Travel Tale: Floating in the Poetic Dusk

A big ring adorned Mamta’s nose, silhouetting half her face as we huddled around a bonfire for warmth. And sitting there with the glorious Kumaon hills girdling us and Mamta reading one of her poems for me, I learned how nature and words soothe a crumbly spirit.

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It was only a day before that I had met Mamta for the first time when the hosts of my retreat centre introduced us. Our small chat had concluded with her beaming at me and exclaiming in broken Hindi, “Didi, I will come and see you at the inn tomorrow!” She wanted to know what a bunch of college girls from Delhi were doing in Kausani!

Which brings me to: What could I do here? In 3 days?

For starters, I could sit on these porches that always welcomed us with tea and viands. I could talk to these people who always regaled us with colourful stories. With them, I could drink these buttery noons and tangerine sunsets. Maybe along the way, I could pick up a few Kumaoni words, understand a new culture, unspool its richness and authenticity. But, who could’ve imagined that I would do just that and more, and that Mamta would help me with most of it!

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She joined our group for tea just like she had promised. A few moments later, we were scribbling Aipan designs on random scraps of paper—and in the next few—up on our feet, matching folk tunes with our own versions of Chholiya as the sun dived between the hills. Here, in an Indian village in the quiet vicinity of the Himalayas, the Italian saying of il piccolo mondo got a whole new meaning!

Within hours, I was sitting under the pin-pricked night sky, listening to Mamta’s voice as she read a poem from her notebook. And while her words warmed the December air, I took a closer look at the poetry of the land I was in. I could see and feel it in the Buransh (Rhododendron), in the chartreuse farmlands, and in this amazing rendezvous of nature, people, and history.  

That’s how I was always going to remember this village cradled in these verdant hills. As a place where I felt freer, happier, lighter—all at the same time. My souvenir: A friendship that began with a Kausani local asking me, “Tumar naam ki cha?”

The Horegallu

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Photo courtesy of flickr.com

 The blisters on his hands were beginning to smart; his appearance bedraggled from the day’s hard labour. It was getting harder to continue by the minute. Then he saw it. A canopied Horegallu in the middle of the road, an earthen pot kept beside it. He hoped that a kind soul would have filled it with water, for he had waited long enough to slake his thirst. He sat down, glad that the pot wasn’t empty. The water was like a balm for his parched lips and a panacea for his sore throat. He exchanged hackneyed concerns about the weather with a fellow sojourner. The sun glistened the trail with a golden filter.  The same sun had been pouring fire a while ago.  He was going to embark upon the same path, with renewed strength and hope. He had decided to halt before the last straw could break the proverbial camel’s back. He was happy that he did.

A Horegallu is a stone-bench in villages, which tired travelers often use for resting. Inspired by an anecdote in the book The Old Man and His God by Sudha Murty.

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