your kind words, Storytellersrus and for visiting.

Barbara from Stepping past clutter on June 17, 2010:

Beautiful photos/beautiful stories. Takes my breath away as the first photo steals yours. Thank you.

sabu singh (author) on April 29, 2010:

Brother Tonymac, there is no shortage of braying asses in the world and we would welcome them at Kandbari from your beautiful country, provided they play their assigned roles of donkeys and share the loads being carried.

And thank you for visiting. I am glad you enjoyed the Hub.

Tony McGregor from South Africa on April 28, 2010:

In the spirit of North-South co-operation and in terms of the Bricsa community I wish to add my bit from South Africa. We have many braying asses here who could benefit from the salutary air of such high alititudes to clear their muddled brains. So I think I will recruit some of them to contribute to your great Google-busting enterprise on terms which benefit me, of course!

The only stipulation I would make is that they (I mean the South African investors) will have to re-locate to Kandbari to do their donkey work while I take care of the monkey business back here!

Brother Sabu - your Hub is great, and I would not like the banter to obscure your wonderful story! LOL

Love and peace


sabu singh (author) on April 27, 2010:

Hello All. This comes from the foothills of North-east India in Assam.

Well the bandwagon is really starting to roll, DG. We now have investors from across the globe.

Why don't we all have a Board meeting at Kandbari to chart out a five-year plan for this donkey and ass business?

Thank you for the appreciation Zsuzsy Bee.

And yes, ST it would be quite alright if the ladies enjoy themselves while the men do the "donkey" work.

Feline Prophet on April 26, 2010:

This is sounding more and more interesting...looks like sabu and DG are onto a good thing here! :D

Sherri from Southeastern Pennsylvania on April 26, 2010:

@Billy, I'm not much of a trekker either. Maybe Zsuzsy could come along with a few of those Canadian ass-es, in which case we girls could have a lovely ride while the men knock themselves out.

trish1048 on April 26, 2010:

What? caviar and vodka? sign me up, heck with the donkeys LOL

Zsuzsy Bee from Ontario/Canada on April 26, 2010:

Sabu what amazing pics. I love to find out about all the other ways of life.

Now for these business dealings... is there room for another to sign on? I'm positive that I could find a few ass-es here in Canada too that would work well in this venture.

sabu singh (author) on April 26, 2010:

Hi Trish,

I guess they would be about as tired as anyone who works a full day. Their diet is mainly vegetarian- grass and hay. Ofcourse when the sandman is happy, he gives them some caviar and vodka lol. Just joking Trish. Cheers

trish1048 on April 26, 2010:


Ok, while they appear healthy, I can't help but feel they are very tired. Again, what do donkeys eat? Vegetarian I guess?

@ DeGreek,

moi? hurtful? I am crushed. I will, however, have another read. Apparently I missed something, easy to do with this tired brain :)

sabu singh (author) on April 26, 2010:

ST, ofcourse you and FP will be actively involved in the promotions. I am sure you would be able to draw upon the history of the Democratic Party's symbol to advantage.

Thank you for the great idea of a B&B at Kandbari, Gypsy Willow. I am sure we can bank on you to get us customers lol.

Shalini, your comments are always welcome and appreciated. Looking forward to meeting up.

Trish, thank you for visiting. The animals are quite sturdy and tough and I guess it is all in a day's work for them. They look quite healthy so I suppose, they are looked after well.

Bro DG, I met Pankaj's grandfather in October 2009 and he passed away in April this year. And yes, his handshake was warm and strong. This ofcourse does not mean that a man close to his 90s cannot suddenly pass away one day. I hope what I am saying makes sense.

Thank you for your comments Minilady. I would be delighted if you could find the time to read some of the other Hubs.

