We reached by taxi to a quaint old town – Matial, one and half hour after reaching Kathgodam Station from Delhi . I was surprised to see a pair of ponies along with our escort to the top.
I was enthralled with the idea of Jilling estate in the hills above Matial, since reading about this place in an article in Hindu. The article said – Come to experience silence on a Kumaon hillside, the kind of silence which is not an absence of sound, for that would make it a sterile vacuum. Somehow, these words got stuck in my mind.
We loaded our backpacks on to the ponies and started the trek up the hill. Our escort politely directed me to change into shoes and socks for the climb. It was not exactly summer and the climb up was pleasant. There had been rainfall the night before and we were practically wading through muck on the narrow meandering track.
I was happily trudging through the muck when I saw something dark wiggling on the edge of my sock. I shouted in surprise and beckoned all my friends to check it out. In spite of trekking all around the Himalayas in all the seasons, this was my first experience with leeches. In the next five minutes we all realized that we were leech infested inside our shoes and socks. The guide asked us to wait till we will reach a clearing on the hill so that he can help us with the leeches. We all took a sigh of relief when the leeches were heated up with a cigarette lighter and plucked out from our feet. But, all that leech picking left our feet a little bloody and numb.
After another half an hours’s climb we reached a gate and a pathway in the hills. I followed the others and clambered through a pathway. We walked past a small garden gate onto a jungly garden. I was obviously a bit tired, definitely muddy and worried about the lack of mobile network. But, as I walked through the gate and across the garden and took a look around me – something shifted. Obviously, the silence of the jungle was a factor and also the fleeting glimpse of what I suspected to be the majestic Nanda devi peak.
This quaint old clearing on the side of the hill had just enough space for the main house and a couple of cottages with a nursery growing exotic flowers , a few vegetables for the kitchen and a swimming pool. All around were views of the mountains- sometimes cloudy and sometimes clear. I felt like a child who was not supposed to be here – a little intruder on the peace that was synonymous with this place. I suddenly realized it had been twenty minutes since we had reached the house and we all had gone quiet in awe of the place. We were all calmly sitting on benches – taking in the place and taking off our shoes. We were all gradually fitting ourselves into the silence of the place.
I stepped into glass living room slash library of the main house and was welcomed by the hostess with a few soft drinks. One of the two-person staff handed me a towel and advice on the leech bites. I stood looking around the library, which was a collection of unique books collected by the hostess’s father. After a while I followed a path around the estate up to a pool, to shaded little corners where benches or chairs have been placed, so that everywhere seemed like a labyrinth of solitude. Then I was guided down to cottage which had 2 levels. It was on a level below the main house which is furnished with a four-poster bed, a clawed bathtub on the lower levelwith huge glass windows serving mesmerizing views of the mountains ahead and the sound of the wind.
The sun and the wind came in from every side of the cottage. Birds called from the trees and when I walked up to one of the many terraces around the main house, I could look out across the hill towards the shy peak of Nanda Devi. Part of the special magic of Jilling is that the life of the world, only a few hours away, is so vivid in your mind but does not reach you there. More so due to the lack of mobile connectivity.
I sat in my room unpacking – looking at birds swooping down past the window. The estate dog barking playfully in the background, the trees dancing in the wind to their own tune of playful solitude. The thought that came to my mind is that I can definitely come here to write in case I pluck enough courage to do so.
The hours that followed passed in light banter with my friends and consuming large quantities of home cooked food served lovingly by our hostess. Most of the simple fare was cooked with vegetables from the estates garden. We sat in the library amongst the books and bottles waiting for the last of the light to fade away. We were momentarily surprised out of the peaceful silence by the cow that somehow sneaked behind us into the living room and mooed loudly to catch our attention. We smiled in unison when one person from the staff ran right out of the kitchen to shoo the cow away from the living room into the jungle but, alas not before the cow completely ruined the exquisite living room carpet.
The evening passed merrily on the terrace playing and reading by the bon fire listening to cicadas out in the wild and thinking about the few more days that I will get to spend in this peaceful place