It was a bright and chilly morning. Three of usómy friends and Ióstarted our journey in a Maruti 800 from Kashipur in the Terai belt at the foothills of Nainital. We were on our way to Chaudas Valley to participate in the Kang-Dali festival of the Shauka tribe.
We started at 3.30 a.m. for Dharchula and reached there by 7 p.m. The journey was through picturesque mountains and valleys via soni, Ranikhet, Gagas, Kausani, Bageshwar and Chaukori. Next morning we passed the majestic ice-clad peaks at Tawaghat on our way to our next halt at Pangu. Just before Pangu village we had a punctured tyre. The nearest tyre repair place was 35 km behind us. We requested a jeep going back to take our punctured tyre, get it repaired and leave it at Pangu for us. It may sound unbelievable but we received our repaired tyre at Pangu on our way back. It was kept hanging on a tree, guarded by a few children! This incident and the extremely warm welcome we encountered all the way restored our faith in humanity.
The Shaukas are a very handsome people. They inhabit the Chaudas, Vyas and Darma valley in Pithoragarh district of Kumaon region. These tribals had a flourishing trade with Tibet in the early days but after Chinese occupation of Tibet the trade dwindled. The tribe was given the status of a scheduled tribe and 2 per cent reservation by the Indian government in 1967.
According to folk lore, a widow of Chaudas valley had a son who was infected with a terrible boil on his leg. She applied on the boil a traditional cureóa paste of the root of a local shrub called Kang-Dali. The boil deteriorated and poison spread over the patientís body resulting in his death. The bereaved mother cast a curse on the shrub saying that when it is in full bloom the women of the tribe will destroy it once in every 12 years. Since then a victory dance is performed every 12 years after destruction of this shrub.
The festivities start in the morning. The beautiful tribal women deck up in colourful dresses and adorn themselves with jewellery. They can be seen looking out of the exquisitely carved windows of their homes as though framed in a picture. The men folk attired in white and carrying a sword in one hand and a shield in the other come out in the streets. They are joined by the women and in a disciplined row start advancing to the rhythmic beat of local drums. In the field they form a circle and dance in abundance. Meanwhile some of the others are engaged in destroying the Kang-Deli shrub.
Unfortunately, the sky became overcast and there was a heavy downpour. The dancers headed back to the village. But inspite of the cold the people continued dancing in the streets and accepting prasad from the villagers. As feast of mutton and rice culminated the ceremony.
We started our return journey the next morning. We carried back memories of the limitless hospitality of a pure and simple people.