It was past 2:30pm when we checked in at the HP PWD Rest House at Naina Devi. We, my daughter and I, were hungry and worn out after being on the roads for over ten hours. All we wanted badly was some rest. We hit the bed immediately after having a hurriedly arranged lunch by the caretaker.
It was the chill in the room and the howl of winds that pulled me out of my slumber. It was just 5pm. My daughter was fast asleep with her tab in her hand. Out of the window I could see the lights slowly fading away. The leaves on the trees just outside the window were rustling wildly as if a blizzard was raging outside. The weather can be unpredictable in the hills. Twice before I had been cought unawares in cold mountain storms. putting on sweat shirts my daughter and I rushed out to capture the setting sun.
Sunset over Anandpur Sahib..
Just as we opened the door to the long verandah over looking Anandpur Sahib at a distance below us, we were taken aback by the K9 sprawled in front of the door. His gaze through his half opened eyes sent a shiver down my spine. Being dog lovers, we aren't really the kind who get scared by doggy stares, but, some how this was eree. “Ohhyeeee.... that's scary....” my daughter sighed behind me. Like an well trained dog the K9 excused himself even before we could shoo it away. We spent the remaining evening capturing bye bye moments. Before the light could get any worse, we quickly walked to the market at bus stand to buy ourselves a few tid bids for dinner. K9 followed us to the gates of the Rest House.
Naina Devi is a small place with few visitors and even fewer shopping or boarding options. The few stalls around the bus stand sell items for religious ceremonies. The foodie stalls, we found, either sold cold samosas or oily Chholye Bhatureys. Since instant noodles were a far cry, we bought a slab of Mango jelly and two plates of Chholey Bhature for dinner before finding our way back to our Rest House. After an early dinner we called it a day. Though the rustle of leaves in the winds continued unabated, falling asleep wasn't really difficult.
It was silent and peaceful when we woke up early next morning. Quickly we got ready for a 1500 meters trek to the Shrine on the hill top. K9 greeted us at our door sprawled the same place we found him the previous evening. Like a mind reader, even before we could utter a word, he began following us till the gates which we were now sure was the periphery of his territory. K9 waiting for us at the gate when we returned about three hours later. He was clearly pleased to see us back. K9 expressed his pleasure by brushing his nose and head against our trousers and looking up at us with a strange affectionate gaze. This strange affection was so much in contrast to the hostile looks the previous evening, we began thinking all this show was for the Prasad that he thought we had brought from the Shrine. At least that seemed the most logical explanation and we dug into our bags to fetch something for him. We were proved wrong when K9 trotted away without even looking back at us or respond to our calls. “very self respecting...” I had said to myself.
We had a breakfast of double cheese pizzas washed with tumblers of cold coffee at an open kitchen named Fun Bite so we were not hungry and skipped lunch. We enjoyed the afternoon playing badminton and exploring the surroundings. The heavy brunch was taking its toll on us by making us feel drowsy and we decided to take a power-nap before doing what we had in our minds... exploring the hill.
It was 4 pm when we woke up from our 'power nap'. K9 was there at our door waiting for us. This time again, K9 seemed to know what we had in our minds. Earlier in the day we had found out that a cable car service to the Shrine existed from another side of the hill. The caretaker had discouraged us from going there on foot since a meant walking for about 6km. What he did not know was that we were indeed looking for a long walk. We set out for the rope way armed with our digitals, K9 seemed to know of our plans, and darted ahead of us like a guide. He seemed to know every bit of what we were out for leading us all the while. Now and then he would stop and crane over hillsides looking vacantly at the space ahead of him as if to say “come hither to my World, oh wanderer of the roads...”. Initially I ignored him and thought he would return to the Rest House as soon as he would near the periphery of his territory. I was wrong. He kept leading us from one vantage spot to another revealing breathtaking hillscapes. soon we began to trust him more than our skills for vantage spots.
Come Hither to my World...
At one point K9 scrambled up a rock and waited for us to catch up. The rock looked mundane, but once I climbed it, I knew why he had taken us there. The rock actually overhung a steep cliff hundreds of feet deep. Standing there was like being on the last point on the World. Later when we were moving again and saw the rock from a different angle, it looked terrifying. K9 not only took us to just the right spots for the right clicks, dangerous to look yet safe. He would wait till we were over with our clicks or till he thought we had not missed something interesting before moving on. Foe example, he would not budge till my daughter clicked the flowers on the mountain side from where he would show them to us. We would click from approximately the same angle and height of K9 to see how it a K9's point of view.
Flowers clicked from K9's point of view. Looks carefree and beautiful...
We had walked quite far from the Rest House, yet K9 refused leave us.. A determined steady blood shot possessed gaze every time we tried shooing him said he was a tough nut to crack. “Papa, what will happen when we leave tomorrow...? what do you think he'll do if we take him with us..?” “The way he is sticking with us, he won't mind coming along....”I had told jokingly to my daughter.
It was close to 4 pm when K9 led us to the base point of the cable car. We had planned to ride the cable car to the Shrine and walk back to the Rest House from there, but with K9 sticking with us, we were in a dilemma. Dogs from the area were barking at K9 said beyond any doubts that he had strayed too far from his territory. To go on with our plans meant ditching K9. A localite who had been watching us told us to carry on and not worry about the dog... Half heartedly we bought ourselves one way tickets to the Shrine. As we rode upwards, in a part of our mind, we kept thinking about K9, wondering if he would really go back when he finds that we won't return, wondering if the other dogs would torment him, wondering if K9 would at all be waiting for us at the base... wondering if K9 would find some one to accompany him back... wondering what if he did not find any one to accompany him back... wondering if it was ethical to ditch some one, who guided us like a guardian angel to this ride... By the time we had reached the top, we were decided that we take the chance of finding him at the base and ride back the sooner the best.
