Pahadi’s are the people of the mountains. And they are clueless about urban measures of distance and time. That is universal whether it is Kashmir or Himachal or Uttarakhand. If you’ve ever hiked through mountains, you know how useless it is to ask a pahadi about distance or travel time. The typical conversation goes like this.
“How far is Sagnam village from here?”
“Oh not far.”
“I mean how many kilometres?”
Pat comes the confident reply “Oh, less than one kilometre.”
You dig out your map, do some math and know that cannot be true. You try another tack.
“Okay so how long will it take to walk to Sagnam from here.”
“It’s just a 10 minute walk.”
“We’ll reach Sagnam in 10 minutes?” You ask, sceptical but full of hope. Maybe you got your math wrong. That 20 kg pack has been feeling like 40.
“Yes yes, 10 minutes.” He repeats with authority. “It’s just past that little hill” he points to a mountain in the far distance.
So you continue your trek. After half an hour of walking that “little hill” seems as far as it was before. You stubbornly continue and after an hour of trudging you come across another pahadi. You eagerly ask him “How far is Sagnam from here?”
“Oh, not far” he says “Just 10 minutes.”
And so it goes.
In our neck of the woods this vagueness had been institutionalized and put into stone. Literally. If you drive from Mukteshwar through the IVRI forest reserve you will cross a milestone which will say “Sitla 0”. A hundred yards later there is a second milestone which says “Sitla 0”. That much I can still understand. But then you drive down a good half Kilometre. The Village of Sitla has been left behind, and you are now in the Village of Satkhol, and you come across a third milestone. And guess what it says?
These photographs are testament. And then the other day I went to Mukteshwar. This time I decided to measure the distance between the two milestones. Both say Mukteshwar Zero. They are exactly 1 km apart.
Welcome to the mountains.