The Berry lores of Kumaon

It was late afternoon when we came out of Patal Bhuvansehwar cave complex. We were tired and hungry. At that time of the day, the only option was the street food outside the cave complex; even there most of the food items were finished and we had to be contented with whatever was on offer.

Street Food outside Patal Bhuvaneshwar caves

The sky was overcast with dark clouds. There was a high probability of rain.
Rain! Ah, I love rain and more than it, I love the deliciously refreshing breeze that announces its arrival, accompanies it and lingers long after the downpour.
That day also, the cool, moist wind drenched our exhausted, aching bodies with renewed enthusiasm.

The route which we were planning to take from here to Jagshwar was following:
Patal Bhuvaneshwar->Raigar 27 Kms
Raigar ->Seraghat 27 Kms
Seragaht -> Dhaulchhina -> Palaeo Bend-> Barechhina 17 Kms
Barechhnina -> Artola 17 Kms
Artola ->Jageshwar 4 Kms

Soon we were on a scenic road lined up with shrubs laden with a rich harvest of juicy berries, the golden Hisalu (Rubus Ellipticus), the purple Kilmoda and the red Kafals (Myrica Esculenta). Even the desire to reach Jageshwar well in time, before the downpour starts, could not stop us from taking a break here and there; accepting nature’s bounty of delicious offerings.

Kilmoda

A Kumaoni settled outside Uttaranchal only think about these berries with sweet nostalgia. Something similar is true for me too. Even today, I cannot forget the taste of shahtoots, berrs and dancers that were available in abundance, in and around Khetri, the place in Jhunjhunu district of Rajsthan where I spent thirty formative years of my life. I consumed them in plenty. I have vivid images of my school days when group of school boys loomed over shrubs of Shahtoot to grab whatever they could lend their hands on. And even unripe, sour, and green shahtoots tasted special. A trip around bucolic surroundings of Khetri was rewarding, if we could spot a bush of berrs. And those occasional pricks of thorns were nature’s teasing to be more careful with it.

Every region has its favorite season; a season when nature is at its charming best, lifting the general mood with its magical wand, sprinkling happiness all around. In Rajasthan it is the season of saawan. Copious Rajsathani folk songs convey the dreams of young brides returning to their maika in saawan to enjoy swings with their childhood friends. In mountains, same can be said about चैत्र, the season of ripening Kafals. In a famous Pahadi song, “बेड़ू पाको बारह मासा, ओ नरणी काफल पाको चैता मेरी छेळा”, a Kumaoni bride tries to convince her husband to allow her a visit to her maika in this season. She remembers fondly and vividly the trail to her mother’s house that is lined up with shrubs laden with Kafals; she dreams of traversing that trail picking and enjoying Kafals on the way. She feels that the Chaitra is best season to spend with her mother and finds other months unattractive and uneventful, like the ripening of Bedu, which nobody cares.

Kafals are part of Kumaoni life and folklores. They believe that Magpie can often be spotted in this season chirping around and its song sounds like, “काफल पाको मेल नही चाखो|” The heart wrenching story of Magpie’s chirping is the story of a poor woman who used to earn her living by collecting and selling Kafals in local market. One day she collected a sack full of Kafals, but could not go to the market as she had some work in a nearby village. She left the sack in custody of her young daughter and warned the gilr not to eat any of them as it was the only source of their income. After the day’s hard work, when she returned and checked the sack, she found it light. Furious and worried at her discovery, she cross questioned her daughter. The daughter denied any negligence and also iterated that she herself has not eaten any. The woman got the sack weighed and found it to be much lighter. Furious at her discovery and in the rush of insanity, she thrashed her daughter mercilessly. The girl kept on crying and denying.

To her mother’s surprise the sack got heavier the next day. Then she realized that in the day the sack felt lighter as Kafals lost some moisture, which they regained in the night. However, the worst happened. The merciless beating made the girl unwell and she died. It is believed that the innocent beautiful girl became magpie and could be seen among Kafals claiming her innocence.

Yellow-Billed Blue Magpie

These berries have coarse texture and distinct sour-sweet taste. They help the digestive system and the shrubs help in fixing atmospheric nitrogen. A person new to these berries might take some time to develop taste for Kilmoda, but liking for Hisalu and Kafal would be instant. No wonder, Kumaoni life and folklore are ripe with these wild berries.

Here, I would like to share two quatrains written by Gumaani Pant (1790-1846), the aadikavi (the first poet) of Kumaon, on these berries.
Before quoting him, a few lines on the poet himself.

