Barlowganj: Ordinary yet Awe-Inspiring
I have often read in glossy travelogues, of exotic landscapes and glittering cities. I have heard of places so far off the beaten track that sometimes, there is no track. All this proves how beautiful our world is.
I am truly blessed to work at a college near the picturesque hill station of Mussoorie in the state of Uttarakhand in India. But beautiful though Mussoorie is, I will not describe this hill station here. What I will tell you about instead, is the quaint hamlet of Barlowganj where I live, around five or six km from Mussoorie.
It is, as I mentioned, a hamlet. There are no snazzy departmental stores or pristine parks. But the beauty of the area redefines the truth of the word simplicity. No matter how many times you look, you can never get your fill. Wherever you turn, the mountains greet you with stately poise. The roads meander neatly along hillsides dotted with wildflowers. The air is clear, crisp and clean and a deep breath brings in the smell of pine, wood smoke and water. Small streams put music into the air with their tinkling and chattering. Birds look inquiringly at you, unafraid to peck at crumbs on your table. Speaking of tables, Barlowganj has three or four cafes that are really these tiny tea-stalls offering piping hot noodles, strong sweet tea, fresh buns and fluffy omlettes, stuffed with local herbs. You can sit at one of these ‘street cafes’ and watch the world go by.
For the enthusiastic walker, Barlowganj is bliss. The paved road winds along, offering breath-taking views of the lower hills, green valleys and tiny villages perched precariously on patient hillsides. From any point as you stroll along, you can see women with baskets of grass, men chopping wood, the occasional horse-cart clip-clopping by, and as you smile in appreciation, a gaggle of school children wave to you on their way to the local school.
These are little things. In the true sense of the word awe-inspiring, not many would agree with me when I say I find this the best word to describe Barlowganj. But then, everything is a matter of perspective. I find it truly amazing that the bus-stop at Barlowganj is as big as my bedroom. I find the local buses awe-inspiring in the way they have passengers both inside and on the roof but still deliver man and cargo to safe destinations. It delights me that the college I work at has its very own stream where I can sit for hours and watch the fish go by. As for Manor House, the college at which I work, with its gray stone edifice dating back to 1853, it is a sight that never fails to evoke awe. With its statue of St George slaying the dragon and its 76 year old Clock Tower, Manor House is the landmark of Barlowganj. St George’s statue, the epitome of valor and righteousness, stands in the middle of a crystal-cool, clear fountain, inspiring visitors, members of faculty, students and workers alike. The melodious chimes of the clock set in the Clock Tower, sound every quarter of an hour and, at one time, could be heard as far as Mussoorie. It has mellowed down the years, gathering a rich old timbre and becoming an indelible part of the landscape of Barlowganj.
I find this place peaceful. In the modern world, where peace is a rare commodity, Barlowganj has that rare combination of being part of the Universe, yet a separate world in itself. For me, this is awe-inspiring. I can sit for hours at the Old Cross, gazing over hill and valley, with only the occasional mountain goat and the tinkle of its bell for company. And if I wish to rejoin the world of man, a bowl of piping hot noodles is just a few steps away. That and the company of a passing stranger.
About the Author: Stormy Hazarika is a writer at night and an English teacher by day. She is an avid reader, curious explorer and believes Heaven is right here on earth.