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Thursday, Jun 30, 2022
Outlook.com
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OPINION

That Extra Bite In The Wind

Early signals, wisdom and experience of people living in the hills are rarely taken seriously by experts

That Extra Bite In The Wind
That Extra Bite In The Wind
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53

People living in the hills are normally quick to notice early signs of trouble ahead. Shepherds look worryingly at the snow peaks that seem to have an extra cloud cover than usual; the water bearer is apprehensive of the stream water being cooler than normal; the woman carrying firewood and cattle feed home wonders why the wood is mossy and not just damp like every other year.

Because of their deployment in the upper reaches of the Himalayas, the Indian army and the ITBP have also learnt to be wary of the monsoon. The monsoons are difficult times, confides an army officer, even harsher than the winter. Shepherds cannot take their cattle out to graze due to torrential rains, local viruses thrive and people fall sick even as dry firewood and provisions become prized possessions. Winters can be handled with woollens and fire but what do you do to cope with rain that makes the hills treacherous, slippery and prone to landslides ?

The climate has been undergoing a change. In January 2012, parts of Pathankot in Himachal Pradesh witnessed snowfall for the first time in recorded history. “The met officials,” the Indian Express reported, “could not elaborate on the reasons behind the event.” In January last, villages like Kana and Jwalabanj in Almora district of Kumaon witnessed heavy snowfall after decades. And the same area reported intense heat and unheard of temperatures in March this year.

People on the hills sense these change far better, of course. In Kumaon this year, residents were convinced that things were a little unusual. Steering down a road at Bhawali in Nainital district, a local cab driver looked down at the Kosi river and said, “the current is stronger than usual. I’m sure the rains will play havoc but the pilgrims will not stay away even if the roads vanish altogether ”.

This year the rhododendron flowers blossomed in the beginning of February instead of the usual end of March or early April. There was more snowfall than is normal in Leti area of Bageshwar district, going on till early March. This was followed by intense bouts of harsh sunlight and heat over the next few days. Clouds over the Panchachuli range would usually move in over the peaks around sunset, but this year it would happen close to mid-evening. Cloud inversions are common but not an everyday phenomenon, like they were this year.

It is the ordinary local people who always witness such changes in weather conditions, suffer the damage and set up their own rescue operations, year after year. But their voice generally remains unheard and their inputs rarely factored in while planning ahead. While it is sad that Garhwal or Kenderkhand (meaning: of forts) could not fortify itself against the wrath of nature, the least the pundits can do is to take Nature, and the hill people, a little more seriously.

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