Gumaani Pant wrote deftly in five languages: Sanskrit, Hindi, Garhwali, Kumaoni and Nepali. The most outstanding aspect of his poetry was that he composed several poems using different languages in different stanzas. Some argue that he started composing in Hindi (खड़ी बोली) even before भारतेंदु हरीशचंद्र, the Father of the modern Hindi, so he must be considered for the laurels. In-fact भारतेंदु हरीशचंद्र was born four years after the death of this poet. In my opinion these are trivial things; the real reward for a poet is that even after centuries, his poems are remembered, loved and sung. A similar opinion is well expressed in the following lines by Harivansh Rai Bachachan:

छप चुकी मेरी किताबें, पूरबी और पस्चिमि दोनो तरह के अक्षरों में,
और सुने भी जा चेके हैं भाव मेरे, देश और परदेश दोनो के स्वरों में,
पर खुशी से नाचने को, पाँव मेरे उस समय तक नही तैयार जब तक
गीत अपना में नही सुनता किसी गंगो-जमन के तीर फिरते बावरे से,
अंग से मेरे लगा तू अंग ऐसे, आज तू ही बोल मेरे भी गले से|

Coming back to Gumaani Pant and the berries, in the following verse he narrates how Kafals got their distinctive red color with black tinge. He wrote, Kafals were the favourite fruit of Lord Indra, exclusively grown in the Heaven. One day they accidentally fell from his hand on the earth. The God considered it an omen and allowed it to be grown on the mountains. These days, when Kafals think about their glorious past and the sad turn of fate that brought them to the mortal world, they turn red with anger and those who are old among them turn black due to the hurt pride.

खाना लागा इंद्र का हम छिपा,
भूलोक आई पडा|
पृथ्वी में लग्यॉ पहाड़ हमारी थाती रचा देव ले,
योई चित्त विचारी काफल सबे राता भयाक्रोध ले,
कोई बुडा खूडा शरम ले काला-धूमेला भया|

Kafal

In another verse he is of full praise for Hisalu. He boasts that the mountainous region of Uttaranchal is blessed with many varieties of fruits; among them special is the gift of Hisalu. He writes that while consuming Hisalu in late hot summer days, he often wonders can nectar taste better!

“छनाइ छन मेवा रत्न सगला पर्वतन में
हिसालु का तोहफा छन बहुत तोहफा जनन में
पहर चौथा ठंडा बख़त जनरो स्वाद लीं में
अहो मैं समंजू अमृत लग वस्तु क्या हुनलो|”

Golden Hisalu

While we were out of the car to enjoy the wild-berries, I was rewarded with the sighting of Oriental White Eye (Zosterops Palpebrosus) in the shrubs. I found this small bird, with distinctive white eye rings, mischievous and scary. The bird appeared as if it was born with spectacles. This bird is arboreal and it rarely descends on the ground. However, on that day I spotted it on the ground and it remained there for a long time, camouflaging itself in the green leaves around. This bird is mainly insectivorous, but it also eats nectar and fruits of various kinds. It explains, how I could spot it in those wild berries laden bushes.

Oriental White eye

This bird is restless in nature and has strong legs that help it do all kinds of acrobatic maneuvers in trees, bushes and shrubs. It is sociable and is generally found in flocks. It separates from its group only in the approaching breeding season.

We would have spent some more time there but drizzling forced us inside the gypsy and we drove on. In almost no time, the rain drops were knocking, pestering and soon lashing at the glass of our vehicle. The initial gentle knock turned frenetic and finally it appeared as if rain drops were determined to enter inside, even if it meant breaking the glass. After the initial failed attempt, the rain disguised and morphed itself into hail storm and the hail size increased from the size of marbles to the size of my palm. Whew! We were really scared. Should we drive ahead facing the continuous canon fired at our vehicles or stop with the possibility of road blockages ahead?

Its Drizzling

Luckily, we were passing through the climax of the dramatic weather, the hail storm reduced and finally stopped. We come out of our vehicles to enjoy the sight of green grass turning white with the bumper hail-crop. On that day I realized the grim fate Hindi proverb hints at, when it says, “सिर मुंडाते ही ओले पड़े”, I never imagined it could be so bad 🙂

Hails Everywhere!

Big Hails on the car

We played with and marveled at the size of the hails, and then drove at high speed to stop at “Hill View Restaurant” in Dhaulchhina. It was around five in the evening. There were no lights in the restaurant. Strong winds were blowing. We decided to enjoy Pakodis at the third (the top) floor of the restaurant. The setting sun and the thunder storm created dramatic effect around.

Step-Farms on the way

It was about to be dark when we left Dhaulchhina. Jaishree and I had earlier planned to get down at Artola and to walk from there to Jageshwar, in the midst of Deodar trees. By the time we reached Artola, we felt like birds already late in returning to their nests and so abandoned the plan. We were extremely tired by then and the only thought we had, was to reach as soon as possible to our KMVN accommodation in Jageshwar.

As we reached and parked our vehicle in front of KMVN Jageshwar, Tanmay vomited. The exhaustive journey had taken a toll on him. Sometimes in ghumakkar enthusiasm, we forget that we are travelling with tender and fragile young ones. They have a limit for everything. Unfortunately, it was not the end of our difficult times and the drama in the KMVN Jageshwar was about to unfold.

Series Navigation<< Patal Bhuvaneshwar cave – Treasure trove of Indian MythologyExperiences Good and Bad at Jageshwar >>

2 Comments

  1. Great to see this post on hill fruits…
    Local fruits in summer along with local dishes is what makes a trip perfect…
    Hopefully, someday I will do a better exploration of local cuisines in UK and HP…

    1. Thanks Jitaditya 🙂
      Definitely a well traveled person like you would definitely enrich us much more. You are an authority on UK and HP.

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