In my previous blog, I wrote about a heavenly summer vacation in my childhood in an Idyllic paradise in Himachal. This blog is about another such heavenly summer, but this time in Pachmarhi, a hill station in Madhya Pradesh. There is an Army Cantonment there and my uncle was posted there in 1997. It was the year when my brother Indranil was diagnosed with kidney failure. He was 17 years old and I was almost 13. Advait, our cousin, was 12. This was the vacation where Indranil taught me one of the most important life lessons I’ve ever learnt and where I got the courage to do many things out of my comfort zone.
According to Wikipedia, Pachmarhi is widely known as Satpura ki Rani (“Queen of Satpura”), situated at a height of 1100 m in a valley of the Satpura Mountain Range.
Indranil had travelled to Pachmarhi on his own as his exams had ended much before mine. I joined him after a few weeks and another month later our parents joined us.
We had formed a routine very quickly. There was a library inside the cantonment, but it was at some distance. So we would walk down to the library after breakfast, borrow a few books, comics and 1 movie video cassette. Then we would eat lunch and read books for a while because we hated sleeping in the afternoon. Sometimes we played with the G.I. Joe action figures and their weapons and transportation vehicles, my brother had also made a huge aircraft carrier out of thermocol. Boy, were we crazy about the G.I. Joes! I was lady jaye, Indranil was Duke and Advait was Snake Eyes. We imagined ourselves as the Joes all our childhood.
After 3 PM, we would pack a backpack, carrying a small water bottle, some cookies, hot milk in a thermos and our toy guns, a compass and few other toys and went out to explore. We used to hike to different places, soak in the sights, play explorers-cum-G.I. Joes, watch the sunset and come back. Then we would watch a movie, eat dinner, play around for a bit and then sleep.
One day Indranil suggested rock climbing on a mountain nearby. I agreed but was unsure. When we arrived at the spot, Indranil and Advait began climbing, but I was nervous. I am quite accident prone, (clumsy my brothers used to call me, but I am sticking with accident prone). That is when Indranil said the most inspiring words I’ve ever heard; which echo in my mind even now when I come across a seemingly impossible task.
He said, “Think about it like swimming; once you take the plunge in the pool, you are halfway there; your 50% work is done. Rest is easy and it will come naturally to you.”
He added, “We both are there to guide you, just put your hands and feet at the spots we point to you. You will be safe and you will not fall down. Just follow us.”
And I took the plunge; I just began following them, just as they told me to. Step by step, placing my hands and feet, in the correct spots, I kept climbing up. I don’t even know when exactly, but we all reached the top, all safe and sound. As soon as I realized I had managed to climb up, all my fear was gone; I looked down once and couldn’t believe I climbed up so high with just my hands and feet as equipment and my annoying but awesome brothers as guidance systems.
Once at the top, we began exploring the place with our compass, we ran around, played our usual G.I. Joe game, once again fighting the Cobra commander. After all the playing and exploring, we would drink milk, eat cookies, watch the sunset, climb down and walk back. After that day, rock climbing became our routine exploration activity for the rest of the summer.
By the end of the month, our parents had joined us at Pachmarhi. They had their own routine as well. My dad is a well-known artist, he paints beautiful watercolor landscapes. He used to do spot-paintings a lot while he was there. He painted my uncle’s house so beautifully! And inside the cantonment area, there is a Banyan Tree, over 200 years old; Right under the tree, the Army Orchestra Band sits and practices every day. My dad painted that tree and he has captured it so accurately and it is charming.
Both the paintings still adorn the wall in our house here in Bangalore.
I remember once the entire clan decided to go for a picnic; we went to this little known place called Jambu Dweep. It was over 4 kms downhill, but the terrain was quite difficult. Climbing down in the morning was no big deal. We had all the picnic baskets and fun stuff in our hands; we easily hurtled down to the camping spot. It was a mini river with a waterfall ahead. It was a beautiful place, very serene. We played in the water, my uncle and my brothers kept pushing me down in the water, it was hell loads of fun.
There were a lot of mango trees around, so we kids climbed up and plucked unripe mangoes while my mom and aunt carried them on their skirts and our caps. We made an Indian drink called “Aam Panna”, which is basically steaming or roasting unripe mangoes, removing their pulp and mixing it with water, a bit of salt and a bit of sugar. It’s a very common summer drink as it cools the tummy. We lit up a small fire and roasted the mangoes. Rest of the ingredients we already had with us.
By the time evening came up, we were so tired. And the task of climbing those 4 kms with all the stuff in our hands was a daunting one. We were already dead tired; but we soldiered on somehow and climbed up to our vehicles.
There was this one time when we had a last minute idea picnic at the golf course inside the cantonment. It was a perfect night, with a full moon and a pleasant weather. We all had a lovely time there. But little did we know there was something even more ridiculous waiting for us a few hours later. In the wee hours of the morning, when I was in deep sleep, suddenly I felt a rumbling sound somewhere. Now the houses in the cantonment were old, remnants from the British era. So they had very high ceilings with very old fans that oscillated a bit and made a lot of noise. So when I woke up with eyes half opened, my dad said it’s just a storm and I should go back to sleep. I did just that little realizing that it was actually an earthquake!
Pachmarhi is located near the river Narmada, which runs on a fault. Jabalpur is the major city near this fault and the epicenter was near Jabalpur. The quake was a 6 pointer which was felt in pachmarhi too. The next morning when we were listening to the radio, we got to know about it. At first we laughed like crazy because dad thought it was a storm and he told us the same. Indranil used to sleep on the floor in the living room, so he told us that he heard the rumbling before any one of us and he just got up and sat on the couch and saw everything shaking. Then we felt a bit sad too since some people had lost their lives. 39 fatalities were reported according to Wikipedia. It was an earthquake we experienced but didn’t know it was one when it happened. Funny how sometimes things happen.
We had a lot of adventures and a lot of fun in these two months that we were there. This was the last adventurous vacation I had with both my brothers together. Sadly a few months later Indranil was diagnosed with kidney failure and we could never do all those crazy things again. This is the reason I hold this vacation so close to my heart and I will forever cherish these memories.