IN THE SHADOWS OF NANDA DEVI
As the bus rolled to a stop at the Tallital bus bay after the hour-long drive from Kathgodam, getting off, Shaantanu collected his
backpack and strapping it on walked the approximately half a block to the quaint little inn that they always stayed at.
Nestled amidst the fir, deodar and oak forests, Nainital was a tiny paradise set in the lap of the central Himalayas, the town getting
it's name from the sparkling blue-green Naini Tal, or Lake, surrounded by hills on all sides, tempting lovers of nature and God alike,
since ancient times.
Nainital seemed to have been created for Man, for him to move to the higher plain of consciousness... The place was the subtle and
the sublime... almost spiritual in itself... the hills, the forests, the solitude... And it all made him come alive and now he longed for
that solitude, hoping it would do the same for him again, renew him!
And as he walked in, Mr. Tiwari, the owner, now ancient, looked up and broke in a welcome smile, "Hello beta, welcome to
"Hello Uncleji, got a room?"
"Need you ask? For you there's always a room!" the old man smiled. "Come alone this time?"
"Yes, needed a break so just came over," Shaantanu replied, un-strapping his backpack.
"How are Papa and Ma?"
"Oh, they are fine, they're off to Kanyakumari next week," he replied.
"Planning a trek?"
"Yes, that was the idea, how's it now?"
"Quiet, not many tourist at this time of the year, the towns and the trails will be nice and peaceful!" Mr. Tiwari smiled, calling for the
boy and handing him the key. "Take him to room 16."
"Thank you uncle, do I need to sign?"
"Don't bother, I'll fill it up."
"OK... thanks," Shaantanu said.
"I'll send the breakfast, you don't need to come to the dinning room," Mr. Tiwari added.
"Oh, fine, but I need to take a shower first!" he smiled as he turned to follow the boy.
"Just give a call once you're done and I'll send it over," Mr. Tiwari called after him.
"Sure, thanks," he called back, following the boy down the long corridor.
Closing the door he took off his shoes and then slowly undressing he looked into the large mirror on the far wall.
A strikingly handsome young man stared back at him...
What was wrong with him, he wondered... he still looked the same... still cute, with his boyish charm, still looking much younger
than his 22 years... Then why did Vivek reject him? His body was still as slim and taut as a year back, subtly toned... The skin
still soft, silky smooth and glowing... Then what had gone wrong, why didn't Vivek find him attractive anymore?
Looking into the eyes he saw the large, almost black eyes stare back... set in an almost perfect face, topped with the thick, black
mane... straight and longish. The lips so full and red...
Closing his eyes he ran his hands over the tingling flesh, memories of the time with Vivek flooding his mind... and as they
traveled lower... over the flat belly... he felt himself grow hard... the healthy penis filling out as it lifted up... throbbing with
He always knew that he was submissive, and had been totally comfortable with his sexuality and his `role', never ashamed... He
had wanted a dominant partner, someone who would love and cherish him... who would take charge... and he
was happy to give, give everything! And that's what he had done, given himself completely to Vivek, his first and only love...
Since high school many had approached him, but he had withheld, not interested in a casual encounter, in experimenting with
sex... he would only do it with the right person. He waited... waited till Vivek came along, with all those passionate words, that
unwavering attention, those promises for the future... And he had finally succumbed, believing all that was said, trusting... and had given him his body, his mouth, his ass... his love and even his soul... His complete being!
Then where did he go wrong?!
Opening his eyes he saw the tears and quickly blinking them away walked into the bathroom, turning on the overhead shower, getting under the spray. He would not think of Vivek, would not think of what had happened... he was here to forget that past and enjoy the mountains, and that's exactly what he would do!
Walking down the Mall he entered the tiny shop that they always used for their supplies and greeted the man behind the counter.
"Oh, hello Shaantanu, ready for another trek?"
"Yes," he smiled in reply, already feeling the excitement begin.
"Thinking of starting with the 'View Point - Kilbury' trail for an overnight trek, you know, camp out there for a night and then maybe do the 'Nainital - Almora - Ranikhet' route, or maybe go to Bageshwar - Pindari Glacier... not sure yet. Will decide once I return from Kilbury."
"Where's Papa, or are you alone?" the man asked.
