Updated: Apr 19, 2022
I have always lived by the adage, 'Akela Chalo Re'. Translated into hindi, it means forge your own path, walk alone towards your purpose and other sentiments in the same spirit.
This story is from the year 2020. I had contracted COVID and was a prisoner in my own home. Mother Nature was calling but I could not go to the hills. I was forbidden by my doctor Son to cross the boundary of my home. I had a severe COVID attack and was in hospital for nineteen days. To make matters worse, my comorbidities including heart problem, asthma and allergic issues ensured that I was on oxygen and drip all the time. I had also been administered plasma twice.
My recovery took a long time and I suffered many post COVID complications. My son advised me to be extra careful as another COVID attack could be fatal and life threatening.
Under all the duress of COVID, my soul kept itching to be part of mountains and majestic deodar trees.
After two years of COVID, I and my wife visited Aastha Home Stay in Fagu, near Shimla, our second home in the hills. Our hosts, the par excellence friends, and hosts, Naresh and Nisha Sharma had been persuading us for a long time to visit Fagu. Even their four beautiful and wonderful daughters kept ringing us to visit them.
At last, we gathered enough courage and decided to spend a month in the lap of Himalayas.
On reaching Aastha Homestay, we were in for a big surprise. We reached Fagu after ten pm and their entire family was waiting. They had lit earthen diyas from the gate to the living room of cottage.
They welcomed us with garlands and showered flower petals on us. In the living room, they made us sit on two chairs with a board in between on which was written, Welcome to prestine Valley of Himalayas dear Uma aunty and Harish uncle.
We were overwhelmed by such a touching welcome. There were tears in our eyes. We felt as if we were regaining our lost confidence, strength and vigour.
Aastha home stay is our second home in the lap of Himalayas, away from our home in Delhi. Such warmth and affection, only your very near and dear ones can give you.
What a beautiful and unique family the SHARMA’s are. All the four daughters want to persue different professions. Amritanshu, the eldest daughter is in the final year of graduation and is already preparing for civil services examination. Her aim is to be an administrator. Her desire is to cleanse the system of corruption.
The second daughter, Aastha, after whom the homestay has been named, wants to be a teacher. She is full of patriotic feelings and revers freedom fighters. Her room is full of their posters.
Ashima is the third daughter and is deeply attached to Indian culture and wants to promote Sanskrit. There is a unique Sanskrit college called Tungish, just two kilometers from Aastha home stay. The college , affiliated to Himachal university has been set up at Cheog, an isolated place, atop a hill, surrounded by tall deodar trees.
It looks more like a Gurukul ashram, than a college.
The youngest sister, Manasvi is just thirteen and is studying in eighth class. When I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up, after much cajoling, she gave short reply, I want to be an entrepreneur.
Is not it amazing that four sisters, in different age groups, living in a village, want to pursue different careers in life? All credit to their parents, who brought them up in a remote Himachal village with such independent mindsets.
Talai, where Aastha home stay is located is a small village, full of apple orchards. Naresh and Nisha, owners of the cottage are like our own children. We have been visiting them for the past 12 years. They told us that when myself and my wife were down with COVID, the entire village prayed for our recovery.
Some families even took the vow that if uncle and aunty survive this pandemic, and visit Talai again, they will take us to temple to take blessings of Devi Ma.
We are currently in Talai, and the village folks are asking us for time to fulfil the vow. We are feeling so touched and blessed. One of them, Ranjana , sister of Nisha, took us to temple of Devi ma only the other day and prayed to ma for our protection. There were tears in her eyes. She told us that their father was the priests of Devi Ma’s temple. Their maternal home is also near this temple.
Ranjana is a very pious soul and feels that she is a special child of Devi ma and enjoys her full protection. She narrated one incident when she was working at a wool shop, knitting pullovers and other garments. The shop was opposite a school, where her son was studying. One day, as she was working at shop, she heard cries from the direction of school. She left the shop and ran towards the school, fearing some harm to her son. She saw a woman in distress saying her child is missing from school since morning.
