IBTIDAA – THE BEGINNING
I was vacuous in the morning as usual. That day I had to attend a business conference of the BNI at 7:30 substituting my boss at The Radisson. I was taciturn though I am usually exuberant about wearing a blazer!
The conference ended. I came home, put off the blazer, picked my lunch and left for the office.
BUT SOMETHING, was wrong! The silence of the mind, had something hidden and I was afraid of that! Whenever this silence prevails in me, I can sense some kind of sudden change in my routine or myself is on its way. I felt like writing what was going on in my head that time, so shifted to the courtyard for a while. Restlessness started building up. Went inside, took my laptop, decided to work in the courtyard for the day so that I can write too in the intervals. Now it was the time for frustration to take me over. Yes, I had conciliated my mind that this labyrinth of the Old city can satisfy my thirst to be in the ‘unknown’ everyday [which became stronger during my internship period in Gangtok] but it wasn’t working for me that day. I had to move out! I was missing someone — myself. Yes, if I don’t share for long then it all starts stocking up inside and the only ones I could remember in that time were — the mountains.
I faked to the peon that I am having fever and to inform the same to my boss if he gets a call asking for me. Now — the plan was to go till the border of Rajasthan, drive among the mountains and come back by 8-ish on my bike.
If I would have told my mother, about this, she would have threatened me, literally! [You call it doing Siyaapa in Punjabi] So I just packed an extra t-shirt, my two diaries and some other small things saying to her, “Aa raha hu thodi der mein [Am coming in some time]” in my office bag only and I left home at around 12:30 p.m. Okay, morally it was wrong but this was the only way! I recalled the story of 127 Hours in which James Franco gets trapped under a boulder in the Grand Canyon and his relatives and friends can’t trace him as he went away on his adventure without informing them! So I better informed two of my friends and told them to keep a check on me every 2 hours for I am there or not as I was a bit doubtful to ride for such a long distance without side-mirrors in my bike!
It had to be a drive of 200 km in the plains to get the glimpse of my beloved mountains! Ah, that feeling of escaping Ahmedabad was just so elating! [Still, it is!] My heart just pinched a wish to my mind, “Why not see the sunset in Mount Abu?” and the decision was taken without giving a second thought and I made up my mind to reach the hilltop before sunset which would add 30 km more to my adventure! With favourite music in my earphones, roaring on great speeds and with energy and innocence of a small kid, I was crossing village by village, city by city with the hot sun not affecting my levels of enthusiasm. At around 3, when I was 30 km away from Palanpur, I received phone call from my father asking me where I am. I stopped my bike as the winds were not letting him hear my voice clearly. And he was angry, as it had to be! My mother started crying so as to what was the need to go so far. I was scolded and was told to return from wherever I am. I explained my best [unwantedly aggressively] but nothing was helping. Now – this gave a sudden brake to my enthusiasm. I drank some water which had also become warm by now so didn’t help in cooling down my mind. I became indecisive to go further and in that moment, I allowed my inner voice to speak to me – It’s a call that has come to me, it’s a call from Him or how would I be in such great spirits to reach somewhere so unintendedly. I trust the Higher One. I know He will take care of me. I may be unaware but He has planned everything and this trust is the key to move further. How the Himalayas used to hear me, as I stand on the terrace of my office back in Gangtok. And, I was firm by these hunches that I will go further!
I didn’t even stop for lunch. I reached Abu Road by 4:30 p.m. My father had advised me to park the bike at the railway station and to reach hill-top by a taxi. BUT, who wanted to miss the fun of riding on the mountains and wandering wherever I wanted once I reach there! It must be some 10 minutes as I started ascending the mountain when the cold winds started giving me chills. I cursed myself saying, “How can you be so foolish Jagjeet to wear a half-sleeve t-shirt while coming to a hill-station!” But in the next moment, I assuaged myself as in the beginning I was unaware of coming till the hill-station. And also, the feeling of riding on the twists and turns of the mountains after 5 months was superior to every other premonitions [mainly of where I am gonna stay in the night].
