Monica Singh | April 2023
“Faeries, come take me out of this dull world,
For I would ride with you upon the wind,
Run on the top of the dishevelled tide,
And dance upon the mountains like a flame.”
― William Butler Yeats, The Land of Heart’s Desire
When we set off from Karnal, Haryana, to drive up to Tirthan Valley, Himachal Pradesh, in March of last year, we hadn’t imagined how long or how frustrating the drive would be. A distance of 383kms separates our pickup point and our destination, which should ideally take no more than 9-10 hrs. But, as residents of any mountainous terrain will tell you, pahadon mein chaahe doori lambi na ho, raaste zaroor lambe hote hain.
It took us the better part of 13 hours to make this journey. My husband and I, my two brothers and my sister-in-law set off in 2 separate cars at around 12 noon and arrived at Prabhat Homestay past midnight. The Himalayas were on the cusp of Springtime and the weather was crisp and chilly. Around one in the morning, we unloaded from our car into utter darkness and rushed to the warmth of our rooms.
Behind us we could hear the Tirthan river gushing past, but the night occluded our visions. The only thing we wanted at that point was food and sleep. To hell with everything else!
A diffusion of sunlight penetrating inside our room through the curtained windows heralded the dawn. Barefoot, I walked across the wooden floor to the adjoining balcony that faced the Tirthan river. The sight took my breath away.
A landscape of ethereal greenery twinkling in the pre-dawn light. Just across the narrow lane in front of the hotel, the Tirthan sloshed and gurgled past. A murmuration of birds took flight and speckled the distant blue sky. The first breath of the cold, fresh, rejuvenating mountain air cleansed me of the exhaustion of the drive up here and all my complaints vanished instantly. As I squealed in delight, woke my husband up and rushed down the steps, across the road and onto the smooth, warm, rock bedded river bank, I thanked the Universe and all my stars for bringing me to this paradise.
It had been a long-cherished dream of mine; visiting and staying at a place next to a riverbank. The muse of my dreams had always been the Ganga, the Bhagirathi. How could I have known that a childhood dream would come true at the banks of the Tirthan instead?
The first day, my mates were hard pressed to make me part from the riverbank. I would not move! The first time I dipped my toes into the icy waters, the energy that shot up through my veins was indescribable.
And how do I capture in words that melodic tinkling and susurration of the river itself? Sitting atop a rock in the middle of the dancing river, I finally realised Wordsworth’s fascination with the brook; I felt one with Yeats and Tennyson and Shelly and Frost.
Later that afternoon, we went for a short walk along the banks of Tirthan, exploring our surroundings and familiarising ourselves with the lay of the land. Our hosts prepared authentic Himachal delicacies for us at night.
At night, we lit up a bonfire in the lawn and we sang and danced in sync with the gushing Tirthan.
Water and Fire, coming together in our hearts in a wondrous merger of elemental joy.
On Day 2, we went fishing! And, believe me, it is not remotely as easy or relaxing as the movies make it look. There’s a lot to the art of fishing, but most important of all is patience. Unwinding the fishline, hooking the bait, casting the line and then reeling it back in, every move is to be carried out with utmost gentleness and excruciating patience.
Our friend/guide, Adarsh bhaiya, is a pro at it. We gathered on the rocky banks of the Tirthan, and clustered around him like excited school children on an outing around their teachers.
We did not catch any fish that day. But we had a gala of a time. Even though there was no divine insurgence of calm that comes from fishing, the roiling, chilled waters of the Tirthan and the verdant landscape of the valley instilled within us indescribable joy.
That evening, I experience one of the most magical sunsets of my life so far.
Even today, almost a year later, I only have to close my eyes and think back to that evening, and the darkness behind my lids lights up with the amber of the setting sun, juxtaposed magnificently against the blue cloudless sky and the crystal-clear waters of the Tirthan river.
Day 3, Adarsh bhaiya roused us at the crack of dawn. After a delectable breakfast of homemade pancakes with honey and hot melted ghee, he outlined the plan for the day. We were going to Sarchi!
Sarchi is a small village in the Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh, tucked in the Himalayas at a height of 7284 ft. For the longest time, roads did not connect this quaint little village to the greater Kullu.
Now, it is a short and easy drive from Tirthan to Gushaini bridge. After Gushaini, the roads are narrow and driving can be a hassle.
So, armed with our water bottles, jackets and sunglasses, we parked our car in Gushaini and trekked up to Sarchi on foot.
By the time we reached the top of the hillock, it was noon and the sun beat down upon us, its warmth a reprieve from the chilly winds that battered our faces. Near the top of the mound, we came upon a flat, green meadow. To me, the place seemed to have sprung to life straight out of a postcard. Surrounded by tall pine trees and the mighty deodars on all sides, the little pocket of flatland amidst a rocky and uneven terrain was like a gift from above. Far off in the distance, I could see the snow-clad peaks of the Himalayas, glinting away to glory.
