My husband’s friend calls him up one fine day to ask a seriously random question out of nowhere. “We are taking a trip to the hills for our anniversary this year. Would you guys care to join?” His obvious answer was, “But this is your anniversary trip! Won’t we be completely redundant?” He also mentioned that a trip was absolutely not on the cards for us at that point in time. Nevertheless, his friend insisted that we join them because being around us apparently makes the environment more “romantic.” Husband was perplexed; I did not mind the compliment.
I never say no to any travel plan, no matter how arbitrary it sounds. I called his wife up and we both started giggling like little girls and planning stuff for the trip. Excitement knew no bounds, except that we were not sure about where exactly in Kumaon were we heading to. But the both of us decided that we will not do any research on the place, hoping to be pleasantly surprised on arrival. And were we right!
We were looking for a homestay called the Innisfree Estate after reaching Nathuakhan, Uttarakhand. The unassuming little gate which was the entry to the estate could very easily have been missed. Once we entered the compound, I could not help but remember the lines from the poem “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” by W. B. Yeats, which I memorized as a teenager and hoped I could someday experience in real.
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
The estate was so appropriately named. The place had an old world charm, out of a fairytale, rustic yet smart, hamlet-like… Who am I kidding? I will never be able to articulate justifiably the impact it had on our minds and bodies with each passing minute that we were strolling about in the estate. The first faces we saw were that of the hosts, Lat and Julia. They were simply so warm, friendly and welcoming that it instantly eased us of our long drive fatigue. To add to their smiles was the balmy aroma of the Earl Grey tea that Julia made for us. After the sublime cuppa, we were shown the rooms that were available. We took the room on the mezzanine floor, simply because I love mezzanine and also because we wanted to give the anniversary couple the room outside the main cottage.
After we were done changing and I was done admiring the east facing window which overlooked the entire valley, we went down for the evening chit-chat session. That was when I saw my most favorite thing about the trip. Lat took us out to the other side of the cottage, which was the “real deal.” It was like a tiny plateau hanging over the valley. We could not really see anything in the valley as it was pitch dark by then, but what we could thoroughly soak in was the star-lit night sky. Before that night I did not know that one can see so many stars with the naked eye. It was a magical night of story-telling and making friends.
Next morning I was woken up by the dazzling sun rays, steering right from between the two hills on the east side of the room through our window. We had nothing planned for that day, but I was still looking forward to it like never before. During the hearty breakfast made with all homegrown produce my friend by then, Julia, offered to take us for a walk to the nearest village. We seriously needed that walk after the copious amount of delicious Lat-special scrambled eggs and other goodies we demolished that morning. More than the village itself, it was the walk through the mountainous forest which was challenging for us city-dwellers, but completely worth it. That night, after satiating ourselves with the scrumptious local mutton, the night sky again invited us again. That night was the anniversary night and Lat gifted them a lovely bonfire.
The next day we decided to hike down to the river. While the reaching the river part was super easy, the coming back up was what drew the last bit of oxygen that we could produce out of us. The depth of the river was just right for me as I am hydrophobic and I love the shallow rocky type. Once during the walk we needed to freshen up, so we asked a passerby if there was any washroom around by any good chance. Not only did he take us to his house which was two steps from there, his wife offered us lunch! The amiability of the Kumaonis astounded us. Little did we know that a delectable spread of lunch was awaiting us back at the estate.
In all these lovely memories of people and places, the one thing that I particularly enjoyed was the company of Lat and Julia’s pets. The local dogs and cats who they have sheltered are simply adorable, and the dogs even accompanied us to our walks. Leaving them behind was heartbreaking.
The peace, calm and sheer beauty of the hills, and warmth of the Kumaonis is what keeps pulling my heart towards Nathuakhan every season ever since we have come back to the humdrum of the city.