Sunday, January 03, 2016


The BEST start EVER to a year! Picture courtesy: Victor Mukherjee
Perhaps age has something to do with it, perhaps it doesn’t. Although I’ve attended innumerable parties around the world, having enjoyed some & just ghosted through most, I have also consciously avoided many. The reason could purely be that one party mirrors another, and unless it is to spend time with some genuinely close & loved people, one party is no different from any other. Now, as mentioned in my previous post, I had been traveling & socialising so much over most of December that I was absolutely all right with not doing anything on New Year’s eve. I was convinced about two things, however. One, that I did not want to repeat the loud, vacuous, alcohol-fuelled parties nor did I want to be caged within a box, no matter how big that box might be. Something I did do on New Year's Eve, and I can state with conviction that it was the most blessed New Year I’ve had in my life.

Near a month ago, as with most people in the world (or maybe we were too late in doing so), plans were being made as to how my friends & I would celebrate if we were not working on New Year’s eve. Two strong options were proposed: the hilly trinity of Rishikesh-Mussoorie-Auli or the beachy solitude of Gokarna. The latter was decided upon for the adventure (and warmth) attached to it. The decision was also influenced by the fact that most of us had already had enough of the melancholy winter of our journeys. However, as with many best-laid plans, this particular one fell through owing to many reasons. I was mildly upset but as I’ve mentioned before, I didn’t mind doing absolutely nothing on the 31st of December. Some friends decided to spend time with family, some with their better halves, most had already embarked on their plans and yet some decided to sleep in! And while I was enjoying Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a very last minute, alternate, simpler & shorter camping plan at a lake in Malshej ghat was hatched. A plan initially dismissed & later agreed upon, it will stand as one of the most interesting things I’ve done so far as well as easily the best way to have started a year.

On the afternoon of the 31st of December. four of us left from Malad-Goregaon by road, stopping over in Thane for lunch, to purchase camping equipment & meet the rest of the new gang. I guess we got a little carried away with the shopping, and the delay meant that sunset would happen enroute rather than at the lake as previously envisioned. This still turned out to be a blessing, as when we stopped to take a break just before dusk, the sky threw at us colors that are hallmarks of a rising or setting sun against an open sky. No matter how many solar ascents & descents your eyes may have been fortunate to witness, words will still never be adequate to describe their beauty. 

Once darkness set in on that gorgeous stretch, I looked at the sky and could not remember the last time I’d seen so many stars, like crushed diamond dust sprinkled across the black cape of space! I’ve studied for years under the generously clear & open skies of Dehradun & Mussoorie and do not remember witnessing so many constellations on a single night. Giving over the driving responsibilities for a while, I relished the crisp night air through the sunroof of my car. The  drive through roads lined by trees, mountains and darkness pierced only by the car’s headlights has always fascinated me; like a hyperdrive through space, and with the interrupted painted median rapidly running into & away from you. The visual is reminiscent of traversing through dimensions and you'll understand the reference if you’re a sci-fi fan. Many of my childhood dreams have centred around country roads at night, and I relive my childhood on every such journey.

When we finally reached the foot of the lake, I could only hear the waves lapping against the shore, and in the shroud of night the eyes could barely discern the dark, limitless nothingness of the waters. Picking up our equipment & making way with camping flashlights & iPhone torches, slipping on the wet ground & occasionally sinking in it, we settled on a spot closer to the shore and started pitching our tents in near-darkness. Now, I don’t know a thing about tents, and camping had sounded a fabulous idea until the moment to actually set up camp arrived. When we began, I realised that none of us in this big group really knew how to set one up. A lot of laughs & experiments and almost gouging each other’s eyes out with the tent’s skeletal framework later, they were finally up. Wood was collected (stolen actually from a storehouse nearby which, I assure you, was well-compensated for the next morning) to set up a gorgeous bonfire, fuelled by whiskey instead of fuel saved up for the drive back. We could finally "see" each other better as well as embrace the warmth of the crackling fire as the mercury steadily dipped.

As I sat by the fire, the sight around overwhelmed me. I’ll try to describe it: a looming, imposing mountain on our back with the entire constellation above it, giving it a mystic, insurmountable look, and a gigantic lake facing us. As the temperature dropped, the music got comfortably louder, bonhomie wafted through the air and we witnessed the coup-de-grace of the night; señor moon decided to make the most dashing of entries just before midnight. I have seen many things in my life, but to see that half moon rising from behind the mountains and cast a reflection on the lake, the kind we only see in the movies, is right up there in some of the most gorgeous sights I’ve ever witnessed. The phone cameras were inadequate to capture this otherworldly phenomenon but the visual shall remain firmly embedded in my memory for a long time. I'd love to return here to see what a full-moon night looks like. 