"No, he didn't come along this time, I'm alone."
"Oh, OK... Remember Manglu's son, well, he's all grown up now, all of sixteen and he's been taking tourists too, nice boy and
knows the routes very well."
"No, Vishaal, I don't want a porter, I want to do it alone."
"Then Shaantanu, I'd advise, drop the Glacier or the taxing 'Nainital - Almora - Ranikhet' route. Why not go for the 'Nainital –
Naukuchiya Tal' Trek instead?" he said, "It would be better, you can spread it over a week, slow and relaxed and there is always the short detours that you can take."
"Well... " Shaantanu smiled.
"It's more safe for trekking alone, you know, more villages and hamlets on the way and better road conditions, if you decide to get off the trails."
"Thanks, Vishaal, I'll do that!"
"So, what all you need?"
"Well, other than the backpack and my clothes, I've got nothing this time, I'll be needing everything, including the tent, the sleeping
bag and first aid kit... and all the usual stuff. And oh, a canteen and an electrical flashlight."
"Ah, this time you really didn't carry anything, at all?" Vishaal laughed.
"Oh, yes, got my boots and my camera!" Shaantanu replied with a grin. Then getting serious added, "No, I didn't go home before coming, just felt like it, so came along and left the hiking gear and all the other stuff behind."
"OK, fine, I'll send them over, the same inn, right?"
"Ya," he replied.
"There's this new tent, a Solitaire solo tent, ideal for individual backpacking, real lightweight, yet sturdy. It's a very good piece,
easily erected and dismantled. I'll send that, since you're going alone."
"Sure, you know best!"
"Great, I'll have the things in your room before lunch today, and maybe drop by in the evening, anything planned?"
"Nah, I'll be at the inn..."
"Fine, by the way, there's a new and very good trail map, just recently published, I'll get it along when I come."
Getting up early he took a long, warm shower before heading for the dining room. Once breakfast was over he returned to the room
and rechecking everything, put away the extra clothes, the laptop and other stuff into the closet.
He didn't know how much of the trail would be covered by the mobile network towers but still, he charged his cell phone and hoped
that he could at least be able to reach home if he wanted to talk.
He had already decided, he'd drop the overnight trek and head directly for the Nauckuchiya route instead... he would camp out and
spend a couple of days at Bhimtal and Naukuchiya... maybe even go on to Mukteshwar. And there was always the chance of going
to Sattal, or Ghorakhal... and he could always camp in any of these places.
This particular trail would provide a grand view of the whole Nanda Devi Sanctuary, along with the main peak, the second highest in
India, and it also passed through some of the most scenic spots of the whole of Kumaon - undulating meadows, snow laden
mountains silhouetted against the azure sky, numerous streams rippling though the dense forests... and the placid lakes, each with
it's own share of myth and ancient tale!
He had sat late into the night, poring over the new trail map that Vishaal had got for him, drawing up the itinerary, charting out the
route and making plans... He wouldn't carry anything extra other than his clothes and the camping gears. Food he would pick up on
the way, there were numerous hamlets and villages spread all over the route and he could just touch one of these whenever he
needed something. Besides, he'd never really be far from one of the major towns in the region.
Handing over the key, he informed Mr. Tiwari about the change in his plans and his new route...
"And if Papa calls," he requested, "please tell him I'll call them whenever I get the signals and can get through. They don't need to
"Sure, will do that!" the old man replied with a warm smile.
And then he set out on his first solo trek, suddenly feeling very excited... His first point of call - the Snow View peak!
About three kilometers from Nainital, Snow View was the most popular site during the tourist season and with one of the best views
of the Himalayas. People usually took the cable car to the top or the pony, and a very few walked up the trail... And as Shaantanu
left the town behind and walked up the path he noted the silence, the fresh air... and the total absence of the crowds...He went
slow, enjoying the sights, so familiar, yet seeing it now after two whole years!
Once at the top, he was amazed by the natural splendor of the place. As if seeing it for the first time, the wondrous panorama of the
glittering Himalayas, spanning the distant horizon, snow covered!
Getting his binoculars out he looked at the Nanda Devi peak and felt his heart pick up, beating fast with the thrill, with the joy... oh,
how he loved this place... He was already feeling happy.
