(Longish post ... this...bewarned)!
Atlast a break. Even if it was only for 5 days, after an entire year.
Our destination: Cloud End. And please those of you who have read "Eats, shoots and Leaves" or haven't, it is Cloud End and not Cloud's End or Clouds' End.
Shatabdi Express to Dehradun. Then a 1&1/2 hour upward trek by taxi to Mussorie (Plain dwellers, do not eat anything before that uphill completely cicurlar trip to Mussorrie. There wasn't a single straight or flat stretch in that one and a half hour journey). And still upwards, through a dirt track snaking between the hills and a sheer drop.
The houses thinned out as did the cacophony of Mussorie and finally, viola, at the very top of the tallest of the hills, sat a green and white, glass and wood bungalow, gently snoozing in the warm evening sun: Cloud End.
The only other guest was away most of the time. I forgot to take books or even playing cards. Our camera jammed so I could take only 5 or so pictures. No magazines. No television. Just the two of us, at Cloud End.
Vacations can be very tiring. So many things to do and to see. But fate had it planned otherwise. A proper break. So there I was, at 8000 m above sea level, 5 days of enforced solitude.
After the slightly panicky feeling of "god-what-will-i-do?", I rediscovered so many things that I had forgotten in the smoke filled mad rush of city life...
We stayed in the log cabins about two levels lower than the bungalow. My day would start early. Around 6, when it was still dark. I would put on multiple sweaters, cap, gloves and socks and come and sit at the chair and table just outside the log cabin, a few feet away from a sheer drop to the valley below...
...Listening to the sound of silence. It took some getting used to. Every sound seemed magnified several times over. A bird chirp here, a shrill note there, the buzzing of flies, the strange brrr of tiny crickets rubbing there wings behind their backs, the rustling of leaves. I would be sitting out there and turning and twisting in my chair at every rustle, every call, every chirp!
...inhaling the fresh fresh air.
...Rising early and waiting for the sun to rise and the mist to lift and reveal the magnificent snow capped Himalayas, which would, just as quickly, disappear from view.
Plants grew in wild tangled profusion. Red and brown flowers dotted the place. Suddenly, I would catch sight of a strange purple blossom. Dainty daisies (forgive me for my scant knowledge of plants) would nod gently from a precarious perch.
There were hills all around. The trees giving them a dark greenish look. The highest hill was bang opposite as the crow flies but an arduous 3 hour uphill trek as the man walks. I counted about 14 hills.
Ah the simple pleasures of drying my hair in the sun; basking in the sun. But how fast it moved. I had to constantly shift my chair in the small gravelly path to follow the sun! Till the warm rays from the west were overpowered by the creeping chill from the east as the sun slowly sank behind the hills and disappeared.
A flock of pale green parrots, and not the usual dark green(parrot green) ones, descended on a bare tree, each on one branch...and just as suddenly, at some silent signal, flew off. 2 long birds with a curling tail (or is it called plume) twice the size of their body, hopped, jumped and cavorted. A solitary crow, oddly out of place, cawing away with great gusto.
A hairy, hairy goat with curved horns and bell at it throat, nimbly jumping about, mocking our pathetic panting gasping progress on the slightest of inclines.
Dinner in that long low dining hall on Major Swetenham’s original dinner table, beneath the huge tiger skin forever fixed in a glassy glare.
The house had most of the original furniture. The polish dulled over the years, which somehow added to the overall atmosphere as did the low voltage electricity. It was as if the place was lit with lanterns, as was when Major Swetenham moved in with his lovely garwali wife!
It seemed a bit too real and I refused to sleep with the lights off. I lit the candles supplied by the staff and it cast a cheery glow all night long! Who knows what these log cabins were used as during Major Swetenham's days? Stables, A thought. He said he got a distinct horsy whiff (from over a 150 years ago??). Maybe nursery? So far away from the main bungalow? The family history did mention one of the 5 boys fell down a "khud" and died at the age of 11 (yes the khud was there). That scared me most.
When I first arrived at Cloud End, time hung heavily, Minutes hanging on lovingly.
Back now, to the daily grind, of never ending work, deadlines, schedules, it seems like that for those few days, I was transported to a different dimension, where time hung heavily, minutes ticking past sluggishly, when time stood almost still...
A spot of history about Cloud End: A Major Swetenham out on a picnic was enchanted by a melodious voice and ran after it and startled a garwali lass. He fell in love with her and her voice and asked for her hand in marriage, which her father gave along with 2000 acres of virgin forests as dowry. It was here the Major built Cloud End in 1838 and lived with his wife Rose and five children. The last of the Swetenhams left India in the 1930's.