|Majnu of the Hills|
Sunday, May 15, 2011
So, I am back. From the beautiful mountains, lush valleys, green plains, some moments of blissful solitude and loads of screaming family fun. And I am missing it all already.
Our final stop before returning to the hustle and bustle of the city was Ranikhet. We arrived after eight in the evening and the town was already enshrouded in darkness. Being an army cantonment, it shuts down early. It was raining and very cold when we entered the town. We found the right hotel on the outskirts of the town – West End View. Though it was night and wet, the charming cottages and the distinctly British Raj decor (a parlour, a dressing room and fire place to the boot along with the staple bedroom, wallpapered with pretty floral patterns) made sure that we could not go anywhere else. And when the morning dawned, the beauty of the surrounding landscape, the rolling forests, the cool breeze and the warm sun made us doubly glad of our decision to stay here.
And why not? It all started with a big family function at Agra. And my entire family was there! Now that takes some doing if you have a family as large as mine. Assorted cousins, uncles, aunts in all shapes and sizes – from Delhi to Mumbai to Chennai. There were day long addas, leg-pulling and an entire night of dancing.
The big family reunion ended with a party for my parents on their anniversary. They have spent more than three decades together. Gosh. My sister and I had wanted a party at the hotel but we realized that booking a restaurant at such short notice for such a large group would have been a task. So, my aunts pitched in and cooked an awesome dinner. Everyone gathered at my oldest uncle’s home and had a blast. The highlight of the evening: a complete family picture, that the kids engineered. Well, almost.
We set off next morning for Jim Corbett National Park. We hired a car and went by road. It was hot as long as we were in the plains but as we started climbing up and the twilight approached, my spirits soared. The lovely greenery flanking both sides of the road, the gathering dusk and day-dreams. I could not have asked for more. The resort – Wood Castle – an uncle of mine had booked for us was lovely and next morning when we embarked on the safari, it was raining softly. It was quiet and serene. We did not spot any tigers but there were other compensations. The single bright blue kingfisher sitting still as a statue on a tree branch, the river crossing in an open jeep (a first for me) and the playful deer herds, including quite a few Bambi lookalikes.
Next on the agenda were the glorious mountains. The destinations were as much of an allure as the winding roads, looping around majestic heights. The clouds hovering just above our heads and occasionally lowering themselves enough so that we could touch them. The deep, still and rippling Naini lake like a silken sheet of turquoise, the crimson glory of a mountain sunset.
One of my favourite moments was when we walked around Mukhteshwar. It is 7500 feet high and there is just a wooden trail which you can take to walk around. Halfway through the walk, you come to a cliff, topped by huge stones who seem to have been there since time immemorial. There is a sheer drop beyond and you can see the valley spread out in front of you and the white mists hiding the peaks of the Himalayas from curious gawkers. When we stood there, an eagle flew above us, so close that I almost ducked my head to avoid being swooped off. Amazing.
We spent the day walking around the town, savouring the sights, discovering nature and some quirky facts. In the Chaubatti garden, the guide told us that the Weeping Willow in the local parlance is called Majnu (the subcontinent equivalent of the doomed lover). Reason: the drooping leaves and branches resemble the tatters and rags that Majnu wore when he roamed the streets looking for his beloved Laila and when it rains, the water running down the tree looks like his tears. Imaginative, ain’t it?
The evening was spent at the Army Golf Course. Acres of rolling, flat green. A couple of families enjoying open air and sunshine. But what I liked most was the wooden bench at the edge of the hill overlooking the wooded valley and the sun setting in the west. It was a sublime moment. I could have sat there forever, waiting for the night to arrive and the morning to kiss me awake. You know how most of us have moments and time we want to return to at least once. This was mine. An enchantment cast for life.
We returned to Delhi next day and from thereon back home. But I left a little of me behind on those roads, the fragrant wind, the fairy mists and the grandfatherly mountains. Maybe they whispered about me once I had left. I wonder what they thought.
And I carried a lot of them home with me. Most precious among all the gifts I brought back was the peace that I needed. I made some wishes too when I roamed those hills. I hope when I lose myself in the chaos of my daily life, they remember me and say an “Amen” for my wishes.