And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul - John Muir
My footsteps gave off a wet, slightly squelchy sound as I walked. The path was strewn with fallen leaves mostly in different shades of rust, and to break the monotony, a few yellow ones in between. The previous week’s rains had left the soil damp and the leaves wet. My glasses, rattled inside the spectacle case in my pocket, making a dull, clunky sound with each stride, forming a rhythm of its own.
These were the only two foreign sounds. The forest was busy playing its own music.
The cicadas, as always, were in full form, insistently and untiringly announcing their existence to the world. I could hear the occasional ‘ Puhiii Puhiiii ” call of the barbet in the distance and the more frequent, busy tattooing of the woodpecker as it hammered away on a nearby tree. Sometimes, as I turned a corner, there would be an agitated flutter of wings as a pheasant, noisily ( and clumsily ) took off in alarm.
A Rufous bellied woodpecker is too busy to pay attention to us
And then, there was the sound that I love the most. That of running, falling water. Sometimes a distant rumble occasionally, a closer roar, it accompanied us most of the time, often invisible. Occasionally, we would come across a stream that will be frolicking gaily down moss covered rocks, creating a noise that seemed rather excessive for its size.
Pause. Listen. Its music
A good friend and I were on a trip walking through the forests in Binsar, a small town in Uttarakhand. It was an interesting plan – to walk from one village to the other in the area, spending the night in the villages.
To call it a village, however, might be a gross exaggeration, each of the places we stayed in would have had around 4-7 houses, scattered over a small area.
Have you ever seen the sunlight filtering through the pine trees ?
It produces such a magical effect. Not only does the sunlight filter through the sharp pine needles, but it also seems to reflect from it. The result is quite mesmerising.
Oaks, cedars, deodars are seen in other parts of the forest and I particularly love to throw my head back and look at the kaleidoscopic effect that the tree tops produce against the background of the blue skies.
Trees are the poem, the earth writes upon the skies - Khalil Gibran
Trees apart, there’s much to observe around you.
How leaves sprout out in seeming isolation, as if out of sheer joy at being in such a place. Violet Himalayan Balsalms, bright yellow ones sway in the gentle breeze, standing out in a sea of mossy green and wet brown colours and if you peek under a fallen branch or a little into the undergrowth off the trail, you would see clusters of rather impressively sized mushrooms.
There was something joyous in seeing such leaves sprout, a fresh one under a dried, fallen leaf
And, while we almost never saw any other human being on the trails, you have to be careful, there are other travellers on these paths.
Make way...there's a crossing
By late afternoon, after a short, cozy, lazy snooze, we would be sitting outside reading, sipping on countless cups of masala chai or lemon tea, looking at the scenes around us, birdsounds providing the background score.
Every village had totally different scenes for us to soak in. The village could be at the bottom of a valley, with a river crashing through the forest just next to us, or on a slope of a hill where each morning we can wait to see the sun peep out curiously from behind the faraway mountains or we could be in an enviable position of seeing the many ranges of the hills roll around under us. There was always something different, something new.
What’s it about sunrises that make us happily wake up at unearthly hours in chilly climes and walk up inclines when one can be comfortably tucked under heavy blankets ?
There is a sense of peace as we sit on dewy grass, lost in our thoughts and watch the skies change colour, from a pale bluish grey, to the first hint of orange and then the full blown, unabashed, burst of fire that spreads across the skies.
The first gentle notice that another day is about to dawn
The first peep
From certain points, you could also see the Himalayan range, the Nanda devi peak being the greatest attraction. Our guide, Hem, rattled off all the names of the different peak and I blissfully let all that information wash over me. I was more focused on keeping that image in my memory than some random names.
“ Hum pahadi logon ki life bahut simple hoti hai, sir…bas, yahin pahadon mein jeena, thodi si Khushi, aur kya chahihye ?,” a driver of one of our cabs told me. ( We hillfolks, have a rather simple life, we live here in the hills, a little happiness, what else does one need ? ). Life is changing here though. As our guide pointed out, the villages are becoming aged. We rarely saw anyone under the 40s here. Most of the primary schools have been shut down for lack of attendance. The kids now go to the nearby town, Almora to study in English medium schools.
However, our guide ( 35 y/o) spelt out his philosophy and reasons for staying put – ‘ Zindagi mein sukoon chahiy, sir. Paisa sukoon guarantee nahi kar sakti. Yahan kya…jo hai usse jee lo, aaj thoda kam khaya to kal zyada kha lena. Sukoon hai yahan.” ( One needs peace of mind in our life. Money can’t guarantee that. We live with what we have, we might eat a little less today, a little more tomorrow, but life is peaceful.” )
Sukoon. Such a lovely word.
A feeling that we experienced in abundance during our walk through the forest.
Our trip was organized by Knowhere Travel Co. ( https://knowheretravel.co/responsible-travel/ ). The company specialises in off the beaten track trips with a sharp focus on being environmentally and socially responsible. Would recommend them for anyone who would be looking for a different and memorable trip.