The hearts of those employed in Mother Dairy and Amul would have skipped a beat if they were standing on the velvet green grass the of Dayara Bugyal in Uttarakhand at an altitude of 3048 metres and watching what would seem to them a colossal’ waste of milk and butter.
Here in this picture book landscape that looks much like the final battlefield in the Hollywood flick Chronicles of Narnia, this is not a waste but an act of purification. And for environmentalists too, there are no worries and butter and milk are highly bio-degradable and conducive to the floor of the green and fragile bugyal (meadow).
On Sunday, the inhabitants of Raithal village, which is at 8 kilometre arduous trek from Dayara Bugyal, played Butter Holi, a tradition that has been carried down from generations. Men, women and children from this region abounding in apples, kidney beans and potatoes threw milk on each other amid joy and traditional fervour.
The sight at the 28 square kilometers stretch of green was one to behold. Men and women in colourful clothes could be seen pouring in from the different directions as the silent bugyal became abuzz with activity.The villagers of Raithal, which is 35 kilometres from the district headquarter of Uttarkashi, have been celebrating Butter Holi or andyud (coming inside) in Garhwali) since thousands of years. This festival, in which Lord Krishna is worshipped, is held much after Holi has been observed in the rest of the country.
The difference here is that the pichkaris and water cannons do not have water or gulal but pure milk and butter from the small and sturdy milch cattle of the hills. For most part, these villagers save enough milk and butter in their traditional chhanis to participate in this festival.
On the day of Sankranti, the villagers worship the hills, the mythological Goverdhan Parvat, which Lord Krishna had placed on the tip of his finger and also break the matki (earthen pot) as is done in the Dahi Handi festival.
Until four years ago, this festival was a quiet affair with only the villagers participating in it. But due to the dwindling interest of the youth, it was decided to organise this as a tourism festival so as to revive it to its past glory.Now the government of Uttarakhand provides Rs 50,000 as aid to hold the festival to a local committee that oversees the operations. Manoj Rana village chief of Raithal, situated seven kilometre before Dayara Bugyal, says that though the aid is quite meagre, they have been trying hard to hold it in the best possible manner.
“The route on the way to the Bugyal is still very ardous and full of stone and mud. The ropeway project which would give an impetus to tourism in the region has been held up since many years due to tussle over the location by two villages and matter is pending in the court,” he informed.
Arduous trek not conducive for tourists
The eight kilometre arduous trek from Raithal village to Dayara Bugyal is not conducive to tourists at present. The route winds through various mountains and forests and does not have a concrete path. With stones and boulders jutting from the ground continuously and mud and sleet lining the floor, the tourists find it very difficult to reach there. According to the village chief Manoj Rana, the path is being improved upon and it might take some time before it is materialised. Right now, it takes a tourist around five kilometers on foot through one of the most difficult terrains on the mountains. Due to this, this year almost no domestic or foreign tourist reached the festival.
Life inside a ‘chhani’
Chhanis are a regular feature of the Bugyals where, the male members of the family live on the meadows and look after cattle which graze on its ever stretching grass. The ‘chhanis’ are inhabited for round 4-5 months from April to September after which it starts to get very cold. Then the occupants move and join their families in the villages. According to Balbir Singh Panwar, who lives on a ‘chhani’ near the Dayara Bugyal, this practice is hundreds years old.
“I got this chhani from my father and my son would get it after me”, he says. According to Balbir, the cattle feed on the grass of the ‘bugyal’ and then come inside the ‘chhani’. There is almost no partition between the space where the owner of the ‘chhani’ and the cattle live.