MAKING A GABLE ROOF over my eyes with my hand, I peer into the distance. My father is tracing the faint outline of hills in the distance, announcing their names. Nodding and sipping our crisp ginger tea on the little terrace verandah of our cottage, my mother and I follow his index finger. We might be tired from our journey to Ramgarh—perched in Uttarakhand’s Kumaon region—but our fall down the rabbit hole of nostalgia is dizzyingly fast.
Four decades ago, my father—then a young and sprightly forest officer—traversed most of this region in rickety green jeeps, on his bulky Royal Enfield, and on foot where neither could go. In the early days of his career, he facilitated multiple plantations that transformed the pine-infested Kumaon hills, converted bare land patches into forest nurseries, and sealed many friendships with families at remote outposts. Oblivious to his work, my mother was attending college barely 40 kilometres away in Nainital, where I would eventually take birth and grow up. Ramgarh is where she brought me and my brother for a break when we were kids, she tells me as she takes in the cottage-dotted hillside that was once pure wilderness.
Perched high above Ramgarh town on the Gagar ridge is our elfin cottage, The White Peaks. It offers a great vantage point for the surrounds: Talla Ramgarh, or lower Ramgarh, spread out below, a winding forest trail that connects the hamlet to this ridge, and true to the homestead’s name, pallid peaks of the Kumaon Himalayas that rise like lightly whipped foam in a sea of blue on a clear morning. In the distance stands Tagore hilltop, believed to have been the poet’s haunt on his hill visits and popular today with tourists for a day trip. They pair it with a visit to writer and activist Mahadevi Verma’s home-turned museum. We choose to hike up to Jhandidhar the following morning, a gradual incline through oak and rhododendron forests starting right outside the cottage and going all the way to a small hilltop temple with a 360° view.
Living in the foothills of Nainital, my parents are reasonably fit for their age, and in under an hour, we cover the nearly two-kilometre-long uphill hike. From the top, we can see the radar station and Cheena Peak of Nainital, seemingly close as the crow flies, and places we last visited together as a family— before the pandemic brought us together again. First eagerly, then grudgingly, we finally seem to have found our bearings on this trip.
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