Shimla, the old British summer capital, as a treat that befitted a fifteen year old who had just gone through the harrowing experience of the Board exams. I never had the foggiest idea that this journey would cling on to me as one of the most prized nostalgic recollections. We took a toy train from Kalka to Shimla for a panoramic view of the scenic Himalayas. The train rumbled on with puffs of smoke as it snaked the steep hills, brushing past the coniferous greens and the wild roses that grew carelessly on the hill slopes. Such was my first prelude to an everlasting romance: the hills. This towering side of nature mystified me to a great extent. A feeling of immense happiness and calm reverberated in me. It felt like a bizarre dream where a perfect bliss and harmony ruled the world. With a strange awakening, I returned back to my land of sun and palms.
Thereafter I nurtured a hope that someday I shall return to the hills, once again to be awed and mesmerised by their sheer stoicism. But time does play its elusive little tricks! After a vast stretch of ten years Darjeeling happened, the shinning jewel of the North Eastern Himalayas. This experience was more poignant and deep, for this time I devoured the pastoral beauty of hills with an adult eye. The balmy smell of the oaks and the pines, and the fog clad hills rekindled a lost fire. But what actually augmented the trance was the exotic North Eastern culture. I felt far removed from the India of tropics, from the India to which I belonged. This little tourist town with the omnipresence of the hovering Kanchenjunga in the azure sky, the striking patterns of silver jewelery and the mouth watering momos was the perfect escape that one could indulge in to forget a mundane city existence. I fed on every bit of the rustic hilly charm. On the day of leaving I could sense an odd feeling of loss, as if I had left little bits of my soul scattered everywhere, among the pine clusters, in the tea gardens, on the hilltops, and finally amidst the people.
Ever since I was a kid I have always savoured Ruskin Bond's stories which abound in tales of the sleepy Himalayan towns of the pre-independence days. No other writer has been able to capture the grandeur and the simplicity of the hills at the same time like him. After these Himalayan escapades, I would often read these stories with a touch of sentimentality. Months later, after our short and memorable holiday in Darjeeling, I had to fly to Seattle, the emerald city of America. The grief of leaving behind my home and my people had allowed me no time to delve into the topography of this foreign land which was to be my home for sometime. All I could gather from here and there was that it rained nine months of the year there. And with such prepossessions I found myself in Seattle in a late spring afternoon oohing at the blood red rhododendrons and the dark tall pines that thronged the avenues. The nostalgic air of the hills at once hit my senses. There was a countryside charm in the blinding greenery and the soothing clean air. As if God had at last heard me! Redmond, our neighbourhood, might be a prominent dot on the globe for being the Microsoft capital and the home of the great Bill Gates, but to a nature gazer like me the experience of living each day in this sylvan quietude was overwhelming. Visiting the picturesque Mount Rainier (in the picture above) remains the creme de la creme of my Seattle memoirs. Shrouded by pines and maples, it looked like a piece of magic, too surreal to stand on its own on this earth. The innumerable melting glaciers on its slate gray crest resembled locks of dishevelled white hair on an old man's face that has stiffened with age and experience.
And now, my mulling over these greener times on a hot Texan day, makes them grow fainter as if they belong to a long lost world. I have been longing for a bit of the proverbial 'mountain air' for my worries to melt away like the snow on the slopes of Mount Rainier. The haunting words of Rudyard Kipling keep playing in my mind - "The smell of the Himalayas, if it once creeps into the blood of a man, he will return to the hills again and again and will love to live and die among them."