Don’t miss the sunset photos in this post from Day Three at Ranikhet. I wrote about Sunsets on Day Two and I’m going to look at this as the reward! Spectacular! We had a busy day – went to check out the swimming pool to see if we could take a dip ( we decided not to after looking at the water – yikes! It’s meant primarily for the recruits to learn swimming. ) Then we drove through the market, which is where I photographed some street style and we got some fuel for the car. Ranikhet still has only two fuel / gas stations and both are in the market. Then we made our yearly stop at the Kumaon Community Center and checked out the tweed and the shawls and the new additions like tea infusions ( rhododendron and nettle and many more! ) and jams and jellies and pickles. Then it was time to catch a quick nap. After the previous day’s talk about sunsets, I wanted to try my luck at the “sunset view point” near the smaller market closer to us. And I was not disappointed! Images appear in chronological order – as always, clickable to view in larger size if you so please! Here’s what I wrote in the Moleskine on day three.
Cow bells. Monkeys jumping on tin roofs. Tin roofs crackling in the bright hot Sun. One moment it is bright, sunny, blue sky, hot. After five minutes, there’s fog rolling up from the valley. Sending us scurrying for our jackets.
The bird we’ve never seen and whose call we’ve recorded many times on our mobile phones. The corner shop where we walk to when a new set of playing cards is to be acquired. The gnarly eucalyptus tree we always stop and admire and take pictures of. The route we always take for the evening and / or morning walk. That bend in the road where we always talk about leopards. The old friend’s restaurant we always eat at for at least one meal. The golf course where Dad putters around while the rest of us beer up with snacks.
We’re always looking for essentials like “namkeen” at the Canteen. And non-vegetarian momos at the roadside setup by the Army. The war memorial that’s been visited dozens of times and there’s always room for just one more. Maybe it got a face-lift. Nar Singh and Shaitan Singh Grounds must be driven past a few times. A trip to Ranikhet market for re-fuelling. Wine afternoons on the blue shawl on the grass in the lawn. Sometimes there are flower crowns. Playing cards on the white wrought iron table. And chairs that will take your arm off if you’re not careful while attempting to re-position them. At least one trip to the Ranikhet Club to check if we can drop by for dinner.
If someone from the 13th Kumaon Regiment is stationed at Ranikhet and not avoiding a retired ex-13 Kumaon Commanding Officer, then we might even get invited to the Officer’s Mess for dinner. Always pack at least one set of formal wear for such an occasion. Driving past Alma Lines, always pointing to the house that the parents’ used to live in, in 1978. Stories of pillars of rotis being cooked on a kerosene stove by my Mom. How she saw pine cones for the first time in her life, collected them in her kameez’s hem and brought them home. In the evening, a truckload of pine cones was emptied into the courtyard. Fuel, to be used to light up the fireplaces!
All the wood used to build those houses was Burmese Teak and stories about why none of it remains. Only one four-wheeler in all of Ranikhet in 1978. Could be heard for miles when it came to life each morning. Dad coming back home late at night, riding his Yezdi motorcycle, turning off the engine a few kilometers before reaching his destination. So Mom wouldn’t be disturbed. The things a 400 Rupees salary would get you in those days. Tearful farewells with officers and ladies, standing in a row, seeing off a beloved senior officer. Black and white photos, visual proof of that oft-remembered day.
The road that saved the entire station from fiery doom. A forest fire from the valley below had climbed quickly, headed toward the fuel and ammunition stores. For some reason, the flames were unable to jump the road that was the final separation. Stories of leopards found slumbering in porches. The dazed deer that wandered into the courtyard, was caught by hand, skinned and butchered and feasted on. The Community Center where Garhwali shawls and tweed coats are handwoven by War Widows. ,Over the years they’ve added stoles and jackets for women, Hand-painted greeting cards. Pickles and jams and this year they also have tea infusions.
Stories of loss and new beginnings.
When we’re not buying stuff for ourselves, we’re picking some up as gifts for friends and family, to take back with us to Delhi. Always discussing how the quality of the wool has diminished and the prices have risen. If only they spun their own wool, instead of procuring sub-standard spools in bulk from the wholesaler. The 350 Rupees shawl is now 1,000 Rupees and you can’t even machine wash it anymore. The blue shawl we spend wine afternoons on? That was purchased from the same Community Center almost forty years ago!
A stroll by the almost hundred year old Colonel Ram Singh’s home always elicits a, “Should we go see him now and bother him?” Stories about his personal and professional life come pouring out while we dilly-dally about barging in. Sometimes he’s in. Always dressed in a shirt tucked into trousers, polished shoes, clean-shaven. He had started using a walking stick a few years ago. Always offers a whiskey, regardless of the time of day! We learn that he’s given up the lease on the house and moved to live with someone from his family in another part of India. When we walk past his home this time, we see it isn’t his home anymore. New occupants from the city.
On days when Ranikhet is all rained out, we’ll get together in one room, sprawl all over whatever piece of furniture is available and urge the parents to turn off the television. It might be turned off after a bit of bickering. Peanuts and chips and chocolates appear out of Mom’s forever burgeoning, “You must be hungry” bag. Chatter picks up. Videos are shown on phones. I am asked when I will give them the photos I’ve shot of them at Ranikhet. Army stories are re-told and meal plans for the next day are discussed. Sometimes it is just me with Mom and Dad. I don’t ask them to turn off the television. I’d have nowhere to hide if they got distracted enough to start scrutinizing my life!
We always drive up to Ranikhet. About 400 kilometers. From the days when Dad would drive the entire eight to nine hours, this year, we switched driving duties every 90 minutes. And we took breaks. Lots of them. Mom always hates being driven around because of terrible motion sickness and spondylosis. She always accompanies us.
This trip was the first time Dad mentioned that an “alternative” to driving to Ranikhet might be in order. Maybe an overnight train from Delhi to Kathgodam and a two hour taxi ride from Kathgodam to Ranikhet. Dad also mentioned in passing that the other alternative would be to bid goodbye to Ranikhet altogether.
My brain’s been in a tizzy since he said that. Not visit Ranikhet ever again? I don’t even know how that would work! As it is, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I will probably never come to Ranikhet once the parents have passed away. It will probably be more emotionally painful than happy nostalgia. To stop visiting when they are both alive and kicking, is unacceptable. I don’t have a solution to make the journey painless for them. Is this going to be the last time I come to Ranikhet with my parents? We still have about four days of the vacation to get through this time. Meanwhile, I’m already plotting the discussion we will need to have behind the parents’ backs. To plan how we can best manage this yearly vacation without allowing them to feel like they are being a bother.
Ranikhet was the last place where I imagined things would get complicated!
Above panorama image, much better viewed in larger size, click away!
Stories from Ranikhet from our previous visits can be found under the #NAINAxRanikhet tag.
All images photographed on the Google Pixel XL.