These are strange days for me. I have been spending so much time in the Himalayas that I am beginning to feel that I can transport myself into what feels like a parallel universe made of mighty mountains, lush valleys, coniferous trees, bright sunshine, starry nights and healing air; where there literally are moments when you feel that the landscape is still, the time has stopped, yet the clock is ticking and before you know it, the panorama that was beaming in the bright daylight becomes invisible as the night takes over, but you know the mountains, valleys and trees are still there. I occasionally find myself drifting in the middle of a conversation, off into my happy place – the Himalayas. I look in the mirror and think of how healthy and radiant my skin feels every time I am in the mountains. Whether it’s the air of the mountains that agrees with me or the expensive skincare products, who is to say.
Even now, as I pen this post sitting in my balcony, looking at the dusty grey sky of Delhi, and nibbling on cheese crackers, the mental visuals I see are that of days I recently spent in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand. I think of crisp wintry nights in a peaceful and nondescript village few kilometers short of the more popular Mukteshwar and Dhanachuli; I think of the bonfire we badly needed to keep us warm that night and the potatoes we roasted in it as an accompaniment to a private dinner of bhat ke dubke, rajma and Kumaoni raita. It was a peaceful night, the only sound cutting through the thick silence was the crackling of burning wood and the Ramayana chants floating in the air from a temple until late; it was the night of Ashtami and the chants would go on until the end of the discourse. Then, I think of the fairy lights that tap-danced trying to match the rhythm of the chants the entire night.
I think of the eerie night we spent at a resort amidst the wild of the Jim Corbett National Park; the night made spookier by the stories told to us by the locals of the village; amma’s garden has been savaged a lot of times by wild animals that maneuver into the village at night. They keep their doors tightly shut from inside and watch the episode from the creeks of their windows. The resort manager tells us that they cannot put more lighting in the open area because it might attract animals at night. So we light a fire instead, have a few drinks by it, sitting atop the bonnet of a Thar that we had earlier rode for jungle safari.
When I think of Nainital’s mall road, overcrowded as it always is, I am only half repelled by the unaesthetic commercialization of the town. But at the same time, I dream of owning a valley view cottage up in the more secluded villages and then coming down to Nainital every now and then when I need to feel the whiff of “urbanization”.
I remember how the valley was strewn with rhododendron flowers which, due to climatic shift and global warming had bloomed mid-winter this year, as opposed to end of winter in March & April. Unfortunately for me, stinging nettle leaf (locally known as bicchhu booti) was in full bloom too. If you know of it, you know that the stinging nettle plant is a delicacy in Himalayan regions and nettle saag is a traditional dish of Kumaon. Of course I did not dare to eat it after the leaf STUNG me on my foot when I was trying to climb a surface by the road; I could feel the prick for more than two days. But I was more focused on the cold wind against my face and loving the fact that mountains ALWAYS heal my mind, body and soul.
Some recommendations for the travelers:
Kumaoni Food – Although most traditional kumaoni dishes are made domestically, there are restaurants like Balaji and Neelkanth at Kasiyalekh Market near Ramgarh serve delicious and rustic food. Bhat ke dubke and roti is a must have.
Local beverage made of rhododendron flowers is not only refreshing, but also has therapeutic properties.
DO NOT touch nettle leaf with bare hands. Even though it is not hazardous, the prick can be quite uncomfortable.
Tell me, is there a place that heals YOU?
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