The Revival of Ruskin Bond

Learning to Live Sustainably, Day 7

A thousand kilometers to Delhi, a 6-hour journey to Dehradun, and then another 10-hour drive, that’s how far we live from the Hindu mainland we consider India. Chamoli is closer to China than New Delhi!

When I had first come to this part of the country, it seemed to me like a hidden secret nobody in the plains knew about. I had never heard about Gopeshwar. Neither did I know anybody from here. Before coming here, this place never existed for me and hence I had no prenotion about it or its people or their lifestyles for that matter.

Now, I have lived here enough to tell you what special this place has to offer, especially to those who don’t tend to seek order but rawness. This place is surrounded by the densest jungle I have ever seen in my life, so far. The variety of vegetation is numerous and each has a signature fragrance of its own. A walk in these jungles pleases my senses, with a thousand smells all at once. Myriad sounds, the melody of nature. And wild animal sightings!

In the monsoons, last year, we were living in a forest cabin belonging to our friend in Chopta. The peak monsoon season in the Himalayas is a crazy time, as well as the most beautiful one. Big boulders of stone and rock and mud tumble down the mountain with the heavy water flow. There is destruction all around, water everywhere. Even the most naive stream turns into a waterfall as it descends.

One such dramatic evening in Chopta, we were told that the only narrow road back to the town would be washed away any minute. We decided to leave for Gopeshwar. On this drive back, we had the fortune to witness the royal walk. Behold, it was the leopard, walking with majestic stealth and command no words can describe. The rain was too loud, I guess, for it to notice our arrival. It was only when we got too close that it turned around, surprised, and took a quick leap into the bushes. Our friend pulled the car right next to the leopard. There, it hid, its skin, wet, making it look wilder. Our eyes met and a strange feeling crept through me. The chills of a wild encounter, it was. Not intending to disturb the decorum of the jungle, we drove away soon. Once and for all, now I know, the leopard is mostly a shy animal.

From this incident onwards, the jungle started to fascinate me, like never before. Since then, we have gone on jungle walks many times. The most cherished are the ones with John, a French friend of ours, living in a village nearby, like us, like a local. With him, we have had our favourite encounters of many wild animals.

I have witnessed the care of the mother bear for its cub and caught the dreaded glimpse of a huge bear whooshing down the tree, a big fat deer dancing in the car headlights, the herd of Tahrs all over the meadow, feeding on the autumn grass, the innocent-looking Marten couple, one running behind the other, the hungry eyes of the leopard, shy, feeding over its hunt in the dead of the night. Once a huge owl flew past only to sit across on our terrace, did they say it is a bad omen? I have heard the barking of the deer and eavesdropped on the birds making love.

My curiosity about the wilderness of this place was at its peak when I came across a few books by a particular writer- a popular writer about whom I had heard previously, yet never indulged enough to know him or read his work. He is the Anglo-Indian writer who lives in Mussoorie and has lived here most of his life, Ruskin Bond.

His books feel like memoirs from a friend who had experienced the Himalayas, like me, way back in time. It seems to me that I have finally met someone who shares the same kind of obsession for rhododendron flowers as I do. Someone who describes the Himalayan springs in a way that lightens my burden to express such beauty. Suddenly, I have been exposed to the romanticism of nature, in its truest form, the wildest form.

Even though I was aware of Ruskin Bond and the subjects of his work, I was indifferent back then. Now that I live in the valleys of Garhwal, experience the forests of Himalayas, indulge in the Garhwali community, it seems to me like the Revival of Ruskin Bond and gateway to many other writers who have penned down the stories from the wild.

The Rural Experiment