Hello hello hello,

How’s your Friday going?

The geese are outside gaggling and giggling as I write. Ramblers in Cornwall is live and both ebook and paperback versions are now available on Amazon world-wide (yoohoo!). The links are up on my website under the ‘Book’ section in the menu. It should be available on Barnes & Nobles soon and is in the works.

There seems to be a glitch however which I was happily unaware of earlier. It seems Amazon does not publish paperbacks for the Indian market. And that I cannot bear. To my Indian friends and family, I am working on it even as I take a little time off to jot this down here. So I shall not sit and ramble on as I am wont to do every time I pop into the blog. Instead, I shall swan off to do some research and get this gig underway.

If you grab a copy of the book, I shall look forward to reading your reviews on Amazon/Goodreads.

Springy vibes and smiles,


I am back!

With news of my book release. Would you save the date for the upcoming Friday, the 12th of March, dear readers? The book is privately printed and due to be released on the portal that is every man’s friend, Amazon. First up is the e-book version, but I cannot hold back on a paperback, can I? There is hardly any sensory pleasure to be had when you do not have a book to hold, a cute bookmark to mark where you left off the book, or maybe dog ear pages. The paperback should be released shortly after the e-book.

If you had told me as a teenager that I would write a book someday, I would’ve said, you were hopped up on spliffs. The latter ref. connects up with our current living conditions in the apartment building, we moved into last year. The odour of marijuana hangs in thick veils around the corners of the corridors and has even started seeping into our apartment. The entire affair odious. So yes, we live in Weed Central, and nothing can be done about it except for us waiting on our own house that should be ready to move into, in a few months from now.

Are you reassured now that I have not lost my rambling ways during my long absence from the world of blogging?

What a strange time it still is though. My mind seems like it has been stretched beyond its call, to fit in the memories of last year and the beginning of this. It is all too much for the brains to handle. As for all the years preceding the last one, they seem to have faded into a Before Covid compartment.

I want Before Covid life back. More than anything, now that spring is here. Isn’t there a feeling of hope and joy in the air? The birdsong, the sun without its hat, the flawlessly blue skies, the children in the park, the starlings with their iridescent colours that have started arriving in flocks. I want to put on a flowery dress and go dance in a meadow filled with long grass and wildflowers. I have been struggling with fits of low phases — as I imagine have many of you — and bursts of happiness. But then I suppose it is okay to be low, for without it could I appreciate the highs?

In all of this, getting the book ready to be out has probably kept me sane. That and my art. Without the twain, I might as well have pulled all my hair out. Which reminds me, in an aside, about my husband yanking almost all my hair out (but with great love) of late. What happened is this. Adi wanted to oil my hair. He took out a massive Costco jar of coconut oil from the pantry, extracted fistfuls and steeped my hair in it. Then I was rewarded with a solid “massage” that by the end of the session had resulted in clumps of my hair all over the floor, in my hand, and all over Adi’s tee.

It was a revelation. It made me realise two important things in my life. One, that I have much less hair on my head today than I did before. And two, my husband is not going to be allowed anywhere near my hair in the future.

Anyway, before I send you scurrying for cover, for fear of having to read a sinfully long post, I will keep coming back with more. About the book, the entire process of privately printing books, the people one needs to make it happen, and more about my life. In particular, I have to tell you stories of a snowy owl who came visiting us in Bayonne.

Now tell me your news, dear friend. And I shall find my way to your blog to update myself with accounts of your life. I have missed you all way too much. My conversations with you have been the water to my soul.


I have been gone long. But at the back of my mind has been this constant hum, “don’t be a numpty, get back to the blog already!” So the days have passed while I have been thinking of making a return, but words seem strangely sparse nowadays. Do you know what I mean? I think you do. I might meet you and talk endlessly, as is my wont, but when it comes to blogging, I feel like a dried-up well.

An endless litany of days just merge into the other, though I do not imply that I am discontented. Sure I have my wobbles (like any of us), but I have never looked more inward than now, to keep my soul invigorated. In all of this nature has made the biggest difference. I have found great comfort in watching the machinations of the birds that haunt the bay here. The season has brought about its customary visitors – flocks of Canada geese that honk in the evenings as they fly home, wherever that is, in perfect formations; the ring-billed gulls who perch themselves on the walls unafraid, even as one jogs by; the Snow Goose that looks picture perfect; the male mallards with their glistening green heads and the females with their speckled brown plumage; the cutesy Buffleheads that bob in couples on the waters. I have learnt to tell the young ring-billed gulls from the mature ones, by virtue of their plumage. Maybe because I have poring over Audubon’s wonderfully detailed field guide.