There were a lot of monkeys on the roadside barriers on the valley side and I reached the hill-station in 45 minutes with all the screaming of ‘woohoo’ and ‘yayy” and self-praising for the courage shown to come till the hill-top!
SHAAM – THE EVENING
As sunset being the first thing to lure me to come to Mount Abu, I straight away went to the Sunset Point. Seeing all the tourists coming in taxis, I felt an innocent pride in riding around on my own bike where I can boast of being a rider [along with being a traveller!] There were thousands of people at the Sunset Point, 90% of them hailing from Gujarat only. I grasped quickly that I was the only one who has come alone. All of them were with their friends or relatives. There were hawkers selling photo-frames, woollen caps and scarfs, belts and blankets and food delicacies like Masala Chana, Pani Puri and many more. One amongst them who was selling Rabdi seemed impudent; screaming out loud, “Tees ka hai, lena ho toh lo, nahi toh ghar jaao”. Most of the tourists seemed to disliking his way of business – might be drunk!
I bought some chips and popcorn. I remember from my school trip visit that I will surely find popcorn here and luckily I found a little boy selling them. I found myself a rock near the steps where I can sit quietly in my solitude while enjoying the sunset. I believe in gathering whatever the place has to give as I stay there with it and write about what I felt, later. Some believe in writing simultaneously as they stay at their place of inspiration. I too do that some times.
The following excerpt was recorded as an audio-note later in the night: –
“We often advice or make motivational quotes on the rising sun. The setting sun has always either been romanticized or looked as metaphor to what is evanescent in one’s life. But I think that man should be like a setting sun, the one whose work and deeds spread light even after he has gone. Rising sun doesn’t scatter that much light before rising which the sun that is setting, scatters after it has set. But everyone’s at the Sunset Point is leaving now as the sun can’t be seen anymore. Maybe everyone loved its form and not his light. But I can still see someone there in those gradient grey, blue and orange colours of the horizon. I don’t know what it is, but I know I have come here for them, they want to be with me and I will be there. For this light which will be gulped down soon by the moon, this silence of the breeze which sings lullaby to every plant on this mountain, all this that my eyes behold — their souls are dancing as I be with them before they go to sleep tonight.”
I had to look for a place to stay overnight now. Generally, an average human would have panicked in a situation where he hasn’t decided till sunset for a place to stay, but mine was not the same case! I slightly feared that the hoteliers will charge really high even for a single bedded room looking at the rush at the hill station and also aware of the fact that I would be desperate at this time of the day to get into any room that I find. But I had one place in my mind since I had left Ahmedabad – the Gurudwara. There is a Gurudwara on the periphery road of the Polo Ground. I straight-away went there, thanked Him for safely bringing me till here and to help me further on this trip. I then went to Gyaaniji to ask him if any rooms were empty. Harnam Singh, the Gyaani, readily said yes and showed me a double-bedded room just at a nominal charge of 200 bucks. I didn’t had that much cash that time so I went to the ATM first. I told him that I have come here in a haste and I don’t have any woollen stuff to keep me warm to which he offered me a shawl too and I started walking towards the Nakki Lake which is at a walkable distance crossing the bazaar.
The bazaar was thronging with tourists either enjoying food in the roadside eateries or buying woollen stuff, children enjoying the horse-rides, women looking for affordable jewellery and a handful of foreigners in the handicrafts shops. I thought of filling my tummy first otherwise I knew I won’t be able to concentrate on my writing. I finished my Pav Bhaji in hardly 5 minutes. All of them were with their families in the open-air food joint. I moved further when a huge kadhaai filled with Rabdi caught my eye. The shopkeeper or the halwaai was an old man covered with mufflers and woollen cap who used to take a quick nap in the time his customers enjoyed their sweets. I got one to which I added my most beloved – Gulab jamun. The taste is still memorable in my taste buds!
