With lightning flashes and thunder in the background taking shelter under the trees didn’t seem advisable. Anyway, we were reluctant to leave the track and enter the dark woods. The track was fast turning into slush making running impossible. We made our way as fast as possible occasionally slipping and soaked up to the skin, recalls Soumya, during a family trip at Chail many years ago, in the weekly column. A Different Truths exclusive.
When we became parents of two young children our backpacking days became rarer but the travel lust remained.
Now, we owned a car and often took road trips to the nearby states covering Himachal and Uttaranchal in summer and Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh in winter.
This time we were in Chail. Approachable by a narrow road and in the middle of pristine forests with only the converted palace of the colourful Maharaja as the only hotel this was an ideal getaway in Himachal.
We took long walks in the woods and lazed around. The weather was sunny and pleasant. One day we decided to take a day-long trek to a nearby hilltop where shepherds had a shrine.
It was a long climb but we took it easy and the view from the top made the effort worthwhile.
We relaxed on the meadow on top and had the packed lunch we were carrying. Gradually we noticed that it seemed to be getting darker. There were thick black clouds rolling across the sky. The rain seemed imminent. We had an option of taking shelter in the deserted shrine but not knowing how long we would be stuck and not relishing the idea of going back down the trail in the dark we decided to hurry back. As it was mostly downhill and a fair-weather road existed we assumed that we will make it back safely.
So picking up the younger kid piggyback we set off at a brisk trot, the elder child gleefully leading the way
But before long the cloudburst caught us with a ferocious violence.
With lightning flashes and thunder in the background taking shelter under the trees didn’t seem advisable. Anyway, we were reluctant to leave the track and enter the dark woods. The track was fast turning into slush making running impossible. We made our way as fast as possible occasionally slipping and soaked up to the skin.
Initially, my daughters were enjoying the rain but now it was becoming scary and extremely uncomfortable. We were shivering with cold and fatigue and slipping in the slush.
After what seemed like ages, we felt the metalled road under our feet and felt relief. The going got easier and we knew that the village wasn’t far.
When finally a few huts loomed up in the mist, we felt elated. There was the possibility of shelter. We ran the rest of the way and huddled under the porch of the first hut.
Then the flap covering a hut a small distance away opened up, and a few people came towards us. They were carrying plastic sheets and umbrellas and took us, well covered, into that hut, which was a tea shop.
There we sat next to a blazing fire and dried ourselves on some cloth the kind hosts provided, while the rain thundered outside. We were also provided rough blankets to cover ourselves up.
We were also offered some dry clothes of the tea shop owner’s family and could change behind some sheets strung up. The kids were bundled into those poncho-like garments hill people wear. The clothes may not have been very clean, for in the hills washing is an infrequent activity, but getting out of the soaked clothes was a lifesaver.
Dressed in dry warm clothes, with hot tea, mathi (a form of desi biscuits) and pakoras (fritters) inside us, sitting by a crackling fire, while the rain roared outside; this was heaven. The struggling hopelessly in the rain, cold and wet, of a few minutes ago seemed to be a bad dream.
In the meanwhile, a boy had been sent swathed in plastic sheets to the hotel to summon a car, and in a while, the hotel van was there to pick us up.
With profuse thanks we left, looking like people in fancy dress. The hosts refused any money, but when we sent back the clothes we sent chocolates for the children.
Many years later, I was visiting that area for a conference. Many resorts had come up, and there was a metalled road to the shrine, while the shack had been replaced by a garish temple, and a mainstream goddess reigned instead of the spirit goddess of the shepherds. The tea shop had closed, the owner no more, and the boy was now a waiter at one of the resorts. Progress, I suppose, cannot be held back, but I missed the idyll of old.
All I had now was the memories of that rainy visit to these hills.
Photos from the Internet
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Soumya Mukherjee is an alumnus of St Stephens College and Delhi School of Economics. He earns his daily bread by working for a PSU Insurance company, and lectures for peanuts. His other passions, family, friends, films, travel, food, trekking, wildlife, music, theater, and occasionally, writing. He has been published in many national newspapers of repute. He has published his first novel, Memories, a novella, hopefully, the first of his many books. He blogs as well.