By: Naima Kalra Gupta
The cool breeze rushed past my face causing me to squint. My hair flew in every direction further diminishing my visibility, as I sat by the window of the rented SUV. Although it was dented and scraped, it had its own charm. The gushing noise of the swift wind and the fragrance of the pine and deodar trees had kept me from sleeping. As we drove through the serpentine roads of the mountains, I saw freshly painted milestones and small roadside temples that served as insignificant landmarks. As the car turned, I faced the mountainside. The scene changed and the river that I was gazing at vanished and instead came the earthen smell, the overgrown vegetation, and the muddy uneven mountain surface. I gazed into space wondering how my life would be if I lived here. Time passed, we went higher into the hills and clouds darkened along with the sound of pattering water droplets. It seemed like ages, but we finally reached what I called my second home, Youreka Camp.
I stepped out of the car, put the rucksack on my back. Feeling experienced and confident, I walked into the camp. Memories flooded back to me. The ground was covered with twigs, dried pine needles, dry leaves and stones that made an amazing combination. Walking in, I felt like a know-it-all and kept on uttering stuff into my friends’ ears. After all, I had been to Youreka six times before. We saw the tents in which we were to spend the next 8 days. They were made of dark colored fabric and were on wooden stilts about a foot above the ground, spacious and the thought of living in them was simply thrilling. There was a shoe rack and a dustbin along with wet clothes hanging on the bamboo rods outside each tent giving it a homely feeling. The flaps of the tents were open just enough to take a peek. There was a single line of tents on both sides and there was a path in between. On the left of the path was a volleyball court and a black rubber water tank. There was a green fence bordering the camp with climbers, plants growing all over it. There were apricot trees filled with ripe juicy fruits and when you looked on the ground there was an alarming number of fallen, rotten, overripe apricots, coated in dry mud. If you touched them they were pulpy and compressible. It was quite normal to find instructors and kids on the trees plucking and throwing down fruit in the hands of hungry children. And on the right of the path was what I loved most about camp – the beautiful flowing river.
The camp was on the banks of river Tirthan. Across the river, there was a mountainside that seemed to be falling on us. The camp was about 2 meters above the water level. There was a small gate in the fence joining a flight of cement stairs that were used for leaving the camp. Though the river was forceful and ferocious, it seemed to be the calmest thing in the world. As the rapids were formed, the Tirthan seemed to be white yet you could see the deep greenish-blue shade of the clear flawless water. The river could absorb any problem, your troubles would flow away and before you knew it they were long lost. I leaned against the fence with my friends at my side. We stood on grey stones as big as a man’s fist and stared into the river, which just flowed and flowed tirelessly. The water body was like a piece of play dough as it could be molded in any way. Sometimes narrow, other times wide. At times it was slow and calm but then after it rained it was wild and faster than the wind. The river left me perplexed that how could same thing share such different forms.
Down the path was the place where we spend most of our time congregating, gossiping, and most importantly eating and basically just having fun. It was a permanent structure, unlike the tents, and could hold approximately 100 people. When you in there you could hear the slabs of wood creaking, sit on the graffiti painted ledges, criticize the craft made by other groups and admire your own, sing songs in groups which sounded completely uncoordinated and smell the aura of spices in food which was being freshly made. This place ingrained so well in my mind is the KPRD, camp slang for a place where one eats and drinks, laughs and cries. The KPRD looked small from outside though it had huge glass windows, thatched roof and charts and paintings stuck on its four walls. While there used to be a vibrancy and vitality in the KPRD, the ghanta ghar or clock tower, which was facing the river, was the place for serious discussions, deep thinking and alone time. The ghanta ghar was a huge favorite with the introverts. These small bits of sugar and spice were what made camp a truly exceptional place for me.
The weather fluctuated a lot and it could rain any time without warning. The temperature would fall and the sound of falling raindrops would fill your ears. Whenever I was lucky enough to get the opportunity I would go and sit on the green wooden bench, drinking tea in a steel glass, and watching the river get angry. Raindrops poured down my back and neck, making me shiver. I would absorb heat by tightly holding the glass of tea. Taking a deep breath I could smell the mixture of wet mud and tea. Often I would take a huge gulp by mistake and scald the tip of my tongue. The sun would start setting; I would walk away feeling light hearted and blissful, letting my bare feet sink into the damp ground.