The rickety train travel, playing games with friends, taking pictures of each other and waiting for our destination to come once we boarded the train at 5:30 a.m. – I can still feel all of this as it happened, etched in my memory.
The night previous to this morning was as interesting. I, with a couple of my other college friends reached this friend’s house that was closer to Anand Vihar railway station. From those late evening hours to the next two days, we had all been together in what seemed like the most adventurous, fun-filled journey none of us would have ever wanted to end. In an overwhelming anticipation of what was to come, the four of us could not sleep the night through and did not even feel like. A night of gossip, playfulness and fun plans for the trip is how I can remember it. Not long after, we all got ready for the trip and our friend’s parents rushed all of us to the station in his car, before dawn had set in. Just a while later, we found ourselves choosing our seats and chatting our way through those wee hours of morning.
It was almost around 1:00 in the afternoon when we finally reached Kathgodam station. Soon we were treated to rich, hot pizzas by our professors who accompanied us in the trip. But, our journey did not end here. This was just the beginning. We were all given a pill to curb nausea urges, thus preparing us for our next ride in the tourist bus covering the most hairpin-like bends and curves along the tracts and hills of the cantonment town. The bumps on the rocky terrains of the hill station had the full potential to make us feel sick and drained out. But, it seems we all were either too thick-skinned for the wobbly ride to affect us or our excitement and joyfulness had overpowered the weak strains of our spirits.
By early evening, we took the turn towards Woodsvilla Resort, Ranikhet and the picturesque views around our to-be shelters at that time just took us all by a wave of awe and amazement.
Within a few more minutes, we shifted with our roommates whom we chose to be with, to those spacious rooms that had the old world charm with bay windows and big balconies facing the Himalayas. It felt like we all were treated as special guests in the resort and could avail all modern amenities in those big rooms with attached bathrooms, bedside lamps, even a decently-sized television in the comfort of our rooms. So excited we were that we wanted to enjoy the merits of our stay as long as we can. From buffet dinners in their huge common eating set-up to the lavish rooms and bathrooms to the stairways and the locale, we wanted to view, consume, absorb and capture it all and treasure them for life.
It was the first day of our journey when we went as a class of fun-loving learners to capture the different aspects of life in Ranikhet in our cameras, students of Journalism as we were. Our 2 days of stay in that comfort-filled resort was the first time ever when I was without my family yet happy.
The following day we were to wake up early for a visit to the nearby temple and forest, followed by an excursion to the town hospital, the military grounds, the big store for shawls, jackets and coats that looked like an old church, the local market area and finally a heritage store for tea, pickles, natural soaps and handwash, some pretty clothes and caps, et al. The start of the day was as eventful as the end. I and my roommate were ridiculously late for the planned day-out and felt embarrassed when we were rebuked for our tardiness by our professor who even said that had we not turned up at the last minute, the class would have left without us.
The fact was that we were so tired of our journey the previous day that we could not wake up at the right time the following day and neither did we keep an alarm on. But, coming to think of it, those moments of guilt and disappointment rather reminded me how I felt as a child whenever I was scolded for those little things. They made me consider myself a child again – a child in the lap of nature, roaming and finding her path in the forests, trying to strike the temple bell, photographing my friends romancing trees and playing with the hospital’s main gate.
At the end of the day, it was again that I and my two friends could not catch up with the rest of our group on time while we were doing our project in the market area and ended up being lost, trying to call up and find out where our bus is. But, once we found our bus, settled ourselves in there and reached the heritage store, things started falling in place. We really liked the look, feel and the concept of the store that employed the local women to knit clothes, caps, stoles; make pickles and other natural household items.
Back in the resort, we were asked to rest for a while and then come to the conference room for a seminar regarding our projects. Determined not to repeat my previous offense, I was one of the first ones to turn up for the event and had a good learning experience. After this, we all assembled for the buffet dinner. Well-lit with exhausting varieties in food, the place had a warm, cozy ambience as we ate our food with our friends, sitting next to the big windows glaring out to the open valleys and star-lit sky.
As strenuous as it might sound, following our dining experience, we all danced to Bollywood numbers surrounding a bonfire. Rounds of dance followed by incessant giggles and cheerful joy all around, this common activity surely strengthened the bonds we shared with our mates. It was truly a day to remember!
That night, I with my gang of girls slept on the balcony space outside our room, star-gazing and talking away. I remember how some of our friends clicked pictures of us as we were gossiping our way through the night; enjoying the warmth of the blankets we had taken from the bed inside in the otherwise cold, breezy night. That was the first time I had fun bending the rules and acting strange. That was the first time I felt at home away from home.
The next day, we packed our bags, had a sumptuous breakfast, sat on the swing with friends in the outside lawn, posed for pictures and soaked in whatever Ranikhet had to offer to us. Almost three years since, every moment of our epic journey is fresh in my mind and probably, it will always remain like that. Now coming to think of it, it was not the scintillating views of nature, the forest walks, the life in Ranikhet as we ascertained, nor was it the comfort of those well-made beds in spacious rooms peeping at the mountains, that made those days special. It was the friendly togetherness, weird dance moves, funny one-liners, innocent, carefree joys, harmless flirtations and mind-speaking acts that struck a chord with our hearts, knowing that these days with our friends will never return. The only thing we were left with were memories galore, to cherish and remember fondly!