If you have ever been to Mukteshwar , a small hill town nestled in Kumaon hills some 50 km from Bhowali, you would actually understand how silence can scream. It is not the first time I have been to hills and experienced quietness. But here the silence was piercing down the ears with hardly people seen around or shops open or the women working on their grasslands. Unlike regular hill stations receiving heavy tourist flock who love to shop around the mall roads, visiting tiffin-top and posing for snaps every 500 meters, I find this place absolutely abnormal. But then I am abnormal too.
I visited Mukteshwar on local villager’s suggestion that I met in a local bus while returning back from Nainital after a night’s stay at a friend’s place. It was 2:30 around in noon and I was waiting for the bus for Ranikhet at Bhowali, completely lost in thoughts about the Naini peak that I trekked early this morning. The small bus written Mukteshwar painted in dark red words in Hindi suddenly crossed before me and I returned back to my sense. I remember the words of an elderly local villager whom I had chatted with about Mukteshwar. But my plan was to visit Ranikhet with a friend insisting upon the same. The bus conductor shouted and the word Mukteshwar again hit me hard. I was thinking hard now which way while sipping upon my tea and ‘aaloo ki lauje’ – a sweetmeat made of potatoes, famous in the area. The bus blew the final horn and next moment I find myself approaching the bus. Inside bus, it was almost half filled. And we boarded after a brief protest by this friend along.
The bus started off. I took the front seat facing the driver. The driver was an old fellow, looked in mid fifties and wearing sweater handmade. He was not much interacting. His eyes glued to the windscreen as he strained to see through the glass amidst the downpour. He showed no emotions, just driving. Within 10 minutes we were out of city and the pines and deodar plantations stretched all over could be seen all along the way. After driving up for some one hour and half the way, the bus stopped at Malla Ramgarh – another tourist spot with few shops around the roadside.
We started off in next 15 minutes again and reached Khabrar where some colonizers are developing residential property for sale. After another 30 minutes we reached Kasialekh a village with both side Mountain View. From here one road leads to left that connects to Mukteshwar.
Mukteshwar is the land’s end with so called resorts and bare minimum facilities on a slope uphill. The accommodation is costly all around wherever we checked. PWD guest house requires booking from district magistrate’s office in Nainital. Then we arrived at the IVRI PG hostel named as Edward Hostel. I was told about this by the caretaker Jagat Singh, of PWD guesthouse. At the hostel, Bhatt, the care taker, made us write the application for accommodation and then asked us to get it signed by the warden who lived just across down the hostel. We waited for this Bengali warden to come outside his residence but the wife said he is out and would be coming after half an hour. We were tired and not sure whether we would get the accommodation in hostel.
I again approached Bhatt. He offered his help and politely gave us the room that costs Rs. 60 and dinner at 9, for another Rs. 60 for two.
The next day I got up early and started surveying the place. Mukteshwar was the place I was longing for. As I took the stroll, I again met Jagat Singh. We shared tea while he described the scenery around about the Himalayas citing name of the peaks visible to naked eye. We had a long discussion from political state of affairs to social developments in the region of Kumaon hills. He is the man of knowledge though the evening when I met him, he was drunk and smelling of alcohol. He asked for apology for not giving us the place to stay for the last night and gave the reason that some High court magistrate was scheduled to come over who never came anyway.
His wife and son also did talked about land prices in Mukteshwar and the real estate developers and dealers mad about purchasing land and turning them to resorts. Our Delhi tops the list ofcourse. There concern were same as the concerns of another one crore population living in thousands of villages over the hills.
After a discussion I returned back to hostel, we took parantha with aloo ki sabzi and chai and left with our bags. Chauli ki Jali is the place where we sat for quite some time observing perfect peace and wondering what if all that becomes true about what all Jagat Singh and family talked about on land purchases, builders and so called resorts in the area.
As we prepared to come back to catch up the bus at 12 in noon from Mukteshwar, I purchased envelop from post office to write to myself and see when it reaches me. It was childish but something which I planned and very keen upon doing from a long time. The postmaster gave 2 envelopes costing a rupee. I was left with another one thinking how to use. But I had nothing to write.
I remember on my return I wrote the very same postcard to Jagat Singh expressing my gratitude while I thanked in my mind, the unknown villager that I met in the bus for recommending me peace beyond peace. And, now, I await my postcard that I wrote from Mukteshwar to myself to arrive. It says, May peace be bestowed upon my hills!