Always mix business with pleasure. Travelling between Kullu where the womens self help group unit is located and Manali where I’m staying is a beautiful half an hour ride along the frothy milky Beas river and a pleasure ride, with open views of the broad valley and panoramic views of the snow capped Dhauladhar range. I’ve got some chill techno grooves on repeat (composed and compiled by my blue-eyed boy Ashwin) and plans for a night out with friends after we get done with the day. Oh yeah! Life’s good up here!

We. The Women Winter in the mountains is pure magic. The crisp cold air, sunshine and clear blue day skies make up for icy evenings, lack of heating in our lodge and brrrr…damp bedding :/ (after a night of shivers..moved to this charming lodge: the Casa Bella Vista run by a Spanish couple) Carpe Diem: I come across a coffee table book on absurdly mindblowing astral photography. Before I know it I've tracked Rahul Sud the photographer down and arranged an impromptu photoshoot with the SHG ladies. We gather our paraphernalia and get started for the photoshoot while making this into an outing and a picnic of sorts. The Naggar castle is built in local Kullu architecture.  Slate stone slats and wood carved pillars. The afternoon light is a glorious soft yellow, casting surreal shadows and picking up on the strong bright colours typical of the ladies’ traditional local garb.

Girl Rising I'd talked a bit about SHGs in an earlier blog; here I am with one of the groups. They’ve taken me out to a birthday lunch treat and I get a prezzie of Moravian hand knitted woolen socks (more on these socks later) and a locally woven wool shawl yayyy  its evident the impact of change at an individual and social level SHGs bring about. The confidence the ladies gain from financial independence and managing  their own accounts is just amazing. The ladies are generally a group of some 10-12 neighbours and friends who meet regularly to work and support each other on a financial, social and personal basis. For many this is truly the first step towards gender equality and empowerment. I cannot describe the joy in my heart when I see firsthand the trickle effect in their attitudes towards social mores and norms, men, society and their place in it all. Their confidence and self assurance, however small in measure is what makes me feel my travails, trials and tribulations are all worth the effort after all. 

Sight. See. Sacrifices. Its been all work and all play too but really Ive had no time to sightsee. So we wake up and decide to do ‘darshan’ at the Hadimba temple, a 16th century temple just a short walk away from the Johnsons Retreat Lodge where I’ve moved to for some heating and TLC :) Animal sacrifices are a tradition in the Kullu Manali area and part of folklore. Festivals are marked with blood offerings of an animal and the skulls and bones hung up on the temple walls are an eerie reminder of ancient rites and rituals that continue to this day.

So I’m invited to an impromptu cuppa to a local friends cute doll house kinda lodge in Naggar. Makes me want a wee little doll house of my own up here in the mountains. One day soon… :) Moravian Socks! Warm as toast in front of a locally designed eco friendly "bukhari" fireplace. Those are cedar wood logs. And those are the woollen Moravian socks I was talking about with the quaint pointy toe gussets. Super warming! Women groups photos taken by Rahul Sud. Temple and other photos taken by Kavita Khosa. Portrait photos taken by Iktara

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