The priest in charge of the temple then surprised us all.
‘Firstly I must tell you that we had no idea about any curative powers from hands on contact from the wood. That must surely surprise you all, but we were more than surprised ourselves to hear your claim. Clearly it seems to have worked for you or else you wouldn’t be here, we are delighted of course about what must seem to be a miraculous cure. This is something we will have to look at very closely; we will speak about it later. I will tell you now all I know about the wood.
‘Nobody knows the origin of the tree that produces this wood, we do know that this plateau has been inhabited for centuries and that the lifestyle of the people has apparently changed very little over the years, It would seem that good health and long life has always blessed this particular spot. It was a long time before we realised that our special tree had some amazing properties, and that this tree was possibly some way responsibly for our blessing.
‘We have people here who are experts with wood---we have quite a few different trees. The carvings which we release are never done from our special tree, although it would take an expert to tell the difference. We use our special tree for many things, they are pruned regularly for growth and shape, they shed leaves continuously and also shed bark. They provide heavy crops of nuts which are delicious to eat. The wood is extremely hard and excellent for our personal carvings and also for our wood-burning cooking---it being very slow burning and producing high temperatures. All products of the trees that are not used by us are composted, so all the leaves-bark-uneaten nuts and any prunings go back to the ground where our crops are grown. We know then that we eat the nuts, get goodness from the composted material which grows our cereals and spices, and also inhale the smoke from the wood fires. This is how we think we derive our goodness from the special tree.
‘Our tree growth is very sustained, we are constantly growing from seed and also growing from cuttings. This is a precious commodity we do not intend to lose.
‘This may answer a question which I have no doubt you will be waiting to ask; it seems the tree will not grow anywhere else but our plateau. We have tried in many areas both lowland and other plateaus without any success, nor do we know why; maybe it’s the altitude, maybe the climate, maybe some special quality of our soil or maybe a combination of all the things, we just do not know.
‘We never considered handling or proximity of the wood to be relevant; but clearly we will now have to look at that possibility because of the following reasons; all our dwellings have at least one artefact of a Hindu God in them. Hindu dwellings all have a shrine in some corner of our homes which is very special to them, and all have a selected God out of the many we worship, that is special to them. These artefacts are all carved out of our special wood. So that is a proximity possibility. All our children, like any other children, climb trees, we do not stop them. Many people handle the wood---during pruning or felling or transporting, Could it be that this wood has more potency than we realised?’
Toby interrupted at this point, ‘It most certainly seems to have been handling that was the catalyst in our cases---we did find out that the cane seemed to have some amazing potency which would be transferred to the skin on handling. If there is any proximity effect, that would mean that the wood must have an ability to radiate in some way---we are not aware of that, but being aware of what you have just told us, I would not be surprised at anything, it all seems incredible.’
Ruth who had been taking everything in with a slightly opened mouth then asked, ‘Do you get visitors here and if so how do you deal with them?’
‘People do arrive from time to time. We welcome them, and we feed and water them and indeed show them around. We do not, though, mention anything about our special tree. Usually after a short time they are ready to move on; I think our lifestyle and lack of any modern communication does not appeal to people who have lived in the outside world. Nobody but you three has ever arrived here knowing anything about our history, nor do we ever discuss it with anyone. When you arrived here you will not have been aware that you were guided by seven different groups of guides. Only the first group knew the start point; only the last group knew the arrival point. None of the groups in-between knew the starting point of the group before, or the final destination. When we send our carvings or crops out from the plateau, we have no idea how far down the line they go before branching off---we trust the people who handle our transactions, and always feel we have done very well when our traded goods arrive back here.’
‘What do you get brought in then?’ asked Toby. ‘I thought you were self-sufficient,’
‘We could be totally self-sufficient if we chose, but some things do make our lives a little easier. Certain tools for working the trees and crops, for instance, certain tools to help maintain our very high carving skills, certain utensils to make our cooking and baking a little more modern. Also we have many recreation activities, and we often request sporting things. We have a small bore shooting range that is very popular, and also archery and bowling attract a good following. All the things we request are on an exchange basis---we never use money and we always feel we are fairly treated. We sometimes have to be patient though---things don’t happen immediately.’
Ruth had another question. ‘You mentioned using bark for composting; do you mean the tree sheds its bark?’
‘Yes indeed, our special trees sheds its bark nearly continually---quite unusual I think. I only know of one other tree that does this and that is a Eucalyptus tree; the new bark forms under the old bark then the old bark drops off. The Eucalyptus tree doesn’t have nuts though, does it?’
I remembered at this point a gardener once saying to me, ‘If you only have one tree in your garden make sure it’s a Eucalyptus tree.’ I never did find out the significance of what he said. Could this tree be from the same family? I wondered. The eucalyptus tree is hard wood---it sheds its bark---it is evergreen but continually sheds and grows new foliage; it is also known for its medical qualities. A lot of similarities there: But then the experts could not identify the wood that the cane was made from.
‘Do you have any diseases here of any kind? What is a normal life span?’ This was Toby coming back in with a question I knew he was going to raise at some point.
‘We are aware of many medical problems in the outside world, and we do not suffer from them. Indeed, malaria, which is rife in India, is not known here. Snake bites and spider bites can be a nuisance---but are a minor irritant and never serious. Only skilled adults use instruments that could cause injury. We only have minor accidents that we can deal with. With respect to age, 120 is certainly not unusual. I have to say though that it is not the length of life for a Hindu, but the quality of life that is most important.’
We spent a good two hours talking with the priest in the temple and left with more questions buzzing round in our minds than we had at the start. We soon realised though that everything there was to know had been told to us. It was up to us now to go over all the facts and come up with an answer. We spent another few days being guided around this delightful place with its equally delightful people, some of the time with the head priest. In conclusion we decided that without a doubt the special tree had certainly qualities that seemed to be responsible for protection against illness and also because of this had the effect of extending the life span. We had no doubt about the hands-on potency of the cane, and the effect it had on Toby and Ruth---and to a lesser degree on me. Had the fact that this cane been stored for over a hundred years increased its potency or decreased it? Could it have gone on working on other people?
The priest didn’t think so; it was his opinion that the potency would decrease with use. However we didn’t know, nor were we going to find out.
On the day of our departure the priest gave each of us a small artefact carved beautifully out of the special wood. He told us that we would be the only people to his knowledge that would have anything like it away from the plateau. He then surprised us by waving the cane over his head and saying, ‘Don’t leave without this.’
We all looked in astonishment. What could he be thinking? He then broke into a broad smile. ‘I had this made by our head carver. It is identical in every way to the cane you returned; only we here know the difference. I know you will remember us when you look at it.’
Yes, there were a few tears when we left the plateau, but our descent to the valley and subsequent journey of stages back to civilisation soon made the plateau seem a long way away. We spent another couple of days with Mohan which we thoroughly enjoyed---he never mentioned anything about our trip and we in turn never mentioned it to him, there were times, though, when I found myself back in that idyllic place, and glancing at Ruth and Toby from time to time I suspected that their minds were drifting too.
We had an uneventful trip back to England; Ruth had been on the internet to her husband and arranged our pick up at the airport before we left, so we just relaxed and enjoyed some nice meals and some nice wine---yes, it is quite good in first-class.
Will we ever return to India? I don’t know---I do know, though, that we will never attempt to find the plateau again. Those folks clearly need to be left alone in their own little Shangri-la.
By the way, Toby never goes anywhere without his stick, and it causes quite a stir wherever he goes. He tells people that it has special powers---maybe it does?