A Rendezvous with Dalhousie by Ria Chakraborty
Reaching Dalhousie, India alongside a busload of passengers on a cloudless morning had been a delight as the tranquil breeze of the hillside town elated the city-dwellers after a long journey. A car-ride across the tree-lined, broad roads ferried me and my family to the hotel settled amidst a serene neighbourhood. Several bushes of wildflowers, cattle roaming on lush green pastures and little farmhouses embedded on hilltops formed picturesque scenery throughout the ride. Upon reaching our destination, we disembarked onto the pavement shaded by Oak trees whose thick canopy filtered the sunlight, creating amusing patterns of the sandstone sidewalk.
To escape from the mundane schedules of our lives in the bustling city, a trip to a quaint hill-station cradled by the Himalayas seemed the perfect way to relax. While observing a ladybird slithering on a leafy sapling, I clicked a snapshot of the moment. The vivid hues streaked across the sky, the countless signboards, an ancient church with stained glass and the old-fashioned bookstores in the lap of mountains brought a distinctive charm to the place. Weightless pink cotton candies and cream-filled croissants were relished in a French deli at the Dalhousie mall. The gardens adorned salmon-coloured rhododendrons as numerous swallowtail butterflies and bumblebees sidled up against the endless array of flowers. Trellised vines of honeysuckle graced the lawn.
A shopping trip was made to the Tibetan market which was adorned with numerous objects like bronze statuettes, hand-woven fabrics and metal, beaded jewelries which attracts tourists. Soupy bowls of Thukpa were served alongside the various stalls. We trekked through Khajjiar which is also known as mini Switzerland.
The spacious hotel rooms provided a majestic view of the mighty Dhauladhar range of Himalayan mountains coated by a dense network of Deodar and Fir trees through the sliding, glass windows which were often drenched in mist when sunrises were watched from the balcony, leaning against the ebony-black railings or sipping on warm cups of tea seated on white plastic chairs. Jhaalmuri, a concoction of crispy rice-based snacks mixed with chopped chilies, onions and lemon juice was savoured on windy evenings, sitting on the marble-floored balcony accompanied by chatter.
A walk downwards the meandering roads of the hill-town led us to stumble into fellow tourists, dog-walkers, shepherds and an artist sketching the crescent moon perched on the night sky atop the peaks of snowcapped mountains. A small tea-stall roofed with tarpaulin was tucked at the foothills of a mountain with wooden tables and three-legged chairs cushioned with round backs which awaited customers, laid out invitingly amidst the valley rich with greenery. Rows of houses tinted with powder blue, peach and pink situated at a lower elevation level were visible. After settling comfortably with cups of simmering tea poured from an iron kettle and platefuls of snacks, the sunset was observed as the sky showcased brilliant shades of orange, violet and finally, embraced the darkness of nightfall.
The next morning, a cab drove us to the banks of the river Raabi. After donning orange-skinned lifejackets and strapping our backpacks, we hopped into a boat and were seated side-by-side. As the boat-ride traversed over the rivulet, we observed the villages established alongside the distant riverbanks and the various watery channels trickling into the stream. A flock of birds flew overhead and the bright sky was mirrored into the clear water of the river.
At dinnertime, the sky acquired a frightening shade of black and strong gushes of gale thunderously rapped at the wooden doors. After securing the latches across the windowpanes and doors, we watched a rainstorm brew through the glassed openings of our rooms as the plastic chairs kept in the balcony flailed about helplessly. This was the first time we witnessed the intensity of a turbulent mountainous storm. At dawn, tiny pools of water greeted us at the doorstep; branches of trees struck down by lightning littered the lawn. Everyone resumed to their morning routines once the mess was sorted.
The innate beauty of the town was captured in incessant photographs; documented to be reminisced after heading homewards. The vacation was immensely joyful as it was contradictory to the surroundings which we have made a home out of. The hill-station compelled us stop and cherish the intricacies of nature; the birdsongs blossomed to become lullabies for our ears which had grown accustomed to the decades of the big-city pandemonium of car-horns and jackhammers.
As we watched the rolling hills wane from the horizon on our bus trip back to the city, a melancholic emotion enveloped us and we vowed to visit the hill-town in the following summer.