Turning around he looked down and was mesmerized by the enchanting view of the town below... toy-like from the heights, the
green lake like a tiny, sparkling jewel set in the lush valley, the Mall Road, a thin ribbon circling the lake. He smiled as he sat down
looking into the distant horizon, happy to be there, happy to have witnessed such breathtaking vistas of nature. He was in his
elements now, lost in joy!
Having sat for over an hour he reluctantly got up and slowly walking down the slopes left the trail to enter the woods. The air was
still here, the rays of the sun weak, as they filtered in through the jungle canopy, the ancient trees scaled by a multitude of creepers,
wrapped around the thick trunk in an eternal embrace of love...
The mist too was heavy, one moment covering everything and then clearing away, rolling through the dense vegetation, leaving
Taking the cattle trail or following the bridle path he walked on... admiring the beauty of the jungles, watching the flamboyant
Rufous-belly Niltava, the stunning Spotted Forktail... and then cutting his own route moving even deeper into the oak forest, sending
troops of jungle fowl scurrying through the undergrowth in a medley of red, brown and white, complaining loudly at the rude intrusion
of a stranger.
Avoiding the major trails, yet keeping it within eyesight... Shaantanu walked on, suddenly thrilling at the exhilarating experience of
being out there once again... and absolutely loving it! Listening to the call of the kakkar, watching the packs of
primates as they swung along the treetops, tiny babies clinging to their mother's breasts... then rejoining the trail, crossing and
following the road to tiny hamlets... And then back into the wilderness once more... unhurried, carefree!
And as the day progressed he made numerous detours, going deeper into the jungles before swinging back onto his set direction,
heading for Bhowali. And as he neared the town, the hills in the distant looked misty-eyed and beautiful, making him stop and look
on... mesmerized, admiring the tiled roofed houses as they clung on to the hillside... the neat steps of the terraced fields, incredibly
beautiful! Stopping every once in a while to stand and admire the view, take a picture...
Circling around the hill, following a cattle trail, he moved to the other side of town and as he neared a glade he heard the lilt of a
Chhura Chhura wafting through the silent air... rustic, yet soulful... vibrant with passion...
'A shepherd grazing his flock...' he thought, looking around to see if he could spot him.
But the foliage was thick here, and the undergrowth heavy... and as the winds changed direction with an amazing rapidity, he was
unable to point out the source of the song...
He reached Bhowali in the late afternoon and went straight into town, walking over the narrow cobbled lanes... admiring the
beautifully carved facades of the quaint little houses.
Situated at an elevation of 1706 meters, Bhowali was a major export center for Himalayan fruits and the fruit market there was
famed for its farm fresh produce – apples and plums, peaches and apricots, and many more.
Going to a shop he picked up things to eat and then headed straight for the famed fruit market. Having stocked up for the night and
refilled his canteen he headed out, to the same glade that he had crossed while coming to town. He would camp there for the night,
his first night of the hike.
Washing up at the nearby brook he changed and then set up the tiny tent and laying out the sleeping bag, noted with satisfaction
that his backpack would also fit in!
Putting on his hiking boots he once more ventured into the woods... walking around the pine scented woods, listening to the birds...
It felt amazing to be back here, and for a moment he missed his father... they had done this so often, together!
It was darker now, the evening sun barely penetrating the thick cover beyond just a few meters... a fresh mist enveloping the forest,
creating a mysterious and magical atmosphere... And as he walked on he heard a slight sound, pausing to slowly turn and look...
fascinated by the sight of a solitary sambar grazing... and as he stealthily crept closer, sensing his presence, it looked up from it's
grazing and instantly sprinted off, disappearing into the deep.
Getting back to the glade, as the sun was setting, he sat down to enjoy the fruits that he had picked up at the market and also
finished the single remaining sandwich that he had carried from the hotel that morning, and with dinner done he lit a fire before
sitting down and taking out his dairy... It had been an extraordinary day, a most exhilarating trek and some incredible sightings.
It was peaceful as he crawled into the tent and lay down... the night silent, the weather perfect... and as he drifted off, the night
slowly awakened, the air filled with the calls of the nocturnal creatures of the wild. But it didn't bother him, he was used to the
music of the wild and anyway, he was now fast asleep!
End of part III
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