World of Hindu mythological tales and folklore is very interesting, charming and varied. It is believed that about thirty three crore Gods and Goddesses occupy Hindu pantheon. Quite possible…in a culture where many plants, animals and almost all the elements of nature are worshiped, where every small village, hamlet has it’s very own guardian angle, reaching even that staggeringly high  number is not out of bounds. With every revered place and deity are associated certain folklore and tales.The authenticity is neither questioned nor argued. It is simply accepted.

One of these is Latu devta of Wan. The folklore related to Latu Devta is very interesting and one of it’s own kind. Nanda devi is  one of the most revered deity of Uttaranchal. She is considered to be Avatara of Goddess Parvati and Latu Devta is her adopted brother. Goddess Parvati nee Nanda Devi did not have any brothers. On one occasion she felt very sad about this and wanted someone to be with her at Kailash Parvat as her brother. She went to Royal family of Kannauj and requested the queen to send one of her two sons with her to Kailash. On the way to Kailash they reached Wan and here Goddess decided to take bath in the river Kali Ganga. While waiting for Her on nearby hillock Latu felt very thirsty. He went to nearby hamlet and asked women to give him water. Women folk were in a jovial mood and instead of water handed over the pitcher containing local drink to Latu. Unaware of their prank Latu drank the whole content of pitcher and became unconscious. On her return from river, Goddess became very angry with the women and conferred a boon on Latu that he will be worshiped by the inhabitants of the area but no one will be allowed either to enter the sanctum of his temple or see him.Till date the doors of the temple are opened only for one day in a year and then too neither devotees nor even Pujari is allowed to have a glimpse of Devta. The Pujari enters the sanctum blind folded and lights the lamp. Doors of the temple is closed by evening.

This temple is very different from any other temple. There is this massive Devdar tree at the place. It is the only Devdar found in entire region. Rest are centuries old Surai trees.There is another anecdote regarding presence of that single Devdar tree in the area. However I am not talking about that here as I am not able to recollect all the details narrated by the old gentleman, a retired porter, we met at Wan. So, the abode of Latu Devta is said to be inside the a chamber in the trunk of this Devdar tree.People of the area have great faith on Latu Devta. They visit the premises with their troubles and unburden their heart at His threshold and when the wish is fulfilled, the task done, they return to present a bell. Hundreds of bells hanging from poles are the testimony of people’s undying faith on the deity.The place becomes alive with massive crowd of devotees on the days of fair being organized there. People from far off villages come and stay in tents etc. Bhajans, Kirtans are sung in praise of Lord.

We first heard of Latu devta at Gwaldam.One local gentleman advised us that if we intend to go to Wan, we must go to Latu devta temple.During the day we spent at Wan village we heard His name many times from villagers and children.

While we were returning from Bedini, yashwant and Pushkar trekked upto Ran ka Dhar to meet us.In fact they knew we had to leave by evening and they wanted to spend as much time as possible with us.We too were delighted to have more of their company. With these two kids we went to Devta’s temple.Their enthusiastic company suffused enough strength into our tired limbs to trek upto the temple.

As we climbed towards temple we wished we had more time in hands.The Surai trees dotting the hill along the circuitous path leading to temple left us spellbound. Each one had it’s own tale to recount.They appeared so ancient as if they had witnessed all those mythological events unfolding. It is said that these trees have very long life. Don’t know much about their botanical characteristics but can definitely vouch for the enigmatic impact they imprint on your being. They look like wizened saint, lost in deep meditation.Their towering presence make you feel that they are the dwelling places of divine spirits. The secrets, the teachings, the lessons they have in their heart, one need to tune up to understand. Trees to me are one of the most sacred images of God.

 

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Sonorous sounds of faith and devotion.

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Behind us, under the tree is shrine of Latu Devta and these are the kids who brought us to temple. In fact before going to meet us at Ran ka Dhar they came here and kept incense sticks and match box…all set and ready …to be lighted by us when they brought us here. The little one Pushkar insisted that we should pray to Latu Devta for appeasement of our any wish. He had full faith that our wish will be fulfilled and then we would return to offer the bell. The faith, love and affection of kids filled my heart with sublime emotion. Kiddos, you are the harbingers of our hope and faith in all that is pure, innocent and selfless. We shall definitely love to return at least once.

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This one was clicked by Yashwant, the elder kid, on their insistence ofcourse. That triangle like structure is where incense sticks are lighted by devotees.The outstretched arms of Devdar trees….bless us Lord.

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There is a guest house of Garhwal mandal vikas nigam (tourism department) and another of forest department near the temple, on the hill. During Nanda Devi Jat Yatra, this is an important station for devotees.The time we were there the entire premises was very quiet, peaceful….kind of aura when you can feel nearer to God, more intimate to your best self.

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View of Wan village and valley from temple.

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Boys waiting for us to climb down from temple. They rush down speedily, said that going slow tire them.

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‘A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.’ Hermann Hesse

Pictures by Sunder Iyer

 

 

 

On twelfth of june 2016 when we started from Gwaldam guest house towards Dewal road, we did not have any fixed plan. We reached Gwaldam with a plan to trek upto Bedni  but somehow the feedback we received there discouraged us to venture on the route. We Got an impression that the terrain is too challenging for our age. So on the morning we set out to reach the last point accessible by vehicle on that route, that is Wan. We drove with a leisurely pace stopping in between to click pictures, to listen to the rhythm of silence flowing through the forest of tall, stately pines.

