The three gentlemen gawked at the sight before them. “Himaloy!!” they exclaimed in their chaste Bengali at the spectacular sight before them. The sight before them would have left anyone spellbound, but I could not help but smile a bit at their naiveté.
All three were similarly clad in PJ bottoms with a shirt on top and a thin sweater. They covered themselves in a shawl and wore slippers and a wooly hat, and thankfully, not a “monkey cap”, the ubiquitous balaclava worn by every brave Bengali traveler from “Bhest Bengol”! It was a small matter that the temperature was sub-zero, the altitude was 8000 ft, and the location was a Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (KMVN) government guest house deep inside the Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary with no electricity during the day and only, as all three gentlemen exclaimed, three hours of power in the evening! Perfect!
It had rained heavily the previous night and this location even saw some snow. Water that collected on the plastic patio chairs had frozen overnight and the ground was slippery with ice. The weather in March is unpredictable but this year’s unseasonal rain showers around Holi promised unparalleled views, as the rain would drive the spring haze away.
The vista in front of me from the guesthouse terrace took my breath away! I have been traveling to the Himalayas for over two decades but nothing prepared me for the sight before my eyes. Directly in front of me rose the unique tri-peaked Trishul massif, all 22,970 ft of her rising like an impregnable wall. Next to her just a few hundred feet lower but looming like a great ginormous wall of snow, ice and rock was the flat ribbed ridge of Mt. Mriguthani. Immediately next to Mriguthani and seemingly attached to her was the sharper pointed peak of Mt Maiktoli. But what came next was what drew me to this remote location, about 85 Kms from Almora. The object of my Himalayan obsession, Mt. Nanda Devi, at 25,623 ft, stood taller, than the rest by a good distance even though she was set many kilometers further back. Her beautiful twin peaks in profile silhouetted against the morning sun, she was, simply put, magnificent!
The light was too bright at 8:00 AM as the sun rose higher and I was feverishly making adjustments to my camera settings trying to get the best exposure. The Bengali ladies joined their menfolk on the terrace all clad in saris, socks on their feet, wrapped in shawls, glasses falling off their noses, and thoroughly out of place with their surroundings. They grumbled that they had no electricity since the previous evening to whoever was willing to listen! The hotel staff merely shrugged their shoulders and disappeared.
The group collectively decided to follow my cue and capture the beauty in front of their eyes. Out came their DVD camcorder, holding it with unsteady hands, shivering in the cold and desperately trying to film the mountains. Seriously??? To the best of my knowledge the Himalayas hadn’t moved in nearly 500 million years. So why film them?? “What peaks are these?” one of the ladies asked her husband. “Nanda Devi” he whispered and pointing at me, “he told me”. “Ah, Nanda Devi, haven’t we heard about this peak so much?” she exclaimed. He nodded in agreement, but his face betrayed the fact that he had heard no such thing!
They continued fiddling with their camcorder after realizing that the light was too bright and they could see nothing on the LCD screen. Then one of the ladies realized their folly and whispered in Bengali to her husband angrily “I told you to bring your Konica! See, look at that man photographing the mountains. A camera is what you should have brought, and not your silly bhideo camera!” Then a bright idea struck her “Why don’t you give him your email ID and he will email you the pictures he is clicking so we can see them later!” she exclaimed triumphantly, albeit in a louder whisper.
I hurried away.