Hi Bils, won't it be wonderful if we can make it to Kandbari together-and walk you shall with me. I will be there in October with a friend from England. But I guess you will be busy then.

billy sidhu on April 26, 2010:

nanbhaiya- oh to be simple and contented-how easy they sound- can be achieved either in the hills or GOA!! - these pics make me want to run to kandbari again!! its so beautiful- lets plan a trip together- of course i cant walk along- but u will have an avid listener and watcher of your days work when u come home!!

and "monkey business" i have heard of- but "donkey business"- sounds "fishy"

Minilady on April 25, 2010:

Loved your hub, great pictures! After reading all the comments I know why FP is always reading Hubpages! A great way to keep smiling through the day! :)

Feline Prophet on April 25, 2010:

'...even FP'?!!! Methinks I have just been insulted!!

De Greek from UK on April 25, 2010:

Brother Sabu, I am worried about your judgement. You say that Pankaj's grandfather, whose name you never got to know, "had a handshake that was warm and firm, a good indicator of the state of the man's health", you say. Then the man drops dead the next day.

Now, the De Greeks are not a picky lot, but surely even FP can see a slight discrepancy here? A slight error of judgement perhaps???

De Greek from UK on April 25, 2010:

Tsk, tsk, tsk, Trish! Could it be possible that you are not aware that we are blocking the donkey business in India? Read above child and learn! Gyspy Willow came up with an additional proposal for us to also open a bed and breakfast. Sound economics there. But you, NO! You are hurtful...

trish1048 on April 25, 2010:

LOL De Greek! What business? :)

Gypsy Willow from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand on April 25, 2010:

The word As springs to mind!

De Greek from UK on April 25, 2010:

This is really hurtful. Shalini invites you but not me, Gypsy Willow And Sally's do not make an offer to buy shares in our venture, Trish ignores the business all together, how are our donkeys to take this insult?

trish1048 on April 25, 2010:

Hi Sabu,

A lovely hub. I enjoyed the video of the little boy toting his backpack along what seems to be a very long road. Reminds me of parents saying, yes, son, I walked 5 miles to school, in the snow, there and back. This boy in the video almost seems to be too young to be off on his own.

The mules. What do they eat on their long journey? I surely hope they stop to rest. The black mule appeared to me to be rather worn out. I feel so sorry for them, having to carry heavy burdens and walk for hours upon hours. Not to mention the men who accompany them.

Thumbs up!

Shalini Kagal from India on April 25, 2010:

Absolutely LOVE the pics Sabu! You've captured the essence of the place through those portrait photographs.

And love the banter too in the comments :D Didn't realise FP and you haven't met yet (how on earth is that possible in this city where everyone knows everyone??) - I must remedy that. At our place....soon! :)

Gypsy Willow from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand on April 25, 2010:

I think you and De Greek have got it made. Maybe you could have a bed and breakfast business on the side now Kandburi is on the map!

Sherri from Southeastern Pennsylvania on April 25, 2010:

Hoho, Sabu. The can of worms you've opened! As for De Greek's count, I'm not sure if I'm to be a "four" or a collective "five". (Practicing my Hindi as I write.) But I do know that FP and I will be an important part of promoting and achieving balance. It's the Libra thing.

sabu singh (author) on April 25, 2010:

Bro DG,

As a wise man said, worry about the BIG issues - the state of the world economy, national health and obesity, terrorism and issues of such magnitude. Rest peacefully in the belief that FP, regardless of the number of votes she carries, shall see us through thick and thin as they say (you're thin and I'm thick).

De Greek from UK on April 25, 2010:

The only thing that worries me in this venture Brother Sabu, is that, from my understanding, now that there is three of us, FP's vote counts for three, but when we become four, I understand that her vote will then count for four. You are a more experienced man of the world than I, who has been raised in an orphanage. Who invented this system and how exactly does this work?

sabu singh (author) on April 25, 2010:

Bro DG, that is truly funny. What say we do a comedy film alongside the monkey (err donkey) business?

I am taking your advice seriously Bro, never fear. My life is precious beyond belief and FP is well connected so she shall protect us from ALL EVIL. AMEN.

