As I was returning home this evening, a childhood memory came rushing back and took me completely by surprise. Many years ago when I was just an awkward eight year old, my parents decided to indulge on a much needed family vacation. The arrangements were made; the plans were set in motion and there began my fascination for the great outdoors. This sudden nostalgia compelled me to put down in writing, the memory of the two best weeks of my life.
I remember standing in a rickety old bus clutching tightly onto my father’s fingers. The bus was swaying precariously from side to side – the driver nervously navigating it up the circular roads carved into the rugged hills of Kalimpong- a small yet vivacious hill station in eastern India. My mother suffering from a bout of mountain sickness was sitting sullenly with my infant brother tucked tightly under her arm. But neither the nauseating movements of the bus – cautiously creeping up the rain washed hills nor my mother’s sudden bout of ill health could dampen my spirits. This was my adventure – the first of many – and I was going to make the most of it.
4 am. I found myself sitting outside old Mrs. Tweedy’s cottage and to my mind; it seemed like something out of an Enid Blyton book, quaint and charming, nestled neatly among the leafy foliage of the surrounding hills. I sat there wrapped in a thick woolen winter coat struggling to keep my eyes open. The darkness outside seemed menacing and the silence of the early morning hour was deafening, broken occasionally by the shrill cries of wild hyena that inhabited the surrounding forests. (I vaguely remember seeing some wild dogs or jackal outside, but who knows, maybe that’s just my imagination working overtime.)The faint light of the bulb in the cottage patio made it possible to maneuver our way to the edge of the hill. Yet my mind could not fathom why my father had decided to wake me up this early. Fifteen minutes later I heard my father’s gentle voice signaling me to look in his direction.
That wintry morning as I watched the first amber rays of the sun lighting up the night sky, a sense of wonder washed over me. Gradually the amber turned to glistening ocher and the hazy silhouette of the majestic Himalayas began to appear. I stood there captivated, completely mesmerized by nature’s early morning exposition. It was as though she was revealing a carefully painted masterpiece for the first time. The range of colours amazed me and as the locals began to dot the deserted roads and as signs of life began to appear along the hills, I couldn’t help but wonder how much we city people miss out on and how many places of natural beauty remain unexplored and unappreciated. In retrospect, I now see why literature is littered with poets, novelists and playwrights who gently coerce us into valuing nature’s beauty.
That early morning experience whetted my appetite to explore this great big world we live in. I was never the same. The sight of a train, the noisy rumblings of an airplane flying overhead, the plethora of noises of a lively railway station, every little thing that had to do with travel fueled my imagination. Though I was just eight, I knew then, from the core of my being that nothing would make me happier than to be able to explore this great world.
Whether it was tasting cheese at the local farm, conversing with locals and trying desperately to use the few words of Nepali I had picked up, gorging on steaming hot momo’s or watching my father re-live his childhood memories in a place he had called home, Kalimpong was the place where my wanderlust was born.