Exams had just bid me a long-awaited farewell when we decided to rejuvenate our spirits with a trip to one of the most beautiful towns of India – Nainital. However, having visited the place before, it’s smells, the Naini lake with it’s timeless tranquility, the chaotic mall with tourists with the kind of wonder in their eyes that expensive supermarkets could never witness, made me terribly miss the tingling in my stomach that comes with the anticipation of venturing into the unknown. Having had a tiring day, all of us were eager to head back to our hotel, have a good swim, stuff our bellies with the buffet and bury ourselves into the bouncy hotel beds. But fate, with it’s idiosyncrasies that we’re all accustomed to, had a different plan altogether.
Like the piece of wood that came by floating, to rescue the lady on the history-creating ship Titanic, the radio jockey mentioned a place called Binsar. I went out of the car to get some medicines for my mom, but while still keeping my vicious plans in mind, asked the shop owner about the place. My father, forever longing for knowledge and trivia, agreed to my plans, despite the subtle protests of my mother and my younger sister, as it was already dark.
Binsar is a formation of sleepy hamlets amidst orchards, silver streams and green meadows. It is located in the lap of Kumaon hills in the Himalayas on top of Jhandi Dhar, about 33 kms from Almora and 95 kms from Nainital. It is encircled by a wildlife sanctuary which is home to many rare animals, birds and wild flowers.
After a smooth sailing journey, we found ourselves on a narrow tree-lined road with mountains on one side and nothing on the other. Binsar is pitched at the impressive altitude of 2,420 metres and the elevation can be felt as soon as the ride begins. The trees were enormous with branches almost touching the ground, bearing a mysterious semblance to the abode of the witch of our childhood stories, who could catch us any moment, with her long-nailed fists. The thought of her piercing her long nails into my skin, made me slightly uncomfortable, so I tried to diverge my focus. The sky was overshadowed by trees, there wasn’t any trace of the human world and the terrible prospect of our car getting punctured or running out of petrol with us having to spend the night in the middle of nowhere, made us wonder if we had, voluntarily ventured, into the dark alleys of hell.
If this much thrill was not enough for one night, we met a man, dressed in rags with his bones and nerves clearly visible. “Oh so this is what the human body looks like without the tons of flesh covering up mine”, I thought to myself. My father, not as obsessed with weight-loss as me, asked the man, the way to a nearby resort. Making small talk, the man also mentioned that it was common for him to be greeted by leopards on his way back home. I felt so fortunate and better off than him being the one in a car instead of the one on the fatal foot.
As if thrill was determined to set new standards for itself that night, a leopard jumped up from the mountain side of the road and stood right in front of us, two feet away from our car. My father immediately broke into a sweat and pulled up the brakes. I was so shocked at what stood in front of me that I couldn’t even shout. I was numb! The leopard was breathtakingly beautiful, covered in black spots on it’s pale yellow-reddish fur, moved in a chivalrous fashion and left us praying frantically to all the Gods we could think of. It’s eyes were golden-green that sent chills down my spine, with their piercing stare, greater in intensity, than my English teacher at school. After taking it’s own sweet time, the leopard took a gigantic leap into the trench at the other side of the road.
But I have to admit, when you see something unknown, you feel more fascinated than fearful. I was transfixed by the utter beauty of the prodigious creature which was the subject of many anecdotes.
We survived, yes! But it’s difficult to put into words what we learnt from it. Overcoming fear? Hopefully! Staying composed in the face of adversities? Maybe! I just know I wasn’t really scared in the way I should have been; I was purely fascinated and amazed. It made me doubt if I’m even supposed to fear living beings, just because, they aren’t like me, because they don’t match the cautiously constructed images of safety and familiarity in my conditioned head.
Why have I been taught to fear what I do not understand? Why is it wrong if my natural instinct is to adore and not fear another being just because of the possibility of it harming me? The leopard was moving about in his natural habitat while we were moving about in ours, if not bond, we didn’t have to fear each other either.
Binsar is an off-beat place which I doubt would ever feature on your bucket list, but once in a while, take the road less travelled by. Who knows what you might find?
We only fear what we don’t know of!
Once we see the unknown, close by, fear eventually fades away.
The next day, I found myself in my classroom and the last line of the chapter we were reading read, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!”
And I knew exactly what it meant.