De Greek from UK on April 25, 2010:

Brother Sabu, we have the first intersted investor in our venture. Make sure you lock your doors at night, because I do not put it beyond Google to send paid assassines after us.

I think that we should both register ourselves as living at FP's address, just in case. I am sure that if they get one, they will be satisfied.

So, Angel FAce, you visited my site and did not comment on my latest masterpiece. Hmm... Nahhhh.... I don't think we want you with us in this deal. WE must be sure of our partner's loyalties and you appear to fall short in that regard.

However, even though the De Greeks and the Sabu Singhs are men of steel and their word is Law, if FP decides that she wants you, a vote of 2 - 1 is not sufficient in this partnership and so FP wins hands down. We shall have to wait for her decission before we can take a firm position

sabu singh (author) on April 25, 2010:

Well, hello, hello and hello.

All I can say is let's hope this stays a donkey business and does not become monkey business, Bro DG, FP and Nellieanna.

Nellieanna Hay from TEXAS on April 25, 2010:

AHA! SO! The notorious De Greek has found the perfect counterpart! Sabu Singh - I'm shocked! ;) The world may not be ready for two of you!!

I'm laughing so hard, my sides hurt. And that's NOT recommended for one whose right side has been attacked by shingles which hurts already! hahaha!

This "business" venture is about "funny busines" methinks!

FP - beware the "donkey business" show. . . it may turn out a show of ass-ets! (make that "moonings"). One can't put any fiendish agendas past these two birds of a feather!!

Oh, DG! - I'm so glad I followed your notice lead to this hub which you thoughtfully posted in comments on your latest hub! I've learned that you hardly ever drop words purposelessly!

(Google-level success, huh? Should I sell the ranch and get in on the ground floor of charter investors? At least, perhaps I might be able to supply the lead horse for the donkey team - a nice strong West Texas quarter-horse would be up to the rugged Kandbari terrain!)

So glad I've had my coffee before encountering all this mind-boggling information! ;) What fun!!

And oh, my! Sabu - I'm touched by your reporting of that place. The sensitivity comes through as you capture the qualities you first named & illustrated - simplicty and contentment and beauty. It's really a treat and inspiration for me this fine sunny Sunday morning here in my world on the other side of the planet. I shall have to read all the series!

De Greek from UK on April 25, 2010:

Never Give Up is the De Greek motto!

In fact, Brother Sabu, I have already started planning for our expansion and have placed the following notice on my latest hub comment section, in the hope of attracting more entrepreneurs of our calibre, to invest in our venture!


Everyone visiting here, please note that Brother Sabu Singh and I are going into business together and we invite you to join our venture. We feel that financially, it will rival Google in its potential, and you may look at the business plan at the comments section here:



Feline Prophet on April 25, 2010:

Oh, I'll be observing alright! And don't chicken out now, DG...the honour of De Greeks is at stake!

De Greek from UK on April 25, 2010:

Without you, I am having second thoughts here FP. I think that Brother Sabu is planning to take advantage of my reduced intelligence and load me with more than my fair share. I need an independent observer here, an impartial judge!

Feline Prophet on April 25, 2010:

Gentlemen, your donkey business sounds alarming, and I am quite happy to remain on the sidelines out of harm's way. Having said that, I plan to thoroughly enjoy the show!!

sabu singh (author) on April 25, 2010:

Bro De Greek, you put it so aptly. We shall have no problem communicating with the other donkeys in the team since we bray so well.

FP is maintaining a stoic silence so we shall have to await her response. But if it any help, I do empathise with your concerns.

De Greek from UK on April 25, 2010:

I am now the lowest of the low. Hold on to something solid, as I am about to shock you. I imagine that the lowest form of plagiarism is to plagiarise yourself, as it shows an absolute shortage of material, but I can't resist it. It's so apropos to the discussion: In my story (ha, ha.. see, I DO have a sense of humour and I call it a "story"), "The Thrill of Being Shot At", I wrote

"when people do not bother to read us and to comment on our Classic Works of Art, we wilt. Our ears droop down to our forelegs and we tend to bray in anguish."

