My childhood memories have Nainital painted all over them. It was an annual summer ritual. The tickets would be booked in advance and so would be the hotel rooms. Uncles, aunts and cousins would gather excitedly to embark upon the long winding journey to the Kumaon Hills, dreamy eyed about the boating in Nainital Lake or riding the horse’s back all the way up to the Tiffin Top. And Baal Mithai, of course! Time was largely spent strolling down Mall Road aimlessly, binge eating from the roadside eateries and looking forward to repeating the exact routine the next day.
Back then; there were no smart phones and no selfie sticks- only my father’s crimson point and shoot. Since every negative of the reel was precious, there was no scope for mistakes. The poses and family huddles were rehearsed and perfected before the actual clicking happened. Awkward “cheese” grins and closed eyes caused by the blinding flash were common occurrences. Yet, the photographs had more soul to them. That’s why, each time I wipe the dust off the photo albums, I can relive every moment. I can still smell the greens fresh from a classic mountain shower. I can hear our carefree laughter on inane jokes. The picture of the raindrops on the surface of the Naini Lake is still vivid in my head. Even today, I remember how I felt like a brave warrior charging ahead with her troops, as I climbed onto the horse and rode miles on end, with my father walking beside me to keep me company. Sometimes, he would stop to catch his breath and I would lose sight of him. That precise fear of being lost in the woods without him haunts me till date.
As a child, the lofty mountains filled me with amazement. At that age, it was pure wonderment with the dimensions. There were no existential questions whatsoever. Only delight and a sense of being above humanity and closer to the sky! A weird feeling of empowerment, if you will. It grew as we left the dullness of the monotonous plains behind us and went to a place where we could literally touch the clouds! There was no fear of the narrow, meandering roads or the steep climb or the motion sickness. There was only place for elation. In awe, I would watch the shrubbery of the plains be replaced by the imposing mountain vegetation. The Chinars and the oak trees, interspersed by an occasional Weeping Willow kept me preoccupied. I enjoyed the play of sunlight through the trees, as my cousins engaged in occasional banter.
While nothing extraordinary was achieved during these holidays, the excitement of being with family made it all special! It was Nainital that brought us together. Laughter ringing in my ears and my gaze fixed on the lake and the thought that it is not over yet. That’s how I will remember Nainital. Until next time!