Have you ever felt weak in the knees? Or had butterflies flutter in your tummy? I have! Yes, I’m talking about falling in love, even before you realize it. And no, I’m not talking about your regular love story, this one is a little different than most. It’s an affair of the heart that began unbeknownst to me and consumed me forever – a story of a deeper, emotional connection with the Himalayan mountains that changed something in me forever.
I was still in college when I first experienced the grandeur of the mighty Himalayas. It was my first time traveling far from home and into the mountainous part of my country. I had hiked just a couple of times until then in the Sahyadri mountain range of Maharashtra. Little did I know how much I was going to see and learn on this trip. I was visiting the scenic village of Sidhbari located closer to Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh, as a part of a certain youth camp. Up until then, I had no idea what the Himalayan hamlets looked like; being born and brought up in Bombay never had had a reason to think about it actually.
So, when I finally set a foot in Sidhbari (after a multiple-day journey that involved train and bus travel) I had the most intriguing rendezvous with this part of our planet. The weather, the people, the landscapes, the life, everything soothed me like never before. Yet, there were three specific incidents that changed something in me, that changed something around me, and because of this, I can safely assume it was the start of something beautiful. It was the dawn of a beautiful relationship with the mountains, that I hope will remain till the dusk of my life, helping me evolve all through it. It’s really a feeling that I cannot put down in words, I will give it a shot, still.
As a part of the camp, we engaged in a lot of activities that aimed at teaching us some skills, educating us on things we, as the youth, needed to know and learn about our society, life, our world, and our planet. One such activity was a treasure hunt, with the clues planted all over the little village of Sidhbari. We traversed the entire village on foot, finding clues, and then rushing to the next one. There is nothing like exploring a place on foot when you can truly experience its true vibes. While everyone was trying to be helpful for their respective teams to help it win, I was distracted. My eyes kept meandering along the icy streams that maneuvered carelessly, mischievously. My heart fluttered among the leaves of apple and apricot trees that shivered ever so slightly in the cold mountain breeze. The beauty that place occupied in those moments, in the time and space, in the universe of my mind that day, was unparalleled.
I felt weak in my knees…
Even as I was trying to process what was happening to me, the next thing happened. That night we were to walk through a stretch of a forest without a torch. This part of the forest was around the private plantation/property of the organizers I suppose, so it was safe that way. We were to walk slowly, carefully, and rely on our senses. The idea behind this one was to help us face our fears. When we train our minds to stay calm in the face of danger, that helps us tackle/overcome our fears. To my surprise I wasn’t nervous, or jittery at all, in fact, I was intrigued by the dark woods. It was a mystery world, the sounds all around me were mysterious and full of life. I vividly remember the feeling of walking in the tall dark woods that moonless night while being constantly watched over by the mighty mountains. The feeling was overwhelming, I felt safe, I felt welcomed as if being embraced by the mountains.
A million butterflies fluttered in my tummy…
I was getting the taste of it, but what happened next was beyond the ultimate. I was to leave Sidhbari the following day, but that evening I witnessed something truly exceptional. There was a thunderstorm that evening accompanied by a hailstorm. The rains lashed with such strong, howling winds. The place overlooks the Dhauladhar mountains, which is a uniquely pleasant sight on clear days, but that evening the entire scene was other-worldly. I had goosebumps, and not because of the cold, but because it was perhaps the most divine, mystical, powerful scene that was unfolding before me. With damp eyes and a tiny heart filled with gratitude, I stood humbled by something grand beyond what my body and mind could perceive.
I realized I was neck-deep in love. Hopelessly fallen into it, I was at a point of no return. Life would never be the same again.