As an introvert, I like to spend much of my time indoors, so the idea of travelling to any place for longer than a weekend can be overwhelming, inviting a strange feeling of homesickness. I am a person who likes to witness life from a distance; the buzz of cities, the lights of midnight traffic are like stories that I like to read sitting by my window. And I love spending time in nature — the quietness, the calm, and the simple joys of witnessing nature are what drive me to pursue the wilderness. The pandemic changed quite a few things in me. Spending almost a year at home and not travelling besides occasionally shopping for groceries and essentials made life extremely monotonous. For the first time, I craved adventure and a need to reinvent myself. Plans were made with friends after the second wave of COVID subsided, and I, along with two of my other friends, headed straight to Jammu to visit Patnitop. We had heard amazing things from our friends about Skyview by Empyrean, so we decided to book a package with them.
We had four days from Friday to Monday to take a break from our COVID restricted monotonous lives and step into the mountains and forget about everything else. And that’s exactly what we did. After an hour-long flight from Delhi to Jammu and then a four-hour journey to Patnitop in a cab, we finally arrived at our destination — the mesmerizing Sanget Valley that we had heard so much about. In a moment of bewilderment, all my tiredness had dissipated, paving the way for a childlike curiosity to know more about this place.
We were told that we had arrived at the lower terminal and the hotel we had booked was on the upper terminal. The quickest and the most beautiful route was through the Gondola, and I knew from the first moment that I had to try it. But before that, I was craving a cup of coffee, so we went to the nearby Skyview Cafe. After having a deliciously brewed Turkish coffee with a piece of Dora cake, in a cafe with a breathtaking scenic ambience, I was ready to enjoy my ride on the Gondola, which I was told was one of the highest in Asia.
It was a twelve-minute ride on the Skyview Gondola that spanned 2.8 km. I spent those twelve minutes doing nothing but staring in amazement as the Gondola passed over a picturesque landscape, revealing magical meadows, mysterious pine forests, and glorious views of the Shivalik mountain range.
After we reached our hotel, we called it a day and retired to the comfort of our rooms. My friends Ashwini and Ram had already made plans for the next day. “We’re going for a hike to Chota Shivgarh. The locals say it’s a sight to behold. Skyview by Empyrean will make all the arrangements for us,” Ram briefed me before retreating to his room. I spent the night staring out from my window, looking at the millions of stars decorating the sky. It was a rare sight to behold; city life barely allows us the pleasures of witnessing nature in its primordiality.
The next morning, after we had our breakfast, we met some people from Skyview by Empyrean who briefed us about the hike. We were given a walking pole, a hiking manual, an energy bar, trail mix, juice and some water to accompany us on our journey. Two seasoned professionals were assigned to us, and so we started our journey. The first stop was at Padora Chowk, which was at a distance of 300 meters from our hotel. There was a JKTDC compound, a huge park with a few people taking a stroll in it. As we passed through them, I realized how beautiful the place was in its entirety. We hiked upwards through an apple orchard, and gradually the terrain became rough and moist. Even though the scenery around me was stunningly beautiful, the next 1.8 km were a toil — a constant reminder of how badly the pandemic had deteriorated my endurance. Our guides were well informed about the terrain and knew all the local folktales. They were excited about how the place was becoming a major tourist attraction. “This time, we are taking you to Chota Shivgarh; the next time you visit, we will take you directly to Shivgarh. It’s a five-hour hike; you will love it,” one of them casually remarked.
An hour later, we had finally arrived at Chota Shivgarh. It was like being transported through a portal to another world. The immense beauty of the place blew me away and left my head spinning with all the amazing sights that were just waiting to be explored. The sky was a bright blue with flecks of white clouds that were lazily moving towards the west. Walking along a dirt path made me feel at peace with myself. The meadows stretched on for miles. The mountains towered high over the valley, their peaks covered with greenery. One of them was so tall, it seemed you could stand at its foot and see all the way to heaven. I took a deep breath as I soaked in the sight of the meadows.
I spent an hour just gazing at the meadows. They were beautiful, covered in flowers and surrounded by mountains. A feeling of peace washed over me as I sighed in relief. The air was clear and crisp, so clean compared to what I had been used to for years now. The sound of chirping birds filled my ears with a melodic tune; they sounded magical somehow. It felt like nature had washed away all my tiredness and frustrations caused by the pandemic. The experience helped me understand how much there is to learn about life through taking these journeys away from home. It was a beautiful journey, part inward and part outward. It was pure magic.