Nature beckons us, and for me, it is the mountains that have held an irresistible charm since my childhood. I was born and brought up in the Dooars region of West Bengal which is the door or the entry to the North Eastern part of India. The Himalayas are to the north of Dooars, and on a morning of clear blue sky, one can see the mountains standing silhouetted far away in the horizon, stretching from the east to the west. When capped with snow, the peaks look resplendent in the morning sunshine.
My father was posted in the hill stations of Kalimpong for some time and then Karseung and Darjeeling in those years. I could not really imagine how and where those hill stations were nestling at that high altitude of those mountains.
So I had discovery of sorts when my father took my mother, sister and me on a trip to Darjeeling. I have vivid memories of that trip. From Silliguri the journey to Darjeeling by bus is through curvy roads, sharp bends, U-turns by the flank of the hills. The dizzy heights of the hills filled me with wonder and consternation. Sitting in the bus though, I had wonderful view of tea gardens and forest of eucalyptus, deodar and pines in the slopes of the hills.
It was in a winter of biting cold that we went to Darjeeling, carrying a luggage of warm garments – sweaters, woollen caps, etc. We put up in a house where my father stayed along with his colleagues. I told them that I would one day build my house there by carving the hills. We had a great fun with uncles who were greatly amused by this ambition of mine.
Afterwards, I made trips to other hill stations like Nainital and Ranikhet of Uttaranchal. The quaint lakes – Naini tal, Bhim tal, Saat tal, Naukuchia tal – at Nainital surprised me by their very existence at the high altitude of the mountains. Then there was that grassland at Ranikhet, which is ideal for film shoot and I watched dances of heroes and heroines in many popular Hindi movies shot in that location.
Every hill station has a history. Many of them were developed by the British who had retreat in the comfort of pleasant weather and scenic beauty of the hills. Many Englishmen made these hills their homes and stayed on even after the British left India.
My favourite writer, Ruskin Bond, lives in the hills. His writing familiarises me with life in the hills and with people, animals, birds and trees especially at Dehradun and Musoorie. No other writer explored life in the hills better than Ruskin. Rusty and his characters’ hill adventures are a great read for the kids. The scenic beauty, sound and light and people’s lives in the hills are nowhere else so prominent as they are in his stories and novels.
Ooty and Kodaikanal are the two great hill stations in South India that I had been to. The pine forests, lakes, tea gardens and flowers such as rhododendron are great attractions in these hill stations. As I walked by the sides of the lakes, clouds came and engulfed me on all sides. I am yet to experience snowfall for which I have to schedule my visit perfectly.
I spent a few days at Shillong and then Cherrapunjee – the place that receives highest rainfall on earth. The waterfalls in Cherrapunjee that look like white chiffon offer a great view for which tourists throng these places.
Hill stations are the places that restless souls visit for peace and calm. The enormity, stillness and scenic beauty have a quality in themselves that instills sanity and peace into our minds. It provides much needed healing to the wounded souls. Though I have no such need, the trips to the hills have a lasting calming effect on me and I feel like being a permanent resident of the hills so that I can enjoy nature all the time rather than have a slice of it as a tourist.