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A Himalayan miracle to carry into the New Year

  • 17 December 2019


My New Year's resolution dawned on me while watching the sun set over the Himalayas last week. For three days, my daughter and I had trekked through Kumaon, a region in the Indian state of Uttarakhand so remote many of its villages don't feature on the map.

We'd met our guide at the railway station in Kathgodam and had driven along narrow, zigzagging roads into mountains so high it felt like we'd reached the top of the world. All around us, valleys dropped away. Tiny box houses clung to hillsides. Chir pines defied gravity, their orange-green needles piercing the sky.

Stopping along a ridge on the first day of our walk, we beheld the Garhwal Himalaya range as it came into view: a tumble of mountains crowned on the horizon by an irregular, saw-toothed range. Protruding from them like a camel's hump was Nanda Devi, India's second-highest mountain.

We woke early next morning in time to catch the sunrise, a saffron flooding of ink-black sky. Birdsong emanated from the oak trees. Colour leached from the sky as the sun rose higher. In that brief moment between sunrise and daylight, when a once-secretive world would be illuminated, our wonder at the world was multiplied many times over.

Such is the balm delivered by an escape from reality, a journey beyond the mundane, in which one is forced to be alone with one's own self. Robbed of internet connection and the distractions of frenetic city life, we were drowning, quite literally, in stillness. Chit-chat diminished into self-reflective silence as we walked through towering forests and along sparsely-foliaged ridges, past mules carrying construction equipment to isolated villages and farm animals grazing beside houses wedged into the hillsides.

We felt like special guests in a secluded wilderness. Our world had reduced from something unfathomable to a pinpoint on which this place — familiar to its residents, extraordinary to us — stood.

This sense of peace prevailed even in the town of Jageshwar, where pilgrims gather to visit the collection of over 100 Hindu temples built between the seventh and 12th centuries. In one of them, I stooped before a Brahmin who delivered a blessing for my long life and good health; the sandalwood paste he smeared on my forehead felt like a balm to my already elevated sense of wellbeing.


"The serenity, it seemed, had unwittingly opened a space within my psyche for contemplation and enlightenment."


On our final day in Kumaon,