Ruskin Bond’s Notes From The Hills

Excerpts from his new book on travel, writing, and life in the Himalayas.  
Trek Mountain
Treks in the mountains have brought many small joys to Ruskin Bond’s life. Oak, walnut, and lime trees are frequently mentioned in his writing. Photo: Uttara Khan

Ruskin Bond’s most recent work, A Book of Simple Living: Brief Notes from the Hills, is a diary-like collection of short pieces on moments that have made his life harmonious. Bond writes about living in the mountains just outside Mussoorie, waking up to misty valleys and birdsong, and his camaraderie with nature and people.

A night in the mountains:

It is the beginning of summer and I have trekked with a friend to his village in the Garhwal Himalayas. It has taken us a full day, and we are greeted outside the village by a buffalo herd wending its way homeward in the twilight, the gurgle of hookahs and the homely smell of cow-dung smoke.

And after an evening with friends over rum, and a partridge for dinner, we retire to our beds: I to my charpai under a lime tree at the edge of the courtyard. The moon had not yet risen and the cicadas are silent.

I stretch myself out on the charpai under a sky tremendous with stars. And as I close my eyes someone brushes against the lime tree, bruising its leaves, and the good fresh fragrance of lime comes to me on the night air, making the moment memorable for all time.


A morning in the mountains:

I wake to the sound of a loud cicada in the lime tree near my bed. It is just after first light, and through the pattern of the leaves I see the outlines of the mighty Himalayas as they stride away into an immensity of sky. I can see the small house, where I am a guest, standing in the middle of its narrow terraced fields. I can see the other houses, standing a little apart from each other in their own bits of land. I can see trees and bushes, and a path leading up the hill to the deodar forest on the summit.

Mountain Window Book

In his book, Bond reminisces about the ever-changing views outside his window, sights he never tires of. Photo: Neelima Vallangi

The tops of the distant mountains suddenly light up as the sun torches the snow peaks. A door bangs open. The house is stirring. A cock belatedly welcomes the daylight and elsewhere in the village dogs are barking. A magpie flies with a whirring sound as it crosses the courtyard and then glides downhill. And suddenly everyone, everything comes to life, and the village is buzzing with activity.

I learned early—without quite realising it—that the pleasure of travel is in the journey, and not so much in reaching one’s destination. Destinations rarely live up to the traveller’s expectations. And the pleasure is further reduced if you’re checking your watch all the time. In travel, as in life, give yourself plenty of time, so that you won’t have to rush—you miss seeing the world around you when you are in a great rush, or if you seal yourself off in air-conditioned cars and trains, afraid of the heat and dust.

I like to think that I invented the zigzag walk. Tiring of walking in straight lines, I took to going off at tangents—taking sudden unfamiliar turnings, wandering down narrow alleyways, following cart tracks or paths through fields instead of the main roads, and in general making the walk as long and leisurely as possible. In this way I saw much more than I would normally have seen. Here a temple, there a mosque; now an old church, now a railway line; here a pond full of buffaloes, there a peacock preening itself under a tamarind tree; and now I’m in a field of mustard, and soon I’m walking along a canal bank, and the canal leads me back into the town, and I follow the line of the mango trees until I am home.

Plants Window

The author also fondly remembers the plants he befriended and cherished over the years amidst the hills. Photo: Maura Bussi/Eyeem/Getty Images

The adventure is not in arriving, it’s in the on-the-way experience. It is not in the expected; it’s in the surprise. You are not choosing what you shall see in the world, but giving the world an even chance to see you.

It’s like drawing lines from star to star in the night sky, not forgetting many dim, shy, out-of-the-way stars, which are full of possibilities. The first turning to the left, the next to the right… I am still on my zigzag way, pursing the diagonal between reason and the heart.

Trekking in the Himalayan foothills back when I could do that, I once walked for kilometres without encountering habitation. I was just scolding myself for not having brought along a waterbottle when I came across a patch of green on a rock face. I parted a curtain of tender maidenhair fern and discovered a tiny spring issuing from the rock—nectar for the thirsty traveller.

I stayed there for hours, watching the water descend, drop by drop, into a tiny casement in the rocks. Each drop reflected creation. That same spring, I later discovered, joined other springs to form a swift, tumbling stream, which went cascading down the hill into other streams until, in the plains, it became part of a river. And that river flowed into another mightier river that kilometres later emptied into the ocean.

Be like water, taught Lao-Tzu, philosopher and founder of Taoism. Soft and limpid, it finds its way through, over or under any obstacle, sometimes travelling underground for great distances before emerging into the open. It does not quarrel; it simply moves on.

Appeared in the July 2015 issue as “Notes from the Hills”.

  • Ruskin Bond is the author of several bestselling novels, collections of short stories, essays, and poems. His books include "The Room on the Roof" and "The Blue Umbrella". He lives in Landour with his adopted family.

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