I reached Nakki Lake then and was doing some photography when a young kid with huge eyes and a wide smile infiltrated into my frame.
“Bhaiya le lo, le lo, dus ka hai sirf.”, he and his bother shouted as they tried to sell small balls of wheat flour. I didn’t pay attention to them at first and was indulged in my photography and suddenly when I looked into their sweet box, it looked something lIke momos to me for a second but in the next moment, one of them said, ” ye atta hai machhliyo ke liye, aap humse khareedke inhe khilaao na” I thought that okay, they have got something new! So I offered them, “Achha, main khareed lunga aapse par ek photo khichwaana hoga aapko ?” And they readily posed with their shining smiles!
I was missing this after leaving Gangtok — to interact with new people of new culture and to know their stories. I understood in 3 hours of being in the hill-station that this thirst of mine can’t be quenched here because I can only see tourists everywhere and that too 90% of them Gujaratis only — so no culture change! So I better decided to speak more with these kids as I was hopeless that I will find any elder who would be interested in sharing some stories of himself with me as the locals were busy making money from the tourists.
So I initiated, “Kya naam hai aap dono ka?”
“Karan [the younger one] aur Dharmesh [the elder one]”
“Koi behen hai aap dono ki?” “Haa hai na, ye Karan jitni hai.”
“Papa kaha hai aapke ?”
“Baba Sunset Point pe hai. Wo chana bechte hai waha.”
“Toh aap dono ghar ab unke saath jaaoge ?”
“Nahi, hum akele hi jaayenge chal ke.”
“Akele ? Ghar kaha ya paas ke gaav mein hai aapka?”
“Haa wahi hai gaav mein hai, sheher mein nahi”
” Toh akele chale jaate ho ? Darr nahi lagta ?”
Dharmesh answered shyingly ,”Nahi, darr toh nahi lagta”
“Lights hai raste mein ?”
“Nahi aadhe mein hai aadhe mein nahi hai.”
I thought of dropping them back to their home but my bike was 2 km away from the lake so I dropped the idea as I felt lazy to walk down and also the village being far, it might not be safe to go more above the hill.
I further asked, “School jaate ho aap dono?”
“Nahi, yahi rehte hai hum”
“Par subah se shaam yaha rehne ka kya matlab? Ye toh season hai abhi tourists ka iske liye itni zyada bheed hai varna toh aap jaa hi sakte ho na”
They just laughed and ran away. Maybe they found me talkative and that can be a loss to these little sellers who might not get dinner at home if they don’t finish selling all their balls of wheat flour. They were enjoying selling and would throw small pieces from wheat flour balls on your behalf. They didn’t find it any burden, they looked so happy! May their innocence remains the same forever!
SHAB – THE NIGHT
I had planned this — to find a solitary place near the Nakki Lake where I can read quietly, my current darling, “Rain In The Mountains” by Ruskin Bond, when I was packing my bag at home. And very smoothly, I was able to find one! I sat down under the streetlight on the stone parapet in my most comfortable posture [I didn’t lay!] and all the surrounding mountain vibes started pouring their love to my reading.
There used to be an iron railing before this stone parapet took over the periphery of the Nakki Lake. Back then there were no streetlights on the back portion and people hardly used to come after sunset. Hardly four or five people used to pass-by in ten minutes. I assumed that they did had a look on what am I reading and didn’t think of me as a poor student whose house is deprived of electricity and has come here to study! I stayed here for some 30 minutes. My father kept calling me to get change of high currency notes; if I possessed any, as 500 and 1000 rupee notes were going to be demonetised in the next three hours nationwide. But in some 20 minutes, my brain started giving me these creepy illusions that what if some spirit pushes me in to the lake! I had heard a lot of suicide stories in the lake and also the abandoned bungalow opposite the street played a vital role in forcing me to start walking from here then. Of course, I am too young to die!