Meanwhile a snow storm in the last two days has coated my world pristine white. It has brought such a spark of joy. So what if I find myself slipping on the ice that has formed in the tracks on the park or sinking deep into the snow as I try to get to the many snowmen that have cropped up around us. Everyone is out there, sledding down the gentle slopes in the park, making the most of the landscape bathed in snow. We all need what we can get to tide us over this odd year, isn’t it?

I have been recharging myself through art. Watercolours and charcoal drawings. I have also started an etsy store: I hawk my wares on it. That apart I have been working on going the self-publishing route with my book. It is daunting and involves loads of research, but at least I have some control over the process. One needs control where one can find it, don’t you think? Anyway, I hope to get back to blogging more regularly, now that I have gingerly made my way back here, and catch up with my feed. Needless to say, but I shall put it out nonetheless, I have missed you all.

To you my lovelies, I send the brilliance of snow and oodles of love from Bayonne. Off I go to demolish some quiches and making December count.

September Sundays

There are days when you wake up with eagerness, then do nothing with it. You sink into the cushy bean bag in the balcony, settle back with your mug of coffee frappe, throw your head up and stare at the freshly washed blue of the skies, sight a single silken thread woven by a decidedly unconventional spider who must have laid aside all notions of the customary splayed cobweb.

Nothingness is delicious. Il dolce far niente.

In a while, after I have had my fill of a botanical book that smells and looks wonderful — apart from filling my head with stories of the lives of plants, of dicotelydons and monocotelydons, of gametophytes, of sporophytes, during the course of which I quietly slip back in time to the early years in school — I start rifling through my cache of freshly gathered leaves.

You see, autumn has tiptoed in.

The air has softened, the sunbeam ripened to golden loveliness that feathers its way through the canopy of trees, the sky a freshly washed shade of blue, and as daylight fades, the sinking of the sun into a riot of flaming oranges and reds above the waters of the bay. The fallen leaves are curling with pleasure and anticipation of the days to come, it seems. Some are green. Others have begun the march towards death. In their brilliant shades of yellows, reds, purple and pinks, mottled with green and brown, they do not look like they belong in the world of the hollow men. They belong in my world of dappled sunshine, of reading books in the park, of swaying lilac weeds and clovers, of clever squirrels who hasten to stow away their booties of nuts before the advent of winter, of the wetlands where the silent evening visitors are the night heron and the blue heron who spend the hours stalking fish.

So to September, with the early bite in the air, I raise my glass of cider.

We Were in an Apartment in the Air!

To start with, I wanted to tell you about the terrific manner in which one may travel nowadays. Think beyond Business. As a frequent flyer informs me, ‘Forget it, everyone flies business nowadays’. The thing is that one can actually have an ‘apartment’ or even lord over a ‘residence’ in the air. Here I see you rolling your eyes and thinking, ‘what on earth’, before proceeding to inform me that it has been around for some time. But in 2014 Etihad amplified the definition of luxury in the sky. This made the first-class cabins of European and American carriers look like old fogeys. The first-class suites of Singapore (the old ones) and Emirates were suitably snubbed too.

On each of its double-decker Airbus A380s, Etihad introduced nine first-class suites that are known as Apartments if you will and a hoity-toity affair called The Residence.

I would be a pretentious twat if I said that I was not overwhelmed. That my senses did not go into a tizzy at the sight of a whole suite to myself on a flight. That I did not want to run the whole length of the plane, to and fro, like a crazed creature. That the dapper butler with his fine accent did not make a difference.

‘A butler! Did you just say there was a butler on board?’ I hear you ask. Damn right, sistah. Downton Abbey-style. A younger, handsome version of Carson. To this, bung in a chef too.

Three days before Christmas, we were leaving behind the city of immeasurable charm, Paris. Along with that a delightfully relaxed celebration of our wedding anniversary (to think that we have been married for seven whole years already). When we boarded the upper deck of the A380 at Charles de Gaulle that would whisk us into Abu Dhabi in a matter of 7 hours, it took off the edge of the sting (a part of it anyway) of leaving Paris.

