Encounter in the High Himalayas
A summer Camp meant exclusively for the schoolchildren was organised by the Western Command of Indian Army at the breathtaking Sanawar Hills located ideally at an altitude which is all of 1,700 mts above sea level. The entire neighbourhood was covered by a thick blanket of lush green forest cover and the stately Pine and Ban trees offered a picturesque natural backdrop.
Being far from the din and bustle of the cities and more significantly being in the lap of the Himalayas, nothing can get better than Sanawar Eco Camp – escaping to the Himalayas in search of solitude and peace.
I was on my way home to Chandigarh, when I saw groups of children truly engrossed in exciting activities like Rock Climbing and Rappelling. The enthusiasm of the children had a positive rub-off effect on me and without hesitating, I decided to have a go at some of the exciting activities that were on offer at the Eco Camp. Even though I was brimming with enthusiasm, I knew my spirit was willing but my flesh was weak. After all, I am all of 45 years and by the time I somehow conquered two small hills on the undulating Sanawar mountain range, I was left gasping for breath. I rested myself under a rocky promontory and took a few deep breaths that made me feel better.
As I lay down and gazed at the superb Himalayan panorama from the outskirts of the Eco-Camp, my eyes fell on a young and ebullient Army Officer, broad shouldered and every bit as handsome as a movie star – a la Al Pacino, approaching me. He introduced himself as Captain Bey and was overseeing the children’s outdoor activities at the camp. I kept looking at him for a while and Captain Bey in his peculiarly accented English was a gentleman to the core. He seemed to be very well groomed and suave. I was curious to know which part of the country he hailed from – Ladakh? Mizoram? Nagaland? Manipur? Assam? Sikkim? Finally, I asked him politely as to which part of India he belonged to and the Captain’s reply was – “I am from Assam”.
The Captain was from Assam alright but in my 25 years of service in the Indian armed forces, I have had the privilege to meet many warm and kind hearted tribal people from the North East of India, but never before did I come across a surname – “Bey” and I still kept guessing.
However Captain Bey seemed to understand what was going inside my mind and to clear the cobwebs of my brain cells informed me that he belonged to the Karbi Anglong region of Assam, which is the domain of the Hill Karbis (by the way, Karbi is an ethnic tribal community of Assam). What was more significant was that Bey happened to be the first Indian Army officer from his community (Karbi).
I told to myself – “this guy is special” and tried to get up close and personal with him so as to be able to know the kind of person he was. I asked him rather informally – Do Karbis have any script? The Captain replied – “No, we use the Roman script”. In my efforts to unravel the mystery surrounding this young Army officer, I told him I wanted to hear him speak a few lines in his native Karbi language and to my utter delight he spoke like an AK47 – “Kardom, Ne Men Ke Capt Borlongki Bey”.
It was time to move on and as Captain Bey escorted me to the Rock Climbing Zone. I decided to have a go at the vertical, almost 60 feet high rock. To make me feel reassured, a few Army jawans were sitting right on top of the rock. After a few half-hearted attempts, I gave up and instead took a lot of pleasure watching the energetic children attempting impossible angles. The descent from the camp top was unexpectedly tough as I had to be escorted all the way to Ground Zero with the strong and sturdy Karbi army man by my side. Dried leaves of Pine and Ban trees made the mountainous terrain somewhat treacherous for the first time trekker and thank god, I had Captain Bey to show me the way through the jungle labyrinth.
It seemed as if Captain Bey knew the terrain on the tip of his fingers and in half-an-hour of brisk downhill trek, we finally arrived at the Sanawar Base Camp. After refreshing ourselves at the Base Camp, the children proceeded to have their meals while I and Captain Bey were left alone and with enough time and space to muse over the fascinating lifestyle of the Hill Karbis in the North Eastern state of Assam.
As we sipped a few pegs from our favourite tipple, Captain Bey became a touch emotional. And why not? He was thousands of miles away from his homeland – Karbi Anglong, a land steeped in legends and blessed with nature’s bounty. Son of a social worker, Captain Bey’s father Late Khorsingh Bey and mother Mrs. Bina Ronghangpi , still devotes her time and energy for social causes. Captain Bey’s younger brother is a teacher and the youngest of the lot is in 3rd year of Zoology (Hons). Captain Bey is a convent educated guy from Shillong, the capital of the North Eastern state of Meghalaya and it came as no surprise to me to see for myself a well bred army man, suave to the core and with impeccable manners, who had a keen interest on music and films. From Mettallica to Guns & Roses and Britney Spears to Shakira, his musical taste made me wonder how come he was not born in USA and strummed the guitar – a la Bruce Springsteen and sang the all time great Rock number – “Born in the USA”.
We, as human beings, love being amazed. The magician, the astrologer, the faith healer, the miracle-maker. Despite all the hard work that we ourselves employ in our personal achievements, we view the finished work of another with wonder and awe. Out here at Sanawar Eco Camp, prepare yourself to be stimulated and I can assure you the stimuli here will be a positive one.