A Postcard To The Past Where Hospitality And Ingenuity Were The Norms

In today's internet-connected world, seeing a postal worker running from place to place carrying mail is uncommon. But, a traveller recounts in his tale that they were part of the fabric of India not so long ago
Indian postal service
An old letter box in IndiaVinayak Jagtap/Shutterstock

I was just a young boy when I first read the poem “Runner” by Sukanta Bhattacharya and later listened to the famous song of the great Hemanta Mukhopadhyay using the same lyrics in the early 1970s. The image and the struggle of the postman collecting and delivering letters and other postal documents from the district post office to remote post offices of far-off villages when motorable roads were not available were perfectly depicted in the poem and sympathetically expressed in the song. However, with the development of science and technology, our communication systems have undergone a sea change; we cannot imagine that era today. Even 25 years ago, we could not bring to mind that time or that man hurrying from one place to the next.

Despite that, I had an occasion which brought me back to that hoary past.

An Unfamiliar Name

Joshimath in Uttarakhand
Joshimath in UttarakhandSandeep Kami/Shutterstock

In the middle of October 1998, I was put up in a tourist lodge at Joshimath, where there was neither a crowd nor tourists. Deciding to spend the day at my leisure, I saw a trekking map of the local area displayed on a board where I noticed a region named “Chenab Valley.” I had never heard of this place before. I had come here to visit the famous Kagbhusandi Tal, a notable place in Hindu mythology.

Thus, the following day, I left for Govindghat by a Badrinath-bound bus, the starting point for the Valley of Flowers and the Hemkund Sahib treks. I got off the bus and was put up in the dharamshala of Govindghat, which was just as lonely as my lodgings at Joshimath because the trekking season was almost over due to the coming of winter. I tried my best to contact a porter who could accompany me on my trek to the Kagbhusandi Tal, but in vain.

The Alaknanda River in Uttarakhand
The Alaknanda River in UttarakhandAmit kg/Shutterstock

So, when the next day dawned, I changed my mind and decided to head to the Chenab Valley, which was vividly present in a niche of my mind since I noticed its name. Being a solitary trekker, I could alter my schedule according to my choice and convenience. After one day at Govindghat, the Rishikesh-bound bus from Badrinath lifted me from Govindghat and dropped me at the new bridge over the Alaknanda River.

Hospitality That Melts Your Heart

As soon as the bus left me, I was in a deserted land. I noticed a foot track leading to a slope on the opposite hill. I took that trail without hesitation and began pushing up the slope. As I gained some height, the Alaknanda and the town of Joshimath on the opposite river bank became gradually visible. I had no idea of the place or much information about it except the name of Bagicha Singh, the chief of Chang village, which was en route to the Chenab Valley.

The hospitality of Uttarakhand's native residents is renowned throughout India
The hospitality of Uttarakhand's native residents is renowned throughout India binoyphotofolio/Shutterstock

After two hours of trekking, I came across the first house in the village, which incidentally belonged to Singh. As I approached to rest for the night, I was welcomed by the young wife and daughter of the landlord, who was not at home then. After having lunch, I rested in the courtyard and watched the Alaknanda flowing below me, glittering in the sunshine.

Thoughts thronged my mind as I tried to dismantle them gently. What moved me most was the hospitality and simplicity of the local people. "How could a young lady receive a stranger like this?" I wondered. I could not get a logical explanation because I tried to explain the situation with the mindset of a city dweller, which is usually filled with doubts and distrust. I realised it was beyond my perception and ability to read the expected behaviour of the landlady.

A mountain resident of Uttarakhand smiles for the camera
A mountain resident of Uttarakhand smiles for the cameraJagdeep rawat/Shutterstock

In the late evening, Bagicha Singh, a stout hillman of 50+ years, came home and surprised me by greeting me so warmly as if I was one of his old friends who had come to meet him after a long time. All my hesitations were thawed in that warmth.

A Vision From The Past

I set out on my way to the last village of Thang, alias Rampur, on the Chenab Valley route the following day, which was well enriched with much information about the route and my next halt. I walked gaily and ceaselessly to my destination. I didn't come across any passersby on my way. The lonely foot track was filled with only chirping birds as a sign of life.

An Indian postal worker collecting mail from a letter box in 2022
An Indian postal worker collecting mail from a letter box in 2022PradeepGaurs/Shutterstock

Suddenly, I heard the jingling sound of bells in that desolate land. It scared me because I couldn't find its source. I stood perplexed and began to look towards the trail from where the sound was coming.

Suddenly, a man appeared from the bend of the foot track with a spear in his hand and a sack on his back. A bunch of bells were tagged to his spear, which produced the sound with every step. He was running even at this altitude, which was too uphill. When he reached me, he paused for some time and, with a smile, told me that the village of Rampur was nearby. He was carrying postal documents from Joshimath to deliver at the Rampur post office, after which he would return to Joshimath with the collected postal documents from Rampur.

A hamlet of Uttarakhand. Pictured here is Urgam village
A hamlet of Uttarakhand. Pictured here is Urgam villageKakoli Dey/Shutterstock

I was so confused by the unexpected situation that I couldn't react to him instantly. He perhaps realised what was happening and told me that within an hour, I also would be able to reach Rampur. He then started his run again with a jingling sound and soon disappeared at the turn of the track. I stood, astonished for some time, and realised that the entire scenario had brought me back to a hoary past.

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