I have always been caught up in a race to evade the sun, here in Delhi. But as the Diwali celebrations peaked last year, I sat under the sun for all the hours it shone in the October sky and breathed in air which felt like a luxury commodity. Himachal offered more than what you could call an experience. The sun rose over one mountain and its light was welcomed on the face of another. The daybreak was marked by multiple faces covered in layers of clothing as we’d step out for a sumptuous breakfast comprising ginger honey lemon tea, paranthas and eggs. Most of the resources for food, we learnt, were raw and homegrown. And, cafés here felt more like hostels, a crucial experience I had been lacking as an adolescent, growing up in prosaic single-bed rooms and common bathrooms.
The mountains instilled in my travel companions and me a desire to be up and about all the time. It was quite uncanny for us since the city has encouraged a more in-transport and in-facilities sort of behavior. We finished off brunch and were already on the move from a German bakery where we ate Nutella filled croissants and apple strudels (my favorite sweet so far) in Kasol (altitude 1,580m) to a village higher up called Tosh (2400m).
The Parvati Valley with its numerous villages had so much to offer. The bus rides eventually failed to take us to corners of grand beauty, and we had to rely upon our own two feet and some resilience. Along the long treks I met many friendly local faces which never shied away from offering help.
The one aspect which most inhabitants of the region took for granted, but which left me with my eyes and jaws wide gaping, was the background before which we were placed. Buildings are exponentially miniscule when placed among those big works of nature called mountains. Even trees are bound to surprise you with their girth and height.
Having undertaken a rough and harrowing bus ride from Kasol to Bhuntar and then trekked another hour to reach Tosh, you’d expect us to be done. But the very next morning we were on another trek to Kutla, a very small settlement where very few venture. The trek in itself offered points to sit and behold the magnificence that is nature — the waterfalls, the snow-clad mountain peaks, the Tyndall effect among the trees and the dry crumbling sound of leaves under you. The journey upwards was a harsh one, where the calmest of beings can lose patience if the destination is kept in mind. It is key, as we learnt later on, to climb with nothing but the journey in mind; I say this at the risk of sounding aphoristic. The more we fixated on the destination, the more we lost patience and the further the trek turned into a disaster of us lashing out on each other. The destination annulled everything including the trials of the climb. Kutla sits in the lap of mountains on either sides and behind, while from the small settlement one can view a significant part of the valley, including Tosh. The region is covered with dense woods and the ground is sheeted with dry leaves.
The Parvati Valley with its numerous villages had so much to offer. The bus rides eventually failed to take us to corners of grand beauty, and we had to rely upon our own two feet and some resilience. Along the long treks I met many friendly local faces which never shied away from offering help and even people from Delhi, who I would have ignored and avoided acquainting myself with if I were travelling with them in the metro, but who turned into companions as I shared directions, treks, teas and conversations with them.
The real challenge awaited us on the third day in Himachal. We set out under the impression that what lay ahead of us was a manageable trek and considered ourselves prepared after our previous trek to Kutla. But Kheerganga (2,960m) was a feat to be undertaken with better training. We trekked for over five hours and had been embittered by the harrowing climb. The irritability subsided only when we were greeted by the chef who served us perhaps the most fulfilling meal of our life: a thali, comprising roti, sabji, rice and vegetable salad (this is a holy site where no one eats non-vegetarian). The thali resuscitated us to say the least. The chef shared his insights with us over lunch. He remarked, “What matters most in life is shanti and respect, nothing else.” He said so bearing in mind the fact that the location is believed to have been one of those sacred tracts of lands which had been graced by the presence of Lord Shiva himself.
Everything changed when night came upon us, all angst turned into humility and wonder. I have never seen a sky so full. I could not absorb the image of the myriad of stars in one glance and witnessed the galaxy dust. I was even granted the opportunity to wish upon two shooting stars.
Come to think of it, I fear the city has robbed us of this most humbling experience. There is a vast world beyond us and we are too small in comparison to it; relativity and my own size for the first time ever became comprehendible to me. A night in Kheerganga can teach more in its silence than any vociferous and erudite teacher. We slept in rooms made of movable tin sheds and other material. The cold was the only challenge but was soon forgotten in all the wonder of the night and the darkness of the woods before us.
The following day brought a majestic sunrise and the mountains with their peaks within my line of sight were emboldened by vivid light. I felt a strange connection with a time from long ago. The mountains on their face carried the signs of time and age, if you’d look close enough you were bound to notice them. Sadly, this cannot be conveyed, but only
This was the day we moved down again to Kasol and spent the evening wandering the woods near the banks of the Parvati in Chalal. The following afternoon we were on a bus home and had gathered much to take back with ourselves.
If you wish to know silence and impenetrable darkness, then the woods are the best place. Even though, being city folk, the fear of being lost and isolated is very much prominent but then the entire exercise can also bring the better joys of alienation — the joy, though, shall only be experienced once you make it back to your room and retrospect over the time spent in the woods.