I remember the last time I was in Mount Abu was some 8 years back with my family when I must be in 8th grade. My first visit was when I studied in the 6th grade which was part of a 3-day school trip. It was 9 in the night when my parents came to see me off at the railway station and in spite of theirs and teachers’ countless efforts of consoling me, I kept sobbing that I don’t want to leave my parents. So you can say that in the span of some 11 years I have developed the audacity to escape to the same destination without even telling them!
I walked a bit further and then started to walk back towards the bazaar to get money from the ATM but the servers were stopped by the banks so I had to buy a Pullao to get the change of the only 500 rupee note that I possessed.
I reached the Gurudwara at 9:45 p.m., took a blanket and settled myself on a bench outside where the slope ended. The chilly winter winds, the noiseless street, the spiritual vibes from the holy structure and the stillness of the night had made me slip into a long-seeked state of tranquillity. I sat there for half an hour then went upstairs the Gurudwara and stood in the balcony offering me views of the hushed Polo Ground. I felt lazy to type so I recorded in audio notes all that had happened in the day. I then spoke for some time to a Delhi-based friend of mine, obviously in utmost excitement describing the whole day! I then went to sleep keeping my room lights on so that I can wake up early for a serene morning ride on my bike.
SEHER – THE MORNING
I woke up at 6:30 after snoozing the alarm for half an hour. I remember being in Darjeeling which was 90% full when I was there earlier this year in May. You can find thousands of tourists in the evening at the Chaurasta or in the queues of cable cars or in the bazaar buying woollen clothing and the much celebrated – Chai but if you wake up early i.e. between 5 to 9-ish, you will sense that is there any curfew in the hill station or what ? This is the time when you can actually see the locals jogging, and doing yoga otherwise the rest of the day you will be in a notion that only tourists habitat the city and the locals are only the hotel owners. So I knew from this experience that the tourists are the non-believers in waking up early in the morning and the periphery of the Nakki Lake would be deprived of tourists and I can enjoy my solitude well. I ate the leftover Pullao and left for Nakki Lake at 7 on my bike. I stopped at a garden near the lake whose red tulips were inviting me as I stood some 200 m away from it on the edge of the lake which had an iron railing to it. The garden had red tulips on the side facing the lake which gets connected to the statue of Swami Vivekanand through a small adorable bridge which creates a small moat to its right. I would like to quote Rumi here before going further –
“The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you.”
The carriers of secrets here were the messengers of peace – a dole of doves. The very sight of those serene white doves moving in pairs together elated my heart and I just got indulged in photographing them. I was silent as I am usually in the mornings, but this silence was thoughtful, peaceful and thankful with no fear and worry about anything in the world. I knew – for now I just have to be where I am with all my mind and heart as each moment has been sent as a gift.
I had never took an entire round of the lake even in the daytime in the previous visits because I also had come like a tourist back then and now I don’t have to worry for the taxi fares too. I moved further and took a halt at the periphery where I saw some benches. Early morning near the lakes, the solitude, the peaceful breeze and the shawl – were giving me vibes of an old poet. I photographed the lake and my bike. People that could be seen were the walkers and joggers. Most of them were men, dressed in white kurta pyjamas with their jackets. I guessed they might be in the government. It was fascinating to be in the sohbat – company of the road getting brightened by the sunshine filtering through the trees with the lake on one side. I halted again near a peninsular garden where there was a bench just on its tip giving vast views of the lake soaked in the morning sun. A young man was enjoying his solitude there, I wondered what if I am given a house just near this lake and I promise I can bring up my first novel sooner than writing it in Ahmedabad!
“Uncle, ye raasta aage kaha jaata hai?” [Uncle, where does this road go?], I asked this to an elder man who was coming down the hill to which he said that some 2 km ahead there is Honeymoon Point and it’s also the last destination on this mountain. The lonely path bathed in lovely sunlight was surrounded by wild roses, scalable brown mountains and small water reservoirs of the lake.
