My trip to Bhimtal was very interesting and personal. A month or so back when I learnt that CHSJ will be a part of the SAHAYOG Utsav I was thrilled. I could really do with a couple of days out of office. However, by the time the trip was upon us, I was reluctant to go as I was so caught up in ghar ka affairs. Suddenly, it was the day of the travel- we had to pack and re-pack, make travel arrangements and buy snacks for the train. Of course, I forgot to take the ticket but that is the comfort of group travel- Not everyone was like me.
The train journey was not comfortable- we were all hungry and hot and cramped. Other passengers kept treating the corridor outside our compartment as a meeting hall. Coughing politely but loudly wasn’t helping so we shifted to saying loud uffffffffs and Ufffff hoooos. I didn’t sleep at all as the latter strategy also failed entirely and moreover because I was the self appointed luggage guard. So it was with a slight headache when I looked out of the window the next morning at 5am. I gasped and so did most of the other people in the next half hour. I had quite forgotten how beautiful the mountains are and the recent rains had made everything around us fresh, green and misty. I don’t know when I eventually stopped gaping out of the window. I could have got down from the train right there, pitched a tent and lived in the middle of nowhere forever more, but we soon found ourselves in Sumo cars going up the winding hills. It was beautiful.
The next one and a half days saw us going to Naukutiatal and Nainitaal. We ate Momos in the Tibetan market, we ate hot bhutta in Naukutiatal and also hot maggi with green chillies, made in a small dhaba by the same man who had just rowed our boat on the lake. We took long walks on the mall road, haggled with shopkeepers and tried to catch clouds- all these were not too easy as all activities were interspersed with successive screams from our group pointing to just about everything and saying- Heyyyyyyyy just look at this. I think we smiled right through the trip.
Our youngest groupie- the not yet 2 years old Tarini learnt a new word- Duck or DAAAAK as she called it, except she would not call the actual ducks that (or were they geese) but would point and say DAAAAAK to the duck shaped paddle boats. Afloat in the water, they did look more duck-like than the actual ducks (or were they geese) who were not in the water but sitting still on the road with their beaks tucked inside their feathers.
Naukutiataal was just unexpected. It was lush green all around- there were tall trees over us and thick green foliage as far as we could see. Small cottages were tucked away in the mountains. Walking along the serpentine road was fun without having to worry about traffic and car horns or littered streets. The clouds looked like they were attached to tree tops and within our grasp. The water was clean and blue and our two boats were the only ones on the lake and we felt that we could actually drink that water- which some of did try and it was just sweet.
These are some of the memories I took back. But I took back more than this. I remember coming to hill stations almost every alternate year up to about college. Each time was just as wondrous and special. The long walks on the mall, the nip in the air, tiny waterfalls in the middle of the road, seeing the village lights glowing in the evenings- I also learnt the term hair-pin bend on one such trip.
Walking along the mall road I understood why I loved the mountains when I was a kid. All that I found now, existed then also and has a meaning in that world. Like video game parlours which are only on mall roads. I have never seen a sea-shell shop selling shell curtains and shell jewellery in the mountains and never seen a video game parlour on the beaches. As children, we would land ourselves in these shops and never leave. We were thrown out because we would finish our money even though a thirty minute game cost only about a couple of Rupees and we sneaked in a lot of free games thanks to bad time keeping by the store owners.
I saw soap bubble rings which as children we ran around trying to catch but ended up bursting them and also the balloon shooting shops with balloons stuck on a cardboard. There were shops with wooden walking sticks. I didn’t see any hoop throwing but did see a cricket match in a large field which would have been a parking lot during the busy season. Fortunately, my mind chose not to see some things- like stalls selling Sarojini Nagar items- fake leather bags, cheap stoles and dark glasses for Rs.100. Instead, I focused on Phirans swaying from hangers and shops selling wooden paraphernalia. I also saw the slinky toy but when I asked if I could have the steel one, the disinterested shopkeeper looked straight at me and said that nobody wants them now- tourists want the muti- coloured plastic ones. They were awful and did not flip flop at all, but I was happy to see them.
The slinky toy was one of those things that we had in abundance at my home but when I grew up, I just threw it away. Seeing them made me realise how over time I had become careless about things that used to mean a lot to me- thinking that they would always be around me. That they were still available on the mall road was reassuring. It also made me wonder about that other old thing we call Values- what about values that we once held close and now don’t interact with. What is the purpose of these archaic things- honesty, integrity, justice? Sitting through the discussions in the Utsav, my faith in that thing called ‘values’ was reaffirmed. I realized that eventually what we value defines who we are.
That was a good learning in a 2 day trip!
By Lavanya Mehra, in Bhimtal between 25-27th August 2012, for SAHAYOG Utsav, celebration of 20 years of SAHAYOG!