The first thing I thought of, after my first train of post-sleep-frustration thoughts this morning, was Himachal Pradesh. It is the way everything that plagues you leaps along the rail-track of your mind, bogey after bogey filled with classes stuffed like an infinity of scrap paper in a tiny dustbin, appointments that make you lose your breath, exams, presentations, assignments – only to be followed by a sense of “I wish it were this way instead” waving its flag at the end of the last carriage
I always woke up at no later than half past six to seven in the morning, especially the time when we were in Kasauli, and the sunlit fog was broken by the call of flycatchers. It was a kind of reverse jetlag that I’d call love. I didn’t want to waste even a minute of watching the pine-heavy world beneath the hilltop where we stayed, my perspective through pretty wooden windows indented by the curvaceous proportions of the wine glasses filled with litchi juice.
Mornings in Manali were a different experience altogether, because I saw it take form. We rode up to Rohtang La at around three in the morning, the main square of the most happening mountain city (where I saw Honey Singh get mobbed by fans, later in the evening) drained of people, sleeping, like a town of eternal Christmas, sprinkled with light from the houses up in the mountains.
Morning slowly broke through the snow-laden tops of the Dhauladhars, and gently climbed down the oddly-shaped contours of the cliffs.
On our journey back to the city, the golden light of the sun silhouetted my parents, the slight motion of wild summer conifers throwing pictures of a river of lapping light and shadows.
They never looked happier.
Even the crowd in the main square later in the evening carried the mood of people who have let go, with bobbing flower-crowned heads of children flitting through the flea markets, the insanely delightful Punjabi families making merry with whoever they met.
And, there were the long road trips we made, which mostly took half a day, and acquainted us with pink-faced bikers with prayer flags around the handles of their motorcycles, their hair bent at the will of the winds of Leh and Kashmir valley from where they came, with mighty big sacks filled with star-studded joy
One night, while making our way back to our hotel in Manali, we took an auto from the Hadimba temple. The path was dark, uneven and loaded with puddles. There was a Punjabi family who was walking parallel to us. The youngest child in the crew, his turban a little white bun in the middle of his scalp, jumped into our auto, and, overjoyed to have surpassed the slow-moving adults, accompanied us, three strangers, for around five kilometres, singing at the top of his voice.
It was extremely simple to be happy in Himachal Pradesh. Smiles came like the loops along mountain roads, and peace flowed as constantly as the waters of the Beas.
I carry the image of a bike, with number plate starting with “HP”, poised at the edge of a mountain densely coated with shrubbery, like a memoir of a lover I once had, the likes of whom does not have a double.
All I needed were frothy coffee in a tin cup (by God, I don’t even like coffee!) and a view of flower-laden villages. All I needed were for the sky to be blue and the plum orchards to make music with the rain
Those nine days, sliding along the hemline of the Dhauladhars, have set the standard for what mornings should be like, and where, in the desert of everyday routines, a mirage of happiness suddenly takes form.
I can’t believe how much I miss that place, and more of how much I miss the person I had shortly become in its conifer-scented arms
— Madhura Banerjee
illustrations by Jared Kohn