The suite was splendid. Its latticed doors came together with the consistency of butter to slide shut. The beige armchair by the window could accommodate three of me in its cushy Italian leather seat. Opposite it was a swivel 24-inch flat screen telly and an ottoman that would be transformed into a twin-size bed, long enough to fit Adi. The making of this bed would naturally be taken care of by the flight attendant because remember you are a helpless ninny, to be cosseted and cared for. Why should you have to lift a finger for your cake?

What got me going was the discovery of Bose headsets (so nickable, but cannot be) and a full-size vanity mirror. Then the fact that I could slip in my book, travel journal and kindle into a drawer (this proved to be my undoing) and stow my bags into a space beneath the ottoman (I hate putting my bag into the overhead bin because I always want to fish out something from it).

Adi was adjacent my suite. A partition halfway between the two suites could be lowered when we were in bed.

Now as soon as we were on board, we were offered the customary welcome drink of Champagne and dates — and a change of clothes accompanied by an amenity kit in a beautiful yellow leather bag from Acqua di Parma. ‘I am going to change into mine straight away,’ I announced to Adi and hopped off to the loo which turned out to be oh so lovely. It had a shower. The entire affair was so swanky with beautifully lit interiors that I kept thinking it was all a dream.

Before the flight took off, a chef appeared in my suite and offered anything at all. He could customise dishes outside of the menu. Maybe I should have come up with something ridiculous but I just went with whatever was on the menu, simply because there was enough to choose from. Next he enquired if I would like a hot shower — they need notice so that they can prepare a shower for you. Of course, you have to take a five-minute bath. I was too lazy, but for those who travel longer distances it is a blessing.

Later, Adi and I dined together in his suite. A retractable table was unfolded for us and the food was exactly as I would find in a fine-dining restaurant. With the best of Champagne and service. This was followed by the flight attendant making up our beds in some time so that we could slide our doors on the world outside — and let me say this that I would have never believed the decadence of it all till I stepped into the Apartment.

P.S.: I came back with four lessons from our stay in the Apartment.

  • The importance of using miles. A single ticket would have cost us anywhere near $8,000 for a long-haul flight between Paris and Abu Dhabi. This is where Adi’s banking miles with American Airlines rewarded us. Etihad has airline partners and American Airlines is one of them. Each of our ticket could be booked for 65,000 miles.
  • Take a super-long flight to avail of the luxury of such experiences. For us, 7 hours seemed way too short.
  • Never slide the contents of your bag into the drawers. If you are as scatty as me, you are bound to leave them behind even when your husband asks you twice if you have collected everything. I have just received my Kindle back, but lost my book of Love Poems from Shakespeare & Co. and my beloved journal. Whoever nicked them has taste.
  • The Residence which is the pinnacle of grandeur on board, can cost upto $32,000 (above 2 million miles) for a single ticket for long-distance flights. I found it meh given the astronomical figure it demands. Our butler took us in when Adi asked if we could peep in. The only differences I found significant were that you could queen over your private loo and a double bedroom (but the bed was mighty tiny, like the ones those old-time kings and queens slept in).

Helpfully I have reminders in hand if my head gets detached and starts to float. Midway through our dinner, Adi looked at me over a glass of bubbly and said with a gentle smile, ‘I hope you are not getting used to it. If the Apartment is for our 7-year anniversary, for our 10th, it will be the Shatabdi Express.’

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Etihad’s First-Class Suites

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The delighted miles hoarder

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Preen away at this vanity mirror

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Your personal mini bar

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My precious, now lost, commodities in the drawer of my suite

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The Apartment’s coat rack

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Some caviar

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Chickpea soup

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Lime sorbet as palate cleanser

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Mezze platter

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An extra, just because I like this shot

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Prawn biryani

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Grilled black cod

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Cheese and crackers

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The beds

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When you peek out and let your jaws drop at the beauty of nature after you have had a measure of the beauty that man can create.

What, The Last Month of The Year Already?

It astonishes me how the days turn into weeks, the weeks into months, till another year is going to come to an end. Time never ceases it seems till you are caught in a situation where you are trapped in a slow train with people around you conversing in another language, you have missed the last bus at a lonely place where the ocean batters the cliffs, or better still, you are sleeping in an unreserved train compartment with batty coppers and convicts for company. And here’s time sprouting wings, so that autumn’s been too brief a spell. Sparse brown leaves cling to the branches in the park, loathe to leave just yet, dangling in the cold wind like earrings turned to a shade of liquid russet in the soft sun. The park cleaning authorities use their leaf blowers daily to collect them in piles, so that even as they go about their job, I cannot help admiring this pretty spectacle that it makes. A whirligig of golden butterflies in the air.

