Visited Pongot with Rajeev-Vidya, Anil-Manju and John-Saki one chilly November. This place, a “popular” bird-watching hill spot, is some 16 km ahead of Nainital. Once we lodged in home, after a good 10-hour journey, it required little booze to get drunk; Anil and I had been working upon an Old Monk since 5 in the morning and the only reason that kept us awake with others till 10 o'clock was bonfire & bar-be-cue. It took some persuasion from friends to wake up the morning next (if you can call 11 am morning). Brunch over, and I sprawled under a soothing sun.
Disappointment always arrives first. Friends dragged me to a long nature trail, selling the bird sanctuary like an insurance agent. The visitors book to the place where we stayed also showed comments from at least five bird-watchers of national fame. Each comment was a canary song in praise the "bird-watching paradise". Pity, then that we could not see even one per cent of what others had. If Vidya is to be believed, we saw some four-five species of Himalayan winged creatures, like seven sisters, white-eyed yellow breasted sparrow, magpie robin, etc. Now, I can only tell a sparow from a crow, so all that went above my birdbrain.
But paradise Pongot surely was — in terms of scenic beauty. There, it gets 10 out of 10, maybe 11, what with some 16 snow-clad peaks lined neatly in a straight column (without forming an arc). We were about 3,000 mt from sea level and felt just as high. If it sounds like a travel brochure, so be it. To see in person what you have only read about in travel pieces, can make or break your creative self.
There was more to come at the sunset. Various shades of blue and orange were merging into each other to create a unique rainbow effect on the sky; only that the bow had straightened up. Anil was busy with his Nikon and I too helped him capture the moment with his son Nanu (sorry, Jatin, as he inisists)
The polished-wooden cottage where we lodged was too swanky for a trekking enthusiast to feel comfortable. Same goes for the hospitable attendants; I was too damn embarrassed to ask them for anything. The buggers kept bending backward at every request. But once in a while such indulgence would not kill, I assured myself, specially when you get this at a massive discount (the total expenses were 1600/- for two nights and three days stay and it included one day-night in Tigercamp, an equally swanky place near Corbett park and an early morning Gypsy safari in the jungle). Thank Vidya for her contacts.
The jeep safari as always was as bad as it always has been, if not worse. Didn’t see much except the battalions of deer, langurs and — dont laugh at this — tiger paw & pee marks. But the day was made by a very young and wobbly deer-calf, safely tucked inside the four-legged cage of her doting mama.
Rajeev let me maneouvre his spanking new Zen on return journey — a big deal considering he is known to be possessive about his vehicles — but that hardly lifted the spirits. Return journeys are like retired lives, tedious and predictable. Magar kya Karen, bhai, to quote an adline, naukri bhi to karni hai!
PS: at one point of time, while walking to reach a hilltop, I left my older friends several paces behind. In that quiet and lonely time, I momentarily thought about my work in office — visualising myself sitting before a Che Guevara wallpaper or typing furiously on a word document. Then, slowly, I raised my head to savour the snowy woods all around. The difference between the two images was telling! No pains, no gains. The office grind and the wilderness trail were two complimentary halves of a necessary whole. I was lost in a smile when Rajeev tapped me from behind. "Kya hua?" he wanted to know, since I am not known to stop for a breath so easily. "Nothing," I lied, "Just waiting for you guys."