Two-and-a-half years later, here I am – in Naggar!
On a wet, January morning back at school after the seasonal break, I discovered that I had a 1-1 lesson with a Russian woman for the first English class. Anyone who is a teacher knows that such lessons are generally more intense and demanding than teaching a group, so I wasn’t really best-pleased at the prospect.
I was still hungover from the festivities.
And then Svetlana appeared and we got on very well together and before I knew it we were discussing Russian artists and she was suggesting I might appreciate the work of Nikolai Roerich, who I then discovered had set up home in the Himalayas with his family back in the 1920s.
That January morning was when I decided that I would visit what had now become a museum and cultural centre.
I couldn’t go that year, but planned to visit the following April, when the mountain weather would be getting warmer. We booked the guesthouse in advance and had the travel visas in our hands ready for posting to the Indian embassy when a phone call said that my dad-in-law had been taken to hospital.
Naturally, the trip was postponed.
Skip forward another year and the stand-alone trip was to be incorporated into a year-long adventure taking in other places including Himachal Pradesh.
This trip then had to be re-structured once again and so we arrived in Mumbai at the end of January this year. Since then we have travelled through Rajasthan and a section of Uttarakhand, before the weather conditions have at last made it possible to locate this far north and this high up.
And so what started out as an apparently miserable day of work on an English winter’s day which just had to be endured, actually turned into the catalyst for a trip to the roof of the world.
Think of that next time you feel like taking a sickie.
What a place it is, an endless-seeming flow of snow-topped mountains with pine-covered slopes and icy-cold water cascading through the heat and rocks down into the fast-flowing Beas river up along the valley. The orchards are coming into bloom and their dainty white and pink blossoms dot the terraces and lower slopes and the men work with their shovels to scrape away the grass and weed-growth surrounding the blue-painted trunks of the fruit trees. I’ve got my own colourful little topi to perch on my head in the morning and nightime cold, but feel a little stupid wearing it during the day among the paharis as we rock along the winter-damaged roads in the battered old suspension-free buses that cost hardly a rupee to travel on or sit in dhabas eating powerfully-hot thalis of lentil dhal and rice.
At the guesthouse where we are staying I have come upon a copy of ‘Shantaram’ which was recommended to me both before leaving for Mumbai and while drinking in the bar that gets a special mention within its pages. It’s a story that’s awash with poetic language and strong imagery that I would have certainly loved in my younger days of avid reading. Even now, I suspect I’m going to get along with it pretty fine. I hope so. The nights are still long and cold up here and I need something to occupy my waking thoughts as I lay snuggled up safe and warm underneath the heaviest bedspread imaginable until the first sunrays of the Himalayan morning.