I inhaled deeply after a long time, as I saw that familiar sight, had my first glimpse of my friends – the mountains. There was a constricting feeling in my chest, a pang of emotion, a physical pain of happiness at the reunion, as I looked at them. Happiness can be painful, sometimes! The mountains stood in the distance, covered with trees and crested with cumulus clouds, and they waited. They waited for me, I knew, for our conversation was still unfinished (‘Up in the Mountains’ in the book ‘Daffodils: A Bouquet of Short Stories. https://www.amazon.in/DAFFODILS-Bouquet-Divya-Narain-Upadhyaya-ebook/dp/B08G8XS52F/ref=sr_1_6?crid=1TKSXSVB9GN26&dchild=1&keywords=the+battle+of+panchavati&qid=1616026501&sprefix=the+battle+of+panchava%2Caps%2C285&sr=8-6)
The car purred softly in the clear, cool mountain air as we drove from Haldwani to Kathgodam, and from there started our ascent along the winding mountain roads. A couple of kilometers later, I switched off the air-conditioning in the car, rolled down the windows, and opened the sunroof. A breeze of fresh, cold mountain air filled the car, drawing yelps of excitement from the children. Up and up the car went, winding along familiar roads – the excitement in the car was almost palpable. I was in no hurry; I wanted to enjoy every moment, savor every smell, live every second. I was enjoying my drive. The automatic transmission of the new car which I was driving today, made the climb uphill a breeze. No more changing gears, no more groaning of the engine; it was one smooth purr all along the way, the car responding instantly to my soft pedal pushes.
There is always an unspoken discipline amongst people driving on the hills, rarely broken. As soon as one drives to the hills, one can understand this unwritten rule without being told. Everyone follows it, and those who don’t, don’t fare so well for long on the treacherous mountain terrain. Drive slowly, wait for your turn, be considerate to the other drivers too – this is the unspoken law of hill driving. One can disregard it at one’s own peril. And thus, one can see, that the traffic on the hills is always more orderly than that on the plains; and this comes as a welcome change to people like us who are used to honking, road-bullying, overtaking, and rash driving. Come to the hills, and you will find few takers for such behavior. This immediately soothes one’s frayed nerves and puts one at ease – and thus one can enjoy the drive!!
Bhimtaal loomed ahead – it’s waters green with algae, but much cleaner than I remembered them from the last time. The road wound around the lake – broken at places and being repaired at others. Around the lake we went, and then over to the other side, and then the climb up to Naukuchiatal began; much steeper, and much narrower than the roads we had taken before. But I was at ease, and happy – these were familiar roads!!! Traffic had eased out by now, an odd motorcycle passed us by. People stood around, enjoying the evening sun outside their homes which lined the narrow road, and looked at our car pass by. What would they be thinking? I wondered.
Up and up the winding road we went, past the teak trees, past the rhododendron shrubs, the pansies, and the petunias. The children peeked outside excitedly – sometimes pointing to a stray dog, and sometimes to the groups of monkeys sitting by the roadside, picking lice from their coats. The monkeys looked at us as we looked at them, with amazement, and wonder, and quizzical excitement.
To be continued……
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