Almora in Kumaon, Uttarakhand is 35 kms from where I now live. Notably, when I need to shop for provisions, vegetables, fruits, even an envelope to post a letter, I have no choice but to go to Almora or Haldwani, 85 kms away. That many years ago when I lived in Almora, I knew I would return to Kumaon to grow roots. Yet now I avoid the traffic snarls and the haphazard concrete of the district town. I prefer the memories of a distant past.
And in the past…
In the years after I left Almora, it remained a place I could be transported to on the win gs of my dreams. Just after the milestone that says 2 kms to Almora, at Bright End Corner, I spent three years watching every sunset that was a symbol of the glory of the day completed. If I shut my eyes, in the space between the hills of Almora and Sitlakhet, was the Kosi river that flows below. Somewhere in the azure skies, somewhere in the thin wave of mist, somewhere in the setting sun and the changing colours of the skies, somewhere in the inky blue skies of night with the Milky Way stretching forever, the falcon flew and stopped mid-flight to remain suspended for an age without a name.
I remember the summer evening I first reached Almora, and the rainbow in the valley before me. I recall the warm welcome of the place I had come home to, where it seemed I had belonged for ages past. Was Almora a symbol of Kumaon? Was it ia conjunction of time, space, people? I remember my first day in Kumaon. And I remember the dream that was no longer a dream…it was a lifetime to be lived.
Memories that remain
The memories are a flood of quiet moments. Of the quaint market place of cobbled stones. Tin roofs on which the rain drummed a different tune each time. The smell of pine, and the feel of a bed of pine leaves to walk on, with pine cones strewn. Wild flowers that coloured the hills. Flying squirrels that glided from tree to tree at dusk. The chameleon that popped it’s head out from behind a stone and stared quizzically. Afternoons spent on the rocky banks of the Kosi and Saryu rivers.
And the friends. There were many. Hours spent over cups of tea and coffee, sharing thoughts, exchanging ideas, living dreams, past and future.
Almora town has changed since. It is a busy bustling town now, where traffic wends it’s way noisily and the winds of change rumble and blare. And yet, Almora still beckons me to return to a past that I have found anew elsewhere.
As the road weaves it’s way up from the railhead at Kathgodam, every turn in the road is a familiar place to be, each mile brings me closer to myself. And I long to be in the forests of Jageshwar, Mukteshwar and Binsar. I yearn for a glimpse of Nanda Devi’s veiled face and the protection of Trishul. I may never walk again the Pindari trail in the inner reaches of Almora district, but each step is etched within me.
It does not matter how much Almora has changed. The very essence of Almora is integrated within me.