Ranjana felt darkness all around her and heard a voice asking her to follow a particular direction going towards jungle. She obeyed the voice walking towards jungle with mother of lost child and a crowd following her. They walked deep inside jungle where they found the child crying. Child’s mother fell on Ranjana’s feet and thanked her for saving the child. Ranjana said she did nothing but only followed her inner voice. It may look strange to you but it is claimed to be true. Sometimes, you just cannot explain certain phenomenon.
Sharma’s are like a joint family. Elder brother of Naresh, Ramesh is a graduate. He is a simple soul and a firm believer in naturopathy. He has been writing diary for about twenty five years. He has a maruti swift car for almost sixteen years and he is proud of it. The car is in good running condition and is coping well with rough hilly roads.
The other day, I was sitting in cottage lawn, when Ramesh came to us in old clothes, a shirt and dhoti, carrying a vessel in hand. He was going barefoot to bring back pure mountain water from a spring for worship purposes. Is not it amazing, that a man nearing sixties, has such faith?
It was Navratri season last week and Devi Pooja was going on in almost every home. Ramesh has been travelling miles to get pure spring water for drinking for many years. Ramesh is a simple man who believes in traditions which signify simple living and high thinking. He is quite happy with his profession. He is a farmer.
He has no wish to expand or modernize his lifestyle. On the other hand, Naresh is an entrepreneur at heart and always comes up with new ideas to expand his business. He was a temple priest and holds great knowledge of spiritual aspects. He is also modern and futuristic looking in his outlook. He is already building a modern house for his family with a garden in front of homes of two brothers.
Naresh is always enthusiastic and full of drive. He showed me new house under construction and said, you know uncle, once the house is complete next year, you will no longer stay in the homestay. One of the rooms in new house will be reserved for you and aunty. You can come whenever you like. How generous of Naresh and Nisha. More than ten years ago, they had built a room for us attached to their house. They still call it uncle aunty ‘s room.
Naresh has many ambitious plans. He wants to build Yoga huts to promote yoga. Once he shifts to his new house next year, he would like to convert his traditional ethnic Himachali style house into a home stay provided his elder brother agrees. The house is joint property of two brothers.
Their third brother, Suresh is mentally challenged and behaves like a child. Families of two brothers jointly look after him. There is so much to learn from this. Look at the dedication and simplicity of these people. The ladies of the house including Nisha give him a bath. Now, even the four daughters of Nisha are trained to give bath to Suresh. Where will you find such love, purity and kindness.
Suresh loves small things and transistor is his favourite. He keeps it near his ears and a smile flickers on his lips.
It was just our second day at the cottage when a couple with their son took the rooms on the upper floor of the Homestay. We were sitting on the swing, in the garden in front of the cottage enjoying lush green natural beauty with scenic mountains in the backdrop. Someone came, touched my feet and sat opposite me and my wife. He placed a packet in my hand saying, it is Prasad from local Deshu temple.
He said that they went hiking to the temple top which is three and a half kilometers from the cottage. Wow, we said, a courageous act indeed. His name was Mr. Mittal. He was sixty, an electrical engineer by profession. His wife, fifty-seven, was a doctor. Their son had just completed MBA and was preparing to go abroad for higher studies. Mittal preferred our company while his wife and son went upstairs for a nap. His second son was in Canada doing a job. Mittal was a highly emotional man. He was in tears while talking about his sons. We had seen women crying for children but never a father, that too publicly.
He said Harish ji, weather in Canada, where my son is living, is treacherous. It is snowing and grey weather persists for months. He then told me that his son was bored and wanted to come back to India. But he had one condition. He wanted the father to set up a business for him. Mr Mittal then told me that he was skeptical because what if his son backed out and then he would be left to handle the business. His son assured him that he will not.
Mittal showed me his ring and said, you see bhai sahib, I have cut the ring at one place and twisted it a bit. It now hurts me all the time and reminds me that I have to do something for my son. He again started crying and said, now, my second son is also going away. I consoled him that this is the way of the world. Children have to find their own path and their destiny may lead them to different lands.