I lay down on the soft bed of green grass and closed my eyes. The silence echoed around me. I felt like I was floating between the sky and the earth, between the very spaces of creation and life.
Soon, the silence was sprinkled by the tinkling laughter of children. Some village urchins had arrived in our paradise, curious and intrigued. With them came a pair of mountain dogs. Their party merged with ours and there, upon the shoulders of the Great Himalayas, we became children once again.
We played fetch with the dogs and catch me if you can with the kids. After we had exhausted ourselves, we ate together. Slowly, the sun went down behind the mountains and the kids returned to their village. The dogs, however, stayed with us and exalted us with their unconditionally loving presence.
It was a short trek back to the village proper and to our car, where we rejoiced in the simple pleasures of hot Maggi and steaming cups of tea at a small roadside stall.
It was a tired but happy group that returned to the hotel that evening. We freshened up and lit a bonfire. Midnight saw us singing and dancing under the canopy of stars, reverberating in sync with the pulse of the land.
Day 4 and our last day in Tirthan arrived bittersweet. None of us wanted to leave and yet, leave we must. The thoughts of our city homes and city lives crept up uninvited. With a heavy and yet magically full heart, we broke fast on homemade Siddu a trademark delicacy in Himachal.
As we bid adieu to our hosts and vowed to return soon, they directed us to visit Jalori Pass on our way back.
They must have gleaned our reluctance about returning. The detour was just their way of allowing us some more time with the Himalayas before the dreaded hour of departure.
Sometimes I wonder how perceptive these hotel owners must grow after years and years of experience in the business. How exciting and fulfilling it must be to meet so many new souls and to bond with them by opening up their hearts and their homes to veritable strangers. There’s indefinable joy in sharing stories, of our culture, our food and our lives. And there’s a quiet sorrow as well, knowing that the time for parting is just around the corner.
We took the detour and made our long way to Jalori Pass.
Located in the Karsog Valley of the Kullu district, Jalori Pass stands at an awe-inspiring elevation of 10,800 ft from sea level. Once there, we parked our car next to the Jalori Mata temple in the main market and made our way up the mountain on foot. We passed through a few villages and stopped along the way to play with the sheep (I did, the others not so much!)
I don’t really know how to describe what I felt as I dropped to the ground in exhaustion and wonder. As a Mumbaikar, the highest I had ever been was Lohghad in Lonavala.
At Jalori, the word ‘mountain’ took on a whole new meaning for me.
The peaks of the Dhauladhar range stood before me like gallant sentries. Tall, proud and fierce. At 10000 ft above sea level, my worldview changed.
I have always been a beach person. Maybe it was the proximity I had to the sea as a Navy child, but the ocean has always held a prominent place of adoration for me. That day, at Jalori Pass, I realised I was also a mountain person. The serenity that enveloped me as I sat holding hands with my husband, gazing out at the Himalayas, was transcendental.
I remembered something I had read a long time ago ― “The sea tells you everything will be fine. The mountains tell you it doesn’t matter, anyway.” (Adeel Ahmed Khan)
I have not witnessed anything like that before or after, and from that Spring on, I learnt to embrace the magical miracles of nature and its inherent fury, in equal parts. This is what we mean by ‘Paradox’.
Light and dark exist within us simultaneously. Whether we like it or not, whether we want it or not, we are born with the capability of being good and bad. It is the side that we choose to act upon, the side we consciously make the effort of bringing forward every single day is the one that shapes us. Our choices define us.
Celebrated essayist Philip Connors once said, “The greatest gift of life on the mountain is time. Time to think or not think, read or not read, scribble or not scribble — to sleep and cook and walk in the woods, to sit and stare at the shapes of the hills. I produce nothing but words; I consume nothing but food, a little propane, a little firewood. By being utterly useless in the calculations of the culture at large, I become useful, at last, to myself.”
That balmy spring day in March, sitting at 10000 ft with the love of my life beside me, this is exactly how I felt.
There’s a fluidity to life, as with Time, that favours forward motion. We get so busy with our lives, with getting up and moving on that the chances to pause and reflect are few and far between. I believe that oceans and mountains give us that chance; to stop, to be still, to simply be. The vastness of the seas and the majesty of the mountains are a silent reminder to all of us to stop and reflect on our journey so far. To be grateful for all the myriad paths we took and all the choices we made that have brought us to this very moment and this wonderful, magnificent person who is Us.
Monica Singh is a dyed-in-the-wool bibliophile. Her love of reading has led to her passion for writing. She writes so others can find comfort and acceptance in her words, just like she has in the words of so many others before her.
Her debut novel, ‘The Pause’ (Publication September 2022), is now available on Amazon.
Monica lives in Pune, India, with her loving husband, Rahul, and a gentle ginger tomcat Loki.
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