Thursday, December 22

The Himalayan Expedition - Chapter 1

This is the first part of a 3 part series about The Journey, Visit to an Old Friend, The Climb, Temple of the Snakes, A Folk Song, the Fire, and the Ganges.

As per our academic requirements (a 4-credit course), we were supposed to go for some kind of leadership and team building activities: essentially an excursion. So it was decided by our PGP office that we go to Mussoorie, a hill station in the state of Uttarakhand. About 100 participants from our institute were assigned to go to this place.

I was particularly excited about going to Mussoorie because until then, the farthest that I have been in the Northern part of India was till the North Campus of Delhi University, that too some 11 years ago. Having spent most of my life in the Northeast and Southern India, I was excited that I will be going farther and viewing the Himalaya, up close and personal. Also, the mountains have some magical power that be- witches me whenever I see them. I always feel the urge to climb that and take a view from the top of that mountain, maybe because I was born in the hilly state of Manipur. And the hope that I will be seeing lot of mountains and hills in Uttarakhand further increased my excitement to go there.

So we formed a team of 10 people (all friends) and booked our ticket in the Indore-Dehradun Express, a direct train. Our team comprised Nitin (our group leader), Ashwin, Divya, George, Inaka, Kim, Pritom, Synrop, Tony and me. We were lucky to get the tickets, as it is a bi-weekly train, and rush during the peak season is relatively high. We boarded the train on the afternoon of Oct. 15, 2011 in the AC Tier-II compartment. Most of our fellow passengers were travelling till Haridwar, to take the holy dip and perform other religious activities in that city. The train pantry, for obvious reasons, served us vegetarian food during the entire course of our journey. After we settled in our berths, Tony took out the UNO cards (UNO is a coloured card game wherein the player’s objective is to lose the cards in his/her hand. The one, who loses the cards first, wins). For the most of our journey we were eating, playing UNO, chatting, sleeping and again playing UNO. It was during one such game that we realised that we’d be reaching our destination soon.

From Dehradun, Mussoorie is an hour’s drive, yet we reached the city at around 10 pm after having reached Doon at 7pm. We had our dinner of Momos and Chowmein in the town and walked towards our hotel, Mussoorie International. The hotel is located in the Mall area in Mussoorie. Our briefing for the Expedition was supposed to start after lunch the next day. So we retired to bed at around 4 am, after settling down. Since I was excited about my trip, I could hardly sleep and woke up at 7am. I thought of taking an early morning stroll near the hotel, but saw the terrace and climbed there instead. From the terrace, during the clear sky of early morn, I could see the tip of some Himalayan mountain covered in snow. This was the first snow sighting for me. I was thrilled. I started a conversation with a fellow watcher who happened to be Mr. Srinath, the consultant from India Hikes, who would be our trainer for the whole expedition. (It is worth in- forming my avid reader that India Hikes organised the expedition for our institute.) The 5 day programme (Oct. 17-21) included trekking to an altitude of ~10000 feet, team building exercise and water rafting at Rishikesh. I got to know about the details of our expedition from Mr. Srinath.

Post my conversation, I met Pritom and Alok. All three of us sat down for another game of UNO till the breakfast was served. Post breakfast and after freshening up, Synrop and I went to see the town. We went to the Aquarium in Mussoorie, which despite being small, holds some exotic varieties of marine life. There was a fish in which the name of Allah was naturally inscribed, another having the symbol Aum or Om. After that we went for shop- ping. Then we came back to the hotel for lunch. After the lunch, Ms. Sandhya, one of the Co-founder of India Hikes, along with Mr. Srinath, briefed us about the whole expedition and re-distributed all 100 of us into different teams. We were told to come up with business problems that we have identified for Mussoorie by 8pm. After the briefing I went to catch up with some sleep. Barely about an hour later, I woke up, and with some hesitation, dialled a number. The number was of someone whose name would be familiar to all, especially book lovers.

While coming back from the morning shopping spree with Synrop, I saw a book stall, Cambridge Book Depot; that showcased the latest collections of Ruskin Bond’s book. I purchased Mr. Bond’s first and the latest book, namely The Room on the Roof and Secrets. Looking at my enthusiasm for Mr. Bond’s book, the store owner started a conversation with me. On my enquiry about getting Mr Bond’s autograph, he told me to come on a Saturday. I told him that I won’t be staying that long, but need Mr. Bond’s autograph, he gave me his residence phone number and asked me to call him in the evening. After taking my afternoon nap, I dialled his number at around 5 pm and asked for an appointment, so that I can get his autograph in my newly purchased books. Mr. Bond told me to come before 6 pm, as he will be going out for dinner after that. I hurried myself to get ready, when Ashwin came to know about my little trip to Mr. Bond’s house. Ashwin was also excited to go along with me, but due to some work, couldn’t come. Instead he went with me to the book store and purchased a copy of The Room on the Roof, and handed it over to me, to be autographed by Mr. Bond.

I took a taxi from the taxi- stand, near the market and asked the driver to take me to Ivy Cottage, the dwelling place of the author. After about a 15-minute drive, the driver stopped the car, and told me that we had reached Ivy Cottage. My heart started pounding, when I realised that I have reached my destination, and very soon I would be meeting the Sahitya Akademi and Padma Shri awardee English author. With small steps, I climbed the stairs of Ivy Cottage. Led Zeppelin’s song, Stairway to Heaven, was playing in my head, when I reached the door. Being nervous, I searched for the calling bell, only to realise that it is not there, or maybe I couldn’t see it. Then I thought for a few seconds on what to do, whether to knock the door or call out. I decided to knock the door. But then again, my mind was playing tricks on me. My mind was questioning me, how much to knock, how loud to knock, how many times to knock, etc. etc. I shut my mind out, before it could play the song Knocking on Heaven’s Door, and gently knocked thrice.

(to be continued…)

Note: This article appeared in the November 2011 issue of Expressions eZine, published online by iCare India.

1 comment:

  1. Jeshal bhai....did you tell Mr. Bond about our blog? Did you discuss about writing.. did he give you any tips?

    You are truly lucky.


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