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on wanderlust

Musings of a wandering soul….

INDIA | Thursday, 19 April 2012 | Views [358]

I looked down upon the hill below. The wind was making music in my ears, like a divine orchestrator had composed a symphony and was calling out for an audience: for people to stop a while and pause and listen.  A few metres away a golden retriever puppy was going round in circles, trying to catch hold of its own tail, amusing itself in this funny game. The afternoon sun was bright but not burning. The whole ambience was soporiphic, lulling me to sleep. I struggled to keep my eyes awake, trying to soak in the sights and sounds of this quaint little hill station. Not so much because I had never been to a hill station before but because my soul needed the solitude and respite only a small town could offer.

 

I looked at my cell phone. No there was no overwhelming desire or excitement to share with anyone: for me to make use of a cell phone at this point of time. It was just to check the time as I had long foregone the need to wear a wristwatch and a cellphone had sufficed that odd need to check the time once in a while.  I was more than happy to let time pass me by these couple of days, but it was the odd reminder that my mom was in the habit of calling me post lunch and that she might start getting worried if she couldn’t get through the line; that I felt my brows furrowing for a split second. I let the thought pass me by just this once, knowing that it is rarely that I get an opportunity to let go of things.  Back in the maddening city and my killing job, I had a hundred and one things that I knitted my eyebrows for.  For a change I was glad that there was not a single bar indicating reception in the area.  The wind had stopped and I could hear a dull drone slowly rising in pitch.  I turned my eyes towards the direction of the sound and a couple of hundred metres below I could see a lorry struggling to climb up the steep hill. A familiar sight in most hill stations.

 

I had no intention of retreating into my room rightaway.  I dumped my luggage inside the spacious wooden cupboard. I had been fortunate that I could get a room in the Holiday Home of the Air Force. There was definitely no touch of luxury, like a couple of the star hotels in the vicinity offered. A star hotel room was not what I was looking for, not that I couldn’t afford it. But there is something about hotels that has never really appealed to me; maybe it is the whole business like commercial attitude.   Here everything that a wary soul could ask for was available.  It was a small suite actually, complete with a huge king size bed, side tables, a mini fridge, a tv, an ac (not that there was a need for it) and a small sofa. Everything was perfect, infact it was more than I had asked for.  The Corporal had already informed that dinner would be available at the Mess from 8.00 p.m. onwards, so my basic need for food was taken care of.

Perched halfway atop a hill adjacent to the Monkey Point, the Air Force Mess offers vantage views of the town. A couple of metres below I could see that the beeline for the Hanuman Mandir which I had crossed while entering the Air Force Mess, had not receded at all.  Now I wasn’t the most religiously inclined person, however the vagabond in me couldn’t resist the urge to find out what lay on the other side of the hill. The climb was steeper than I had anticipated, and by the time I reached the top, I was short of breath, not so much because of physical exertion but because what lay in front of my eyes was truly “breathtaking”.

It was beginning to get dark and the sun painted the valleys below a glorious shade of orange which soon turned to a crimson red and then to an inkish grey, all this within a span of less than half an hour The wind suddenly turned fierce and cold and I stood there as if I was awakened from a trance. I realized it was time to go back. As I descended, I pulled the thin anorak tighter which seemed inadequate now. And I started feeling a tingling sensation at the sides of my tongue and the base of my throat which I hadn’t felt in more than 14 hours, I knew the familiar feeling…. it was a craving for nicotine. As I walked downhill my pace picking up, the urge grew stronger and I started searching the pockets of the anorak; no there were no traces of an unhealthy and undesirable habit. My hands reached for the depths of the pocket of my jeans, nope -all that I could find were a few chits of paper, a few parking slips, some unfamiliar names and addresses scribbled and a flavourless old chewing gum….. there was nothing that resembled anything remotely to a cigarette.

 

As I neared the check-post, I could make out the silhouettes of two persons and some furniture. I assumed they were the security guards on the night shift. One of them pointed his flashlight at my direction and I instantly covered my eyes to shade myself from the blinding light. As I reached within visible distance, the guard gave me the most incredulous look. Finally with a sense of authority that came from the powers bestowed on him by his superior officers, he summoned me “What do you think you were doing so late after dark? Do you know I can have you arrested for violating local laws?”  I was totally taken aback by this aggressive behaviour and volley of questions that were bombarded at me. Before I could manage a reply, the other guard came up and added insult to injury.   “You could have been eaten up by leopards or a pack of wild wolves for all you know. You city people are unaccustomed to the ways here. It is different here in the hills. Go back to your room now”

 

There was little that I could think of to counter his argument then, although the second guards’ logic seemed preposterous to me at that point of time. Later in retrospect when I thought about it, it struck me that the guard was right from his perspective. Afterall if any untoward incident happened to a tourist, he could have been held responsible. By the time I reached my room it was almost quarter past eight. The air had turned chilly and the incident had fired my craving for a cigarette all the more stronger.  I went inside my room and found my pack of cigarettes and Zippo tucked away in a small pocket of my backpack. I caught hold of it and came out to the small sitting area where two chairs and a small table had been neatly arranged. As I flicked the cover open, the tiny flame trembled in the dark lonely night and I covered it to light up my fag. I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, and as I did so, the day’s fatigue and tension seemed to ease away.

