Thursday, 30 May 2013

A mountain-top experience - in a valley...

Ever heard of a place called Bandharkot?   Neither did we.  Hardly a place which you would go to if you even knew the name for a holiday - but thanks to our dear friend Edwin Singh's advice, we headed down the mountain for a memorable two days.

That's right, we headed down the mountain.  Why would we leave Mussoorie at the height of summer and go down at least 5000 feet or so?

Well, the big draw is camping next to a stream.   The streams that we have up here in Landour are pretty small.  Landour vicinity streams are minisicule trickles of water - unless you are in the monsoon. Monsoonal Mussoorie has its charms to be sure, but you want to be safely within Shanti Kunj - sipping cups of hot lemonade and munching on brownies, rather than sitting in a soggy tent as a torrent of water gushes underneath you and your soggy sleeping bags make you groan for home.  Yes, you have great 'hiking stories' to tell, but those are best told in leech-less environs.

Aber Freunde, nicht diese Toene, sondern angenemere 

We are no where near the monsoons, in a brutally hot summer, where even Landour had us wanting to drink ice-tea.  And yet we went down the other side, past the excreable blot of Kempty falls, down, down twisting down (past the Gharwal English Medium School where our dear friends and mentors Paul and Lynne Hamilton plan to spend time helping out in the near future), down almost to the Yamuna Bridge.  Almost, because just before the bridge comes into sight, there is a bend at which a road heads back up the valley towards distant Tathoor. 

This is the road we took and a hop, skip and jump away you come to the Aglar bridge - a small span over our beloved Aglar that gurgles in the valley deep down behind Mussoorie, eventually meeting the Yamuna and adding its flow of water towards Delhi and points South and East ...

Bandharkot is the first little hamlet on the road that takes you back towards Tathoor on the other side of the valley.  We stumbled out of the jeep at 8.30 am after the 2 hour jeep ride from Landour.  I looked bemused at the little cluster of buildings up against the road and what looked like no place at all to camp.  But my first impressions were blessedly wrong.

Rule No. 1:  drink chai before you make decisions.  We were welcomed into the Rawat Tea Stall - and ensconced in a balcony which overlooked the river and the other side.  Our enthusiastic host had tea and bun-omlettes our way and was super happy that we wanted to camp out.

Having our dear brother Phil with his gentle smile and wise words only made the time more beautiful.  Within a few minutes we were lugging our stuff down the short walk to the river - and wading across the cold water to the other side.

There is a primal joy in setting up tents.  The deliberation of where to put them.  The vital work of ridding the area of as many sticks and stones as possible (the better to sleep on).  The ooh and aah of the frames going up and our canvas homes getting set.  Mum and Dad once again were blessed by Edwin Singh's family in the two lovely tents we borrowed.  Storing away stuff.  Choosing the cooking site.  And finally you have a new home away from home.  Here is a look at where we were - with the hamlet of Bandharkot on the other side of the valley.

But we were not here just to sit in a tent.  The water beckoned.  And did it ever!

This was the Aglar like I had never seen it.  Though it is the height of summer - the water is cold.  Wonderfully cold.  And it rushes down the rocks in a constant melody of sound.  The bend where we were had this beautiful placid stretch perfect for exploring, and for sending smooth rocks skipping over the surface...

And for swimming of course!

So we maximized our time with the water.  Going back to the river over and over again.

Oh taste the sheer beauty of water and stone.  Of the tadpoles and small fishes.  Of moss and movement of current.  How marvellous a Creator to pack so much beauty into the here and now.  How precious a time to taste and see His goodness in tangible ways.

Take for examples the green shrubs around the campsite.  It was wonderfully strange to be in a small forest of Karriya-patta shrubs (Murraya koenegii) - with some even at tree size!

 And lovely to have a place to explore.  Something totally different.

A place with beautiful water all around.

 The sound of the river pouring over the rocks is still ringing in my ears as I write this.  A steady, constantly changing rush of water that was manna to the soul.

A place where there are still trees.  We were apparently camping on an abandoned Forest Department nursery.  The area was flat and had a peepul tree for shade (something that we needed since we were not in the cool climes of Mussoorie anymore).  But the sheer beauty of each leaf and the never-changing scenery were such a blessing.

As were places where people like Oma could hide and spend quiet time.

Our arrival did not go unnoticed of course.  As the tents came up we had our first visitors - an intrepid group of local kids who wanted to meet and greet.

Over the next two days we got to know them well.  Led by Jyothi - most of the girls were in the 7th standard - and were very happy to make friends with Asha and Enoch - and with Sheba Auntie and Oma too!

The best meeting place was in the water of course - and the girls and little boys were thrilled to have us join them on their favourite swimming hole - and since the water was cold all day long - to warm up on their favourite rock too.

 Adventures like this make you hungry.

And there is nothing better to start off a camping trip than having parathas and egg/potatoe bujia which we brought from home!

However, you don't want to eat only stuff from home.  The joy of camping includes cooking.  Choosing your fire place and making a stove with stones.  Collecting the fire wood (available in plenty and very dry too).  Watching the miracle of grass and leaves burning from a single match and seeing the flames lick up slowly and blacken the bottom of your pot (much joy in scrubbing later of course).

And at the end of it, you have a smokily flavoured cup of coffee - or a pot of noodles - or a morning suji to enjoy out in the open.

Like in the Enid Blyton books of yore - the outdoors sure gives you an appetite.

 And as dusk falls, it is just natural to desire to read aloud.

We had Rudyard Kipling's Kim along with us for the journey - and were transported back into a different time as the dusk turned to dark and the stars came out in bright array.

As we lay back and tended the camp fire, the beauty of the place was amplified by songs of worship and praise to the Maker of all things great and small!  It was the end to the perfect day - with a excitement of a night in tents ahead of us - and very satisfied sleepy heads reading to hit the sacks!

The next morning had more exploring on hand.  After the morning dip and a devotion time, we split up.  Dad stayed behind to read Kim and guard the camp.  Our dear friend Phil decided to do a solo hike up the road to check out the villages in the hills above.  And the rest of us - Sheba, Asha, Enoch, Oma and myself decided to see how far we could walk up the river.

It was slow, deliciously slow going.  Every swimming hole had to be swum in.  Every rapids had to be crossed.  There were stones to be examined and small fishes to look at.  Oohs and aahs as we turned a corner and saw a new set of scenery.

We would have liked to go on and on...

.... but we knew that a jeep was coming to pick us up - and so it was back to base camp for a final meal, swim with our little friends - and then the packing up everything and ferrying our stuff across the river to the hamlet of Bhandarkot... where it seemed an age ago we had come.

 During our stay we had made a number of visits back to Rawat's tea stall and had become on good terms with the whole family - finding out that their eldest son had been in Mumbai for a year before going to the Gulf.   Rawat and his wife were full of mountain kindness (and also happy I think to see us keep purchasing cool fizzy drinks from their fridge).

As we packed our stuff on the waiting jeep, we met Mrs. Rawat's mother - who was visiting for some time from her village - another lovely lady.

And then it was back to the cool of Mussoorie.  A very, very happy family who had experienced the beauty of creation, the joy of being together, the joy of worship in such an amazing place, the memories of new friends, the realisation of just how blessed we are, and the rush of water in our ears.

We are going to treasure our 'mountain-top' experience in this beautiful valley for a long, long time!