It is hard to say where Shiv Nirmohi will be by the evening. The 72-year-old professor could be in a forest, a mountain road, a bus stand, anywhere.
For 20 years, the 72-year-old man has wandered across Jammu and Kashmir and way beyond, risked his life, met militants, slept in forests, published free books, all to quietly keep his culture alive.
"There is not a single day when I don't find out something new about my land," Nirmohi told me as he sat in his home in Painthal village, a two-hour drive from Udhampur. "I don't make plans – the moment I get an idea, I leave – I could just pick up my nag and leave in an hour."
As I sat there in the sunlight-soaked room full of books, listening to stories of his adventures, I wondered: what drives such amazing people?
Sunlight warmed up big rectangles on the floor of his house, surrounded by plants and the smell of cowdung. He disappeared inside his home and appeared again with glasses of water and some salted snacks.
Nirmohi has written some 30 books about Dogri culture, language, customs – not the top-of-the-mind reading for most urban readers, I know – but more precious than TV soaps and the Spiderman movie.
He began walking in 1980, when villagers used to come to him with interesting tales. He used to take copious notes, and slowly began writing books on themes no one had written about, or would possibly care to write about.
Nirmohi makes book writing sound like 20-20 cricket: three more books are expected out by the end of the year. There is still a lot that he cannot cram into his books – he writes in articles for local newspapers every day.
He has walked into Gujjar huts to take shelter for the night, only to find militants as well. They wanted to know his views, and did not harm him. They talked all night – at 4 a.m., they vanished when he was dozing.
Nirmohi walks alone, carrying just his notebook and bare essentials. He has walked to Ladakh, to Nepal, into Uttarakhand. He just walks when he can.
Nirmohi supports his work with his professor's pension. He does not have a car or a scooter.
"I get Rs. 12,000 in pension, I give Rs. 10,000 to my wife to run the household, Rs. 1,000 to my publisher as his instalment, Rs. 500 for stationery expenses – and use the remaining Rs. 1,000 for my travel," he said.
"I travel cheap, I don't have any vices, I have never stayed in a hotel, I find inexpensive places," he said. "It's a first class budget. Even my wife is not upset with my ways."