 

I looked up, it was a clear sky. And as hard as I tried to think, I couldn’t remember when was the last time I had seen something like this. A million stars twinkled, bright one moment and then fading away another and I tried to identify constellations that I had learnt about it in school and had long forgotten.  Then I noticed the white band that spread across horizontally. “Xeyaa durot haatipoti- That far far away is the Milky way”, my Dad had taught me as a 6 year old. It seemed like an eternity had passed before I heard someone calling me out. “Its quarter to 11….we are closing the mess. Don’t you want any dinner?” I could barely make out the form of a human face in the dark. I decided I better not make any delay, or risked starving through the night. My body had become numb with the cold, and it was only when I entered the centrally heated Dining Room that I realized I was out in the open for so long. The food or rather whatever was left of it was nothing lavish but a modest spread and was palatably warm. I quickly gulped my food and came back to my room. I decided I had enough adventure for the day and tucked myself inside the warm quilt.

I rose with the sun, feeling fresh and energized the next day. This rarely happened as my fatigued and weary body always struggled to get up with the false alarm I set for myself; back in the city. I quickly freshened up and went downstairs for breakfast. After a light breakfast, I set out for the day armed with my map and camera. I decided to explore the much talked about nature trail.

 

The trail forked out from the main road and a small inconspicuous signboard was the only marker. As I entered, the trail narrowed to a thin dirt track and at several places was just about a couple of feet wide apart. The trail circumnavigated one of the hillocks. I could run my hands and feel its rocky grainy surface. At other times my fingers felt a soft moist sensation …. patches of lichen and moss had knitted a carpet over crevices and other areas where sunlight never reached. To my right there was a steep drop of few thousand metres. Somewhere in the middle of the trail the land stretched out to a patch of grassyland and gently sloped downwards. I decided to stop for a smoke and some water.  The gentle wind was back and the sun was playing hide and seek with the clouds. At an elevated altitude, the clouds seemed much closer; like big fluffs of cotton. At another point I thought they were like sugar candy of my childhood days. I could see mountain goats and cattle grazing in the distance. A couple of young shepherds smiled.  One of them was singing a pahari tune.  I couldn’t understand the local dialect but it seemed like he sang about his lady love. I envied their carefree life somehow even though I knew it was not the easiest. I picked up my backpack and started again. There was much more to explore in this hill station which in due course of time I found out was a cantonment area and maintained by the army.  By the time I finished my trek, beads of sweat had formed on my forehead and I could feel the sun growing behind my back. I decided to go back to the mess and pick up my bullet.

 

The little trek had tired me and I thought a ride would be better. The ride downhill to the Lower Mall was less than 5 minutes.  I parked the bullet (I always thought of my bullet as my Horcrux) in the small parking lot and walked towards the neatly arranged line of shops that was the main market.  I had been ignoring the hunger pangs all this while and my olfactory sense instinctively drew me a to a corner shop which was selling steaming hot momos and thupkas. As I neared the place I realized it was no more than a shack! and yet there was a beeline at the cash counter and buzzing with people-school children, jawans from the nearby cantonment, elderly couples, tourists et al.  With my tummy full, I once again set out on my bike to see more of the town. Somehow I always thought nothing can beat the sensation of the wind in your hair, the cool mountain breeze blowing down your face, the smell of pine cones and the sight of rhodendrons touching the skies. Vignettes of the town passed me by as I sped down the winding road- a century old church and a cemetery, convent schools, bungalows with red bricks and oakwood shafts. The tin roofs gleamed as sunlight from the afternoon sun slanted its way to the little town.

I came back to my room for a quite dinner. The night was cold and an uncanny stillness prevailed; from my balcony I could see a bonfire in one of the bungalows in the distance. I dimmed the lights but I couldn’t sleep for a long time.  I lay there in my bed listening to the sounds of the creatures of the night as they came alive at this odd hour. Somewhere an owl hooted and I wondered if it was a bad omen like I was told as a child. A dog was barking and I instinctively knew it was the same retriever puppy. I wondered if its owner had ignored him and the poor soul was feeling lonely.

I didn’t know at what time I fell asleep except for the fact that it was pretty late into the night. I woke up late unlike the previous morning and the sun had already been out for quite some time. I decided to skip breakfast and just made myself some black coffee instead. After a quick shower I was all set to go back.  I strapped my helmet, put on my leather gloves, tied my backpack to the pillion seat, kicked the pedal and fired up my bullet. I was going back to the city. Just 5 more days. 5 days after my grueling grind at work, next weekend, I was going to be at another new place, another new vista……

Tags: hill station, on the road

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