“Guys, can we please hurry?” asked Ritvik.
“We still have plenty of time, it’s only 2 in the afternoon,” Abhi replied.
Ritvik never really enjoyed trips with too many people. But this college trip was a once in a while thing, so he came along.
Even though all of them were from the same college, they divided themselves into small groups. The city folks hung around with other city folks, the dormitory guys hung around with other dormitory students.
Ritvik didn’t have a group. He moved around with his roommates. But even they had their own subgroups. He was jumping from one to another, that seemed to work at the moment.
The city folks were busy taking each other’s pictures, and the hostel guys were trying to outsmart each other as the fastest climber on the trek.
How amazing it would be if there weren’t so many tourists on the plateau, Ritvik thought.
Aditya and his girlfriend were taking selfies for a long time now. Rashid, the tour lead had to remind them to keep moving every five minutes. Ritvik didn’t enjoy waiting.
This wait irritated Ritvik, and he confronted them.
“Are pictures that important? I mean look around you, all that nature around is beautiful too,” Ritvik said sarcastically.
Aditya didn’t take it well. He said, “You don’t have to take pictures if you don’t want,”
People turned to look at Ritvik. He had nothing to say. He just looked down.
“Let everyone enjoy their way Ritvik, why are you so pissed. You should try to enjoy too,” Hemant said.
“I am sorry,” Ritvik mumbled before going quiet for the rest of the afternoon.
He wasn’t walking with them anymore. He didn’t really want to be with them.
“I am just taking a stroll a little off track, I will catch up with you guys soon,” Ritvik told his roommate when he asked.
The group planned to climb downhill towards the riverbed, but Ritvik started walking towards the hill point in the opposite direction.
“Does this road go to the waterfall?” Ritvik asked a passerby who seemed to be on the way back from the point.
“The hill crossing spot, but it will be closed soon so no point in going there,” he replied.
“Thanks!” Ritvik said and kept walking.
The narrow road frightened him a bit, but he didn’t stop.
As if poised to surprise, an animal emerged from the trees and startled Ritvik. He sprinted, and stopped after a while. The panting made it hard to stand erect, as he took a deep breath and looked back. It was a buffalo foraging in the wilderness. It had returned into the trees and Ritvik heaved a sigh of relief, heading back to the road. He couldn’t see the end of the road. Now, he was walking on a small hilltop.
The weather had been grey all day, and Ritvik wasn’t surprised when it started drizzling, and lightning struck. The thin rain seemed to add music to the atmosphere, a pleasant one.
Slowly, the clouds moved away, turning the day darker. People were returning from their touristy spots, headed back to their hotel rooms. The lightning struck again, louder than before. He looked around and saw very few people around.
“Is the valley crossing still on?” Ritvik asked a tall man, who looked like he was 60 plus.
“No, we just stopped because of the rain,” he replied.
Maybe I should turn back.
But it’s still 3 o’clock, I will make it in time, Ritvik thought.
It started pouring heavily soon after. Ritvik was wet now, so he looked for a quick halt. A hillside nearby was inclined inwards, creating a sort of temporary shelter.
He waited for the rain to stop.
There wasn’t a soul in sight, Ritvik decided to move on. He felt lost, but he had to reach the hilltop.
There was a unique kind of satisfaction that comes with finishing an adventure, a quest. He was nearing the spot, and could even see the waterfall that everyone had talked about. He increased his pace and adjusted his shoulder bag as he climbed the rock.
It didn’t seem to work, so he threw his bag over it and tried again. He used the edges and holds on the rock to push himself up.
The waterfall was in sight now, and the rain had stopped too. He could smell the grass, almost as if it had been mowed and watered seconds ago. It smelled different. Not like a city lawn but like an organic and country grass smell. The stream was piercing through heavy boulders around the hill. A small village was lit up towards the south. There was still no one around, but Ritvik didn’t feel that at all.
With the music of a natural orchestra, the smell of earth and water, and a sight that could beat any Windows’ 98 desktop natures poster, he was not alone.
Wish I had brought my DSLR.
To his surprise, and to an extent disappointment; he heard someone shuffling around. Was someone else there?
He went behind to have a look; some guys had a campfire going. They were probably sitting there for a while since the fire seemed to be dying.
He didn’t talk; settled on a rock nearby and took the bottle and book out.
There were five of them; two guys and three girls, around the fire. One of the girls was reading something. Ritvik didn’t want to stare. But his eyes connected with the girl just as she looked up. She was probably not expecting anyone, and looked up at him in bewilderment.