And then we reached Wan. At the turn of the road was this tiny shop. We parked our vehicle there and inquired whether we could get a cup of tea . It’s Jamuna dadi’s tea shoppe. Here we met Hira. Hira takes trekkers – individuals and groups on trek tours to Bedni, Roopkund and beyond. Few minutes of conversation with him and he convinced us to embark upon the trek to Bedni. Somehow or other the way he took upon himself the responsibility of making this trek possible for us made us free of all worries. Jamuna dadi too with her enchanting smile encouraged us . Ultimately it was decided that we shall spend the day in the village and then next morning start our trek.

 

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  Jamuna dadi, the shop owner

This stay at Wan was totally unplanned but perhaps such unexpected changes make traveling very fruitful and enriching. The day we spent in the tiny village was truly rewarding, Sitting there in the tea shop in salubrious surrounding of green hills we met many new people and listened to various travel tales. There was this gentleman who once upon a time worked as porter and had accompanied many foreign nationals to uncharted paths, untraveled roads on high hills, through dense forests and deep valleys. Now with tired limbs and weakened joints he roams and works within village limit only but he still looks with longing and fondness towards the high peaks and sharing the tales of his glorious, tough travels make his eyes shine with luminous joy. He remembers with fondness his past adventures and conquests but not being able to do that now had not made him bitter at all. This calm acceptance of  the inevitable  patterns and changes in way of life is very endearing….a life long lesson. The real travel is just not visiting new places but learning new lessons of life, developing a new eye to various facets of life.

 

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                             Panoramic views of Wan

Hira took us for lunch to his home. His home was in front of tea shoppe, across the road on a slightly higher plane. His mother and wife prepared the food.  Fresh hot dal, vegetables and salad from fields, chapati and rice with home made chooran was tasty and we enjoyed it a lot. During entire day we visited other houses too, had tea in different courtyards and learnt a lot about local customs, traditions, festivals, fairs, Gods and Goddesses.

 

bedni_12In conversation with Hira and Yashwant, near the river flowing through the village

 

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out of these three pictures, the first one is the stream of river, whose flow the villagers get diverted to run their indigenous flour mill. Second pic is the outer view of their flour mill ,while the third one is the inside view. such praiseworthy effort on the parts of villagers.

 

bedni_26bedni_7 - Copy - Copy Lady walking towards her field to cut the wheat and in the upper one cutting wheat in the field.

 

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bedni_16 Separating grains from plants. I admired the school, college going girls, who study in nearby bigger places but were at home during summer vacation. They participated equally in  all the agricultural activities.

 

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It was time of harvesting wheat. The women folkfields were busy cutting wheat from fields, separating the grains by beating the dried plants.

Meeting the children and interacting with them was a wonderful experience. Yashwant, Deepak, Pankaj, Yashpal, Pushkar etc were in the age group of nine to fourteen. Few of them studied in schools of some nearby bigger places and were in the village during their summer vacations. Awareness level of the children living in those remote places was amazing, from latest mobile technologies to political scenario of state and country to each and every plant, trees of their area, mythological tales, local rites, rituals each of them was very well versed in all these subjects. Very sweet, affectionate kids were they.

 

bedni_20                   enjoying tea and gossiping with women

 

bedni_21                              children in their courtyard

 

bedni_27 Pankaj holds in his hands a plant , he plucked from road side. Children told us that a very tasty curry is made from this plant. They described the entire procedure of cleaning the plant and cooking it.

 

bedni_24             Walking towards Ghanti Dhar with children

They showed us their fields in the valley, introduced us to various plants and their utilities. Narrated the tales and facts heard from their grand parents about centuries old Surai trees and  by their description made alive  the crimson clad valley in the season of Buransh blossoming. Excitedly they invited us to revisit their village at that time. Those lovely smiling faces as if reflected radiant Buransh.

While returning from Ghanti dhar we were caught unaware by a sudden spurt of lashing rain. No cover was available. we had not taken our umbrellas with us, children were not worried about themselves but were concerned that we had to start our trek early morning and we didn’t have any change of clothes with us. A little ahead on the side of road we found a bent, hollow tree under which we tried to get shelter. We tried calling the driver of our cab to come and take us but that too did not work as no BSNL coverage and connectivity is available in Wan and nearby areas and we both and our cabby Prem all three of us had BSNL numbers only. With luck we saw two people coming towards us, Kids asked them whether they had a mobile and then they called their mother to send our driver to pick up all of us. Finally huddling together inside the cab we reached the village, where jamuna dadi was ready with black hot tea to greet us. The entire episode was so fun filled. It revived our childhood spirit and enthusiasm. True, the joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, changing horizons. The simple joys are the most nurturing ones.

We spent the night in a small, low ceiling neat room with mud walls, whose door opened to green high  hill beyond the valley. The bed sheet, quilts and blankets were clean and we had a undisturbed sound sleep. Kaloo, the black, bulky dog sat on rooftop entire night as if on guard.

 

bedni_15At the door of the room we stayed for night

 

bedni_18                              The inside view of room

 

Next morning we left the place with Hira on our trek to Bedni but we did not leave Wan. We brought it with us. It became a part of us and simultaneously we left something of us there behind. We returned back to our daily city routine but the journey never ended. It keeps rewinding again and again within the deepest and quietest chambers deep down inside us.

 

bedni_22                             An overview of Wan village road

 

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All the pictures by Sunder Iyer.

Details of Our guide–

Hira Singh Bisht Garhwali

Village — Wan, Dewal. Chamoli, Garhwal, Uttarakhand.

Phone number — 09756480219[ whats app available on this number], 07895165848.