We recently visited this quaint little town called Chail, very close to Shimla in Himachal Pradesh. I am in love with the mountains and hence, visiting them after months seemed like a treat I had been so longing for, even though this trip was just for a little over a day. We stayed at the Chail Palace which is now owned and operated as a hotel by the Himachal Tourism. When we reached the place, it was almost dusk. Our rooms were a row of cottages quite far from the main palace building and since we weren’t aware of the shortcut then, it took us almost 20 to 25 minutes to reach the place and complete our check-in. The sudden drop in temperature the moment I stepped outside of the car made me shiver all over but even in that state, I couldn’t ignore the magnificent views of the mountains and the woods, the pinkish purple sky at dusk gradually giving way to the stars on the horizon.
I have a strange but wonderful flaw. Whenever I travel, I seem to wake up really early, like 5.30 am early. Though this sort of leaves me a bit sleepy during the latter part of the day, I actually don’t mind it because this habit has gifted me with some of my most wonderful travel memories. Like, the time I walked over to the beach at Galle, Sri Lanka and sat in an almost meditative state watching the sky and the sea flirt subtly before the red sun came up in all its glory. Or, on the morning of my birthday this year at Rome, when I woke up and rushed to the terrace of our B&B to see the Colosseum and write how I felt (best birthday ever!). Or the time, when we stayed at this hotel by the Pichola Lake in Udaipur where the arrival of dawn and the temple bells transported me to a world of otherworldly magical charms.
Waking early while traveling has its own perks. You’re all by yourself, almost like you’re on a secret rendezvous with the place-when both of you are at your most vulnerable, untouched by the external chaos, reveling in the glory of the Universe.
My visit to Chail was no exception. I woke up at the crack of dawn and though the temperature was not the most conducive (around 4 to 5 degrees Celsius), I needed my time alone with the mountains and the wilderness. I wore as many layers as my body could possibly take without severely restricting movement, and I stepped outside at around 6 am. It was still dark and the sky had just started changing its colors from the midnight blue to a purplish haze.
If you know me even a little, you must be aware of my love for animals. So, as soon as we reached the place, I’d promptly befriended the dogs near our cottage. The biscuits and sandwiches I shared with them helped strengthen our relationship even further. My black and white furry friend from the night before was waiting for me at the door in the morning. Then from somewhere came her big black companion who almost looked like a bear in the dark. However, both of them were the true definitions of gentle giants, who followed me on my walk around the place. Chail has a lot of monkeys and I was initially apprehensive about being attacked. However, over those few days what I learnt was that as long as you left them alone and most importantly, as long as you’re not carrying any food, they do not tend to bother you too much.
So while dawn slowly broke out from its dark shell, I sat at the ledge within the compound watching the hills, while Don Mclean crooned ‘Starry Starry Night‘ into my ears through my earphones.
‘Starry Starry night
Paint your palette blue and grey
Look out on a summer’s day
With eyes that know the
Darkness in my soul.
Shadows on the hills
Sketch the trees and the daffodils
Catch the breeze and the winter chills
In colors on the snowy linen land.
And now I understand what you tried to say to me
How you suffered for your sanity
How you tried to set them free.
They would not listen
They did not know how
Perhaps they’ll listen now.’
Even though this song is a tribute to Vincent Van Gogh, I was almost observing the lyrics unfold before my eyes, feeling a strange familiarity with the words. It was one of the most sacred experiences of my life. While the sky changed colors from purple to pink to orange, the dogs nuzzled against my body, and the entire horizon was flooded with colors, it felt like nature had taken me in an embrace that is reserved only for close friends.
(It was almost dark when I stepped outside.)
(Nature seemed to be slowly stretching itself out of its slumber.)
(The pinkish glow of dawn embraced the mountains and the woods.)
(My doggy friends in a reflective state.)
All my troubles and worries seemed like minuscule specks of dust that scattered into the wilderness and instead, my heart filled with the purest form of gratitude. My eyes almost filled with tears thinking of the selfless and pure ways in which nature demonstrates its love for us. All it asks for in return is for us to truly open our eyes and SEE.
The next morning, I went for a walk in the woods, as I was kind of acquainted with the grounds by then. I walked around while listening to ‘Wild World‘ and singing the lyrics out loud.
It’s hard to get by just upon a smile
Oh baby baby it’s a wild world
I’ll always remember you like a child girl
And it’s breaking my heart in two
‘Cause I never want to see you sad girl
Don’t be a bad girl
Hope you make a lot of nice friends out there
But just remember there’s a lot of bad everywhere
It didn’t matter that I was singing off key at the top of my voice, as there was not a single human being nearby and the only beings that heard me were the dogs and the monkeys (hats off to them for their tolerance!).
It was so liberating being able to walk those winding roads in the woods without any fear, filling up my lungs with the crisp mountain air, inhaling the place with all my senses without having to maintain a polite conversation with anyone, and simply being able to be one with nature!
You know, I even lost my way and hence, what I intended to be a half an hour walk, stretched on to be an hour long journey. However, I’ve seldom felt so happy not finding my way back!
As John Muir said,
‘In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.’
And once again, the mountains reminded me why it is impossible for me to stay away from them for a long time.
(A walk in the woods is all it takes to purify the heart and the soul.)
(We stayed in one of the cottages here. To be more precise, the last one to the right where the lights are on.)
(I’d sat on that boundary wall watching the sunrise.)
If you’re looking for some solitude in the lap of nature, I’d recommend you to take a trip to Chail. 🙂