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Stairway to heaven

The cell phone died shortly before the turquoise waters of the Yamuna came into view about 28 miles from the picture postcard hill town of Mussoorie. With that connection was broken our link with 21st century India, and I was zipped back in time to 1996, when I had traveled the same road to Sankri, the road head to the trekking destination of Har Ki Dun.

I had come with three of my best friends then, four college kids looking for adventure. It had been a turning point in our lives -- my first trek -- and we had returned humbled by the Himalayas, hopelessly in love with its stern, mystic beauty.

Airfare for Rs 599 and less!

Eleven years later, I was revisiting Har Ki Dun, which literally translates to Shiva's valley, and which is tucked away about 12,000 feet above sea level near the border of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh.

I had changed, India had changed (and how!), and I wondered what had changed in Seema, the last village 7.5 miles before Har Ki Dun, where I had struggled to explain what a telephone is to Irbir Singh, a strapping young village lad we had befriended. I wondered whether there was a telephone in the village now; whether children still asked for medicines from hikers. Correction: first they asked for toffee -- many hikers carry candies to prevent the mouth from going dry -- and when we said we did not have, they asked for medicines.

I remembered Bhaskar, who was the slowest walker, standing atop a big stone and explaining before chucking medicines in the air to a whole bunch of mightily thrilled children: "Yeh wala, bukhar ke liye [this is for fever]." For us city lads who had grown up in metropolitan middle class India, it was the first time we had traveled out of our cocooned existences.

Text and Photographs: Sumit Bhattacharya

Also read: Sikkim: A treat for the senses

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