As someone who belongs to the mountains, it is my moral imperative to be showing up in the hills at frequent intervals. So much so that as I write this, I am packing my bags for a family vacation spanning 5 days to Kannatal and New Tehri in Garhwal Himalayas. But a quick tete-a-tete with my father a few days back had me know about a bunch of beautiful traditions that marks manifestation of eternal bliss in the mountains of Almora. The itch got better of me and here I am writing this post when I have much more important things to do, considering my trip that starts tomorrow.
It is gratifying to know the quality of life lead by the villagers keeping cultural heritage so intact and that they don’t have to depend on the Calendar festivals to celebrate life and all the good things that come with it. It is even more heartening to acknowledge how they welcome the people in and around them to share in their happiness. Here are 5 such customs/habits of Almora you would love reading about.
A sweet homecoming
This custom is called ‘gharon’. Whenever a child is born to a family, the birth is celebrated by sharing the joy with fellow villagers, marked by the distribution of sweets and other festivities. Owing to excessive migration, the tradition was on the verge of getting over before it was held by some incredible souls who resolved to protect this. Now whenever a generation (who has never been to their native village), visit their home, it is considered a new birth in itself and the same old tradition of distributing sweets with the neighboring villages is lived again. How amazing is that?
Also known as ‘phoolwari’, this regional festival is celebrated on the first day of the month of Chaitra, March, around which time the valleys of Almora flourish with immense flora and flowers bloomming at their best. This is an annual spring festival where children perform most of the rituals and you would not find this is any calendar. Little girls are made to bring flowers from the forests which are then offered to the God. The girls who bring the flowers are called ‘fulari’ and are considered religiously pious. The devoted flowers are meticulously placed in every corner of the home and a sweet offering (prasad) of jaggery and rice is made.
The children run in troops around the village to shower over the warmth and delight of this tradition; sing aloud in a chorus and offer flowers & prasad to each and everyone who they find on the way. They also get little presents from the villagers in return. It is a custom that aims at thanking the Mother Nature and God for bestowing the world with immense beauty, life, and good health. Such a beautiful thing to even think of!
Cows and other forms of cattle in Almora are considered sacred and are worshipped like God. The delivery of a baby calf is an equally pious occasion for any family. Over years, it has been revered as a sign of growth, sustainability, and self-reliance for a family or a village. The first extract of cow’s milk post delivery is, hence, considered extremely nourishing and is distributed to children and all over the village, so it ensures their good health & well being. This custom is called ‘Bigoth’ and is no less than a festival where an expectant cow is adored & taken care of, as an indispensable part of the family.
If you belong to Almora, you would know what ‘Shishonne’ of ‘Bicchu booti’ is and you’d equally be scared at the prospect of you touching it, by chance! 😀 Shishonne is a plant that grows wildly in Almora. In old times, it was used by school teachers to get hold of the mischievous student, courtesy its painfully irritating sensation on being rubbed against the skin. I am sure it is not one happy thing to know about but is definitely one to laugh at. 😀 Not sure if the teachers still use it.
An unfastened life
What if told you that people in Almora generally do not resort to locking their homes when outside. Surprised? Families in Almora, especially those up at the cliff and far off from the town don’t have a tendency to lock doors owing to a popular custom & belief. If there happens to be a theft in a home, the owner goes onto the topmost house of the village and hurls curses to the one who may have done it. The villagers have a firm belief about the curse really being cast on them and hence refrain from indulging in such acts, which might result in a lot of troubles given to them by God. So the cases of theft are negligible and hence there is no need to lock up homes. 😀 One good way of putting thieves at bay!
The periodical fairs and festivals like Nanda Devi Mela in September, Uttraini in January and Jageshwar Monsoon Festival are some of the very famous festivals which are celebrated with extreme fervor and love. The energy and zeal of the people speak for itself and is something so admirable. The cultural richness of Almora is a matter of pride for everyone who belongs there. The surreal atmosphere emitting positivity; happy faces of people and their welcoming nature has only added to the vivacity of its tradition and reliance.