Now help me out here. How can I fit this in this discussion somehow??

FP is a woman therefore has no pity in her, but YOU Brother Sabu, surely will step forward and help. I promise to carry half your load in our new venture in you help out here, though at this rate, I don't know how we are going to any money, with FP sitting on the sidelines critisizing

sabu singh (author) on April 24, 2010:

Hi FP, I was wondering how to include you in this discussion. As you would have surmised, Brother de Greek is seriously considering starting up a donkey business at Kandbari which would involve your participation (not as one of the donkeys though, that role having been apportioned to the afore-mentioned Bro De Greek and the undersigned- the intention being to reduce overheads and use each one's capabilities to the fullest).

What sayeth thou?

Feline Prophet on April 24, 2010:

Hmmm...what have you two been plotting behind my back?

sabu singh (author) on April 24, 2010:

Brother De Greek, a couple of comments:

1. You have the makings of a fine entrepreneur.

2. Have you factored in the fact that the sixth donkey may not be able to carry as much weight as the other five? LOL

3. I do not know of any lake nearby but there are rivers flowing where you can swim.The humidity is largely under control.

4. I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting the Fair Maiden you mention, so I cannot imagine her participating in any donkey business. LOL.

5. All in good fun, dear FP.

De Greek from UK on April 24, 2010:

Well, Brother Sabu, by your calculations, if I buy five donkeys, making six with me, then I've got it made. If I buy fifty, then I shall be able to support the Kandbari economy. Hmm... BUT I like water. Can you recommend a place overlooking a large lake? I don't like humidity though. Just think: If you are instrumental in finding me a place to buy, you shall have a place to visit on your holidays :D


You could possibly bring FP with you :-))

sabu singh (author) on April 24, 2010:

Brother De Greek, I see that you are as good with your mathematics as you are with the ladies LOL.

Kandbari is certainly a good place to retire if all you want is fresh air. Yes $100 will keep you well-fed and housed in spartan surroundings for a month. Think about it and let me know Brother.

I am a bit surprised you cannot find Kandbari on google. Try google.co.in - you may succeed though there is very little on this small village. I think I must be the single biggest contributor to getting Kandbari on the map.

De Greek from UK on April 24, 2010:

Brother Sabu, you have made me want to go there. I found Himachal Pradesh on Google, but not Kandbari Hoever.

So if this businessman Anil the Sandman has an income of $1.200 per annum from an investment of $1.900, a 60% return on his investment is not bad, if he does not calculate his own labour :-) And if he can live on $100 a month, is this a good place to retire to then? :-)

sabu singh (author) on April 24, 2010:

What would I do without you as fellow Hubbers, ST and minhminh. As always you have made my day, week, month and year. I can now relax (on my laurels as it were-my bed is too hard) till April 2011. LOL. Thanks for visiting.

minhminh on April 23, 2010:

Sabu, this piece of writing is as delightful and refreshing as the photos and stories of the simple folk of the hills. You write with great finesse and present a very dignified picture of India to the world. Bravo and encore.

Sherri from Southeastern Pennsylvania on April 23, 2010:

I was privileged to see some of these photos and hear some of these words earlier. At that time, I felt a special magic coming from you about your experiences in Kandbari. This Hub captures that magic so well, Sabu. There is peace in the beautiful faces of the people of the hills, a peace that comes from within them, but a peace that also belongs to the photographer.

Looking forward so much to the next five.

sabu singh (author) on April 23, 2010:

Thank you ever so much for your kind words, FP and Ralph. Tussi great ho.

Ralph Deeds from Birmingham, Michigan on April 23, 2010:

Very nice pictures and commentary which call to mind the movies of the great director Satyajit Ray and his respect for his subjects.

Feline Prophet on April 23, 2010:

You're a hill man at heart, sabu! Lovely pictures, as always...and you write of the hill folk with much affection. :)

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