Mountain love

This last week has been a dream come true. I finally made it here to the tiny hamlet of Satkhol in Nainital, to attend a four day creative writing workshop with Chetan Mahajan himself. This has been a wish unfulfilled in over four years and finally, finally it happened !!

Hello and Goodbye too soon

Getting here was quite an adventure with planes, trains and automobiles all involved and hooray, I made it despite 530am Dilli traffic jams and kindly turbaned cabbies. Oh, I really hate early morning trains!!

The Katgodham Shatabdi itself was curious and loud, colourful and lively. I’m sure my snores added to the din of families crunching chips and drinking chai. My neighbour was a young Literature graduate who worked in editing. We chatted pleasantly before she alighted at Bareilly. Bathroom warning : it’s disgusting.

New Dilli istation
Great Indian train journeys
Shatabdi breakfast

I met my fellow participants as planned at little Katgodham railway station and Bobbyji, our man for all taxis, soon had us on our way up the hills. On the way I made new friends with my car pool, two besties who are terribly smart and accomplished but lovely, lovely millennials. I missed my daughter so much.

We stopped at the I❤️cafe for a pizza lunch, and couldn’t resist their baked goodies. The brownie and apple pie was good. Our white pizza with mushrooms was like a cheesy round naan and very tasty, slightly sourdough-ish. Their popularity is obvious and the loo was clean.

Iheart cafe

We passed Bhimtal lake, so serene in the pale winter sun. I had been planning trips to Bhimtal for years and was astounded to suddenly be right there!


This trip is beginning to really fulfill a lot of wishes. I feel like a door has unlocked for me in my life . I have no idea why I felt this call to the mountains, I have always sworn I am a beach bum. But this is something special and I hope to return.

We passed bucolic villages as we wound our way up and down valleys, our excellent driver giving us no cause for concern. As we chatted, he told me about water woes, the great flood a few years ago, and the changing weather.

We came to a village high street full of school children just released from the classroom, all of them in uniform, scampering around animatedly. Watching them brought back memories of school and oh, those blazers!!

Another hour uphill, past verdant cliffs and spruce treees brought us closer to our final destination, the

A short, steep walk downhill past some very friendly locals (Amma is just lovely ) and we were welcomed with hot tea and the most beautiful valley view of Almora, the stunning mountain peaks, gleaming pink in the fading sunlight.

A sight for sore city eyes, I was bedazzled by the infinity of what lay before me. My tired mind feasted on gleaming snow-covered summits, and I dwelled on how imposing this part of the world is. I thought of my beloved Kashmir and those craggy, roaring, soaring mountains. But this was panorama at its best: Nandadevi, Trishul and more of the Greater Himalayan mountains. Somewhere in this biosphere is the famous Valley Of Flowers. And places my dear friend Ishan has been to.

The view from Himalayan Writing Retreat

The temperature plummeted fast and while I got dibs on my bed in our shared room, I wrapped up warmly, firmly pushing myself not to hide under the blankets and revert to my introverted half. I was here, finally HERE! And I was not going to hide in my room.

In retrospect, that was the best decision I made.

Somewhere between Delhi and Satkhol, I found my Self. The old me. The new me. The happy me. The me who chatters and laughs and makes friends quickly, cracking jokes and even singing Christmas carols off key.

Soaking up the sun

For all my writing dreams come true here, finding Her was my greatest blessing. To be occupied and challenged with words and new dynamics, to work and think; to bond with and befriend the most amazing women (and the two men, including Chetan) was a revelation. I found the sparkling, happy me. I didn’t have the bandwidth to dwell on the recent past and the baggage I jettisoned at Pune airport as my flight took off.

Evening walk
Lessons on the Island
The cozy Book Lounge
Happy faces after yummiest local samosas
Hike to a nearby temple

I walked, I hiked. I gazed at infinity and the Divine in undulating valleys, glittering lights, endless mountain ranges and pink hued skies. I fed my soul on local potato samosas, words, more words, and howls of laughter, not a tear in sight as our batch played crazy games, eating and working together. At night we gazed at a million stars above us, so close we could reach up and almost touch them. We had cheetah jokes and leopard jokes and big, shaggy dogs to cuddle. Until there was an actual leopard sighting nearby.

A different point of view
Local temple
Another local temple

The Island, a clearing with the best view of the dur khaima ( the far pavillions), became our second home for classes and meals in the warm sunshine. Our days were spent in learning, as we basked in the winter sun, interspaced with wholesome home-cooked food and much hilarity. The Aloo parathas and pahadi pickle still tickle my tastebuds! Homemade apricot jam and Old Hill Cheeses made our evenings cozy and delicious.

Happy Islanders

When it was too blustery to be outdoors, we gratefully sought refuge to the pine and glass Book Lounge, the warmth of the Bukhara seeping into cold bones, kettles loudly hissing steam for moisture. Sitting in the sky lit cabin, sunshine streaming through the glass panels made sessions special even if I did manage to doze off a couple of times.

Bukhari auntie
Chetan at work with Amanda
Life sustaining coffee

As we wrote and wrote, and wrote, we also shivered together. We drank pahadi lemon and cinnamon cordial, singing loudly to Jacob Singh strumming his guitar. We played party games. We got to know each other deeply, laughing over strange coincidencs and Life lessons What a bunch we were: writers all, a doctor, IT professionals, lawyers, a mixologist, mothers, content creators and me the designated socialite ( bahahahaha!!). All we have in common is a love of reading, of words and sentences, of creating worlds with our pens and our imagination. How could I not be happy having found my Tribe??

La di dah lady
If you guess the movie, you’re a genius!
The last photo
Thank you for the music, Jacob Singh

I fed my belly with simple pahadi meals including lai, a local green legume, sarvottam kaddu, aloo bandhgobi, ghee, jaggery, copious amounts of local dals, rotis and homemade gulab jamuna, laddos, kheer and spicy, tangy curries, all served with oodles of sunshine and fresh air. I drank french press coffee by the carafe. I basked, and basked like a lizard, wrapped in my new purple shawl, woven locally, napping in the sunshine, feeling warm and loved despite the 6500ft altitude.

At night I shivering, I would jump into my bed wearing my warmest PJ’s and my rainbow woollen bootees. I love the cold and hate it, equally. There is no feeling quite like a steaming shower and the dash to a heavily quilted bed, snuggling down with two piping hot water bottles to keep me warm all night.

Most of all, I revelled in the utter silence of the Retreat. So much peace and tranquility in just infinite silence peppered by a stray laugh or just the whispering boughs dancing to the winds. I watched shadows dance on pinewood floors and flames dance in the iron bukhari, wood crackling and bird song. Always birdsong. Delicate, soothing, talking, singing birds everywhere. Bees hummed and butterflies teased the dogs.. wind rustled through trees and blew our papers across the Island.

I am sated, I am hungry. I am filled with words yet hunger for more. I am filled with woman power and sunlight like I’ve never known.

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