Given my boundless awe and love for mountains, Obscure Trails indisputably had to begin here.
With an empty time-table yawning ahead of me, I longed for a much-needed trip. I longed, specifically, for some mountain therapy. Surprisingly, I got lucky. Plans for a holiday in the hills took shape, and in no time I was packing my bags.
Our first destination was Dharamsala, a city nestled in the hill-station dominated state of Himachal Pradesh. The mandatory tourist spots were covered, yes. But the atmosphere here had a different sheen to it. Every breathing moment, I experienced the rare feeling of being completely alive, something the monotonous and speedy city life doesn’t offer. Even the numerous forest fires smoking up the sky couldn’t lid the purity of the air. One reason for the tranquil goodness of this place may be attributed to the person residing in the vicinity of the Main Temple in McLeod Ganj; His Holiness Dalai Lama probably emanates positive vibes so powerful, that they lend a peaceful aura to the whole of Dharamsala.
It so happens that McLeod Ganj is not called ‘Little Lhasa’ for nothing. From the population of Tibetans chanting holy incantations and the sacred ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’, one gets to experience tidbits of the Tibetan culture up close, something I had deeply desired to do. It was beautiful trying to converse with the locals, trying to get the message across through mixed languages and broken sentences. Combined with a cozy rustic charm, the cafes there offered a scrumptious menu. The wood-cooked pizza and lasagna in Jimmy’s Italian Kitchen were one of a kind, and The Moonpeak Cafe’s triple-egg omelette oozed with oodles of mozzarella. It pains to think of the waiting period I’ll have to go through, before savouring delight again. In Naddi, a hilltop presented a panoramic view of the hills above and valleys below. The terrace of my hotel promised me a front-row seat to behold and marvel at a fairytale sunrise and sunset. I tried and tried, but to no avail- it is next to impossible to describe the phenomenon I witnessed without doing injustice to its beauty. The multi-hued sky, a semi-circle sun peeping from between two splendid peaks, the fir blurred by fog… it was magic.
Traversing along roads paved between picturesque scenes with a light rain misting the windows, the next stop was Dalhousie. A typical hill-station crawling with tourists, Dalhousie offered an insight into the colonial era, with the infrastructure lending a British feel. It was a place much like Mussoorie, I felt. The relaxed appeal of Dharamsala was replaced with more throbbing activity here. A quiet 5 km nature walk was part of the itinerary. The place, KalaTop, had a winding earthy track trailing along the insides of a pleasant forest. Though we didn’t spot any wild beings, my eyes feasted themselves on a distant view of the misty snow-capped Himalayas, rising majestically from some unknown base and camouflaging into the heavens. Even from a great distance, they looked so unscalable, unreachable… unreal.
I am a fan of the life up high of the first order. But I’m sometimes left wondering whether the mountains should have been scaled at all. The allure of some things is best maintained when the secret of their charm is left undiscovered. How wonderfully overwhelming it would have been if no mountains had been explored, and we were just left wondering what lay beyond those snow-scattered masses. But then again, I imagine what it would be like to surpass those beauties and be on top of the world (metaphorically+literally), and unearth the mysterious beauty of a world, distant and dreamlike.
The last location we visited, famed for being ‘Mini Switzerland’, was Khajjiar. I don’t know how to exactly describe the place, except that it looked like a humongous meadow, framed on all sides by firs of equal height. A supposed lake bang in the middle held water a little murky. The grassy land was dotted with people enjoying the warm sun, chatting, playing. The clear sky provided a crisp backdrop to the greenery, offering a dramatic contrast. Sparkling with powdered snow, Khajjiar would undoubtedly look like a winter wonderland in December.
As we gradually started downwards to journey back home, I glued my vision to the last of the diminishing hills with a heavy heart and longing eyes, soothed only by the lullaby of the mountains sounding softly inside me, calling. Calling me back soon.