This is my cheeky last paean to autumn even though the wind outside is frigid and every evening walk and morning run involves filling the lungs with icy air. We caught the last legs of the season in Central Park last month when the colours in the woods had already peaked and there were yellow, oranges and reds in dribs and drabs. When we met an introvert Great Bernese, a big beautiful girl who warned Adi off with a couple of woofs. So that now I can tease my husband in the same vein as he takes off on me. Last summer in Vermont, a golden retriever with the face of a (chubby) angel and the mien of a shrew, had flown at me when I wanted to say hello. Adi has not stopped reminding me of this dark incident since with unseemly glee, saying, ‘You are possibly the only girl who has been almost attacked by a golden retriever.’

These little pleasures have been cemented by biggish birthday pleasures of a sparkler-laden cake turning up at a French restaurant which is an institution of sorts in NYC, where the food made the senses hum with quiet joy; celebrating a new holiday for us (Thanksgiving); meeting a former colleague in the city and going on walks in the tenements of Lower Manhattan where we wondered at the eccentric workings of an artist who bought a synagogue when he had merely stepped out to buy shoes; spotting migratory birds such as a Great Black-Backed Gull by the Hudson; and having my scalp almost lifted one freezing morning by a mob of gulls who were being fed by an old man (because apparently wild creatures cannot continue their cycle of life without our nosiness). That’s all in my tangled web of recollections, and oh, some portly squirrels at work too.

North Woods, Central Park



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Lafayette, NYC

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The woman at the table next to ours and I were both startled when this sparkler tower arrived at ours, and just like that, I was a child all over again. 

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French Onion Soup with beef shank, so full of flavour that you could compose a quick ode to it

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Pasta parcels called agnolotti stuffed with black trumpet mushrooms and topped with shavings of black truffle. Give me a daily diet of it.

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Grilled trout paired with coco beans and saucisson. A time to scoff and grunt with satisfaction.

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Immigrant stories. Strange cocktails, sighted in the Lower East Side, Manhattan. 

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The synagogue of Rivington Street built in the Moorish Revival style of architecture. Once a place of prayer for Romanian Jews, it was bought by a reclusive Jewish artist, Hale Gurland, who lives on top of the synagogue where you can see the four orange windows and flees from any kind of publicity.

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Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Amy Winehouse at the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

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I got squirrels and sheep on me desk too.

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The foraging furry ones of Madison Square Park





Sweet Autumnal November, I Was Waiting For You.

I have a natural affinity for November. I was born on the 9th day of the month. With the passing of this day every year, I spot tangible changes in myself. Physically and mentally. It is a bouquet of mixed emotions. Wisps of grey hair, fine lines upon the forehead, a wistfulness that the years are going by in a jiffy, the recognition that I am changing as a person too. Subtle changes. Like how I used to love being social. Now I am content in the company of my husband, the geese and the squirrels (they who have taken the place of the English sheep and horses). The gulls have started arriving too. And it would be terribly amiss of me if I did not tell you about Yah Yah, the shaggy Great Bernese I meet almost every other day when she returns like a frisky girl with the wind in her black and white locks, her tongue lolling out a cheery how do you do. If you believe that canines could beam, Yah Yah does as she presses her big beautiful body against mine, and I coo to her as I proceed to gather clumps of her hairs on my running gear. Could I have any quibbles with life?

And there are the colours at their ripest best outside the windows, drying away in sunshine so liquid, as I write. Suddenly autumn has unleashed her uncommon splendour upon us. I noticed it last weekend when we drove into a town called Monteclair at the foot of the Watchung Mountains, which might be called mountains, but are really low-lying volcanic ridges covered with thick vegetation. In this town which the British settlers from Connecticut adopted for their own in the mid-1600s, and in which the Dutch arrived eventually, buying land off the Lenape Native Americans who hunted there, we had exquisite Thai food and shivered in the wind as we walked about its streets lined with old Tudor facades, now-desolate theatres framed in timber and episcopal churches with medieval touches in stone.

