Been pretty long since i wrote last, just discovered i had even hit the threshold of forgetting the block setting of the document on my webpage as well. Notwithstanding the rustic fact that i don’t even pay much heed to the suavity and aesthetics as i had just been writing the stuff that filled my mind on a passing, today though i decided to look up for a brighter text color. Pink it was then, the color people do associate with the female living without any particular convincing reason, pink or mauve or whatever it was, not so good with colors and i know ladies would tear through me on the argument on right shade of colour, i stay defensive on this one. My hero today is a female, one i just met fortuitously forced by the circumstances i brought on myself. Writing undecided devoid of a clear aim, clarity has always been elusive to me, couldn’t gather clarity in a trade-off between travel and philosophy so here i am, writing a quasi travel blog with philosophy hanging in between.
Hanol, thats a place of varied consequence, the seat to Mahasu Devta, a form of lord Shiva worshiped in regions of Garhwal, Uttrakhand and parts of Himachal and sure enough a pilgrimage destination for some and a quiet serene mountain hamlet of nothing much on offer except the temple and the tranquility for the city dweller with profound expectations. Now, how i ended up making a journey to this remote corner itself is a tale of my lackadaisical to the brim attitude and the hankering for some way-off woods and i tell you, thats a concoction for failure, kind of failure i savor. Sticking to a plan is confinement one takes comfort in, death of that plan set me free, though bought wrath from the flinty side of dear sister and closest friend’s wife who banked on my vulnerable plan. Those were some whiskey soaked goodbyes that started good about four months before i was to eventually leave Delhi for the new place, regulation shifting that came along the profession. G n R were closest i had and we would sip on some ale every chance we got and more so now as my days in Delhi were numbered. GG has been a friend since college and mind you, more brother than a friend. GG’s wife R has been a friend too since they started dating and eventually got married, R, that lady i always knew as a fiery, strong willed,curt though witty corporate trainer. She wasn’t pretty receptive to the idea of adventure travel as i started planning a trip to the mountains for the final stretch of goodbyes. She couldn’t have been, given the metropolitan life, corporate culture that she was in and then their young child of just three. I promised a plan blending in a cosy night retreat after every day’s drive and she bought it, GG, my man was just sipping on his wheat beer in perfect composure, maintaining that quintessential GG smile, hiding in it his affirmative belief in the fickleness of my plan and his trust in my misadventure.
Chakratta was the place i had my sights on, a serene little hamlet in Uttrakhand that i first visited on a bike and found some good trails to arouse my adrenaline and enough woods to lay it to rest. Perfect plan’s death concoction has a basic ingredient and i bought that enough, started the preparations with buying booze even before checking the booking for the resort or some hideout for the nights, few days passed and i finally paid some attention to the “less important” aspect of accommodation. I started up with checking up with the forest department for some way too deep into the woods sleepy guesthouse and i received my first wake up call, they tell me their guest houses are all gone under election commission for the time as elections were in play. Then came the commercial online booking sites, couldn’t really find some decent ones with my kind of adrenaline junkie palate, was rather fixated to have some way off retreat. I remembered staying at a government owned commercial property at Munsiyari, Kumaon once and it was sure a good experience, that was enough for me to start looking for a government owned tourist resort and nearest i could find was Hanol, a place just over a 100 kilometers of broken, bad road away from chakratta and the only merit it scored was its remoteness. Well, i didnt even know Hanol was that far as i booked the resort and that was the last nail in the already not so perfect plan’s coffin.
A couple of days prior to the drive, i discovered that Hanol was actually too way off if trails around Chakratta were to be aimed at besides it was 12 hours drive from Delhi, i prepared myself for the onslaught, my wife had already warned me against any adventure in this trip besides the burden of not letting my people down played heavy as after all i was the one entrusted with the responsibility of ill-planning the entire trip. Willy-nilly we set out and hit the road, long winding mountain road with relatively scanty traffic and patches of awe inspiring sights reassured me of the place, Hanol, its beauty, tranquility and then the noose of that responsibility just loosened a bit around my neck.
