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Price of water in mountains




I had first written this post almost a year back which got lost and thought of reblogging the same based on my memory of that night.  We had put up in the government guest house in Dhanaulti, Uttarakhand in the foothills of Himalayas, tucked between big pine trees at 7000 feet and temperatures close to 2 degrees. It had started raining suddenly before dinner and we were the only two tourists in that hotel which worked to add up to about nine tourists in total who were staying that night in a small town of Dhanaulti. While having dinner, we wanted to go for the standard bottled water (without trusting the water purifier system). Two very friendly service boys were standing eagerly to take our commands. There was only one small shop in front of us which was open in that dark, cold, wet night (although it was just 7:30 pm). We asked him to get us a bottle of water and wondered how much would be the price.


In multiple big hotels, the wooden attic flooring and Air Conditioned rooms on high floors have often commanded about 75 to 150 INR for a bottle of standard mineral water whose market price was 20 INR. It has always pained me to pay that much for bottled water, but have often done so. That night, however, was different. I could even go up to 500 INR for that bottle of water in that already eerie and worrying night on that mountain top with constructions of flash floods booming within my imaginative brain. 

After some thought, I gave the boy a 50 INR note (bill) and asked him to get a water bottle pointing at the shop. As it was raining a lot, he took an umbrella and ran out. After a while, he returned back with 2 bottles of water, completely drenched. It was a relief and also a source of wonder for me. The comfort of seeing two bottles within 50 INR was so great that I did not want to think about the remaining 10 INR (20x2=40? plus a 10 tip OR 25x2=50?.. hmm). I would have wanted to tip the boy 10 INR anyway was what my brain started to construct. My counterfactuals reduced for a while allowing me to focus on the hot roti (bread) and rice. 


It was still a marvel of how the price was almost close to the market price in shops around us. All supplies had to be brought up to this small town using a narrow road that was seriously broken in the monsoon. I would have been okay to transact at 200 INR a bottle at a place where everything was so difficult (according to me).

There were so many different prices for the bottle that night.  There was a market retail price for towns, tourist towns, hill towns, malls, hotels (2 star, 3 star, 5 star). There was also a psychological price that each of us had in different contexts. The price for me, on that day, was strange. Although I was more worried about the upcoming night and rains and I wanted that precious bottle of mineral water beside me while I would sleep, I still quoted a lower price (50 INR) than what i would do in a more comfortable AC room of an upscale hotel (75 INR). It doesn't make sense to me even today, after a year why that should be the case. Is it elitism, feudalism, internal reference prices? If that shop would not have water that day, would I then start to go higher upwards to 500. Maybe?
After coming back to the room, I stared at the clouds all around me with strong winds and huge movements of the pines. 

The next day morning, God and the weather was very kind. Seeing the sun come out was a great sight and relaxation. I decided to visit that small shop before returning back. With a goal of striking a conversation with the shopkeeper, I entered the shop to buy another bottle of water and a pack of biscuits. I decided to just pick the biscuits though.  Again, my mind was shouting at me with some expectation of how much would a packet of biscuits cost in that town. I knew that the MRP is 10 INR. The shopkeeper did not seem to be interested in me and did not even bother to look at me. He was happy playing a game on his mobile phone. I asked, "How much for these biscuits?". "Ten!" - a reply suggesting why was I asking it. Maybe he was puzzled as it seemed from my clothes and a cab that I could read numbers.  I turned back and saw a reminder saying water at that town is a scarce resource and we should not waste it.  I returned, albeit a bit embarrassed.  

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