This place taught me to confide in myself, to accept my fears, and to trust my instincts.
Everyone goes through some bad days at work. But worst are the days that make you start to question your existence. What are you doing? Why? And how, if ever, will it take you to a point in life where you’d finally be able to say, “I’ve made it! I’m satisfied now”.
I had one, and hopefully for the last time, such a day back in 2012 when I worked as an IT guy at Gurgaon. I came back home feeling drained and spent. I was angry when I saw that lifeless reflection of myself in the mirror. I was mad at the world, mad at everything and everyone that had made me land where I was, but most importantly, I was mad at myself. I wanted to leave. I had to LEAVE!
There are some places you always want to, and you always could visit, but never do for some reason until the place comes calling. Such was Renuka Ji for me, a place known for the beautiful Renuka Lake. I had traveled to many places, from the north to the south of India by then, but somehow this place, a mere 170 kms from my hometown, Shimla, was still just a name. Being so close, it was a place which I thought I could visit whenever I wanted, and for that reason alone it never made to the top of my list. So Renuka Ji it was, that I decided would be my weekend getaway from all the madness that girdled me. Approximately 420kms from Gurgaon, a sleepy little town hidden amidst the Shiwalik Hills in Himachal Pradesh, was to be my escape from myself.
By the time I was in a bus en route to Chandigarh from Gurgaon, the dysphoria that had been the week before had already begun to fade away. Though the melancholy hadn’t subsided, I was still hoping for at least a day or two of respite and just being alone before Monday arrived. I had a book, a diary and a few change of clothes in my bag. What more could one need for a couple of days?
I got off at Chandigarh bus stand at around three in the morning and hopped on another bus to Shimla. By five, the crimson sunrise was already lurking behind the hills that were visible in the distance. It meant that I was soon to leave the plains behind and enter the ‘Land of Gods’, Himachal Pradesh. It always gives me a special kind of feeling whenever I enter Himachal. I have fell so much in love with so many places around India, but this here feels like my own. It is! The cool mountain breeze pecked my face as if to welcome me home. The sun started rising up, while those hills started coming closer, and with each passing minute the somberness in me began to give way to light.
The bus slowly made its way through the crisscrossed highway to Kumarhatti, a hamlet of a sort, which acts as an intersection between the road to Shimla and the road to Renuka Ji. It houses the Dagshai cantonement, which is one of the oldest in India and was built by the East India Company. The famous Lawrence School Sanawar is just a few minutes drive from here. When I got off here at six in the morning the roads were still deserted, people were still scanty, but an umpteen species of birds had already started with their day in full swing. It was like the cuckoos and the sparrows had taken over the town. I’m always surprised when I see how remarkably things change in a matter of a few miles.
The roadside dhabas soon started to open up. I went in and had my breakfast in one of them and found out from the locals that the bus for Renuka Ji was to show up at nine at the intersection. The cook worked at his own slow pace. In fact no one looked to be in any hurry. Everyone seemed to have their clockwork routine carved out and rehearsed a thousand times. The morning was lazy, and so was I. With plenty of time to kill, I got my book out and downed glass after glass of tea.
The bus showed up at exactly nine and the driver took four hours to cover the bumpy but picturesque 96kms from Kumarhatti to Dadahu. Renuka Ji is a 2km walk from here. As soon as I got off at Dadahu, the first thing I noticed was that it wasn’t the sleepy little town I had imagined it to be. The town, though small was bustling, and the main market street had a sea of people. The road was lined with a row of trucks driving in and out of town. River Giri flowed on the right bank. I started walking down the road and it seemed like a scene from an old Western, where everything and everyone seemed to be covered in a layer of dust. I asked directions for Renuka Ji, and had just walked half a kilometer when I found the reason for all the trucks and the dust as I reached the edge of town. This place was being extensively used for stone mining from the mountains overlooking it. I quickly made my way past the chaos of all the machinery and trucks and saw a bridge that crossed the river.