I reached Honeymoon Point at around 8:30 a.m. and I was the third one to be there – a chai wala and a guide to be the first ones. There were no mountains beyond this point – all you could see were the vast plains of Rajasthan to the right and Gujarat to the left, fading and wrapping up in the horizon. There was a trail through the forest from this point which led to the Anantgara village [I don’t remember the name perfectly] in the plains which could be seen from there. I thought of taking the trail but the guide warned me that I may find leopards and bear on my way which surely discouraged me to think further on this plan! I left from there after some half an hour when a group of some 20 tourists came along with a guide who was showing them a fake Laila-Majnoo cave on the lower terrace.
I then moved to the bazaar taking with me some last glimpses of the lake. I had my breakfast there and then rode among the residential areas to reach a place called Trevor Tank. When I was asking a local guy regarding the path, he informed that Trevor Tank has got crocodiles with no security to the visitors and one has to walk 2 km to reach the tank. He said once I reach there I may find someone willing to reach Trevor Tank like me but that would be rare. Suddenly, a recent dream flashed to my mind where I am getting attacked by a group of crocodiles. I thought what if these crocodiles are the same ones who had been feasting on me in the dream! I moved directly to the Gurudwara, packed my belongings, paid my last good-byes to the Gyaaniji and started to descend from the mount.
IKHTITAAM – THE END
I couldn’t gaze much at the surrounding scenery as I had to concentrate upon my driving as when you descend, the bike is on the edge towards the valley so one single mistake can be dangerous but sudden flashes in front of my eyes of the mountain rides taken in Sikkim, kept the excitement upbeat in me on this journey! While I was descending, two rocks resting on a lonely grassy mound, with two three houses below them, caught my eye. I decided immediately that I want to sit on them!
I took off from the highway onto the village road which soon became too narrow for my bike to go further. I parked my bike there and started walking towards the rocks. There were coconut trees on the mound standing amidst half-grown vegetation by the villagers. It was 11 in the morning and the sun was getting harsh with every passing minute so I thought it won’t be that enjoyable to sit on the rocks with no one around.
I moved further from there on the highway and took a short halt in between from where I was getting nice panoramic views of the opposite mountains and the lake, villages and fields on the plains below.
After a ride of an hour I had landed in the plains.
Khuniya – a village between Palanpur and Abu Road that had caught my eye on the previous evening, again urged me in the afternoon to stop this time as I was passing by the adjacent flyover bridge. Aravalli range in the backdrop. green fields, straight narrow village road, cows and bull grazing with their farmers and the tired silent sun were welcoming me into their lands.
I got off the flyover, took a U turn and got onto the village road. It felt like I have reached amidst a home, lost long ago. Two women were resting in the shade at the boundary of the fields, some just gossiping under the Peepal near the handpump. Tractors were moving in the field and the road came to an end for me. I stood for a while under the Banyan with thoughts of great saints like Guru Nanak, Bulle Shah who used to wander seeking truth and sleep under the shade of such trees without any fear of insects or snakes harming them. A modern man can hardly take a decision to leave his worldly desires to be at the places where the soul is in peace. The village farmers waved at me with a smile as I left their beautiful Khuniya.
I stopped on the outskirts of Siddhpur to have my lunch at 2. The journey back seemed difficult in the scorching sun compared to the journey of previous day. I was getting restless but I never regretted on my decision for this abscond to the mountains. I reached Ahmedabad at 5 in the evening.
“ek sham, ek shab aur ek seher lene gaya tha main pahaado se.. Wo le aaya, bas ab aage ke kuch din sheher mein guzaarne ka sahara mil gaya.. fir jaayenge.. fir aayenge.. ek din magar hamesha ke liye unhi mein rahenge.. har sham, shab aur seher, sab un hi mein.. ”
[P.S – All photos are owned by me and have been clicked from my phone, Moto G4 Plus]