Closer home, the trees along the avenue on which we live, have turned colours. With all the wind that the gods seem to breathe our way, they are shedding leaves in twirls of golden yellows and russets. It is a most heartwarming sight. Kicking those piles of leaves in the air, even more so. Then, bringing bunches home to Adi’s amusement, to be pressed into the pages of books, and some to curl up at leisure on the dining table. Simple are the pleasures of life on this earth and I could ask for no better.

A sea of clouds bound for somewhere and touching upon us on the way

I bring to you some vignettes from the parks of Bayonne





Evenings by the Hudson



Scenes from Montclair, a New Jersey township…







An Autumnal Reverie

That folks are the leaves of my childhood. In Calcutta, when they arrive, they are the auguries of autumn, clear blue skies, gentle breezy days and the night jasmine. These leaves that sway their wise white heads in the wind are called kaash phool in Bengali, wild sugarcane in English. They are also a sigil of the Bengali festival, Durga Puja, when the Goddess Durga is celebrated for 5 days at a stretch with plenty of eating and fasting. The fasting only sharpens the appetite for the feasting that follows and the feasting is naturally followed by indigestion and plenty of digestion supplements.

Durga Puja arrived and went in mid-October and I felt the usual pangs of nostalgia that envelop me annually at this time of the year. It is a nostalgia for childhood I suppose and the goodness of this carnivalesque affair in Calcutta. No other place can measure up to it. Which means that I never go to any pujas around me. Bengali communities gather and celebrate it internationally. I chanced upon doleful version of it in Leicester in the UK once and that ensured that I never made the mistake of going to another one anywhere else. I would rather have the real deal than a pale imitation of it. Do you know what I mean? Sometimes, when a thing is of such significance to you that you have breathed and lived its glory all of your growing up years, you cannot bear for it to be whittled down by any measure.

Here is also one of my favourite season. Autumn. It holds such promise for the end of the year festivities. The chill in the air, the rummaging around in the cupboard for the right wrap and slipping on my favourite pair of boots, travelling and shivering in cold places, looking forward to cups of hot chocolate and mulled wine, pies and roasted meats. Ah, just scribbling about it gets me going. And this entire process of leaves changing colour, shedding their greens for rusts and oranges, makes my heart sing. It makes yours flutter too with deep-seated pleasure, I know.

This year however the incessant rains have given way to rot in the leaves. The trees are transforming their colours in fits and starts here as if confused about how to be. Those by the Hudson have almost turned bald because they cannot withstand the blustery conditions nowadays.

The colours are not as magnificent but I will take what comes my way for who am I to bicker with nature. The other day I stood on the rooftop of my building, the cold wind in my hair, and I marvelled at the way the sun’s dying rays touched everything around me with a tint of gold. I present to you an eyeful of kaansh phool that grows on the rooftop, the changing of colours in the park and the city’s skyline in the dying rays of the sun. It was as beautiful as this process of fading away of the leaves that is a thing of intense beauty. Did Dante Gabriel Rossetti not lay a finger upon the pulse of it when he wrote: ‘And how death seems a comely thing/ In Autumn at the fall of the leaf?’

Meanwhile as they do every year at this time, my neighbours, the squirrels have grown fulsome with their tails like wraps of the lushest sable fur and flocks of geese have decided to take over the racing tracks near the river. All in all, ’tis a joyful affair to go out for a run and hobnob with these delightful creatures of nature that seem to be rather pleased with the touch of cold in the air.






Clingsman’s Dome: The It Place in the Smokies

In the land of blue smoke that the Cherokees called Shakaney, a fine mist cloaks the top of the hills. There is an illusory sheen to this vista. The soul feels transfigured, as if ready to be lifted out of the body, to roam free over those uneven folds in blue that meld in, wave upon wave of them stretched for as far as the eyes can travel.

Now picture this. The sun is ready to call it a day, a stretched out orb of gold gleaming through a break in the clouds, kissing the hills, the white and purple flowers growing wild upon them with golden love. You arrive at Clingsman’s Dome, the highest point on the Appalachian Trail that traverses the length between Georgia and Maine and intersects with the Smoky Mountains here. It is is quite so cold, the body jolted out of the heat it has got used to during the long-drawn summer (to think that it already past us!). You find yourself shivering – wishing you had the foresight to carry a jacket for cutting out the unexpected chill.