She walked towards him. His heart started pacing. What I am going to say?
“Hey there, we didn’t think anyone else would be out here, you alone?” she asked.
“Yes, pretty much. I thought I was alone here too. The hike is kinda dangerous, isn’t it?” Ritvik replied.
She nodded, before asking, “What are you reading?”
“To Kill a Mockingbird.”
“Ah nice! I have read it; I remember enjoying it. I like Scout, right? It was Scout, wasn’t it?”
“Yea, Scout, or Jean Louis Finch.”
“Oh ya, that’s her actual name,” she chuckled.
“And what do you have?” Ritvik inquired.
“The murder of Roger Ackroyd,” She replied.
“It is on my wish list, haven’t read it yet,” Ritvik replied.
“Hi, I am Disha.”
“I am Ritvik. Nice to meet you.”
“So how come you are alone?” She asked.
“I was with my college friends, then I took a brief detour.”
“I am with my friends too.” She pointed back towards the fire.
“You from Mumbai too?” Ritvik asked.
“Yes, Thane, you?”
She was wearing a blue sweatshirt and had a gray cap on her head. Perhaps she was cold. Her dimples made an impression on him, as she smiled. She had a wide face, skin smoother than chalk powder, and eyes, oh eyes.
“Are you in college?” She asked.
“Yeah, I am in my last year of engineering, IT.”
“So, you must be getting campus offers by now?”
“No, I am doing this content writing internship. I want to explore something around that field.” “Wow, an engineer doing a writing job!” She smiled.
“What about you?” Ritvik asked.
“I am in the third year of my Electronics engineering. I am planning on doing a masters afterwards. Perhaps in the US. I might do my post-graduation in computer science, though. I am confused, but I feel that’s the way to go.”
“Do you like to read?” Ritvik asked, changing the subject.
“I do; I enjoy reading fiction, especially sci-fi.”
“What’s your favorite novel?”
“I like the Dune series.”
“Oh how lovely. Mine is 2001: Space Odyssey,” Ritvik replied.
“I enjoy hiking, do you?” she asked after a pause.
“Ya, me too.”
“I like it because I think it helps me meet myself. It’s like being close to our gene,”
“I like it because I like the isolation and peacefulness of it. Whatever problems you have, here it’s just you and present, and nobody is there to disturb you,” Ritvik replied.
“Well, I prefer to be with a group. I like to explore it all with people; new people too. Like you, for instance, we would have never met in Thane, and even if we did, we would not have talked to each other.”
“You are probably right. I guess I just find it hard to meet and start a conversation with strangers. I am an introvert. At least that’s what I think,” Ritvik said.
“Really? I don’t know what you are talking about; you seem to be doing fine so far. You are talking to me, aren’t you?”
“I guess so.”
As her friends began to take pictures, he remembered how the day had begun.
“Why do people need to take so many pictures? I don’t understand,” she said almost immediately. “I think people should leave all their electronics behind at the hotel. You can best enjoy something with your own eyes, what good is trapping it in a 16:9 frame for future.”
“I know right, I like to think that a camera should be used to capture moments, rather than people.” Ritvik said, looking at the village in the distance.
“Hmm, interesting perspective,” She replied in agreement.
The conversation was slow, but paced right, and they lost track of time. He forgot about the rest of her friends and so did she.
When one of them hollered for the round game, Disha introduced him to her gang. The fire was lit again. The sunlight was fading as the evening descended upon them. One guy suggested a charade game as Ritvik’s eyes found a guitar. That’s when one of them suggested, “Do you want to play? You look like you are itching to.”
Ritvik picked it up and started playing – Somewhere over the Rainbow. He sang the entire song and played almost all the chords correctly. Disha’s mouth was wide open.
Ritvik smiled coyly.
Disha smiled back and said, “You didn’t tell me you could sing and play the guitar too! What else can you do? Tell me more.”
As the evening took over, they began to prepare for the descent.
Ritvik’s heartbeat jumped, he was about to ask her. Something he had never done before.
“I want to keep talking to you. Can I take you to coffee tomorrow? I know a nice café.”
Tushar is an emerging young writer. An engineer trying to explore his artistic identity. A cinephile who gets inspired by stories and enjoys writing one. He also has a blog that covers financial investments and various niches. He graduated from VJTI Mumbai with an Electronic and telecommunication B. Tech degree. He lives in Ahmednagar Maharashtra, India.