If one drives around the Lake Bhimtaal, named after Bhima from Mahabharata, and crosses over to the other side so that the lake is on one’s right side, one can find, with some difficulty, the narrow road that leads up to Naukuchiataal, the nine-cornered lake nestled on the top of the verdant hills of Uttarakhand. The road is so narrow that it will tolerate with difficulty, and probably not at all, two vehicles passing each other from the opposite directions. The road is also steep, often really steep, so that it will test one’s driving skills to the maximum.
On the way up, one can pass by Club Mahindra Naukuchiataal built into the mountainside, and opening on to a narrow, and rather non-descript road. If one passes by this landmark, and continues to drive up, one may reach, with some help, ‘Raabta’, the ‘House on the Hill’ and the summer retreat where I sometimes go to talk to the mountains. The house is built nearly at the top of the hill on which it stands, so that one has a fantastic view of the valley down below, and of the string of mountains which surround it.
It was on the balcony of this house that I sit, sipping my beer, as I contemplate the elderly couple sitting at a distance, to my right side, in the porch of their cottage.
Who are they? I wonder. Do they live here or are they just vacationing? They don’t look native, I think. Maybe they are vacationers. Maybe this is their retirement home.
The couple are sipping their coffee, and smiling at each other. The lady sits facing the valley, the gentleman sits facing me, and the mountains. Often, once in a while, the gentleman looks behind his shoulders, following the gaze of his wife, towards the road that leads upto the house. Are they waiting for someone? I think.
It is almost dusk, and the ambient light has started to diminish. The day ends early in the mountains, and hence there is hardly any living soul stirring out of their homes, and the roads are nearly deserted. I follow their gaze to the lonely, winding road that leads upto the top of the hill……It is faint but we can hear it. I say ‘we’ because the elderly couple has heard the sound at the same time as I have, for their conversation has ceased suddenly, and both of them get up from their chairs, expectant!!
It is the distant purr of a car engine which has caught our collective attention. The car is still some distance off, but this is how it is in the hills…..you can hear a vehicle before you can see it.
Couple of minutes later, we can see the headlights, pin-point orbs of light, going up and down, and slicing the gathering darkness that has begun to settle in on the hills. The drone of their engines grows louder as the car comes closer, winding up the narrow mountain roads, groaning on the inclines.
To be continued……..
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