Soon after my elder son's board exams, we headed out to meet his paternal grandparents who lived in the rolling hills of Palampur in Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh.
We covered the entire distance from New Delhi to Palampur, with a short halt in Chandigarh, in 10 hours. We were lucky that there was no traffic on the roads. And, our fear of COVID-19 prompted us to not stop at any of the restaurants where we usually did whenever we travelled this route.
The journey to Palampur is an amazing road trip for anyone who enjoys nature and mountains. The vast green fields in the Punjab plains are delightful, especially in the early mornings, before the sun rises. The cool mist that rises above the paddy or wheat fields, whichever is in season, makes you feel as if the clouds from the sky have come down to rest on top of the crops.
The mesmerising colours of the sky during sunrise is enough to enchant even the most hardened of critics. The beauty of nature is amplified for me when my favourite songs are playing on the car’s stereo. Though nature is in abundance in these plains, that is not the icing on the cake. The icing on the cake is when you come across a big Sardar riding his huge black Bullet wearing a pink Pathani suit and a matching turban. If you are lucky, you will be able to get a glimpse of all hues of pink as you drive across the state.
Our entry in the hills is through Nangal, which houses the famous Bhakra-Nangal Dam on the river Sutlej. I never fail to share the importance of this dam with my boys, much to the misery of my 15-year-old who has heard this lecture several times in his young life.
We passed through several towns, small and big, to reach our destination. I especially love when we travel through Hamirpur district, with its beautiful green hills and tall pine trees. This scene never fails to remind me of the 70’s movies where the hero and the heroine would romance each other in similar surroundings. The best part of the journey is when we come to the huge lake between Una and Hamirpur. The scenery is pictorial in this area and it feels like one is in heaven, not earth.
When you reach Palampur you are greeted by tea gardens and the majestic Dhauladhar. I consider myself blessed as I have an amazing view of this majestic range from my in-law’s house in Palampur. On a clear day, my bedroom windows have a wonderful view of the mountain range.
We had planned to stay in Palampur for only a week but ended up staying for two and a half months. The district administration had imposed a strict lockdown in the area and for the first fifteen days, we were not allowed out of the house. A local health officer came to our place to ensure we were in quarantine as we had just come up from Delhi.
The first few days were especially difficult as we were used to moving around easily whenever we were in Palampur. Gradually, we became used to the lockdown. Mornings became a special time for me as I would have my cup of tea in the company of Dhauladar and the cuckoo birds which sang from the mango tree in front of the house. It will be a grave injustice if I don’t mention the mischievous crow that waited on the terrace wall for an opportunity to snatch my biscuits. The days were occupied doing office work and household chores. But evenings were special again when my husband and I would have our evening tea together watching the setting sun.
Sunsets are mesmerising in the mountains and I am sure each of us has our special spots to watch the sunset. My favourite sunset point was the terrace of my house from where I had a magnificent view of the setting sun. I have tried to capture this on my phone but could never do justice to the serenity of nature.
Once the quarantine period was over, we could leave the house and we decided to include evening walks our daily schedule. The dogs in the neighbourhood took offence to our decision and showed their displeasure by barking and growling whenever we encountered them. Gradually as time passed, they came to accept our presence in the locality and quietened down. However, the scary bulls roaming the roads were a different story altogether and we kept our distance from them till the end of our stay in Palampur.
During the lockdown, the local market opened only for a short while between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. I could go to the market only on the weekends and waited eagerly for this opportunity. My first visit was usually to the grocery store, from where we used to get our ration of chips and other junk food for the entire week.
In the mountains, you will find that birds of different feathers flock together. One of our verandas faces a small orchard that we own in Palampur and this place is a haven for different species of birds. Early morning is the best time to catch a glimpse of the various multi-coloured birds chirping away. Some have also built their nests in various nooks of our house. My father-in-law has a very strict rule for these birds; they are only allowed to build their nest in certain parts of the house. If they dared to even think of building their nest anywhere else, they got a sound scolding from him. I was not aware of this rule until one day I pointed out to him that birds were building a nest in the house.
I am not sure how many of you know of a bird called the Brain Fever bird. It is not an attractive bird but it is a marvellous singer. One of these birds decided to make the mango tree near my bedroom window its home and for the first few nights, it sang throughout the night. I enjoyed its strange but beautiful melody but after a couple of nights, I learnt the reason why it is called a Brain Fever bird – it so happens that the bird’s song can become very disturbing after a couple of days.
I had heard and read about fierce storms in these mountains but for the first time, I got a chance to witness them during my stay. The mountains are beautiful before a storm; the sky turns a dark grey and the trees look mesmerising in various shades of green. During its duration, a storm can be scary. The winds can become strong enough to blow away the roofs of houses and the rain falling on the roof can be so loud that even thinking becomes difficult. But as soon as the storm is over everything is bright and beautiful again. It feels like nature has been freshly laundered and has just stepped out to enjoy the cool gentle breeze, bright sunshine, and blue sky with cotton candy clouds. Every leaf on the tree appears fresh and shiny like a newly-minted coin. This harmonious time becomes all the more enjoyable when the birds come out to sing in all their glory.
The two and a half months in the mountains taught me a minimalistic way of living and my family learned to make do with the few clothes and personal items that they had brought from Delhi. It was the first time I stayed in this beautiful place for so long, and I enjoyed every moment of it. Although we had to return to Delhi, which we did as soon as the borders reopened, I still carry with me the wonderful memories of my time in the mountains.
Amartya loves books, plants, cooking, and travelling. She has a particular fascination for mountains—a trip to a mountainous paradise being her favourite. She also enjoys road trips with her husband and their two sons and is well-travelled across India. She lives in New Delhi.