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  • amiyaban

One Night at a Time

Updated: Nov 20, 2021

“To see the world, things dangerous to come to,

to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other and to feel.

That is the purpose of life.”

“Oye! Leopard aaya” [A leopard is around], Shyamu screamed. Aayush and Avinash were sitting across the hill, feasting their eyes on the setting sun, while a leopard nearby had started grunting. They were on their feet in a trice, scampering back to the cottage.

Shyamu was confident that the leopard was far away and there was no impending danger. This was his idea of a prank.

“Bhai Aayush bhaag!” [Bro Aayush run], I yelled when Aayush went back for the packet of Kurkure. I was enjoying being in on this prank.

“Saale leopard ko khilaana Kurkure” [Feed those Kurkures to the leopard idiot], Avinash yelled as he left him behind.

Shyamu and I were laughing our heads off, knowing there was no danger, yet watching both of them stumble multiple times on their way back to the cottage.

“...aran Karan! Stop dreaming!” My friend broke me out of my reverie, wiping the involuntary grin off my face. We were on a video call trying to finish some class assignments. I shook my head, as if trying to shake the thoughts out, and was back to work.

It had been only three days since my return from the trip and every once in a while someone had to pull me out of my dreams. The impact of that trip certainly was a lot more than just good memories, and my mother had noticed this. That evening, while walking our dog -

“I am thinking of going to Ganoli next week”, I looked at my mother, baffled by her unusual decision.

“Amiya will be there for his camp so it will be easier for me to stay”, she said, trying to soften the blow.

This was a golden opportunity for me to tag along. However, I had a lot of work to complete if I wanted to join her. I wrapped up all the projects two days before the trip but sleeper tickets were sold out by then. However, I knew the chair car would be empty for overnight journeys and hopped in. I rang up Amiya uncle’s Chaachaji and made plans of visiting him in Khurpatal as well.

An entire night sitting on a chair was rough, but all the pain was disregarded knowing where I was headed. We met Amiya uncle in Jeolikote and the journey began. We arrived just in time for lunch. After the delicious lunch, when everyone retired for a nap, Shyamu and Soni took me to the temple where all their friends were preparing for a local ritual. They were dressed in a single saffron cloth somewhat similar to what monks wear. It was the first time I met their village friends. We had a good time talking about how their childhood was spent wandering those hills. After a while, I left the temple and started walking downhill when this view caught my eye.

“How is this shot?” Soni asked enthusiastically, as he and Shyamu joined me. Unbeknown to me he had clicked my picture while I stood there for a good half hour, staring into oblivion.

“Let’s go. Everyone is awake and we have plans of taking them to the village today”, said Shyamu while we headed back.

After serving tea, Shyamu took us to his house in the village. Soni served us some delicious corn seasoned with the “Ganoli special” salt. Then, Shyamu took us to the sunset point where we cherished the setting sun, shielded behind the dense rain clouds. The most beautiful sunsets are the ones we share.

It was getting dark and by the time we stepped onto the Suraikhet road my brother was dead tired. Shyamu arranged for a ride for my family. I stayed back with Shyamu and Soni while the others went back. We sat down beside the road, talking, as the night crept in, slow and smooth. It smothered the hills in darkness. The pinch of fear that accompanied that darkness is what made that night special. After a fun banter, we took the shortcut through the hills to reach in time for dinner.

Away from the city lights, night in the hills was a mysterious time of the day. Not being able to see anything meant that every step carried a surprise; the fun was in not knowing what lay ahead. After everyone retired to bed, I snuck out with Shyamu, Soni, and Lalith. Unaware of where the path headed, we just kept climbing; talking, teasing, and laughing; away from all the stress that life had to offer. I was having the time of my life.

“We didn’t realize we were making memories,

We just knew we were having fun.”

We headed back at around 1:30 am, guided by the faint glimmer of light coming from the village home. It had been more than forty hours since I had slept and adrenaline could no longer keep me going. Sleep took on a different meaning for me in those hills. Instead of being a time of rest, it had become the time of “missing out”.

