By Roli S
Why do you travel? So that you can reach where you set out to reach! So that you can see the places that you come to with new eyes! So that you can admire a few extra colours you missed last time! So that you see the people differently than before! Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving; it means that you left and now you are returning with new eyes.
Traveling to the state of Uttarakhand has always remained that ‘returning to where you left’ each time I visit the state. I think the connection dates back to when I was a little girl and used to visit my grandparents at Jeolikot near Nainital during summer holidays. The connection has remained with a few memories of later years and also due to my love for nature and natural wonders!
With age and understanding the value of the place also expands because now I also connect with traditional beliefs and faith. The Himalaya and the Ganga belonging to the place makes the visits more intriguing and exploratory by nature.
I feel I have still not reached a stage in my journey of exploration where I am ready to follow the devotional and spiritual path offered in this ‘Devbhoomi’ with confidence, but I am taking baby steps towards learning that which is something my own, that is my culture, my Indian and Hindu aestheticism.
No one though can take away my fascination and love for nature because to appreciate pure natural beauty one does not need to be well versed in spiritual and religious literature. What one needs is eyes to find beauty in all possible places and a heart that is grateful and delights in the magic of nature.
During my recent road trip to Uttarakhand, my aim was to look for flowers, for the hum of bees, the chirp of birdsong, the way the sun gleamed on the edge and the distant bleat and clink of grazing mountain goats. Was I able to do that? Of course, yes, and much more!
It was after a long time that we were getting on the road in the mountains. With great anticipation and excitement, the journey to Kanatal from Dehradun began and the gradual climb to the heights in the Himalayan Mountains carried its own set of thrills and stimulation. But when one is driving over these hairpin roads without any particular agenda but to just savour the display of nature, then in these mountains what attracts the attention at the first go is the sprinkled colours of flowers amidst otherwise predominantly rocky and green foliage.
One tends to get so lost in the beauty offered by nature that the places and their names are often overlooked. On the way to Kanatal from Dehradun, we crossed places like Jabarkhet Nature Resort, Bhataghat, etc., but all that captured our attention was the number of trees seen, enveloped in rich bright red colour as if nature had embroidered patches of bright red velvet on the mountains. Upon asking the local people, we were told that they were Buransh (Rhododendron) trees. The flowers are not just breathtakingly beautiful but immensely useful too because of their medicinal properties! As is usually the case with me, I had to stop and pluck a bunch of Buransh flowers for myself. There were so many lying on the ground, why couldn’t I have a bunch for myself in my car was my argument. After each beautiful Buransh tree was crossed my desire grew to get down the car and jump up and pluck a few flowers for myself, which I could do when a suitable tree was spotted. This dramatic, hearty flower with its deep crimson made me so happy. I was so in love with its colour, and it taught me that beauty could live in a neglected area. Not only live but also be strong.
The steady climb up to Kanatal and the scenery was changing but my eyes kept getting drawn to the patches of colour that kept appearing. Wildflowers! They are found in a wide range of colours. They aren’t meant to be cut and tamed. They’re meant to be loved and admired, I told myself. One of the best gifts you can give a poetic heart is to present them with field guides to wildflowers. Flowers are restful to look at, they have neither emotions nor conflicts, I thought. I was enjoying every moment of this beautiful drive to Kanatal with these wildflowers as my companion all the way.
‘High Fly, Adventure by the Edge’ was the name of the attractive roadside café at Suwakholi, where we stopped to have our lunch. “I could do with a little bit of a break,” I thought, looking longingly at the neatly curated terraces for farming down deep in the valley but my mind kept thinking about all the wildflowers that pleased me on the way. Wildflowers are the loveliest of all I decided because they grow in uncultivated soil, in those hard, rugged places where no one expects them to flourish. They are resilient in ways these curated crops could never be. People are the same, —the most exquisite souls are those who survive where others cannot. They root themselves, along with their companions, wherever they are, and they thrive. Wildflowers blooming on these hills of Uttarakhand had already imparted a life’s lesson to me and the trip had just begun, I thought. I came back and joined my people for lunch. Kanatal was still some distance away. I wanted to take joy in the cool, clean mountain air and some Garhwali food that the café owner was getting for us.
(Roli S is an Educator, Teacher Trainer, Author and School Reviewer based in Thane.)