My son was with us for a couple of months taking a break. He works in Toronto.
We decided to spend 4 days at La Villa Bethany at Landour, a quiet cantonment some 1500 ft above Mussourie in Uttarakhand.
La Villa Bethany is a wonderful home stay place. Its owners have renovated an old British bungalow that is more than 150 years. The Kusane couple (Sunita and Amarjeet) are wonderful hosts.
In Landour, you walk on the roads surrounded by forests with deodar trees that have distinct oaky aroma. And you enjoy the sheer quietness of the surroundings.
Sunita highly recommended that we take a nature walk at Jabarkhet Nature Reserve. Jabarkhet Nature Reserve is a protected area is a perfect place to trek. Since this is a private and ticketed property, you do not find many people here. There are various trails that you can take within the Jabarkhet Nature Reserve. They are curiously named leopard trail, mushroom trail, and ridge trail – but friends please do not take the names literally.
We were 14 when we reached Jabarkhet. Except me, all were physically fit to take on the hour long uneven trail. Since I have a serious heart issue I decided to opt out. While taking my last breath at this heavenly place was an exciting idea, I did not want to inconvenience my family.
The trek guide suggested that I walk further on the road, stop at a coffee shop and spend time watching the valley. “It’s not too far Uncle”, he said in an assuring tone. “Could be about 3 kilometres”. That kind of walk was just good for me. He told me that he would what’s app me so that I could come back at the entrance of the Reserve.
After all disappeared in the Jabarkhet Nature Reserve, I started my walk. There was nobody on the road, absolutely no one. So I wondered why the road was built in the first place! There were Deodar trees all around and they whispered as the winds from the valley caressed them. I walked with nothing in my mind. Walking with an empty mind is an unusual feeling I must say. I never had such an experience.
After that 3 kilometre quiet and lonely walk, I spotted a coffee shop at the end where there was a road intersection. As I walked in, the chimes at the door announced my arrival. An old woman at the counter welcomed me and told me to choose any place I wished to sit as the coffee shop was empty. She must be in her sixties. I chose a place near the glass window from where I could get a good view of the valley.
I asked for a cappuccino. I knew I had to spend an hour and so I started sipping the coffee rather lazily.
In a little while I saw a tall Old Man with a white beard coming up from the valley. He was climbing up easy. Surely, he was challenging his age.
In few minutes, he was inside the café. The woman at the counter greeted him. Probably they knew each other.
The Man could have sat anywhere but when he saw me sitting alone, he preferred to sit on the same table. “May I?” he asked removing his rain cap. I noticed wrinkles on his face. I was happy to have some company. The Man too asked for a cappuccino.
We started to converse.
The Old Man didn’t have much to say. He said he was working somewhere and after retirement decided to settle in the valley of Landour. He had no family as he never married. He seemed to be in the valley for many years. There was hardly any “story” in his life.
I told him my story of life. Initially I didn’t know what to say. Later, I really enjoyed to rewind all the major ups and downs, the joys and the sorrows, and of course about my travels. While speaking, I found that God was really kind to let me live a wonderful life.
After hearing my story patiently, the Old Man asked what I would like to do in rest of my life. He sounded genuinely curious.
I was never asked such a question by anybody – not even by my closest friends. So I was really not prepared to respond.
But I decided to attempt. I saw I had no inhibition to speak about my personal plans, dreams and desires to a stranger like him. I knew that this was perhaps the last time I was going to see this man in rest of my life. I also thought that responding to his innocently put question will help me discover. So I let go myself. I had nothing to lose. By the way have you done such a conversation with someone lately?
I spoke about my dreams about my work, my family, my interests in art and music and about my passion to travel and of course to write. While speaking to him I realized that I was making lots of assumptions like there will be no further hiccups related to my health and that I will enjoy a good financial security. But don’t we live life basis of assumptions? I mused to myself.
The Old Man was listening to me attentively. Sometimes I saw on his face a bizarre kindness. Was he wishing that whatever I dreamed about should really come true? But I got a strange feeling that he was a kind of a person who knows.
We finished our coffee.
When we came out of the coffee shop, the Old Man told me that I must take a look into the valley where he lives. So we crossed the road. He pointed to me a little house some 1000 ft deep in valley hiding in the Deodar trees. That’s where I stay, he told me.
Then he held my hand with a gentle pull and asked, “How about coming down?”. I told him that this was not a good idea as I wont ever be able to come up given precarious condition of my heart. “Then you don’t have to return”. He said this in humour and so easily.
I politely declined his invitation.
“Quiet understandable. I was just suggesting another option but I know you have your own plans to live rest of your life” The Old Man said with a smile and started walking down the valley, waiving me a goodbye.
I noticed that my cell phone batteries were dead. So I thought that I should return to the coffee shop and get my cell phone charged so that I could receive the what’s app message from the trek guide. I was getting back to the life we generally live. And I was excited as I had just discovered what I wanted to do in my life.
The woman at the counter was watching me and the Old Man overlooking the valley and having conversations. She told me that her father when young used to go down with the Old Man in the valley. That was years ago. Last she saw the Old Man was some six months ago. He always looked the same.
The woman then told me lots of stories about the Old Man that were hard to believe. She ended up saying “forget the stories Mr, but he is surely someone who knows”.
The old woman put my cell phone for charging.
And I ordered another cup of cappuccino, looking down the valley as the Old Man disappeared.