Darkness descended upon us from all sides just as all of us were safely tucked-in in the cave. Actually, I don’t know if it was safe. Why? Well, there was this humongous rock outcropping on the top of a hill that looked like a finger of a giant had burst out of the Earth. It was absolutely perpendicular to the ground and the cave was only a narrow slit in the finger, like a knife cut that didn’t go even half the width of the finger. But as we sat there looking down at the shimmering lights from the village I felt like an entity whose abode was higher than the stars and who spent her time looking at the stars below her. Meanwhile everyone unpacked the bags and gathered all the food supplies and vessels for cooking. Oh, and I forgot to tell you. This place was such that there were all kinds of bronze vessels of all kinds of sizes already available. Nope, not a shop. Nope, not a store either. They just lay empty and clean at the bottom of the water tank at the back of the cave. I got a shock when I first saw them. I took a flashlight and went to fill water in the bottles to commence the cooking. I shone the light into the water to check the depth of it, and instead had cluttered bronze vessels winking back at me. I almost dropped the flashlight into the water out of sheer astonishment. Still in a stupor, I stumbled back to my parents to report my discovery. While my father’s eyes started twinkling with humor, my mother just laughed out loud. Apparently, the bronze vessels had been there ever since anyone could remember. The temples of India had certain norms and one of them was providing for hungry wayfarers and tired travelers. Though it was in the middle of the mountain and was known for its extreme fatalities, it was first and foremost a temple. So, over the years people came and deposited vessels which accumulated and came to be used by the people who came there.
The god was also a warrior god, so I guess he was non-vegetarian and stuff, because many people sacrificed chicken to the god. There was never any scarcity of oil and matches because every group of trekkers replenished them when they came- as an offering to the god as well as to reduce the number of things they had to carry back. Selfish or not, I’m sure every batch of people got loads of blessings for helping unknown people, you know. Anyhow, I leaned down on the edge of the tank and plunged my hand into the water. I removed the pot-bellied bronze pot from the bottom. In Marathi, it is called lota. So filling the lota with water, we proceeded with the cooking. Trekker uncle and me, we both proceeded to find firewood and matches to start a fire while my dad made the kiln or chul. A chul is made by placing three rocks or bricks high enough to insert sticks below and close enough to keep vessels on them. Uncle and me went to the further parts of the cave and found many pieces of wood and paper. And Bingo! We found a fallen bottle of rockel i.e. gasoline! Gasoline is one of the best things you can find if you want to start a fire; it’s the best instigator and an excellent flammable. It smells horrible though. I made that mistake and immediately fell back retching. Anyway, we were all busy for a while. Mom was cutting vegetables to make pulav i.e. vegetable rice. My sister and the other uncle were cleaning the vessels to cook in. My dad made the chul with the wood rockel we had brought while uncle and me poured milk and other ingredients in a utensil to make some tea. We sat down quietly near the crackling fire when we heard sounds below us. My dad got up and peeked down. Indeed, we were going to have company soon. Guests, if you considered that we arrived first. So we added some more milk and water to the utensil and cleaned some more glasses. A group of two men and four boys arrived soon and all the men struck up a conversation while the tea was passed around. In return, they shared their extra rice with us which saved us some cooking.
Since the cooking could be postponed to later we sat in a circle, made two teams and started playing Antakshari. Of course, gradually the Antakshari turned to all of us singing old Hindi songs supplementing the other team. In the end there was no team left, just the group of us singing songs with one voice that the wind carried down to the valley.