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In continuation to the previous blog…..
It was almost 4 in the evening when our ascend to the hills began and so did my observations. The distant view of the snow capped Himalayan ranges started to emerge. The features and attire of people began to transform gradually and I learnt how a Kumaonee looked & dressed. Our senses felt elated with the softly camphoraceous, woody & refreshing fragrance of Deodar Cedar, Chir pine trees & spices that encompassed the atmosphere of the quirky hilly terrain. Although there was enough time for sunset, the dense and the nonchalant demeanor of the trees made the surrounding feel like it was dusk already. My heart fluttered with joy and my smile remained a constant affair – Feelings which had outpaced the stillness & silence outside.
Mukteshwar, a village in Nainital District, Uttarakhand ( and my first stopover) is nestled high in the Kumaon hills. The tree house we stayed in, gave a panoramic view of the dark shadowy mountains with lights dimly glittering in the village residences scattered amidst different layers of hills. The outrageously clear moo of the domestic cattle at an enormous distance, reminded me of my lessons in Physics where I had learnt that sound travels farther in chilly weather & of course the reduced noise pollution added to the eerily pin-drop effect. The joy of being able to recollect physics fundamentals had a short existence as my mind continued to remain pre-occupied with thoughts of the real solo journey which was to begin the next day.
Confusion has always been a part of my core, however the plan to travel at a shoe string budget was mighty clear. LOL. Hence, I decided to board the public Van where my back pack was thrown on the roof of the vehicle amid very many baggage & passengers seated above. By the virtue of the chilly weather, the crowd inside the van could be managed. Eventually, a Pahari kid happened to throw up due to motion sickness and there began the stench in the packed van. Much to my surprise, the Pahari passengers kept a straight face without an expression of discomfort. The parts which were not straight on their faces were their deeply engraved wrinkled fore heads & the crow feet etched in the corner of their eyes. I presumed, those were the outcome of harsh UV rays in the higher altitude and most importantly, a stress free happy life which kept them smiling. The Pahari kid was moved to the front which helped the nausea to subside . As far as I was concerned, the frugal mode of travel and the chilled weather weighed higher than the stench and so I continued my journey to Bhowali, my next stopover.
A surreal incidence that couldn’t be over looked en route was a woman who boarded the van from one of the stops. After the van had already covered a good distance, she realized that her mobile phone was left/dropped behind inadvertently and asked the conductor to reverse the vehicle without an iota of reluctance. He denied for obvious reasons. Her immediate choice was to get off the van and walk back. That is when she saw a villager (a stranger)who had been following the van on his bike right from the stop the woman had boarded the van. This was to handover her mobile phone. The simplicity blew me away. Gestures such as this is a rarity and is unheard off in an urban scenario. I wondered if the pursuit to maintain the so called “Good life” in cities at a cost, epitomized complicated behavioral patterns. With a sub conscious endeavor to out pace everyone around, reading in between lines clubbed with distrust & insecurity have become a part of everybody’s DNA. The classic instance at that moment was my constant assumption of the back pack being fidgeted by the passengers on the roof of the vehicle. I heaved a sigh of relief when the same was handed over to me in one piece as I got off the van in Bhowali.
Wouldn’t it be refreshing if humility became the way of life for its sheer ability to view & resolve situations more simplistically? Urban conditioning which mostly results in complicating matters unreasonably now feels hyped up.
Familiarity gradually started to seep in. I handed-over my baggage to the conductor pro actively and directed it towards the roof of the van 🙂 Ability to trust the unknown so easily shed half of my burden i.e. distrust. The travel to Majkhali began with Ranikhet being the second last stopover. Phew! I had reached a point where my back bone had started yelling for a bed to stretch.
Exhausted & famished, I reached “The Himalayan village school,” my work space & stay for the next 3 weeks. It felt herculean to commute in hilly terrains with a heavy load on the back for the whole of 1 day. As I approached closer to the school , I spotted this tall & blonde haired man standing nonchalantly just like the Cedar & the pine trees in the hills. I tried to retain my grace and composure in front of this German gentleman named Mr. Philipp Mathias, who welcomed me to the school with his million dollar smile. He was quick enough to empathise with my physical & mental state and swiftly oriented me to the room that I was to stay & the rest room which was a 2 minute walk from my room. I called it a day without seeking further clarification and before my eyes squinted due to exhaustion..
Photo Courtesy: Shivani Dogra, Meghna Ghosh & Google images.