I Read Somewhere

A Walk In The Clouds

"He makes me wish for another world. She makes me content with this one."

{Henry David Thoreau writing about Mankind and Nature in his journal on January 3, 1853}

It had just rained in Landour, a short, light shower, traces of it seen in the dampness of the cement blocks that lined the road. The air was clean and crisp, as only mountain air can be. “Crisp”. She mulled the word over in her head, distracted temporarily from thinking about the shaggy pahadi dog she had just passed napping in the sun. She found it fascinating when intangible things were described using words usually used for material objects, and she couldn’t help but visualise the air snapping in two as she walked through it, like a Picwick biscuit. ‘What crosses other people’s minds when they think of ‘crisp’?, she wondered. Fried noodles garnished on top of manchow soup? The sugary crust of a creme brûlée, cracked open with a swift flick of a spoon? Potato chips crushed up at the bottom of the bag? Her mind only threw up food items as search results, or perhaps ‘crisp’ was a word used to describe just food, and oddly enough - air.

As she turned a corner, the canopy of trees opened up slightly and the path thereon was lit with cold, morning sunshine. It had been cloudy and misty a couple of hours earlier, as she had made her way up to Landour from Mussoorie (the Queen of the Hills!), so much so that she could hardly see more than 10 feet ahead of her on the steep uphill road, but it had cleared up considerably since, the sunlight and the post-rain cool making for one of the most pleasant mornings of her trip so far. She was glad to be up here, away from the hordes of tourists thronging maggi stalls and roadside game centres. She closed her eyes and let the sunlight wash over her, before turning another corner where the trees huddled together again and cut out the sun. It was always like that on such hilly paths; you never knew what show the trees and clouds and breeze had conspired together to put on for you that day. 

She continued her walk on the path that led to Lal Tibba, a ‘point’ in Landour from which, on a clear day, you could see the majestic snow clad Himalayan mountain range. She usually mistrusted the splendour of views visible from these ‘points’, a proliferation of which you found at every hill station in India - pseudo-tourist attractions on hills that had not much else to offer than trees and cold air. It was July, and the rains were in full force, causing the clouds to descend down. If you looked into the valley, it was a sea of white fluffy clouds swirling around the hillside, cutting off the base of the mountain entirely. The little summit of the hill had been decapitated, and was floating above the clouds! She doubted that the Himalaya’s would be visible with the weather like this, but she had explored the four shops and a church that comprised Landour square and was out of things to do. A bright red spot caught her eye, and she bent down to examine a beautiful ladybug on an equally beautiful leaf. It was perfect - glossy red and symmetrical - and ever so cute. A car sped by just then, and a blast of Punjabi pop songs cut through the silence like an explosion, and jolted her from her ladybug reverie. Tourists from Delhi, she thought to herself, noting the four boys and the induced swagger in their sunglasses, baseball caps and garish music blaring out from rolled down windows. It stuck out like a sore thumb in a place as quietly beautiful as this, like a stray nasty thought you wanted to shake off as soon as it crossed your mind. Each boy exuded smug confidence seen only in boys of a certain kind. “They must all think themselves the hero of whatever bro-trip movie they are enacting on this vacation”, she mused, but before she could observe them anymore, they were off as quickly as they had appeared.

The silence that enveloped the hillside once again was consuming. There wasn’t a single bird to be heard and the only sounds were her own steps making squelchy noises on the mossy damp ground, and the leaves moving imperceptibly with the wind, making a whispering sound as they did. The whole forest was alive and sharing some secret with each other. She had never seen so much green before, uninterrupted by humans and their noisy machines, and it took some adjusting to. City folk aren’t used to being alone and able to listen to their own thoughts, and here, in this virginal forest where the silence felt almost spiritual, hers were loud and clear, as if echoed back to her by the valley below. Yet she found herself thinking of the simplest fancies, following her mind wherever it took her. She had heard someone mention something about a famous bakehouse nearby, and wondered if they’d have jam tarts. She thought of the elderly couple she had met at Chaar Dukaan, who were here to drop off their sullen granddaughter to boarding at Woodstock School. She observed leaves and the little white flowers scattered everywhere. Thoughts of important things, the crumpled, smudged details of day to day life melted away by themselves. It was almost rude to harbour anything but the purest thoughts in a place so lovely!

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Ahead of her the road stretched out seemingly endlessly, but as she moved steadily on, she glimpsed a bright red roof through the mist that must signal the nearing of the point. She hadn't seen a single human in the past hour, but funnily enough, didn't feel lonely. Below her the valley descended steeply to Mussoorie, and she glimpsed trails hidden away in the tall dense trees leading to small cottages. These little homes, with cobblestone driveways, ivy covered walls and romantic names like Firs Cottage and Rokeby Manor seemed like relics of a town long forgotten by everyone else, left to grow old in peace and quiet. There is very little wildlife in Mussoorie, but she was so entranced by the swirling clouds and overarching oak trees that it seemed like a enchanted forest, and a talking bird or a wise old tiger, maybe even a wood nymph, might appear out of the foliage and seem right at home. It made sense now that so many writers made Landour their home, most notably Ruskin Bond, Landour’s most famous export. There was no dearth of stories hidden in these sun dappled paths, quaint cafes and churches, elegant swaying trees for as long as the eye could see and silence, the kind of silence you can only find by yourself in nature. It must be very conducive to creative pursuits.

Slowly the bright red roof of Lal Tibba’s restaurant and viewing point grew larger and larger. There were a few cars parked by it, and a scattering of people engaged in various activities. She overheard a family of four ordering tea and maggi noodles, and the bored waiter doodled on his pad while they argued about 'with-cheese or without?'. A group of Woodstock students were huddled together, each occupied on their own iPhone, speaking rarely, in American accented English, to answer the time-to-go’s of their chaperone with pleas for “10 minutes more!”. She smiled to herself. It must be nice to be so young again, without a care in the world other than amusing oneself and the occasional bit of homework. It must also be nice to grow up in these surroundings; she imagined it must be as quaint as a childhood in an Enid Blyton story - all bread puddings and hopscotch. The children were soon corralled into an orderly line and sent marching back towards the school but not before one of the mischievous ones placed a centipede on a shy looking girls’ shoulder, leading to panic stricken wails from her upon its discovery. Commotion rippled through the group; it took the exasperated chaperone a few minutes of concentrated effort to calm everyone down and restore order again. The culprit was placed at the front of the line, the chaperone watching him hawk eyed to prevent any further misdemeanours. Hopefully the rest of their walk went by uneventfully.

She walked up to the viewing point, climbing a flight of stairs from the restaurant. As expected, the Himalaya’s - Badrinath, Kedarnath, Bandarpunch - weren’t visible. The binoculars (India's best! No 1! they claimed to be) were no match for the stubborn clouds. She should have felt disappointed at having come all this way for nothing, but the idea of the long walk back was diverting. A light breeze had picked up and it softly hit her face, bringing with it the woody, nutty smell of pine trees. With the breeze came the conscious realisation- this is the Great Outdoors! She headed back toward Chaar Dukaan, humming under her breath. Maybe she would go up the cobblestone path to the bakehouse and get that jam tart after all. Yes, she thought contentedly, that would be lovely.

Sneha Mehta