A Mountain of Memories

Keep Traveling, Keep creating memories

Advertisements

“You never climb the same mountain twice, not even in memory. Memory rebuilds the mountain, changes the weather, retells the jokes, remakes all the moves.” -Lito Tejada-Flores

“Uttarakhand?! Again??” I was asked with incredulity by friends and family. The answer to how many days left them more stupefied. “Uttarakhand?! Again?? And that too for just 3 days?!??” That’s how our planned weekend break to Uttarakhand was greeted with. And of course, our friend Murphy didn’t seem too pleased either about the trip. Our flight from Mumbai to Delhi had to be delayed which led to us missing our connecting train to Kathgodam. If well begun is half done…

That chain of events saw us getting up really early in the wee hours of the morning when even the blessed milkman was sound asleep. We stumbled into our taxi, where surprisingly, but thankfully, we were greeted by our rather cheerful driver. Even then, our mood wasn’t helped by the deserted and sleepy, fog-filled Delhi roads and the approximate journey of 7.30 hours appeared daunting..

We swept past Delhi and Ghaziabad and hit the national highway just before daybreak. The silhouette of under construction buildings and giant oversized hoardings gave way to an open expanse of land on both sides. The first light of dawn revealed a carpet of lush green as far as the eyes could see. Monsoon and mathematics had worked together to create magic! Rectangular fields of different sizes and hues of green were laid out, like a giant quilt; tall narrow trees lined up on the edge of the fields, equally spaced out, a neat arithmetic progression; little square ponds and watering holes popped up every few kilometers. The pretty patterns were broken only by the randomness of the shops and houses jostling for space in the towns which whizzed past – Hapur, Gajraula, Moradabad, Rampur, Swar, Bazpur. Our driver, Mr. Sonu was from the mountain ranges in Himachal and started talking about his village in the Kangra valley. A few hours on the road and our moods had considerably brightened..

As we passed Bazpur, the highway had narrowed down to a 2 lane road. Suddenly, the farms started giving way to wild shrubs and grasslands. The road seemed as if it was cut through a jungle, with dense foliage on both sides. The signpost on the side read – Kaladhungi – 1 km ahead. We were close to Corbett territory – the sprawling notice announcing that Jim Corbett national park is just 44 kms, tempted us to take a detour but we kept going. Just as we began our ascent up the hills, the clouds and fog had descended down to greet us. The road had now started snaking it’s way around hairpin bends amidst almost zero visibility. We dutifully followed the road signs as we divorced speed and were really gentle on the curves. I rolled down the windows. The gush of cold crisp air felt comforting and familiar. The smell, the sights and the sounds, all felt familiar. And yet, that feeling of deja vu was absent, in spite of being on these winding roads many many times before. It felt as if each time these mountains have that unique capacity to surprise and delight with every fork in the road, with every new vista that they lay out in front of us..

Indeed, you never climb the same mountain twice. While the same mountain range appears forbidding and imposing on a trek to Gaumukh, it also appears benign and beguiling at its foothills in Hrishikesh. Sometimes it appears as a picture perfect postcard as the Mandakini flows gracefully from its bountiful glaciers, caressed by grassy banks on both sides at Harsil. Sometimes, it is in the mood to show-off all its glory, resplendent in white, basking in different hues of yellow and red and orange in Kausani; while sometimes it appears moody and brooding, refusing to reveal it’s might at the edge of the world in Munsiyari. Today the same mountain range appears covered in mist and fog in one instant and in the very next appears draped from head to toe in the same lush green carpet from the plains, with the oaks and deodhars and pines adorning it amidst broken clouds and scattered sunrays…

We had reached Nainital for a quick pitstop after a journey that unexpectedly ended up being quite memorable. And then, equally unexpectedly, Murphys good brother helped us stumble upon a poem from the inimitable Ruskin Bond, printed on the back of a restaurant menu. It summed up my mood perfectly…

“Once you lived with the mountains

Under the whispering pines

And deodars, near stars

And a brighter moon,

With wood smoke and mist

Sweet smell of grass, dew lines

On spider-spun, sun-kissed

Buttercup and vine;

Once you have lived with these,

Blessed, God’s favourite then,

You will return,

You will come back

To touch the trees and grass

And climb once more the windswept mountain pass.”

Yes. Every time you climb a mountain, it feels different. The only constant however, one you are amongst them is the promise you make to yourself to keep returning and keep creating more memories…

Halfway between the fireflies and the stars..