At the stroke of midnight, New Year wishes were exchanged with those around and via patchy phone network with dear ones who weren’t. For once, it was a relief to not hear loud screeches & music, the minimal fireworks in the distance were adequate distraction and the deep, personal conversations made the night more meaningful. I lit my first Chinese lantern (yeah, yeah) and saw it float away into the zenith of the starlit sky with a silly, content smile. Later, as hunger pangs dominated all other emotions, we had the most memorable 4 AM onion-laden & whiskey-infused Maggi of my life. Don’t ask me how that combination came to be; it just did! If there ever was a good Maggi story, this would be it! By the way, thank you Maggi for being the comfort food of students, bachelors & travellers for decades. You may have lead in you but we still love you ;)

That's a look of genuine, unadulterated glee :) Picture courtesy: Victor Mukherjee
Let it burn. Picture courtesy: Victor Mukherjee
I must’ve dozed off at around 4:30 AM, keeping an alarm for 5:30 AM so as to not miss the sunrise. What’s so great about a sunrise, you say? Very many things, and also more importantly for me as I’m a late riser and don’t see many sunrises anymore (unless I’ve been up all night, and sunrises in cities are pale excuses for those out there in the midst of nature). When I woke at 5:30, a few friends were still stoking the fire and having a great time. Dawn hadn't broken yet & the moon was high in the sky and the ink-black darkness of the night before was gone. Have I told you I love moonlit nights? Interestingly, they don’t remind me of romantic getaways but make me emotional & thoughtful and take me back to school in Dehradun & Mussoorie: of early morning PT sessions when the moon would still be up in the sky, of treks and expeditions under a moonlit sky, of lying down face-up on school benches & counting the stars before night studies hour... With those reminiscences, I dozed off yet again.

Barely an hour later, a friend excitedly woke us, urging us to get out of our tents for the sunrise. As i stepped out, the amber glow of the yet-to-rise sun had already lit the rim of sky outlining the mountains. The music of A.R. Rahman’s Rockstar was playing on the sound dock; Phir Se Udd Chala in particular. I’ve never heard a more appropriate song given the time, mood & place I was in. As the sun finally showed its bright visage, the chatter died down, the music was switched off and everyone stared it in the eye in complete silence. To see this jovial, loud & talkative bunch soak in this ethereal sight in pin-drop silence was a thing of beauty in itself. I wonder what thoughts were passing through our heads. Perhaps, for once, we were not thinking about anything at all.

Net practice. Picture courtesy: Victor Mukherjee

Picture courtesy: Victor Mukherjee
A quick game of cricket later (where everyone was only interested in batting, no surprise there, and would vanish as soon as they had to field), our roof for the night - our tents were packed back in (an arduous task in itself!). The fact that we'd barely slept the night before contributed to our bungled attempts at packing as well ;) Only adrenaline was keeping us awake now.

Heave-Ho! Picture courtesy : Victor Mukherjee
Outta the park! Picture courtesy : Victor Mukherjee
As we prepared to leave, we noticed something interesting about the road where we had parked our cars the night before. This road must have, at some point of time, traversed through the lake. The middle section is now submerged in water and only the two ends can be seen at the banks. Walk in a little before it drops into the depth and you could look like Jesus walking on water! Water so fresh, cold and refreshing that we rued not taking a dip in it before leaving (we just didn’t, even though we came prepared for it. Regrets? Never! We leave that for next time). 

Walking on water ;) Picture courtesy : Victor Mukherjee
As we drove back, the temperature soared considerably once we hit the plains and the usual Mumbai traffic welcomed us home. Over a quick bun-maska malai-chai, this thought ruled our conversation: What a wonderful way & place to have started the new year at! Truth be told, I can’t wait to get back there. 

Thank you Victor for suggesting this memorable trip & taking me along. Victor is also the progenitor of the doomed Gokarna plan, as well as the writer-composer-director of my spoken-word poetronica "Move On" - a philosophical look at the need to let go of baggage both good & bad. You can check the video out below. And I must wish you a very Happy New Year. I hope you’ve had a great start to 2016, and before this one passes in a flash as well, live it up, follow your dreams, love profusely and always, always keep smiling :) :) :) 

Have a great year ahead!

1 comment:

  1. Namrata10:28 PM

    Mr.Chang!!! How beautifully described.. makes one want to go camping, pronto! Happy 2016.. wishing you many more such adventures. Keep writing please :-)
    And yeah, Maggi Zindabad :-D