Look at us Mittal ji, our son also went to America for higher studies in medicine. But he could not return. He had better facilities to grow professionally in America including better job opportunities, better facilities for research. As parents, we always want the best for our children.
So my son decided to settle in America only. He is in the USA for eighteen years and is now an American citizen. Please do not feel bad. It is their life and let them take their own decisions.
Mittal did not look very happy with life. You could make it out from his talks that he adored his sons. He said with a deep sigh, my only wish is to spend my old age with my children.
A big question is can children ever reciprocate love, affection and compassion shown by parents? But than, is it the right question. Should parents expect reciprocation? That makes love transactional, doesn’t it?
What is also true is this: our children did not ask to be born into this world. We, the parents brought them into this world. Gita says that every soul has an individual journey. Therefore, should we claim a right on our children and keep expecting from them? I believe that our children, these souls, honour us by choosing us to bring them into this world. While they are growing up, they give us the joy of parenthood. But it is also true that while our homes are their roots, their wings have a journey of their own. As parents, we cannot be selfish.
On the other hand, any child who takes care of their old parents receives love, blessings and abundance galore in life.
Like Mittal, most parents go to any length to win over their children. When children grow up, their priorities change.
Ask yourselves: when you were young, did your priorities change towards your parents?
There are children who take pride in taking care of their parents. Then there are children for whom, parents do not get any priority in their life, they come last. But then, that is life. Let children live their life, you live yours. I think, one gets more sentimental in old age and loses control over their emotions.
Most of the people in Talai village, where Aastha homestay is, belong to Brahman and Rajput community. People living in our neighborhood are Rajputs. Ancestors of Rajputs migrated all the way from Rajasthan to Fagu.
Family next to our homestay came here all the way from Jaisalmer more than five hundred years ago. Reason for migration is not known. But it could be because of famine or a natural disaster. Otherwise, why would anyone leave their homeland. Now, all of them have merged with local Himachal population.
Places around Aastha home stay are full of natural beauty, which are ideal picnic spots and trails. Only the other day, we travelled around nineteen kilometers in Alto Maruti car, down the hills to reach Balak, where Giri Ganga flows with all its majesty, surrounded by tall deodar trees and mountains. Nature here is in full bloom.
Story about Giri Ganga relates to Satyug, when a seer was carrying Ganges water in a vessel from Haridwar to his place in this region. He sat down under a tree to relax for a while.
His vessel fell down and Ganges water spilled over the ground. The seer cried, Giri Ganga.
Water erupted from that place and river started flowing and was called Giri Ganga. This area was in news few years back for a child claiming to possess powers of Lord Shiva. All this happened on a Shivratri day when this news about the child with special powers of Shiva started. People from far off places started visiting this place. But the whole act proved to be a fraud.
We also visited, another place, Mushera, just ahead of old Theog town, less explored but worth visiting. Popular hotel chain Taj group has set up a beautiful hotel in this area, called Taj Theog resort and spa. The place gives you experience of a tranquil paradise with pristine air, and unbound view of the Himalayas.
This is first venture of Taj hotels in Himachal Pradesh. Our hosts, Naresh and Nisha took us to Taj Resorts for a cup of coffee. We had the wonderful company of their four daughters. What we loved about this visit was that Sharma’s treated our Innova driver, with love and respect. He joined us over this treat at Taj. This is how it should be, treating all humans equal. Innova driver, Golu, as everyone calls him, is well known to Sharma family.
We have been here for about a fortnight. Stay so far has been exciting. Fagu is full of mysteries and hidden gems. Every time, we feel, we have seen enough, something new shows up and takes you by surprise. Always remember that the best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be alone with the heavens, nature and God. To me, God is nature and nature is God. If we need to find God, he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence.
See how nature, trees, flowers, grass, grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence. And most wonderful place to find silence and solace is definitely nature.
The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of universe, to match your nature with nature. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature, the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter.