My Life as a Himalayan Farmer

My name is Diwan Singh Mahara and I am 42 years old. I was born and brought up in a village called Udiyari, some 5 km from Chaukori. Mahara is our family surname and our extended Mahara families live in and around Udiyari. My father is a retired Indian army personnel and he is 81 years old. He is still active and works on our farm. My mother is no more. I have three brothers and their families too live in our village. I passed 8th class and stopped my studies. Those days education was not considered important. 

Our ancestors settled in this area in the middle Himalaya a long time back and cultivated this land for ages. We inherited the farm from our forefathers and we four brothers  together work on it. It is still a jointly owned property. Our place is a kind of tableland located some 1500 meters above sea level and the eternal snow peaks of Nandadevi and Panchachuli massifs rim our landscape. We believe these lofty places are where Gods reside and feel we are living in the dominion of deities. 

The climate is temperate and pleasant most of the year. We get bountiful rains during south west and north east monsoon seasons. The soil is hard and there are no irrigation canals as this is perched above the river valley. We have a natural water spring in our village from which we get water for drinking and other purposes. Recently the government has initiated work on pumping water from the Barad river to Chaukori and to our village.

My wife Deepa hails from Pankhu village, which is famous for its Kotgarhi goddess temple. For running the farm and managing our home, she is an indispensable partner. She works tirelessly from morning to night. I have two daughters and one son. My eldest daughter, who passed Intermediate, is now married and blessed with a son. In our area, traditionally, eighteen years of age is thought to be the appropriate time for girls to get married. Now she started her Bachelor’s degree in Education in her in-law’s town, Pithoragarh. My younger daughter is in 10th class and my son is studying 7th class. I want to give the best education to my children. All my children help us in agricultural and household work.

We have two milk giving cows and four bulls which help in ploughing our shared agricultural land. No machinery is used in farming operations. Ghee (clarified butter) and buttermilk are obtained which are used in home food. We also have goats primarily raised for the purpose of sacrificial puja. We use manure from the animals as a natural fertilizer to increase the crop yield. No chemicals are used for cultivating grains that we consume in the household. 

Our place is surrounded by forests from which we get green grass and leaves for our domestic animals and also wood for cooking and warming during winter months. As the population is increasing, these forests are getting reduced and they could no longer supply our needs. Fortunately we could obtain cooking gas in cylinders. We also get a ration of wheat and rice at subsidized prices from the government. Our farm produce is just sufficient for our home consumption. Not much is left to sell in the market. Whatever little remains we barter for other goods.

We have mainly two crop seasons. From May to September, we cultivate Rice, Soybean, Millet, Corn and Black lentils. Main monsoon rains start before July. So the heavy rainy season is for growing rice as it requires huge quantities of water. We have the other crop season starting in October when we plant Wheat, Mustard and Legumes. As they are winter crops, they require less water and could withstand cold and dry weather. We also grow Barley but it’s mainly for farm animals. The dried stalks of rice and wheat plants are stored and used as fodder for them, when the green grass is scarce. 

Due to the climate we can not grow a variety of vegetables. A few ones like potato, bottle gourd, bitter gourd, cucumber and pumpkin are locally cultivated as are some green leafy ones. The rest are imported from the plains. Some farmers are experimenting with temperature controlled poly houses for growing non local vegetables. Some are successful at it. Our climate is very much suitable for fruit trees. We have plenty of Kaaphal (a local berry), Plum, Peach, and Lime trees in our premises.

We do face challenges from wild boars that devour our crops and hail storms that damage the plants. Occasionally wild animals like leopards and jackals stray into our farms and pose a threat to our kids and livestock. Snakes are aplenty in this region. This is the realm of Nag (snake). The ancient people of this area are called Nagas. So snakes are venerated and their idols are worshipped. Many places and temples in the vicinity have the word Nag in their names like Berinag, Moolnag, Dhaulinag, Vasukinag, Kalinag etc.

We believe in deities that protect and bless us to have a good life. We pray to them for good health and harvest. Every farm activity right from ploughing, sowing seeds, transplantation of saplings to harvesting grain, there are associated rituals. Once the harvesting is over, the new grain is placed in the temple before Gods. Only after that do people start eating it. 

Festivals like Janmashtami during rains, Uttarayani in winter are our special festivals apart from many other minor ones. The grandest of all is Holi during the Spring season. It’s a 4 to 5 day long celebration as we visit each and every one of 400 houses in and around Udiyari village. Sprinkling colors, beating drums, singing songs and dancing, it is the time for fun and merriment for us all. Everyone, young and old, men and women are relaxed and take a break from their work. They enthusiastically participate in it and enjoy themselves. It ends with a large prayer gathering at Pingal Nag (Yellow Serpent) temple perched above a nearby hillock. 

In addition to farming, I have also learnt carpentry and masonry. In our village or outside, I work in the construction of buildings and use my skills to make  wooden objects. I used to look after the vegetable and flower garden in the Himalayan Inter College (HIC), Chaukori in addition to working there as a part time security guard. I have been associated with it for nearly 14 years. I have also accompanied the students on their trekking expeditions to Pindari and Kafni glaciers. 

I am happy that my son, Pankaj Mahara, is studying at HIC and receiving a scholarship from Himalayan Education Foundation. He is interested in studies and wants to go for higher studies. 

Over my lifetime of 42 years, I have seen many changes that took place. Better roads and transportation and mobile phone connectivity are the important ones. Now many children, including girls, go to school. We get all sorts of things available for buying in the market. People’s lives have improved a lot. On the other hand, we suffer from  lack of good medical and higher educational facilities. With increasing population,there are pressures on natural resources like forests and agricultural land. We don’t have industries that can employ the educated and skilled youth. So they migrate to cities in the palins.

I feel I can not leave my place where I have spent my entire life so far. The closely knit extended family and the community around me give me a sense of strength and belonging. And whatever the hardships we face living in this terrain, I feel we are for each other and rooted in this soil. The air we breathe, the food we grow and eat, the festivals we celebrate bind me to this place and people. The distant Himalayan snow peaks that loom over the horizon, which we worship as the deities that bless us with good life and fortune, have become part of our daily life. For me, it’s unimaginable to leave this Karma Bhumi ( Land of my life activity) and go elsewhere to settle down, whatever may be it’s attractions.

As for my children, well, they have a life of their own to lead and flourish !