We headed towards Srinagar for our summer vacations and my birthday celebrations; visiting the most beautiful and untouched places is one of the many perks of being a defence brat. Though in those days there was unrest in the valley due to militant insurgency but this fact only fueled our (me and my sister) excitement for the trip. I happily showed off in front of my school friends-I was visiting paradise!!
We were not disappointed by the magnitude of beauty and serenity that surrounded us. Poets and authors have for years described it and I can tell you that none of it is exaggeration. I too was mesmerized by the view- chinar leaves dancing merrily in cool breeze, geometric green paddy fields alternating the saffron plantation and the rosy pink cheeks of young children.
Every mountain looked majestic; weathered by the harsh wind and chilling dripping glaciers, they spoke of strength and a strong will. Our living quarters faced the Pir Panjal mountain range across the valley, and one could sit for hours waiting to catch a glimpse of them through the thick cloud cover. They always obliged by peeping through them.
I remember when we drove from the airport to our station, I asked my mother why in spite of it being a hill station, road didn’t curve much. What I couldn’t appreciate then was that valley is plain (blame the school art teachers). We were based at foothills of the other side of the valley. We could see almond orchards and Khurmani trees and small clusters of villages. Behind, the view was of that of the hills, curving around our station, holding us in their embrace. ’What lay behind those hills?’ the thought often nagged and even when everybody found my curiosity amusing, I didn’t bother. My imagination ran wild, ranging from fancying a parallel universe to a lost world… waiting to be discovered by me!!
When my curiosity levels reached fever pitch, I decided to climb a hill for myself. I picked the tallest one, for a better view. The tallest also did not look tall enough to me (blinds to the thin line between confidence and over confidence) and I was convinced, climbing it would be a cake walk. My mother insisted on a packed lunch, just as all mothers would and I along with my sister left for the day’s job of ‘hill climbing’
We started early in the morning to dodge bright sunlight. Merrily chatting away, we walked for more than an hour only to find ourselves still approaching only the base of the hill. The distance turned out to be longer than it looked from our room windows, but we were full of energy and enthusiasm so we continued. As the sun came up, we encountered a deceptivegradual slope which turned into a steep climb. With frequent water and snacks breaks, we managed the half-way mark. Whenever we would look down, things didn’t look quite as small as we imagined they would –we were covering the distance tad slower I guess.
The climb became steeper, less grassy with loose stones. By now we were sweating and panting, thankful’ that our bags were lighter. As we got closer, we could appreciate multiple small peaks of that single hill. I made a yet another unsuccessful attempt to look beyond the hill. At least our living quarters now appeared as tiny clusters of tin, a relief!
We settled for one of the pseudo peaks and sat there to catch our breaths and peeped between them to the other side. What lay ahead had us both spellbound. We lost track of time and I don’t know for how long we stayed quiet. . Just looking. It was right out of the paintings, a playful river meandering through a thick green cover, I swear I saw 7 shades of colours splashed across the skies, flocks of birds flying in perfect coordination, making formations… we sure enjoyed the treat! By then the cool breeze dried our sweat, the sunny afternoon gave way to a pleasant evening. It was time to head back home. A day well spent.
The next morning I realized, I could see the sky, birds and the trees even now, as I sat admiring the mountains.. Even though I couldn’t see the difference between different trees or birds but what I felt seeing things from that height gave me a newer, fresher perspective of them, how beautiful they looked in totality.. complete. Only then did life begin making sense.