Travel

A longing for the mountain life

How a childhood yearning, fuelled by a 1970s animé, was fulfilled after a trip to the tranquil town of Theog

Fernweh. Google translates this German word as wanderlust. But the English equivalent does not quite convey the meaning in its entirety. It is not just a lust for travel. Fernweh, a compound of the ‘fern’ (far) and ‘weh’ (pain), expresses an emotion that is slightly more complex. It is the longing you have for faraway, even unvisited, places.

The first time I experienced fernweh — or, at least, my earliest memory of it — was in the early 2000s, when Cartoon Network broadcast the English version of the animé Heidi, Girl of the Alps. Isao Takahata’s show, premièred in 1974, was based on Johanna Spyri’s children’s fiction book — published in two parts in the 1880s. Its portrayal of Dörfli, an unassuming settlement in the Alps — with its expansive meadows, grazing cattle and pristine skies — is chiefly responsible for bringing several hundred thousands of Japanese tourists to Switzerland every year. The unhurried happening of pastoral life in the show stirred within me an irrational longing to live in the mountains.

I stopped, not deliberately, romanticising the hills after the transition from childhood to adolescence. Ruskin Bond’s writings on Dehra, much later, rekindled daydreams of settling down in a hill station. But the animé about the rosy-cheeked little girl was, however, largely forgotten.

Then, a trip to Theog last winter, made me reminisce about Heidi and the effect her life in the Alps had on mine.

A longing for the mountain life

Theog, on Google Maps, resembles a rough sketch of an upside-down human leg. From the Town Hall of Shimla, a 28-kilometre drive through National Highway 5 (shrouded by the deodars of the Shimla Reserve Forest Sanctuary), will take you there. My cab driver says that even the abundance of lodges, motels and hostels is not enough to accommodate the constant inflow of tourists to Shimla. The bazaars and roadside vendors selling tea and Maggi decrease as you enter Theog, situated 2,310 metres above sea level.

Theog is one of those places whose natural beauty is not blemished by excessive tourism. Its quiet existence above Shimla has so far been largely unnoticed. It isn’t one of the places that is usually featured on the ‘10 best summer destinations in India’ type listicles.

Apart from the Hatu Mata Mandir (a Maa Kali temple) on the summit of Hatu Peak and the Taj Theog Resort & Spa (surrounded by broadleaved oaks and rhododendrons), there aren’t other landmarks here.

A longing for the mountain life

At 3,400 metres above sea level (equalling almost half the altitude of Everest), the vistas on offer at Hatu are worth a journey of a thousand miles. The majesty of the Himalayan peaks humbles you.

It isn’t, however, the remarkable sights that I cherish the most about Theog; it is the relaxing ones. They reminded me of Heidi’s life at Dörfli.

Four kids scampering through the woods, followed by a brown pup. A man driving his daughter to school in a weathered old red Maruti 800 with a few baskets of vegetables in the backseat. The amused smile of an old lady as she watched me descend a small rocky slope extra cautiously. The houses, made of wood, stone and slate. Apples within hand’s reach hanging on unfenced orchards. These sights conveyed to me the spirit of the place.

I might never visit Dörfli. But the profound longing I had for it was cured, albeit temporarily, by Theog.

The writer was in Theog at the invitation of Taj Theog Resort & Spa, Shimla

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Printable version | Feb 21, 2020 9:59:35 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/travel/a-longing-for-the-mountain-life/article30691268.ece

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