The Dalai Lama was busy, so I decided to do what all the cool saints do. Walk. I walked for 4 hours to a village named Jia a little over 20 kilometers away from Dharamshala. Remember Sudarshan, the pet-lover I’d met yesterday? He’d invited me to his place today and also, promised to show me the Banner Dam where he works as an engineer.
I walked along the roads, the asphalt stinging my cold feet in the beginning until they warmed up. The roads in Himachal are narrow. Other than small buses, jeeps serve as the main mode of transport. I covered my face in the shawl to avoid the rusty smoke of these jeeps, and trudged with a confidence of a revolutionary. Walking made me feel less anonymous in this new place. I shared journeys with shepherds and their herd of sheep, children returning from school with oil-stained school-bags, villagers carrying stacks of wood and hay on their heads. I felt at home.
Walking makes you feel at home. The safest places in the world are the places where you can walk freely, where you see women and children walking ? alone, or in groups. Walking isn’t just a physical act, but a sociological, political, philosophical, spiritual and even a romantic act, all at once. When a baby walks their first step, it’s a celebration of life. When Gandhi walked till Dandi, it was a statement of defiance to the imposed political authority. When you walk with your beloved hand-in-hand, it becomes a walk to remember. You walk therefore you are. In the words of Shiv Vishvanath, a noted academic, ‘Walking is the poetry of self and community, of loneliness and friendship which no society can do without. It is a way of living with the world.’
Lost in thoughts, I didn’t even realise how the morning became noon and I reached Jia. I rang up Sudarshan who excitedly invited me to his workplace, Prodigy Hydel Powerhouse. After the usual welcome with a cup of hot chai and Parle-G, he took me to see the dam and the two gigantic turbines, apparently imported from Austria. Built over the Banner river, the dam generates 6 MW of energy and powers the main Himachal power grid. At this time of the year, as most of the glaciers are frozen, the river flow is too slow to run both the turbines. I saw one whirring and it gave me goosebumps. It sounded as if Shatabdi (the train) was running at its top speed round and round.