Art & Culture, Mountains

on mountain abodes

Aru, Pahalgam, Kashmir, India

there’s warmth in mountain abodes that goes beyond the sun or fire… that’s by far the biggest pull, as myriad dispositions start to stoop in, curl up into wool or a strand of thought, let out a meditative sigh… some knackered, some refreshed, some knotted, some reminiscent… mountain abodes exude feelings of comfort, companionship and connection… while the elements seem to be brooding most of the time, and courting beautiful landscapes becomes fraught with danger – flowing water moody and white water just plain dismissive – trees laced with cold dew and the woods resplendent with weird sounds – enclosure brings empathy for the outdoors, and the cold melts away…

vernacular architecture or its more informal forms in the Western Himalaya, especially the rural areas, tend to venture towards humility, taking great pains to not seem too pompous to the mountain… and wherever they do indulge in opulence upon hilltops or in valleys – temples, forts, palaces – deities revering the elements are firmly established at their core… the forces in mountains are fickle to say the least, and the inhabitants tread with utmost caution, lest they accidentally upset the apple cart…

back the abodes then, first there are the scratchy ones, pieces of wood, metal, hay or whatever is hand put together tardily but just enough to weather the toughest of storms… they occupy the fringes of settlements or punctuate the outback, and when improvised, are rather telling in their ingenuity, a case of utility over form…

then there are the ones steeped in heritage… kath kuni and koti banal that take pleasure in aesthetics… other plainer forms that prefer functionality over elegance – goth, kothari, chakh, majhala – an amalgamation of man, animal, stone, wood and mud – a constriction of cellular space for thermal and structural dexterity… ‘tis rather ironic, to be huddled up in a claustrophobic space in the backdrop of wide expanses… looking at older structures, one assumes those were the times of idyll… subsistence required physical efforts but offered more time for leisure, translated into tales etched onto doors and windows…

but times move on and wood is made scarce, stones would rather be powdered than congregated, mud and dung are beneath the benchmarks of a developing economy… the notion of vernacular is more romantic in the modern construct, a belief to be documented rather than practiced… yet it holds on, the vernacular, to the coat tails of subsistence agriculture and its custodians… fending off the modern as it creeps up in the form of renovations and repairs, slapped and painted to create a rather comic, or bohemian, façade at times…

in a cluster, huddled together, old and new, bright colours sneering at caked mud, the settlements seem complete, a melange in transition, at either ends of the economic spectrum, wood remains highly coveted, cement seeps into the median and brings along paint and distemper… ‘tis an exercise in rumination… watching Eisenhower’s train of future chugging along the tracks of history…

 

musings on vernacular architecture of Western Himalaya…

Author: Parth Joshi

Allured by the outdoors, the author is made up in parts of that quintessential lost soul wreathing under the pangs of biophilia in a desk job, a wannabe elegist mostly ending up in dungeons of poetasters and an optimist waiting for the senility of the modern world to fade away while sampling shoots and leaves. In saner times, he has a keen interest in areas pertaining to tourism, history, agriculture and climate change, especially with respect to historical interpretations, emerging technologies and future livelihoods. An avid trekker, runner, cyclist, birder and photographer, he is more often than not found gloating over anything hinterland, on foot or over computer monitors, and fantasizing solutions that can foster inclusive growth and sustainable livelihoods for communities at the grassroots.

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