A Mountain of Memories

Keep Traveling, Keep creating memories

“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…

Walking in the rain…

An ode to the romance of the first rains..

I had a few meetings lined up in town today. After finishing the last one, which was quite close to Marine Drive, I decided to walk for sometime on the promenade and take a cab after a while to VT station. But no sooner had I passed the imposing NCPA apartments, was I already questioning my decision. It was past 6 pm but the sun was still blazing down mercilessly. The placid waters of the Arabian sea were reflecting the sun light with such intensity that one could not look at it without squinting. By the time I reached the Air India building, I was already sweating profusely.
 
I decided to take a cab from opposite Oberoi and just then in the backdrop, I saw dark clouds closing in from the east. They looked ominous. And something inside me said “Wait! Keep walking'”
 
I decided to take a detour and buy something for home and took a right into the leafy sleepy boulevard of CCI lane, home to the Brabourne stadium. I reached 210 degree centigrade just outside Samrat restaurant – a favorite hangout spot when we were in college and picked up freshly baked bread and biscuits. Steeping out, I realized that the clouds had mobilized their army in far greater numbers. But still the humidity was quite stifling.
 
Again, I decided to take a cab from outside Churchgate station as I passed the landmark Satyam gift shop on my right. But, as if angry with this decision of mine, the clouds started to rumble. And I found myself telling me – “Keep walking!”
 
I had hardly walked a 100 metres when I felt the first drops of rain. I looked up. The sky was completely dark grey now. Not a speck of blue on the horizon. I smiled. People around me quickened their pace. Why were they in a hurry?! I reached Flora fountain. The famous Vada pav wala on the corner and the Booksellers on the corner adjacent to Amex bank were quite well prepared as a nice blue canopy had already been put up unlike a half dug up road on the side.
 
I went past the Standard Chartered building and other colonial era structures on Fort and it was now drizzling steadily. I smiled even more broadly. A few umbrellas popped open around me. A few makeshift umbrellas were created out of office bags, books and handkerchiefs. Why were the people walking so quickly?! I looked up and felt the raindrops falling gently on my face. I found myself humming – ” Raindrops keep falling on my head…”
 
The clouds rumbled again. And finally opened up. A torrential downpour began just as I reached Mcdonalds. ‘Am loving it’ I told myself! It was a fantastic scene. The BMC building loomed straight ahead and the magnificent Victoria Terminus ahead on the right. People realized there was no point in running anymore. For a moment, they turned school kids again as they forgot their worries and soaked in the rain. For a moment, their troubles seemed to have been washed away by the rains. The beautiful smell of wet earth wafted through the air. Sounds of laughter and excited chatter could be heard all around. The temperature had dropped considerably. The sky began to turn on a hue of yellow and orange, a portrait that only the monsoon could paint. It was a magical sight. Pure unadulterated joy!
 
I reluctantly entered VT station dripping wet and caught a train. A guy sitting next to me was updating his status on Facebook – “First rains!! Am loving it..” I looked at him and smiled. He simply smiled back..