Gobind Sagar Lake From Ropeway
We were back to the base about an hour later where we found K9, confusedly looking for us behind the parked vehicles wondering where we could have vanished. He came running to us in leaps and bounds the moment we called him.... well, by no particular name just a simple “aajaa” (come on). Even a nerd would read the happiness written all over his face as he rubbed his head on our legs thanking us for our reappearance. It seemed he knew it was getting late, an so he headed straight for the Rest House. K9 once again led the way, but this time without pausing at any place. There was an urgency in his strides, and why not, the lights were fading. When we stopped at a provision store to buy some biscuits for K9, strangely, he seemed to know the biscuits were for him. All along the way back, K9 would sprint ahead and then return back to us for a biscuit. He would dangerously charge at vehicles on the roads, which he thought drove too close to us, as if he was hell bent to protect us at all costs. At one point when the biscuits had finished and we were near the final bend to the Rest House, K9 surged ahead and vanished around the bend leaving us alone. “Vishwasghat (Traitor) now that he has come back to known grounds he deserts us...” I had chided with my daughter. We were wrong. K9 was now playing hide n seek with us. Just around the bend he sat waiting for us behind a kerb stone looking at us with a mocking smile, as if it was a tit for tat for the vanishing trick we played with him at the base of the Cable Car ride. He sprinted back to us as soon as he saw us.
The Place for HidenSeek
It was about 6pm when we returned to the Guest House. The caretaker was watching us from the kitchen. With a beaming smile on his face he told us “Lucky seems to have a special liking for you....” For the first time since we had been around, we got to know K9's real name. Between sips of tea at the dining hall, we recounted our experience to the caretaker. The caretaker looked at us in disbelief. The fact that K9 showed us the way to the Cable Car base took him by real surprise. With rounded eyes, he kept saying, “But..... Sir, he has never out of the compound in his life leave aside going to the bend down the road. Cable Car base is simply incredible.... how could he take you to a place he has never been to...?” When we told him about the vantage spots he had taken us around the hill us like a guide, he simply couldn't believe what he was hearing. The caretaker looked a shade paler than before as he mumbled inaudibly. When I insisted in knowing what he was mumbling, he just said “No, no, nothing in particular... strange it may sound, but lucky is rather shy with strangers, he has has never been as friendly with strangers as he has been with you...” before excusing himself.
We walked up to our room and from the verandah, in the dim light of the portico, we could see see K9 resting. We had a half finished packet of biscuits in our room and my daughter asked me if she could feed K9. I did not think K9 would be hungry after the all the biscuits biscuits he had had on the way back, so, I told my daughter she could give it a try. When my daughter came out to feed K9, a small child, a local-ite, was trying in vain to feed K9. However, to our utter surprise, he promptly devoured the biscuits that only my daughter offered. I heard my daughter whisper to me “Papa, do you think that was Bonnie inside K9?” as K9 gulped down the last of the biscuits. K9 glanced at us rather sheepishly, then slowly got to his feet and vanished into the darkness behind the kitchen... “I can't say...” I said in silence more to my self than to answer my daughter. Bonnie was our little Spitz who had left us devastated 23 months ago...
It was our last night at Naina Devi and as promised to the caretaker we had dinner at the dining hall. After a sumptuous dinner, we strolled around the Rest House and even played badminton for some time in the hope we would meet K9 again. I was fighting the war inside me as much as my daughter was fighting it inside her about how K9 would miss us. My daughter kept asking me about what K9 would do when he would not see us gone the next day or how he would react when he would see us leaving. Similar thoughts were running my my mind too. In the short time we had been with K9, a strange bond had grown between us. The K9 whose looks had sent shivers down our spines on the first day had transformed into a shy kid. K9 did not show up again that evening.
Later, when we went to sleep, there was absolute silence all around. The winds were no longer howling. The leaves were not rustling any more. Gazing up at the dark wooden ceiling in absolute silence, I had lost count of time and I don't remember when sleep had overwhelmed me. We woke up early and started packing. With the break of dawn, I quickly opened the door of our room expecting to see K9 huddled. He wasn't there, but, a patch of loose dust, like a doormat in front of a door, said he had been there. We were ready in about an hour. Though we were slightly behind schedule, we didn't really mind the time it took for the check out formalities. We had frantically hoped we would meet K9 one last time before we left. K9 never showed up. Probably he knew that saying goodbye would be hard for all of us...
Just as we were about to get into our vehicle and drive out, my daughter thought she had seen a movement near the gate. “ Papa, probably K9 should be there, hiding...” I looked hard in the direction she had pointed. K9 was not to there, but as I moved my vision a little more upwards towards the Shrine for one last time I could see the clouds formation above the shrine like the x-ray of a palm showering blessings.
Where even the clouds shower blessings...
It is hard to say if it was telepathy or if it was crossing of the thresholds of conventional senses that K9 and we had begun understand each other, or if it was purely the paranormal that brought K9 so close to us. No matter how much we may try to reason, it still baffles me how K9 knew where to take us around for the thing we liked doing best. Click and only Click
Its not the first time Naina Devi visit has presented me with strange experiences. I guess I've to come back to this place again... there are many questions in the mind which still remain unanswered...
Sunaabh Sarkar (Mistral) Naina Devi... 23.03.2013.