“The sights and smells and sounds of the Himalayas have never left me”

THE HIMALAYAS LODGE THEM­SELVES IN ONE’S MIND’S EYE, ONE’S SOUL, AND NO OTHER MOUN­TAINS CAN COM­PETE WITH THEIR GRANDEUR AND SHEER MAG­NIF­I­CENCE.

India Today - - COVER STORY - By NAMITA GOKHALE, Writer

II grew up in Naini­tal, with some years in Shimla as well. The moun­tains were all around us, but when was it that I first en­coun­tered and un­der­stood the snow clad majesty of the Himalayas? Some­how, I can’t seem to place it in the con­text of my own age, the month or the year or the sea­son. Yet, I can never for­get that lim­i­nal mo­ment when I first glimpsed those dis­tant ranges, spread out be­fore me beyond a vista of in­ter­me­di­ary hills and val­leys, draped in blue haze. The tow­er­ing pres­ences in the hori­zon were lu­mi­nous with grace, I saw them not a ge­o­graph­i­cal fea­ture but as peo­ple, as char­ac­ters, as in­di­vid­u­als.

I played with their names in my mind. Nanda Devi—it was she who at­tracted me most, this tall calm lady who seemed to be smil­ing through the low clouds around her. And Tr­ishul who looked like a pow­er­ful king, strong but kind.

My ma­ter­nal grand­fa­ther, Dr Chan­dra Dutt Pande, had taken me to Kil­bury to the For­est Rest House there. We were all packed into an Am­bas­sador car, cousins and aunts, and as we tum­bled out af­ter a long and wind­ing drive I saw them, those

glis­ten­ing peaks, those silent sen­tinels, Nanda Devi, Panchuli, Nanda Kot, Chaukhamba. They were ghostly, en­tic­ing, and ut­terly trans­for­ma­tive in how I un­der­stood my re­la­tion­ship with mother earth and our tiny blue planet.

“Th­ese are the high­est moun­tains in the world” my grand­fa­ther said to me; he whis­pered into my ear, as though he was shar­ing a se­cret. Some­thing in the deep si­lence around made us all whis­per, but only in the be­gin­ning. Soon the sheer joy of a clear sunny day in the moun­tains made us for­get our in­hi­bi­tions and high pitched laugh­ter was com­pet­ing with bird calls and the sounds of the whistling wind.

Delv­ing into mem­ory I re­alise now that it must surely have been the late au­tumn, per­haps Oc­to­ber, for the trees were be­gin­ning to change coour, they were turn­ing red, and yel­low, and ochre. And the snow moun­tains had a sheen to them, a re­splen­dent glow that I know in ret­ro­spect would be be­cause of the first pow­dery snows fall­ing on those dis­tant peaks.

There was a view­ing point, a sort of ramp, in the cen­tre of the gar­den. I stood there, star­ing at th­ese new friends, ex­am­in­ing the bond I seemed to al­ready have es­tab­lished with them. It was there, then, on that day, that my love af­fair with the Himalayas be­gan. What started as a child­ish in­fat­u­a­tion be­came a life­long com­mit­ment, a love story like no other in my life. The Himalayas are with me wher­ever I might be; Lucknow or Lon­don, Boulder or Mum­bai. They re­side in my prayers, in my dreams, in the books I have writ­ten.

In my dreams, I en­counter the snow moun­tains in the most un­likely places. Re­cently, I dreamt that they were just out­side Delhi, beyond Sohna where the Araval­lis, the most an­cient moun­tains in the world, stood trans­formed into the Himalayas, the youngest range in the planet. When the Himalayas en­ter my dreams, I savour the vis­i­ta­tion, keep­ing the mem­ory alive even af­ter I have wo­ken up, imag­in­ing I am else­where while drink­ing my morn­ing cof­fee.

A SENSE OF SCALE

Af­ter the un­ex­pected suc­cess of my de­but novel, Paro, I be­gan work­ing on A Hi­malayan Love Story.

The three books in the Hi­malayan

Tril­ogy are all set in the Ku­maon re­gion. I have co-edited Hi­malaya with Ruskin Bond, and the new an­thol­ogy, The Hi­malayan Arc: East of South-East takes read­ers on a jour­ney across the eastern Himalayas.

In his poem Meru, W. B Yeats called them “self-born mock­ers of man’s en­ter­prise”. What did that first sight of the Himalayas teach me? What did it con­vey? Per­haps, it im­parted a sense of scale, of the sig­nif­i­cance of things, and their in­signif­i­cance.

The sights and smells and sounds of the Himalayas have never left me. There are some lines from Ki­pling, taken from a short story called Nam­gay Doola, that have stayed in my mem­ory. “...the scent of damp woodsmoke, hot cakes, drip­ping un­der­growth, and rot­ting pine cones. That is the true smell of the Himalayas, and if once it creeps into the blood of a man, that man will at the last, for­get­ting all else, re­turn to the Himalayas to die” . As I hope to.

Pho­to­graph : RAJWANT RAWAT

In my dreams, I en­counter the snow moun­tains in the most un­likely places. When the Himalayas en­ter my dreams, I savour the vis­i­ta­tion.

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