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I took a work trip to Mussoorie, roamed the town on my own, and the icing on the cake was a meeting with none other than Ruskin Bond!
“Sir could I please have a photograph with you?”
And the result was this:
I met him. Yes, I met Rusty, with the same glint of boyish mischief in his eyes, I had imagined Mr.Bond has, while reading his work.
I am not a voracious reader, but once I get hold of a Ruskin Bond, I cannot let go, even after I have read it for the umpteenth time. I imagine, he was one of the earliest authors of children’s books, to whose world I was introduced as a kid. On a lazy Saturday afternoon, post a sumptuous lunch, I would curl into a cozy corner beside the window in my room with his book of short stories and devour it. The simple stories of the simple life of an individual based on a humble background and his down-to-earth way of life would pull me to his world of his Uncle Ken, his grandma, his Rani. I wonder if Rani was indeed real. Should have asked him when I met him, but shoot! My tongue decides to get tied the moment I meet him, and I come back without asking about Rani.
Let me take you to the beginning of the story. Christmas was around the corner. And I had an office errand to run, which landed me in Selaqui, a quaint town in Dehradun. It was my first solo trip and it turned out to be way more fun than I had anticipated it to be. My work was done by Saturday morning and had one extra day to spare before I had to trundle back to office.
I decided to visit Mussourie and Dhanaulti, and made a (utopian) mental note to meet Ruskin Bond, who I knew lived somewhere in Mussourie. I took a uphill bus ride (it is a 2.5 hr ride) and although a bit dizzy from the it, and though I had a handful of luggage with me, I trudged up the stone stairway with a representative from a nearby hotel and booked a room. I freshened up, emptied my backpack, took a bottle of water, some chocolates, my purse, my camera and I was on the road in ten minutes–there was no time to lose!
I walked. I walked. And I walked some more, till I stumbled upon this sign:
…and I was like, “Omygawd..so this is it!” I stepped into this warm little bookshop named ‘Cambridge Book Depot’ and after a few words with the owner, I got to know that Mr.Bond would be visiting late that afternoon and his fans could get their books autographed, and themselves photographed with him, over a cup of chai and biscuits.
So I had to make a slight change in plans. I decided to roam around the town, come back here, and then roam around some more, but I had have to drop the Dhanaulti plan, which was fine by me.
I walked along the Mall Road, tried roadside munchies, took selfies, stopped here and there to take a few snaps, as the warm December sun blushed upon this little hill town.
So, anyway I made my way to an ‘aquarium’ and was sorely disappointed to see that clay models was all they had on display! Then I realized it was a fancy hotel, which boasted of a rooftop ‘aquarium’! Fine. A good woman out there advised me on places, which are a must see, but was quick to add that it was not a good idea for a solo woman tourist. I hated to agree, but agreed all the same. She suggested cheerily that I should take the Ropeway, that would take me all the way atop Gun Hill, from where the whole town could be seen.
Somewhat satiated by her words, I headed to buy a ticket for the Ropeway. Another disappointment. The famous Ropeway with its infamous fan following ( at least 50 people in queue!) forced me again to change my plans. No worries, I will walk the way up.
A few deep breaths in, and armed with a cup of ‘boiled-n-salted corns’ in my one hand, and a BIG fluffy candyfloss in the other, I started. I googled up to see that it was a 400m walk, but honest to god, it seemed way longer! I walked, ran, jumped, rested, had leg cramps at one point, and finally reached atop and collapsed out of fatigue.
It was a beautiful market up there and I got up to explore. It was colorful and cheerful. A few yards up from the market grounds, there was this ‘Telescope Point’, where you pay 50 rupees, and they show you the pride points of this simple hill town. I took my turn and was mesmerized to see The Himalayas, all snowy-peaked. I was instantly reminded of the diagrams in my Geography text book, with fir trees an snow capped peaks! It was enchanting, surreal!
The telescope-man pointed out to me the Kedarnath Peak, the Garhwal Border, the Ranipur Gaon, the Gangotri glacier, and the Nag Tibba (he mentioned that Ruskin Bond lives somewhere around that place).
Realizing that I was not satisfied with one view, the kind person offered me another round of this delightful visual tour. Happy at heart, I went trotting off to the market downstairs and splurged on merchandise for back home.
I still had enough time till the meet with the author, so I casually strolled down the hilly way and into Mall Road. It was a pretty arrangement in preparation of the Christmas Carnival. I settled on a roadside bench and slurped on a softy, soaking in the local merriment.
Finally it was 3.30 when I headed for the bookshop I had spoken about earlier. I had an old Ruskin Bond book in my bag already, but I chose to purchase a new one for the autograph. It was a 15-20 min wait, and I was half-way through the first chapter, when the man-of-the-moment drove in. I wowed at the first glimpse and mentally revised all that I wanted to talk about, with him. I was second in the queue and a few moments later, I was ushered inside. I fumbled with my pen, then noticed he had a pen in hand all ready, and presented the book in front of him.
With surprising agility, for an 81 year old, he steadily printed “Priyanka~ Stay happy!” and swooshed a crisp autograph. I posed for a photograph with him, but sadly forgot all about chatting with this jewel of a man. By the time I was getting ready to start my chat, I was politely asked to leave by the shopkeeper, giving the acceptable excuse of the eager (and long) queue of fans.
My watch told me that I still had time for a short trip to Camel’s Back Road, so I rented a rickshaw till that spot and back. The route left me wanting for more, with its deep undergrowth on the roadside, and the mighty Himalayas visible in all their grandeur.
We stopped on the way for the visual treat of the setting sun on the mountains and a few quick snaps.
..and then finally reached the spot:
It was getting dark by that time and and so we rode off back to my hotel. Early next morning, I took a return ticket to Delhi and after a 7.5 hr long ride, I was back where all of it began, but a contented soul this time.
Published here earlier.
Images source: Priyanka Ghosh