Durga Sing Martolia.
Trekkers to Milam glacier usually do not visit Martoli village on their way since the village is not on the main route and one has not only to take a detour, but also to take a somewhat steep ascent. But, I was determined to go to Martoli, simply because, it prides itself on a splendid view of Nandadevi peak.
So one day, early in the morning under a clear- autumn sky I & my companion of 65 years started from Rilkot village – our last nights’ stay, towards Martoli. It was only a trek of four kilometer and the gradient of the slope was not that steep as I had heard. We were enjoying our morning trek on a green grassy slope dotted with alpine flowers in full bloom to give the greenery a nice break, with Gouri Ganga accompanying us in a gorge which vanishes from sight as we gain height.
About one & half kilometer before Martoli, I could see the mesmerizing Hardeol peak, (7150 m); meaning the temple of god. I simply sat down on an almost flat stone to enjoy the scene.
After a reconnaissance in 1939 and a few serious attempts starting in 1967, the first ascent of Hardeol was made by a team from the Indo-Tibetan Border Police on May 31, 1978, led by S. P. Mulasi, climbing from the ridge connecting the peak to Trishuli.1
From this region the border of the old Johar or Sauka kingdom used to begin and went up to the its’ border with Tibet. It was a very prosperous kingdom, mainly, due to a very profitable trade with Tibet. As the kingdom was wealthy, it was repeatedly attacked by the kings of Tibet & Nepal but every time, after a short domination by these kingdoms, Sauka regained its independence. Only when the British conquered Sauka, it lost its’ independence forever and after India became free of British rule, it became a very remote part of independent India.2
As an aftermath of the India-China war, the border with Tibet was closed down and so was the business with Tibet. The prosperity of Martoli vanished along with many other high villages of this region as the border suddenly became an un-surpassed barrier. In 1961 Martoli had a population of four hundred and fifty that came down only to eighteen in 1981.3
The beautifully curved doors of the ruined houses of Martoli; still somehow standing, states the tales of the old prosperity.
As I started to walk, one tall gentleman approached me and asked: “Are you Mr. Chakrabarti.”
Somewhat bamboozle, I replied, yes.
He introduced himself as M S Bhandari, an inspector of ITBP (Indo-Tibetan Border Police)and in-charge of the ITBP camp there and said, “Sir, I was told to look after you by my commanding officer at Munsiary during your stay here.”
Well, thats’ a great news! A government servant is certainly lowly paid (?) but enjoys certain advantages!
I remembered, I requested SDM of Munsiary (Sub-Divisional Magistrate) to inform ITBP about my trek because I might need their help.
The gentleman took me straight to the house of Durga Sing, the head man of Martoli village and that’s when I first met Durga Sing Martolia; a tall Rajput of athletic built with a sharp–intelligent look. He looks like 50 yrs of age but it was the next day that he informed me on my asking that his age is 65.
Their custom is to add the name of their village with their surname to give an fixed identity. So Durga Sing became Durga Sing Martolia; meaning Durga Sing from the village Martoli.
From 1982 till then Durga Sing is the village head-man and he lives here with his elder sister who very lovingly calls him out, “Duggo, Duggo”.
All the houses in Martoli were dug-out houses. Big square-wholes were dug-out of the rocky land and the houses are built inside that whole. Only when a house is two stories, its’ top floor remains above the ground. Windows were very small to avoid cold breeze.
All this bone-crashing hard work to build a house is done to avoid the very strong wind that blows from Tibet across the pass. The wind starts to blow around 10-00 am and it sounds like a railway steam engine running at full steam. It stops suddenly around 6 PM. Immediately; the outsider would have an eerie feeling, as if some high sounding activity is suddenly amiss.
Durga Sing offered me his bed, in the first floor of his house. The bed was on the floor of his two stories house and was laid-down on a soft woolen carpet with a clean bed-shit and a pillow.
Well, that was a kings’ bed, I thought because on the head of it was a small window opening up to a snow peak (Bankatia, I was told) as if it is framed permanently. The calour of the peak changes as the morning glides into the evening. A garland of dry “Baklo” flowers hangs outside the window. This flower has a specialty; it spread its fragrance more & more as it dries up. The gentle breeze wafted in, the sweet fragrance, all day long.
