Holidays have a tremendous power of healing. Mumbai summers can be too warm to tolerate and a short trip to the mountains could certainly give a respite to sweating souls.
This year the summer heat drove us as a family to the Western Ghats. Mahabaleshwar, a city in the Satara district in the Indian state of Maharashtra is a hill station with one of the few evergreen forests of India. It has had the privilege of serving as the summer capital of Bombay province during the British Raj. Located at an average elevation of 1,353 metres, Mahabaleshwar is a huge plateau measuring 150 km sq. bound by beautiful valleys on all sides. It has beautiful scenic points besides the perennial springs and streams and waterfalls with a comfortable climate year long.
I have been to this beautiful city in the mountains several times since my childhood but this time I chose to live in the deep forests and looked out for hotels which would give me the feel of the greenery everywhere I looked sans the noise of human beings and their perpetual marketing desires. Not that I do not like to shop and roam in the hilly sales areas but this time I wished to keep them aside and far enough to reach only when desire struck me to brush shoulders with humans. The rest of the time I wished to spend seeing four legged and winged wild creatures.
The search for a hotel stay landed me at Hotel Gourish, a very pleasant hotel which gave me a duplex room overlooking a simple garden on one side at the entrance and a thick forest to contemplate on nature from the windows. The windows gave me a better perspective than the television placed in the room as from there I got a very enriching view of huge monkeys with real long tails, fat red tailed squirrels and tiny sparrow like birds with multi colours on their feathered bodies.
The news reader in the television was talking about leopards attacking little children in the Satara District and mentioned that that was how the canines were venturing out from the forests, seeming not to be so satisfied with the red tailed squirrels; one of which was right in front of me jumping from branch to branch dodging the monkeys outside my window. Every time she would go close to a monkey, my heart would skip a beat wondering what if the monkey scratched her but the monkeys had probably learnt tolerance and they simply avoided her pranks as she slapped them with her bushy tail. It was only one monkey who perhaps had less tolerance level who gave her a hard slap on her face which may be sent across the message to her to stop fooling around with the ones who had more strength. She went dashing away behind the thick curtain of leaves not to emerge for quite some time. After I saw this short skit performed by the lower species in the theater of the wild, I turned to look at my children and smiled at a similar performance I had had the privilege of witnessing several times at the cost of tensed emotions.
Hotel Gourish is situated very close to Old Mahabaleshwar and the famous Shiv Linga in these mountains is just a few minutes away from there. At every earlier visit of mine to this hill station I had made it a point to visit this temple but this time I chose to worship The Almighty in His natural form and observed His movements with every rustling of the leaves and every opening of colourful petals. The entrance to my room had so much of mixed fragrance of the earth and the colours that I had to literally take it all in with deep breaths as if collecting it all within me. I can say that sitting there I actually prayed without the burden of any rituals. The chair at the entrance of the room became my asana and nature all around became my object and the paraphernalia of worship. Without the recitation of any scripture I communicated with my creator in the language of wordlessness. Every soul on earth I believe has a need to reach out and Hotel Gourish helped me in its environment to intensify my feelings and have a communication with tight lips. I realised that a prayer in such a beautiful environment could help me stock up on positivity to last a long time. I was sure that when I would go down the mountains to my home at sea-level, this collection would in the midst of the warm environment, filter its cool showers gradually filling me up with its cool and breath taking memories.
Often in the day when the children would be dashing up and down the duplex room shattering the silence of the place, I would sit out having a silent communication with the foliage. In Mumbai, I would have screamed at them telling them to shut up but here I felt no need as the silence of the forest was louder than their screams, not permitting them to disturb my peace.
Surprisingly the place had given us a very cold welcome which was heart-warming. Moving out from the heat of a crowded city, we faced lightening and heavy showers on the way to the hills. Not only was the journey soaked in water but our car also got quite a few pelts in a hail storm. The heat of Mumbai can be very ruffling but these showers in fact put us in a very positive and peaceful frame of mind. They as if regenerated our melted energy levels. They emotionally and mentally uplifted us on the uphill journey. It felt as if nature had understood our ordeal of perspiration and was welcoming us with cool blessings from above.
The moment we arrived at the hotel, the aroma of chicken and paneer 65 got our hungry stomachs rumbling for taste though I failed to understand the addition of the number 65 to these dishes which were nice and pungent even for an Indian palate. After a meal enjoyed in the dining room we moved on to explore the place with its tiny play area with its centre stage tree with a ladder to climb up and rest with a book there on top. The rains had stopped and the earth was filling up our nostrils with its mesmerising fragrance. The garden in the centre of the place had a lone tree with its bark covered with a climber and my children named it the Tree of Life. It had a unique look with no brown on it but only green.
In short the time spent was worth it all. The boat ride at the Venna Lake, the horse riding near the lake, the hot corns and the blue berries and the strawberries and the delicious orange carrots could never be replaced with a visit to a mall or a film in the city. After all this, the return journey had to have a mixture of a taste of joy and sadness to it. We were of course a little sad that we were moving out from the green hills which had injected us with their intoxicating freshness and at the same time glad that we would be back home for after all home is always ‘home sweet home’.
On the return trip as we passed through the dark tunnels on the highways a thought struck me. Every journey had to end but if we continued to live in the hope of something better and new, we would always see light at the end.