It took an entire day of driving to finally reach and i was starving, kids restless and the two ladies apprehensive. ladies had the apprehensions right, we got two beautiful set of rooms in the resort which had no other guest and there was a reason…. there was no restaurant in a radius of 20 long, curvy, dark and lonely kilometers…..i felt that agony of the noose tightening around my neck, throat suddenly went dry and i was choking, i looked at my wife, at R and i choked some more. Our man GG yet, was smiling, sometimes his composure makes me feel he is the next Dalai Lama and its a privilege being associated with him as someday i would perhaps get a chance of writing his biography, my only chance of hitting fame but right now i was dying of culpability and needed to excavate an eating joint somehow. My lord savior appeared in form of the resort caretaker and told me he is trying to speak to a lady in the village who owns a shabby little shack on the road and perhaps could cook something for us to survive the night. Last we met GG and R was at Fio, that uptown garden restaurant in the Garden of Five Senses, Delhi and this shack was pretty quick a run downstairs in comparison.
A small table with four chairs, a gas stove and few biscuit packs was all we had to call an eating joint tonight, the lady owner was cooking herself with her daughter to assist, Me and GG stayed in the car and turned to the famous Old Monk for solace and some thoughts of wisdom. Notwithstanding the expectations, Sita, the lady had cooked well and for me, the added advantage was presented by the fact that the lady was Gurkhali and had quintessential style of cooking……real hot pepper. Old monk and some hot food, i was good to hit the sack. I sheepishly announced that the next day’s dawn would see us packing for Chakratta and would find some good retreat, asked Sita to prepare breakfast too as there wasn’t a place to offer much before Chakratta on the next day’s drive as well. We in-fact, had bothered Sita at an inappropriate time and she had prepared a custom food order specifically for us, having spent some recent years in the capital city filled with malevolent, hard-bitten people with sole aim of sucking on someone else’s meagre resources one was pretty sure and prepared to pay dearly for what belly full we ate. Sita had a surprise for me, she asked me meagre 280 bucks, maan! That was less than one pack of decent cigarettes, I tried bargaining to pay some 500 that I found still was too little for the hospitality, the courteous smile she maintained as she declined to accept my proposition was touching.
We went back to our night retreat, continued drinking and R was cheerful and was liking the tranquility, I was hanging on to the slender thread of hope of getting some accommodation somewhere next to chakratta now as the plan was laid to rest in peace. Next day started energetic and fresh, we that included my wife and children paid our allegiance to Mahasu Devta, visited the temple and sought blessings meanwhile GG and R, agnostic as they were waited for us at Sita’s shack. We joined them, had our breakfast fill and pretty hearty one. I began my ritual of trying to push some extra money to Sita for what I felt was her hospitality and warmth, she would relent a bit. R requested Sita for a picture with us and she obliged with a tears in her eyes, she perhaps didn’t expect our respect in reciprocation of her candor conduct and humble hospitality without assuming anything in return. We all were touched, that was a basic human emotion that should just be obvious to all of us, helping fellow humans, that’s compassion and we had to travel 12 hours to see that happening.
Sita had meagre resources, she fights the entire day to run her shack, fights to keep the hope of having some prospect alive, she had an opportunity to make some paltry profit for a day but she didn’t let that idea flirt with her daily honesty, she stuck to her values and some random city dwelling people better endowed with some dough couldn’t shake her. She did a favour to all of us unaware, she kindled a belief in compassion, basic human emotions and shook us all out of our relationship with material comfort. None of us was indifferent to love and compassion, we had that already in us, she just stirred up what lay in slumber. She was rich, richer than the rest of us, richer in compassion, her conscience inculpable.
We wished her adieu and I was in jeopardy wishing her better prospects or wishing her status quo, I couldn’t decide. She had her conscience clear, her compassion intact and spirits undeterred, would that all hold on to the assault of civilization, the civilization as we call it however uncivil it may actually be. The contact, the proximity to the “practical’ indifferent city dwellers would spoil the demureness, won’t let her be what she was. I couldn’t decide what to wish for, I just left it to the unfolding of the design. Sure wouldn’t find that humility at manali or shimla or any other spoilt by internees to almighty dollar City tenant hill station. I wish that demure Sita endures, perhaps utopian, I just still wish.
Well, Hanol wasn’t a plan, that was a design that unfolded beyond my influence and understanding. Perhaps a visit to Mahasu Devta and then this lesson on humility. That unorganised jeopardy brought me even closer to my dearest GnR, we sipped on our ale at places we never planned, trails we never imagined leaving a tread on and lush woods that sooth my eyes still. Plans are vulnerable, plans are what we seek comfort in while the higher design governs all unnoticed, mountains have always been inviting and i would stay on a quest for the next summit, the next trail, next set of deep woods…….i wont plan, i give in to the design!