“There is great affinity between trees and men. We grow much at the same pace, if we are not hurt, or starved or cut down. In our youth we are resplendent creatures, in our declining years we stoop a little, we remember, we stretch our brittle limbs in the sun, and then, with a sigh, we shed our last leaves”
The Kitemaker -Ruskin Bond
A beautiful sunny day in the lap of virgin hills and there I lay stretching my tired limbs. Reading these lines in the environs of Mukteshwar was more than just apt. It was more than a coincidence. How I am in the hills amidst Deodar and Banj trees, soaking up the October sun, listening to the birds around me chatter in their sing song ways, reading this book. All of it seems right, the text and the surroundings. It is as if I were meant to read it here and feel the way I do. I gently stroke my arm to comfort my skin after a bout of goose bump sprout. I hear the house dog bark in response to the Koel’s call and return to my book.
It’s October and Delhi is just preparing for winter tales. All of us have winter tales. But ask a soul from the plains to describe the sense that December sunshine in the month of October generates. I am already experiencing December winters here in Mukteshwar. It has been a hectic early morning drive to reach our home for the next two days. But I am not one bit tired. I am fresh as a daisy but all I wish to do is rub my tired self on the grass carpet that rests right beneath me, just as a soul of the nature would do. I have been in this frame of mind since we arrived. I realize that the sun is fading and chill reaching my bones. Reluctantly, I pull myself and my belongings together, brush aside the grass on my clothes and head to respond to the call of the house cook. He says, “Didi, your lunch is ready” He asks my choice to dine in or dine out. I insist on dining in as the chill in the air is catching up.
I am indoors and it is my first visit to the in-house library since my arrival to the property. It is not really a library. More a compilation of books on travel, Uttaranchal and it’s wildlife. I suspect some books have just been kept after lazy, unorganized travelers left them behind on the corner stool in the room. After all my consideration, I pick up a book on birds of India. It is an obvious choice as I have been bullied by my husband to pick it up. Who other than his own bird loves many others of the bird species. I flip through and make a resolve to identify them all as and when we spot one. It has been more than year to our marriage and I have picked up bird watching. Occasionally doing a better job than he does but we rarely reach a consensus on this claim. We disagree on birding and more than just agree on the food.
There is a thing about good food and us. We rarely disagree. Our stomachs might but we don’t. Ever. That said we have been served local Kumaoni delicacies such as ‘Bhatt daal’ and locally grown rice. The rest of the vegetables have been cooked in a way specific to Kumaon. The produce used is fresh and tastes divine. We relish the food but our greedy soul still asks for more. The house cook promises an equally mouth-watering evening snack. We believe his word; silently agree not to tip him if he doesn’t keep his end of the bargain. And Oh boy! Does he surprise us! He does! We have our own bonfire, and here are the husband and wife staring at the seekh that holds chunky, juicy pieces of chicken. We hear the house cook call out, “Didi, chicken tikka theek rahega kya?” Feeling mortified at our suspicion, we nod our heads in enthusiasm. He smiles back, knowing he has bowled us over. We salivate while it is being cooked and then use the juices in our mouth to feel what food in heaven should taste like. Overstuffed with the evening snack, we still show the audacity of checking about the dinner menu. He smiles and we rest assured.
While our food obsession continues, we get distracted by the beauty of where we are. That is the thing that pulled us from Delhi. The property is set in a fruit orchard and the material used for construction is mostly local. The décor is minimalistic and comforts have been taken care off. We have a lavish bath, comfortable bed and a window that runs from one corner of the room to another. It is our own window to the beauty of Muketshwar. The hill that we see from our room window is virgin. We don’t see a single light on that side of the hill. We hear stories about how the leopard once attacked the house dog. We have to believe him as poor Buzo carries the scars from his encounter with the leopard.
There is a thing about animals here in Mukteshwar they all seem like our own. Or maybe it is a thing with us, we make them our own wherever we go. I will write about that some other time. So, we have a variety of cats and dogs here. Some have names, the others don’t. We have Buzo, the beautiful Bhutia dog. Then there is Shorty (the cat), Tintin (the ferocious cat), Skippy (the most adorable scared dog) and a fresh litter of kittens. They are tiny, like very tiny. All these animals are family to us during our stay. We meet them in the morning, afternoon & evening. Our hosts ensure that we meet them every time we cross their side of the property. The Kittens are irresistible. At first, they are reluctant to play their little games in front of us intruders. Then they just grow used to our presence as we don’t budge. They indulge in acrobats, they indulge in fights and their most precious indulgence is that with Skippy. Skippy is more of a cat than a dog. She mothers them. They play with her and find comfort in her fur coat.
We have covered our trek of the property, spotted two new types of birds and eagerly await our morning trek to meet the animal gang next morning. Post lunch, we sit by the fire and later in the evening gaze at stars. I haven’t seen so many for some time. Last memory from Corbett was fading. Here is my reminder of how a starlit sky should look like. Dinner served. Us elated. We move to our cozy room and gaze at the sky from our beds. Anupam is quick to switch off the lights so that we feel as if we are underneath the sky. I sense his chest swirl up upon his achievement. We chat, I insist he reads out to me. I dose off in no time but hey! I hear his sigh of relief!
We hear birds and we hear a faint call of “Didi’. We know it’s the house cook. I am fresh and husband is reluctant as ever. I remind him of the beautiful vistas, the sun rise and the BIRDS. Here he is, springing out of the bed. He is ready in no time and off for his trek.
Mukteshwar is a beautiful and quaint town. We are visiting it in off season and on a weekday. That’s the perfect time to visit an otherwise populated Mukteshwar. We roam around as if we own the town. The locals greet us and are ever willing to share tales. We visit the ‘Chauli ki jali’ Indulge in things husband likes. Chauli ki Jali is one of the best spots for rappelling and rock climbing. I refrain from both and take up the task being the photographer of the day. Husband is all pepped up and poses willingly. He even manages to take a call for payment reminder while on his way up! He is upbeat and can’t get over his enthusiasm of having checked off his to do list for the trip. We trek back to the city square, scan local items and settle for a cup of chai with one of the most beautiful sights of our trip, a sun set.
The sky is in myriad shades of blue, yellow and orange. We cozy up, sip on warm tea, wish that we never had to return and seal the trip with a few speechless moments of love.