We spent three days being shown around this amazing plateau. It was much larger than we envisaged, and we didn’t see all of it by any means; we did however get a good insight into the way this community operated.
Firstly there were lots of trees. Small groups of families lived among clearings in the trees, but these families did not live on top of one another; there were considerable gaps between groups---similar I suppose to our small hamlets in England. Leaving the living areas we found however that there were large agricultural tracts. The produce grown was all for local consumption and included many types of grains--vegetables--fruits--nuts--and every conceivable kind of spices.
There was a quite large lake towards the centre of the plateau which was fed by streams from the distant hills (which looked much nearer than they actually were). The lake was well stocked with fish, and it was also used for recreation purposes, it being about a mile across at its widest. The outlet from the lake produced a waterfall which cascaded towards the valley a long way below. There was an irrigation system in operation to maintain the crops but even so there was enough water leaving the plateau to maintain a constant fall; it must have looked superb from below.
There was a different reservoir fed from the incoming water which was used for drinking water. We sampled the local fish for one meal: it was white and tasted similar to cod or haddock---very tasty for fresh water fish.
We were told that climate was very temperate here; being at considerable altitude this area was not subject to the intense monsoon period of the lowland areas, nor was it subject to the extremes in temperature; it seems that the average temperature is about 75 degrees all year round, and if they do experience a long dry spell, they of course have their irrigation system in place to water the crops. Everything seems to run pretty smoothly.
Now to livestock; some Hindus are vegetarians but this varies widely dependent on area and type of Hindu. Food eaten by Hindus can vary according to the many festivals they celebrate and also time of year. I cannot tell you what kind of Hindu these folk are but I can tell you what livestock they farm. As far as we could determine all livestock was for local consumption, this included lots of sheep and goats, we did see a small number of pigs which was quite surprising, we did find out on enquiring that some Hindus do eat Pork, but this is quite rare. They did use dairy products: plenty of milk, and a substance much like butter as well as yogurts. Although we did see some cows, we suspect the dairy products were from the sheep or goats. All cooking was done with vegetable oils, a product of their own fields.
You may remember our first meal of bacon, egg and tomato---well I can now tell you that the bacon was actually chicken. They slice chicken breast and then add some spices to it whilst curing; this produces rashers that are indistinguishable from bacon. Tomato and eggs are part of their normal diet. There were birds other than chicken, not to mention an incredible variety of wild birds.
Although these people have no modern aides to help with work (they still use buffaloes for working the fields and carrying heavy loads), they are a very contented and happy people: they have many kinds of recreation both on land and water, they make music and love singing. This indeed seems to be an ideal communal lifestyle where everyone seems to be happy doing their thing---and in a superb climate.
Okay, I will now get back to our meeting with the priest on the morning after our arrival. Although Hindu priests have an official mode of address similar I suppose to our Vicar, Rector, Cannon, Dean etc I cannot divulge this because it tends to indicate location, likewise Hindu temples have a name which tends to identify the area of the temple---so it will just be Priest and Temple. We arrived at the temple after a good night’s sleep and a light breakfast. The priest was waiting for us along with a couple of other guys who were introduced as his assistants. The only thing they were interested in at this stage was seeing the cane, and we wasted no time in producing it for their perusal.
I cannot describe the look on their faces; they knew instantly that this was their missing artefact; of the provenance of the cane there was now no doubt. It was handled with the greatest reverence (I wondered if we had handled it with the care it obviously deserves). We were taken into a back room of the temple, and a covering was carefully removed from a tall object---underneath the cover were two canes identical to the one in the priest's hands. The canes were stood vertically side by side and it was clear to see the empty circle on the base where our cane had been removed from many years before. It was a most moving experience. The priest then spoke to us.
‘Our temple is now complete again after all these years, our prayers have at last been answered, and I am a happy man today. Thank you my friends for returning our artefact.’
‘Why is it so important?’ Toby asked, ‘and what is significant about having three canes?’
‘These three carvings represent our three most sacred animals The Elephant, Cow and Snake. Although we have other special animals in our religion these are the three most important. They were carved by our most eminent carver 110 years ago, and the three canes are a representation of our beliefs---similar I suppose to the Christian trinity. This will surprise you all now, but I can remember them being carved and indeed remember the time one of them was stolen from us.’
That statement meant that the priest had to be at least one hundred and twenty years old. Although this age is not impossible, he didn’t look anything like as old, I was sure he was a truthful man, and remembering back to what I had heard, I was not about to question his claim, nor it seemed were Ruth or Toby.
Ruth who had been strangely quiet now broke the silence ‘I know I speak for all three of us when I say we share in your delight, and we now know that Toby’s desire to come to India was the right thing to do. We are so glad we came and helped to put an end to your interregnum, which had gone on for far too long. What a very strange tale this has all been, there is surely material for a book here,’ Ruth added with a grin.
‘I cannot stop you writing anything about this, I do realise how interesting it will be, but if you do put it to paper please be very discreet. You will soon realise when you have looked around our plateau why we desire to be left in peace.’
We assured the priest that if we did put anything to paper we would indeed be very discreet and not give anything away that would identify his land that was not already known.
Toby now posed the question that we were each waiting to hear an explanation about.
‘Are you able to tell us about the apparent qualities and curative powers of the wood the cane is made from? I must be honest and tell you if we hadn’t been made aware of these apparent qualities, you would most probably never have been made aware of the existence of the cane. In short you would have been deprived of it forever…’