Ten minutes before take off, I boarded the plane pleading my way through security checks, all in an attempt to meet you. You have always been hyped everywhere. Treks in your gorgeous mountains have been looked upon with a mixed sense of awe and envy for years. But your name also triggers caution in people. They don’t consider you safe. Divinely images of you have been marred by violent gashes from memories of the past.
In the ten days that I spent with you, you have not only enchanted me but also challenged every single cliche about you that had unconsciously but comfortably lodged itself in me. You were not as pristine and as cool as I would have liked you to be. You could make people sweat under your sweltering gaze and could give them sunburns if you wished. The smell of cigarettes was the last thing I expected on you. Your shops had funny names. The board outside your police station declaring itself as “A Tourist Friendly Police Station” amused me to no end. Congestion and commotion existed in you too. Turns out you are actually quite normal. No curfews. Your people went about doing their daily chores in all its banality. You even had garbage bins with all the garbage lying around it instead of in it, a true mark of any Indian city. And no, that is not something to be proud of.
Just as I was beginning to accept, although with disappointment, what I thought were your true moods and colours, you pulled the rug from under my feet in what was to be the first of many times that would follow. You showed me the other side of you.
A side that was uninhabited, unpolluted. A side that matched the description of heaven on earth. I found you heart achingly beautiful in your highs and lows. Those mountains, a shade of color peculiar to only you and no one else it runs through.
The lakes, calm and composed, faithfully mirroring the skies and mountains that surrounded them.
Those tiny brooks and streams chattering non-stop as they pulsated through you, clumsily tripping on stones and pebbles unmindful of us onlookers.
And oh your meadows! I felt what Wordsworth must have felt as I sat in their vast expanse of lush green covered with flowers of every color that were bobbing their heads in the breeze to music I wished I could also hear.
But it wasn’t just those flowers. I was playing with the grass absentmindedly one afternoon and I remember the sense of wonderment that filled me when I came across the drops of dew that the leaves had so carefully concealed from the sun’s gaze.
You wouldn’t believe this and might think I am exaggerating but even your skies were different. I was looking forward to being dazzled by stars. You could only imagine my dismay then when I could count them out with my fingers and toes.
But I can swear that there was something different about your day lit skies. It was definitely blue, a crystal clear one at it and the clouds were white of course. Yet, there was something different about them which I am very evidently failing miserably to put in words here. It is okay I guess. Some experiences are best left unexplained.
There were times you simply took my breath away, both literally and figuratively with the latter happening almost throughout the trek. You seemed easy go lucky initially. But little was I to know that a book must not be judged by its cover. Where I was expecting a leisurely stroll through gently steeping meadows, you met me with vertiginous climbs and drops that knocked the air out of me.
Perhaps it was just you trying to infuse some humility in me for that pompous comment I made about a trek not qualifying as one if it is not done with a backpack. Your pranks were unusual too! Like the time you made us play with snow clad dung. We obviously assumed the black stuff was clay. I am not complaining. We had a lot of fun. But, all of the euphoria disappeared the moment people started sniffing the air around to trace the source of such irresistible aromas.
As the Shikhara carrying us meandered its way through the Dal lake, my thoughts kept drifting back to those eight odd days spent in your company.
Those brightly colored tents warmly greeting us at the end of the day..the sleeping bags that simply refused to get into their covers in the hustle and bustle of the morning hours..those painfully tiny strawberries which reaffirmed my faith that ripe and sweet strawberries are just a myth.. the shrill singing of a whistle at 5 a.m.. the cattle that just seemed to eat and poop all day long..
ORS packets that were the energy lifeline for some of us..the boost that an encouraging hand could give to your spirits when you feel like you might collapse with another step.. the bright pink poncho that attracted much attention.. that joy when an extra gulab jamun was placed on your plate..God! they were yummy!
Before I could even absorb the Shikhara experience completely, I found myself tucked in the backseat of an auto making its way to the airport. No, I wasn’t ready to leave you. There was still so much left to see, so much to experience and so much more to get to know about you. As I boarded the plane with a heavy heart, the only consolation I could offer was a mental pact with myself to visit you again. Sometime very soon hopefully. Until then, I will continue missing you.
Picture Credits: Shyam Kumar