The next morning we headed off to the forest house in Qurai. Trekking to the forest house which used to be onerous a week ago had amazingly become second nature to me. Soon, Amiya uncle and Kailash ji joined us for a delicious lunch. While everyone retired for a nap after the feast I went for a short stroll near the place. I recalled from my last visit there were many abandoned huts in the forest nearby.

“This was our village a couple of decades ago”, answered Shyamu when I enquired about the huts. All the villagers had moved to Ganoli around twenty years ago, where a road connected them to the modern world. Since then the huts have been abandoned and shelter various wild animals.

“Let’s go there”, I said pointing to the nearest hut I could spot peaking through the thickets of dense shrubs.

“That place is called Tipiri. That hut was built around a century ago.”

I didn’t believe him at first. The structure looked like a feeble stone hut from afar, put together like a Lego house. We decided to spend our evening at Tipiri.

“Just be careful. We won’t find any defined path and will have to walk through the thick foliage.” Shyamu warned me.

We both carried a stick for clearing the bushes. It had rained recently and the moist soil was not a reassuring support for our feet either. With every step, we were walking deeper into the forest. The journey was gruelling but the views were equally rewarding. Not being as experienced as Shyamu in navigating through the forest, I did slip a couple of times but Shyamu had taught me well on which plants to grab and stop myself from rolling down the hill. Every moment I slipped could very well have been my last, nonetheless this sudden urge of living in the moment; sans any expectation of the destination was more intoxicating than the view.

The view from Tipiri was breathtaking. The lush greenery, the landscape, the warmth of the sunlight, everything seemed so coherent. This picture doesn’t do it justice. The beauty of that place is beyond something that can be enjoyed with just our eyes. It has to be felt. We stood there most of the afternoon, enjoying the pine-scented air, the cool breeze that embraced the hills and the yellow sun peeking through the rainy clouds.

The century-old hut in Tipiri

We got a call from Kailash Ji and we headed back to the road. They had brought some supplies for the night. By this time, I had learned enough to maintain my grip on the moist soil and be of some help to them. I picked up the heavy bags along with them and we trekked back to the house.

The sun had set behind the nimbus clouds. Iit had already started drizzling. We had to shift under the shade and couldn’t enjoy star-gazing under the open sky. We struggled to get the fire going to keep us warm. For a moment I was disappointed because it was not the same as last time. But that was the beauty of Qurai. Every night was different. The haze made it difficult to discern anything further than a few meters. The hills of Qurai had put us in a bubble for the night and it soon became one of the best nights of my life. We popped those beers and took a seat under the shade. Not being able to comprehend the existence of our surroundings, we couldn’t care less about where we were and lived in the moment. I heard some wild stories from Amiya uncle and my father about their college days and, of course, Kailash Ji was ever ready with his enthralling tales. Never had I felt more connected to my father in years. We shared, laughed, and sang through the night. I can’t share any more than this - “What happens in Qurai, stays in Qurai”. The hills had worked their magic yet again.

Next morning we headed to Khurpatal, where uncle’s Chachaji lived. Amiya uncle kept us entertained through the journey, singing some beautiful songs, while I was trying to soak in the breathtaking sights. Khurpatal was a lake surrounded by a wall of mountains all around. It seemed like someone poked a hole in a mound of sand and filled it with water. Chaachaji’s house was right beside the lake. I had already made plans to swim in the lake. It was a cold evening and Amiya uncle and Chaachaji immediately agreed to go for a swim. However, I had a persistent and intense fear of deep bodies of water. Yes, I had been a swimmer most of my life but swimming in bodies of water that seemed vast, dark, and deep gave me nightmares. Staring into the deep, the endless blue water, leaving my imagination to fill the void.

Standing beside the lake, still anxious, I was contemplating my impulsive decision. Yes, I was afraid; but maybe not as much as I wanted to swim to the middle of the lake and relax, facing the sky, surrounded by the magisterial mountains.

“Decide that you want it more than you are afraid of it”

Yes, that’s me with Chaachaji and Amiya uncle in the middle of the lake, right where I wanted to be. I think I’ll stop here. It was a joy reliving the moments while writing this and I hope you enjoyed being a part of this journey.

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