This Summer, leave the city behind and step into a comfort zone. The hills are alive with birdsong, the air is crisp and flowers are in bloom. We bring you a list of seven picturesque destinations where you can learn to be still.
Every writer has a recurring fantasy. She could finish that novel if only there weren’t so many distractions. There is always a special place — a cabin in the woods, a library that accepts lodgers, a genteel hotel past its prime — that the writer’s imagination flees to. And in that itinerary of the imagination, the cottage in the hills ranks highest. You arrive with a blank page, take in the breathtaking views, go on long rambles, and leave with a novel. Inspiration will come as easy as making the morning cup of coffee.
If this logic holds true, then the hills of Ireland should be a particularly fertile place — for the Emerald Isle is a country of writers, as its four Nobel literature laureates attest.
Kabulis tend to take their leisure seriously, and picnics, in particular, are epic in scale and preparation. So, on most Fridays, which is the weekend in Afghanistan, the road leading north from the capital is likely to be choked with traffic snarls, cars standing bumper-to-bumper, families packed in taxis that have large deghs (pots) of food in the boot, along with a pile of toshaks (mattresses) and a few melons. Many head to Istalif, a small idyllic village perched in the mountains around 50 km from Kabul.
Babur, was a passionate admirer of the city and its environs. Istalif charmed him so much that he created a garden there in the 16th century, and rode over with friends for drinking sessions that lasted several days. “Few villages match Istalif, with vineyards and orchards on either side of its torrent, its waters cold and pure”, he wrote in his memoirs.
Standing at the same spot centuries later, it was easy to see why he had been so captivated. The valley spread around has a river that flows below. The water rushed with exuberance over boulders, fed by fresh snow melt from the mountains. There had been rain that morning, and while the ground was muddy, the air was clear and cool, the sunlight dappled on the tender green around us.
Sadly, for a place that exudes such tranquillity, Istalif has had a violent past.
It’s lonely at the top. Even though Mizoram’s capital Aizawl is not far away, few travellers embark on the half-hour trek from the picture-postcard Reiek and Ailawng villages to the mountain-top.
Reiek and Ailawng, the only two settlements that dot Reiek mountain, are just over an hour’s drive from Aizawl.
A walk up the forested mountain is a trekker’s delight. For the more adventurous, a small path also winds through the thicker jungle from Ailawng village, leading up to a beautiful meadow. It is ringed by wild grass taller than most men and where, if one is lucky enough, one might spot a grazing Serow or even a wild boar.
The only sounds that disturb the trees’ silent humming are birdcall, the ruffling of leaves in the never-ending breeze, the steady footsteps of a villager with a shoulder-load of fallen branches and twigs for the hearth-fire, and the playful chattering of a group of boys. The mountain forest is a 200 sq km blanket of trees that villagers have protected for decades from forest fires and outsiders alike.
Tasmania has long been a popular summer holiday spot for urban Australians willing to give up a few hot summer days in exchange for outdoor adventures in the island state’s expansive forests.
The centrepiece in Tasmania’s Cradle Mountain are the still waters of the Dove Lake. Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park serves as a popular base for hikers, some of whom spend six days trekking through alpine landscapes on the 65-km-long Overland Track.
Dove Lake Circuit, by far the park’s most popular trail. As the name suggests, this six-kilometre track loops around the park’s centrepiece, Dove Lake. While the two-hour walk is good exercise, most visitors come here for the gorgeous views of Cradle Mountain’s twin peaks, which rise up from the lake like a pair of worn, jagged teeth.
“Once a Hyderabadi, always a Hyderabadi”, they used to say. No question, it was the favoured metro city in India, with its ganga-jamuna culture. But times are a-changing, with urban sprawl, cancerous growth of pollution and garbage, noise, dust and irritability all round.
Vithal Rajan writes when his grandson arrived, they started a determined search for a haven — but where? Initially, thought of Quebec’s eastern townships, of New Zealand’s south island, and Ireland’s west coast. Then a serendipitous thought struck us: why go far when the Nilgiris are just an hour’s flight from Hyderabad? Everyone of us has a special fondness for these hills.
He writes, the pace of life in the Nilgiris is unhurried, calming for the city dweller. The people you meet are courteous and friendly, and we are reminded how enjoyable real community life can be. The historian in you comes to life as every old bungalow has a charming story to tell, and if you are not yet a photographer, you will soon be.
These trees have no names/whatever we call them,” writes WS Merwin in his poem Looking Up In The Garden. The rhododendron owes its baptism to the Greek for rose (“rhodon”); “dendron” is, of course, “tree”. And yet, a rose by any other name … isn’t a rose.
Having lived close to the Himalayas, home to the largest variety of rhododendrons, this is one flower that characterises the mountains like no other. Rhododendron is the national flower of Nepal; the Rhododendron Festival is one of Sikkim’s most celebrated tourism festivals.
As the charm for the continues widely, the difference between an outsider and a “local” is often in the way a person behaves with rhododendrons. Not only is one aware of its seasons of sleep and waking, its flowering and fruition, its good moods and moments of withdrawal, a local is like a spouse who is aware of the nightlife of the flower. The lover only cares for the overwhelming abundance of its beauty, its colours, commonly red and white, but also pink and purple, and even orange and yellow. So a tourist, like a prospective pollinator, will be seduced to admire the colours of the tree’s sexual energy. The local will bite and chew the arrogance of the flowers.