The drive to Kalatop almost did not happen because teenagers Priya and Aashka thought it would be boring. “We have seen sunsets and sunrises, haven’t we? One more sunset.. why don’t we drive down to Dharamsala and we can get some friendship bands there,” Priya said. Aashka echoed these thoughts but they got over-ruled by four adults.
The teenagers got excited when we were faced with a barrier that the forest guard on duty at a place called Lakkarmandi said would not go up because we were late and we would have to pay a hefty entry fee. But Sunil and I flaunted our journalist muscle and got him to raise the barrier and let our Tavera secure entry to the 3km drive up the winding, dirt track.
The road – if it can be called that – is so narrow that there is no scope for overtaking. In fact, every time a vehicle came from the opposite direction, the driver of the car going downhill would have to find a ‘parking’ bank so that the other car could squeeze its way uphill, nearly grazing the hillside.
There were pine trees, standing so tall that you had to crane your neck to spot their tops nearby. And they huddled so much that the canopy threw a fairly dark cover beneath the trees, light rays finding it hard to squeeze their way through. The silence of the forest was broken by the drone of the car and the occasional bird call.
The car pulled up near the forest rest house and we tumbled out, eager to go down and take our pictures as the light was fading quite suddenly. A pathway from the green gate of the forest rest house led us past a couple of stone buildings and neatly laid out flower beds to a slightly open area from where we could get a glimpse of the valley beneath us.
A slight pause to take the sights in and we were hurrying down winding concrete steps that led is to a small canteen next to another building that was built in 1925 – perhaps to let the Sahibs spend lazy afternoons sipping tea (or some other brew) and munching sandwiches and pakoras while feasting on the heavenly view from a strategic location, hidden from the rest of the world.
The first thing I noticed was the moving mist – thin clouds that were footloose and rising from below to escape the clutches of the tall pines.
Some thought it was billowing smoke from a forest fire – and we had seen a couple of such blazes.But the only thing burning in the vicinity was a gas stove in the canteen where noodles and tea were being prepared and I knew that it was drifting clouds. Some were in a tearing hurry and others slumbering along.
I smiled to myself at the thought of how clouds were so human in behaving so differently, each tugging in different directions. But I was being distracted – my friend Sunil wanted to take pictures of the group and had found someone to click one frame for us, so I had to quickly join the group.
That done, I walked to a quieter corner, away from the prattle to soak in the moment – grey, almost white clouds, green pine leaves, the dark brown trunks with the myriad designs that their bark showed off in competition with the rest of the environment. It was an awesome sight, the clouds combining with the pines to prevent a clear view of the valley.
A gentle puff of wind changed the direction of one such cloud drift and I felt some moisture on my cheeks – a special gift from Nature. And then, because there was some hint of rain, we hurried up the steps to the Tavera that was waiting to bring us home.