It was a balmy June afternoon and the prominent white peak of Raldang loomed over the town like an assuring guardian. And that is why you feel uneasy when you can’t see it anymore because of approaching grey clouds into the valley.
As I hiked my way back from the neighboring village of Kothi near Peo,the entire bowl-shaped valley was falling under the shadow of intimidating clouds.The weather in mountains change faster than the moods of your lover.
The world around you closes in and visibility was reduced to the nearest landmark.Cutting my way through the punishing climate, I finally made it to my room near the Peo bus terminal but not before I was thoroughly drenched.I was almost shivering after a hard day’s trek in and around the district headquarters of Kinnaur in Himachal.
The wet trekking boots hurt badly as I removed them in my lodgings and threw two of the blankets around me to ward off the unforgiving chill in the air that the rain had brought. My whole body quivered and seemed to disappear within the blankets.Have you ever felt your brain shrink smaller,almost to the point of vanishing altogether?
The boy at the guest house saw my precarious condition and offered to make coffee for me.He was off to the adjacent kitchen even before I could nod my shivering head.
When I gathered myself properly,I went to the kitchen hoping for some warmth in the smoky atmosphere that the room always creates.Also I wanted to help the boy make coffee.
I walked into the room still shrouded in the two blankets and the two other cooks had a hearty laugh.I must have looked like a mountain Shènnin.The mad hermits of the Himalayas who wander the remote wilderness.
The mind and body crawled back to harmony as I sat with the steaming cup of coffee and Peter Matthiessen’s ‘Snow Leopard’ in the balcony.I was in the last few pages.
The rain had stopped to give the entire town a washed down look.The bus terminal in front of me wore a deserted look and the range of Kinnaur-Kailash including Raldang was still behind clouds.But these were low white clouds,the remnants of the weather gone by. Occasionally the white mountains would peek from within the clouds.In the light of the dusk and the wistful play of clouds,the snow on the peaks looked unearthly.I could hear the footsteps of the lodge-boy and the caretaker up on the terrace.
The boy’s head peeped from the terrace and called me out,”Come out on the terrace,see for yourself”.
There were no stairs from the balcony to the terrace and you had to make an awkward climb through the window railing.The difficulty was many fold for me,I was carrying my camera,the cup of coffee,the book and myself encapsulated in the twin blankets still.But I made it anyway.The boy pointed towards the hills.
Down from the edges of the hills,came a massive cloud of mist like water pouring into a tumbler,the after effects of the rain.Remnants of grey clouds,as you would call them.
The cloud was approaching the terrace like a cold menace, covering the town in a melancholic drowsiness. Thousands of miles away from home,stood a lonely traveler in the lap of the world’s most majestic mountain ranges….with a hot cup of coffee in hand,waiting to get drenched in the mist.As I looked at the evening lights of the town,twinkling in the twilight,the cloud clutched everything around me.
I was the only human being in the world right then,nothing else existed,nothing else mattered.
As I moved my wet face away to the opposite side,the shimmering white Raldang and the divine range of Kinnaur-Kailash manifested itself from within the clouds,just above the Peo bus stop.Snow Leopard had to wait.All knowledge and wisdom was HERE and NOW.
I was transfixed and my eyes were moist.Perhaps from the mist,perhaps not.
I can’t say that I found it,but I know I came quite close to it.Something that people search their entire lifetimes for.Sometimes you know the answer when you stumble upon it,even if you don’t quite remember the question itself.I slept like a baby and woke up in the morning to find the white peaks ablaze with the first rays of the sun.An entirely different world than the one last evening.
There is something seductive and powerful in waking up in a remote place away from home,it’s akin to waking up from one dream into another.There is something magical in realizing that you can employ the mountains and the clouds of mist to nourish your thoughts,to wash your soul.
Once in your lifetime,give yourself a chance to get lost in the mountains,there are chances of you meeting many people on the road,and if you are lucky enough,you may even meet yourself.
P.S-Reckong Peo is the district head quarters of Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh and is around 230 kms from Shimla.The town is situated adjacent to Kinnaur-Kailash mountains, mythically the winter home of Lord Shiva.