Approaching Chakrata from Dehradun, just as you cross river stream at Kalsi, you enter one of the scheduled tribal area of India, called as Jaunsar region. This region is home to Jaunsari tribes, who trace themselves to Pandavas. On a recent trip to Chakrata, we decided to see a Jaunsari village-Koti Kanasar, our selves. The village is set in a beautiful Himalyan surrounding and in present times has roads, electricity and other modern amenities.
To get the real feel, we decided to do first trek down from FRK Kanasar to village located down below and then, did a village-walk with help of one Eco-tourism volunteer, Mr Negi. Few houses in the village were centuries old and we were really impressed by the neat functional designs of those houses. While the lower floors were used for live stocks etc, the upper ones were used for families. These houses built from locally available stones, earth and wood material have withstood the test of times for over a century.
The villagers living here are of course like all of us but traditions they follow are slightly different. In Jaunsar region, it is matriarchal society in many villages and wome practised polyandry also. The caste system is also stronger with Brahmans and Kshatriyas at the apex of social hierarchy. They believe in propitiating their local Gods and don’t mind spending a big portion of their earnings in month long local religious festivals. The serving of wine and meat is almost mandatory. In village Koti-Kanasar, next year that is in 2016, Chalada Bhagwan in his microcosm avatar will visit and villagers will observe all rituals including vacating the best house for God to reside. During our walk we witnessed the local collective practices of spice grinding and clothes washing. We also witnessed the early flowering of apple trees.
To protect the unique identity of the region, the governments over the years have tried to protect the area and it’s inhabitants with reservations in jobs and education at par with scheduled tribes to all residents of 250 odd Gram Panchayats, irrespective of their local caste or status. Thus even Brahmans get reservations as STs if they are from Jaunsar region. There are restrictions also on purchase of land here by outsiders. This has helped to prevent undue intervention from outside and preservation of local culture and heritage. Our visit to village gave us an opportunity to interact with local villagers and boys and girls. Few of them were keen to get photographed and we obviously were happy to share frame with them.
The visit to village ended soon but not before kids had polished of some bowls of hot noodles prepared at a local village tea shop. The elders had hot tea with buns. Sitting in that small shop, I was looking at distant mountains and was thinking that, what an amazing, diverse and incredible country, India is.
The visit to Koti-Kanasar ended with an interface with world’s thickest Deodar tree. The perimeter of this tree is 6.35 meters that is more than 20 feet and the tree is said to be more than 400 years old.