Upon crossing the bridge things began to remarkably change once again. The brown and dusty setting gave way to the green once more. The next kilometer took me through a single lane road that followed a creek, with lush greenery on both sides. The road was quite a contrast to the scene across the bridge. I walked alone, only to see an odd vehicle or a person passing by. The crickets, the monkeys (that mostly kept to themselves) and the birds were the only ones to give me company. I started to hear the first quacks of the ducks in the distance, the road took a sharp left, and it was then I got to see Renuka Ji for the first time on my right. I saw a pond (Parshuram Tal, which I first mistook for the Renuka Lake itself) with a small one story cottage on the near bank.
Serene it was! I made my way down to Parshuram Tal and found that the cottage was a guesthouse and the office of the Renuka Development Board. There was no one to be seen but only a dozen of ducks in the middle of the pond. The only sounds were that of those ducks, the breeze, the chirping birds, and most soothing of them all, the water gently lapping the low perimeter wall. I sat on the wall for a while, and no words can do justice to the divine feeling I experienced then. It was like the time had ceased to exist. Everything stood still except the ducks, the water and an odd leaf dropping off a branch and into the pond. My mind after a long time felt vacant. It was the first sign of healing.
After visiting the Renuka Temple which lies a few hundred yards from the Parshuram Tal, I finally made my way to the Renuka Lake. I swear I gasped and my heart skipped a beat when I first lay my eyes on it. I couldn’t believe a place like this was just a stone’s throw away, and that I never took the time to visit. Lotus spread across the surface of the water, while the reflection of the surrounding mountains and clouds above made the whole view seem hypnotic. I walked the whole 3.5km perimeter of the lake a dozen times during my stay here. Everything was green, and nothing soothes my eyes more than that. An ashram is located on the left bank of the lake where it is a delight to see the priests perform their morning rituals. A hotel run by the Himachal Pradesh Tourism lies facing the lake.
I rented a room at the Renuka Development Board guesthouse for Rs.300 a night. They also provided tea, coffee and meals at a small extra cost. The caretaker was friendly, and we often ended up having long chats about the most random and abstract stuff. Come Monday, and I was in no mood for leaving anytime soon. I switched off my phone and had decided the next course of my life.
I went to this place for a weekend, and ended up staying for ten days. My routine was the same most of the days, except for when I visited Dadahu’s market, trekked to the Tape Ka Tibba, a hillock which offers a spectacular sunrise and a panoramic view of the landscape, or hiked the Jamu Peak, which has an ancient temple. I used to see the same five to ten faces almost every day. My day usually comprised of waking up early, feeding the fish, taking a dip in the lake, strolling around its perimeter, playing with the ducks, chatting with the priests and the caretaker, reading, writing or just pondering while sitting in one of the sheds around the lake. The nights were beautiful and mine. I sat by the lake’s shore reading under a street light or dozed off early. The ducks sometimes quacked at nights as well, but that never felt like a nuisance. The mental blockade I was facing from quite a while suddenly started to clear up, and for the first time in my life I was sure of exactly who I was, and who I could not stop myself from becoming. I finally accepted everything, everyone and most importantly myself, as nature.
I went back to Gurgaon, quit my job and started working as a freelancer while travelling and seeking new experiences. And no, I don’t regret any of it. Renuka Ji was not the longest or the farthest of the trips I’ve been to, but it surely was a defining one. I’ve been there since then half a dozen times, and the experience always seems new with every visit. I’ve been there alone, I’ve been there with a friend who pursues music with me, and each time I go there, the creative blocks and the uncertainties disappear. The place might not have a lot of things to offer in respect of activities, but it offers you to yourself, which I think is the essence of travelling. It helped me solve those crucial steps, from the descriptions of my past to the explanations of my future. It was here that I finally found my vein of gold , learnt to listen to myself, follow my passions and do what I love. I know, because from then on it has made my reflection in the mirror always smile back at me.