Yes, indeed it was a bed fit for a king.
My lunches & dinners were coming from the ITBP camp but I used to take breakfast with Durga Sing which was a bowl of smashed potato sprinkled with black pepper very lovingly prepared by his elder sister; who after preparing the food would call her brother “Duggo, Khana thanda ho raha hyay” ( Durga the food is getting cold) and we would come running-in as the lady will get angry if we were late because her precious food is served best when hot.
There were just five houses and 15 people to administer; so Durga Sing and his sister had a lot of leisure-time. Durga Sing had a small plot for cultivation of potato, which takes all of his early morning. Since his sister, very haltingly, can speak Hindi; I had the opportunity to have Durga Sing entirely to myself.
We spend hours after hours talking about Himalaya. He is one of the most respected experts on Himalayan medicinal herbs and often was invited to Lucknow to advice the UP Government (then UP was not divided) on preservation of Himalayan herbs or to speak in seminars on the Himalayan herbs in different cities of UP.
He has two sons & two daughters who were married and well established in cities. Durga Sing has no financial need to toil on his land but he just could not resist the call of his breeze mountain-village. So, every summer he would come with his elder sister to cultivate his land and would stay still mid October to bring back his yield to his three stories other house in Munisiary
He single handedly created a forest of Birch trees in the high-land of Martoli village and that brought some musk-deer to his birch forest. His only regret is that, he is unable to protect these endangered antlers from the poachers. He requested me to speak to the SDM of Munsiary about the poaching and I immediately assured him that I will and I did talk with The SDM on my return. Probably with no effect at all; as I know the way government moves.
On the second day of my stay, very early in the morning, I went to visit the Namdadevi temple high up on the hill. Nobody was in the vicinity except me and the temple door was not locked; it was simply shut-down.
As I enter the sanctum-sanctorum an exquisite fragrance filled me up. It was so eerie! As if Devi Nanda was just sitting on her throne and hurriedly left on my intrusion; her sweet exquisite body odor is still lingering.
Feeling somewhat bewildered I looked down on the floor and saw someone had covered the floor with dry “Baklo” flowers. Regaining my self-confidence on my agnostic view (!), I came out of the temple and sat dizzily on its step. Suddenly, a shaft of sunlight fell on the crest of Nandadevi. It turned golden. Molten gold started to slide down from its’ crown. I sat there mesmerized.
Nandavedi must have flown from the temple to that peak and sat down on its’ crest!
It was now the time to leave a heaven caked Martoli and to go on my way to Milam.
Durga Sings’ sister gave me a packet of smashed potato for the road. Durga Sing walked alongside me till the end of the village to see me off.
Ahead, there was a steep descent to negotiate and very cautiously I started to descend.
After descending and reaching the main path to Milam, I looked back. Most probably am not coming back to Martoli village, ever. I felt Durga Sing also know that.
So I turned back to have a last look and as I looked back, I saw Durga Sing Martolia, standing on the edge of the ridge.
He waved at me; I felt the gentle touch of his rough palm on my shoulder again and a gaze on me full of so much love and compassion; as it caresses me so gently, something broke inside me. Tears wailed up in my eyes.
In that instant, I knew, I have a home in deep of the Himalaya, in a magnificent village called Martoli, inside a cozy room owned by my elder brother known as Durga Sing Martolia.
“Rato ko chanlewale rahe jaye thak ke jis dam,
Ummid unki meri tuta huya diya ho.
Bijli chamak ke inko kutia meri dekha de,
Jab aasma me harsu badal ghera huya ho.” …..Dr. Muhammad Iqubal.
(When the night-traveler is exhausted/ his only hope is the light of my broken lamp-shed. / When the stormy-cloud covers the sky / please show him my broken hut by lighting – O! Thy).
- The Himalayan Journal: 45: S P Mulasi.
- Beyond Milam: Himavanta, July 1998: Edited by Kamal Kumar Guha.