A story about a few boys lost in a forest and their journey back, guided by fireflies and stars…

The October heat was stifling. Even at 10  in the night, the atmosphere was claustrophobic and clammy. The wind was completely listless, seemingly defeated by the sweltering temperatures. And just then, to make matters worse, the electricity decided to play truant. The building plunged into darkness and a collective moan could be heard. I could not bear the heat and climbed the flight of stairs to the relatively cooler confines of the terrace. The entire block was awashed in black. It looked like a major fault. I glanced up at the sky. Even though there was not a speck of cloud on the horizon, not a single star could be seen shining on the residents of the city. They were probably hidden behind a blanket of smog. I sighed. It was pitch black all around. Quite similar to that unforgettable night in Coorg all those years ago…

It was the summer of 2004. College vacations had just begun and 11 of us had decided to go to Coorg, which was to be the first of  what was to become our annual holiday ritual. After an eventful journey, we decided to knock off the list of the must-see items one by one. Abby falls, world famous in Coorg,  was the first on the list. It was at a distance of some 8-9 kms from where we were staying . We set off around 4 pm in 3 autos on a narrow road which carved through a forest lined with dense trees and coffee plantations on both sides. It was almost like a wallpaper. We stopped to lech at the scenery while one of the autos carried on. Initially, we had planned to just “see” the falls, take pics and come back since we had started quite late in the evening.

But when we reached the site, apart from other tourists who were standing on the bridge posing in front of the falls, our friends who reached there first were nowhere to be seen. “Yaahooo” we heard from somewhere up above! “Yeahhhhhhh” sounded another war cry. And we saw them. Four of them were climbing towards the falls. Testosterone and sense of adventure had prevailed over good sense. How could we stay behind? And so off we went as well! After an hour or so of reaching the top, bathing and frolicking under the falls like Liril soap models, we decided to come down. Not that we wanted to, but the fading light forced us to think rationally for a change. After lots of slips and slides and scratch marks, we finally reached the bridge. It was now pretty dark and we quickly walked out to the road. But there was just one auto standing! The other two autos had left since it had gotten quite dark and it was dangerous, we were told. Those were comforting words indeed. Three people decided to go in the one auto and said they would send autos if they could find any. The auto started and the lights from the auto, bobbing up and down, disappeared into the distance. It was now completely dark. Luckily we had a couple of torches but what could two torches do against an army of darkness! Our hearts sank. The thought of what lay ahead now hit us with full force.

9 kms. 8 guys. 2 torches. 1 narrow road amidst dense forests. Infinite darkness. Unknown dangers.

Most of us were terrified, I have to be honest. We had never experienced something like this before. We formed 2 groups of 4, each one with a torch and started walking, slowly. The night was absolutely still. We were walking in eerie silence. The thud – thud – thud of our heartbeats could be heard. Fear started manifesting itself in ways only fear can as it gradually took control of our senses. It numbed the ability to think rationally. Even the most harmless noises sounded scary. Every time the leaves rustled and the wind blew through the trees, we stood still and flashed our torches wildly. The road which just a few hours back seemed so serene now took on a sinister shape. The silhouettes of the tall trees seemed to hide something or someone, waiting and watching.

The first 20 odd minutes everyone walked in silence, alert to the slightest movement or sound. Gradually, the distance started whittling away. As no untoward incident happened, the confidence started returning. The mind freed itself a bit from the vice like grip of fear. We found our voices. A few lame jokes were cracked and we allowed ourselves to laugh a bit. It was at that moment we saw it. An illuminated tree. As if someone had hung 100 min light bulbs on it. As we inched closer, we realised it was full of fireflies. It was a breathtaking sight. We smiled and our fear seemed to melt away. We stood there for a few seconds marvelling at the sight, soaking it all in. Our pace now quickened and a few of us even started singing. The road inclined upwards and we looked up at the sky above for the first time. It was full of bright twinkling stars. Stretched out as far as the eye could see. Millions and millions of them. We city folk could never experience such simple delights. We looked behind. The tree of fireflies was still illuminated.  We saw the stars above which illuminated the sky. It was a glorious sight.

synchronous-fireflies-philippines

It felt as if we were almost halfway between the fireflies and the stars.

The next hour we were enjoying ourselves. We reckoned we could not be too far away now. Suddenly, we saw a light from a bend on the road.  Some 200 metres away. It seemed like a small shop.  That was it. We just ran. Usain Bolt would have been proud. We reached the shop and saw each other’s faces for the first time after close to 2 hours.  Relief was evident on each of our faces. We laughed, more out of relief than anything else. We knew we were never going to forget that night ever…

..I smiled and then I sighed. There were no fireflies to illuminate things around here. Only the the dim light of candles flickering and dancing through the windows..