Lately, I’ve been hankering for a road trip.
Not a cloistered train ride or a blink-and-miss flight or even a rickety semi-recliner bus. I want the comfort of sailing along a road on smooth tyres with the window turned down, the music blasting and the wind turning my hair into a bird’s nest. The last time I went on a road trip was in Kanatal, a romantic (but aren’t they all?) hill-station in Uttarakhand. We were travelling from The Terraces, a boutique spa resort to Kaudia Forest, where we’d be having a starlit bonfire dinner party. It was more than a few kilometres away and several hardy SUVs had been purposed for the journey.
But what made the trip excitingly memorable was the option of sitting at the back, with no roof to protect us from the elements and only make-shift seats to cushion us from the rumble of the CEAT tyres.
It was the month of October and winter hadn’t yet engulfed the rest of India but here in the mountains, cool sheets of wind made contact with our sun-warmed skin. We were actually relieved as the hours progressed and the sunshine grew in strength. I donned shades and a hat and hung on for dear life, lest the vehicle should decide to send me teetering over the edge. Of course, we were protected by a latched door but the feeling of travelling by a truck instead of a cosy car was inescapable.
We paused along the way to explore a waterfall but I was as charmed by the panoramic view of the Himalayan hillside.
We stood in silence, gazing and gazing into the valleys and finding it more captivating than any film or television show.
Perhaps because we felt like we were gazing into reflections of our own selves – beautiful, vast, full of secrets and infinitely deep. Before embarking on the ride, Ajay Ghale, the hardy naturalist had warned us, “You’ll not find it comfortable.” But we had been undeterred. It wasn’t every day that you got the opportunity to ride on the back of an SUV and feel like you were on a mountain rollercoaster with every turn and pothole sending your stomach lurching into your heart.
By the time we reached Kaudia Forest, dusk had already begun to descend and we were too late to make it to the sunset point. Nevertheless, a few of us ploughed on, leaving the others to set up camp.
It was a surreal experience riding through the forest in near-darkness with the leaves rustling furtively and shadows training their invisible eyes on us.
At any point, we were sure that a leopard would leap out of the foliage or the valley would claim us for itself. But none of that happened. We turned back mid-way, seeing as the stars had come out in the sky and returned to camp, safe and sound. The next morning, there would be another bumpy yet adventurous ride to look forward to, with only the accommodating CEAT tyres offering solace, while our bodies braced themselves for the Spartan back of a SUV.
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