The story so far...
|The Malabar Op snoops around|
There was bamboo-shoot pork, bamboo-shoot pickle, something else that's the world's hottest chili, eggs, freshwater fish, mutton, algae, sweet potatoes, small potatoes, normal potatoes, chicken, shrimp, rice, dal, cauliflower and lots, lots more on the lunch table. Maintaining my enviable fitness levels was clearly going to be a problem in Chowkham.
Life there is pretty restful. The village by the riverside, the freezing waters as clean as can be, the woods and the fields with hardly a soul in sight, the Himalayas so very close by, the charm of the house itself, all of this, it sometimes makes a private eye forget that he has business at hand, and turns him into a tourist - and a vegetable of a tourist, at that.
The day begins early in the "land of the dawn-lit mountains." I've heard that the sunrise is as early as a little after 5 in the morning. The only person who can confirm that is PK, who would disappear into the early-morning mist to go birding. Due to a lack of witnesses, his exploits on these trips are largely shrouded in myth and mystery; but stories have filtered through of lows such as getting lost and wandering into army camps, and glorious highs such as the day he got to molest a Crested Serpent Eagle.
Aunt Frika (Mohnish has as many aunts as a character in a Wodehouse novel, and they all ask just two things of him: that he get a haircut and get married - in that order) would regale us at the breakfast table with stories of the floods in 2004. She told us how they watched, from their terrace, house after house disappearing into the river; of how all their help had to leave to take care of their families; of how they had no water or electricity for more than a week; of how they harvested rainwater, and the joys of bathing in them. Ujjal, sitting nearby, added gloomily that one day they too would lose their house as young rivers are rather unpredictable with their courses. After breakfast, she would buzz off determinedly bride-hunting for Mohnish (who'd sit in a corner blushing prettily).
|The Malabar Op leads Mohnish across the Lohit|
Mostly, it was a time for the finer things in life: sleeping late, hogging like (and on) pigs, avoiding any kind of excessive physical labour, etc. We would go orange plucking, have a look at the pagodas and the museums nearby, and buy handwoven bags and Khamti lungis from the pretty tailor in the village. This being winter, off-roading on the riverbed in Ujjal's Gypsy was also an option. The locals were very impressed when I led local-boy Mohnish across the treacherous currents of the Lohit.
The high-point was when we drove to Parashuram Kund. Legend has it that Lord Parashuram, for naughtinesses such as killing his mother, had an axe irremovably stuck to his arm. He travelled the length and breadth of the country as penance for his sin, but the axe wouldn't come off. It was only when he bathed in the waters here that it finally parted ways. This legend is all the more poignant to us Malabar Ops as the story goes that it's a blow from his axe that claimed the Malabar coast from the seas.
I suppose then that this place needs no further description than this: all it takes is one glimpse to convince you that there are no sins those blue-green waters cannot cleanse. We got a couple of nice pictures, but they do no justice to the sight of the river snaking its way through those hills, the foothills of the Himalayas: sheer, green and beautiful.
And just when I was in danger of completely forgetting about the case, came a walk by the river. PK to Mohnish: "Come with me tomorrow morning, my little piggy, and I'll show you the eighth wonder of the world."
I scratched my chin thoughtfully and followed.
P.S. - Photos courtesy PK.