‘But where is Clingsman’s Dome?’ asks the husband, worried because this is the holiday of indolence. Does it involve a hike, perchance?

That is how you would have found us on that early September evening when we started walking in the direction of this observation tower named for a 19th-century North Carolina politician and Civil War general, Thomas Clingman. An itinerant soul who spent the latter part of his life climbing mountains and measuring them.

We were in a spruce-fir forest, patches of berries and wildflowers showing up along the way, and then the mighty odd sight of white specters of trees that must have been. Fraser firs, trunk leaning against trunk in parts, so that it seemed like they had thrown in the towel on an unequal struggle with a pest that attacks them with impunity, leaving no survivors upon these high peaks. As we trudged up, passing by a mother with her grumpy little girl, Adi stopped in his tracks as he looked at the sky. ‘It’s raining heavily there — and those clouds are coming towards us, and fast,’ he said.

Sure enough, I had not noticed when the clouds had gathered behind us stealthily, an ominous army on the march. This meant that a frown was gathering too, on my husband’s brows, because this idea of making our way to Clingman’s Dome was mine. Naturally. He insisted, we must turn back. To which I declared, no, we shall carry on. But naturally.

Grumbling husband in tow, in some time, I spotted the dome towering in the distance like a spaceship balanced upon a sky-high column. Hallelujah. A half-mile hike but one which was long enough because it was steep to boot. The beginnings of a mizzle sent us scurrying up a corkscrew ramp which swung around in an arch and brought us wheezing to the top of the dome. Thirteen-odd people hunched beneath the dome which provided insufficient coverage from slanting rain because soon it graduated to a pelter.

The loudest of the bunch, decibels above everyone else, was a group of Indians from the state of Gujarat who proclaimed that they were (gasp) viewing mountains. There were other mind-numbing observations — but the heavens decided that we needed respite. The rain eased up and the gang decided to exit. We could hear them all the way till they had made it to the bottom of the ramp. Then there was silence and white walls of clouds around us, screening out everything except for the closest firs.

A couple, the girl from Minnesota and the boy from New Jersey (loathe to lay claim to it), looked our way and commented that they were holding out for a sunset. Something special. ‘You are an optimist,’ I observed to the guy. Frankly, I thought he was a loon. This was till the time that the clouds that had descended upon us started to dissipate and lift up visibly, so that you could see waves of smoky hills emerge as if in a film. And then before our eyes, played out nature’s live theatre, second by second. Live theatre like we had never seen before. A sunset like we had never seen before. And don’t even know if we will see the like of it again.

There were suppressed gasps from everyone beneath that dome. We were as if woven into one big thread of enchantment by that phenomenon, for that is what it was, a concoction of clouds, mist, firs, greens, blues, greys, pinks, lavender, flaming orange, dirty orange. A strange mélange to escort us into a parallel world of reality.


















Cataloochee Valley

It is the beginning of autumn here on the East Coast. I can feel it in the softness of the sunshine and in the nippy breeze that flows in and out of our home; ’tis in the hint of colour as the leaves on some trees in the park have started to flame out into brilliant reds, others have graduated to lime green, the rest are plain ol’ slowpokes holding onto their sheaths of green; I can feel the change in the simple pleasure of walking a couple of miles to the library, which might not be too a distressing figure at all, but smack in the middle of summer and winter, oh it feels far far away; there’s also the leonine golden retriever who sits with his old master everyday in the park and seems to have turned a deeper russet to welcome the season. Maybe it’s just my fancy, but he looks as happy as I feel. Now how the scenes would change if we were on the high ridges of the Great Smoky Mountains, where the woods are dense and human footfall rare, where it is the rutting season for the elks.

As warmer colours seep into the foliage around them, primal instincts (and love?) take over the workings of the animal kingdom in the valley called Cataloochee, where even as I write, the bull elks must find themselves bugling to the cows.

Cades Cove despite its lush beauty and picturesque meadows started to feel like a tourist’s thoroughfare when we hit the dirt roads that winded higher and higher up through Cataloochee that scooches within two main valleys, Big Cataloochee and Little Cataloochee, soldiered by 6,000 foot high ridges. We found a place of gravel roads, switchbacks and old steel girder bridges which together stitched up divides, ridges and narrow valleys.

All in all, it was a cathedral of silence around us. Not a single soul to be met as we passed by water power stations and old country stores, brooks and mountain cemeteries.

We were in ‘Gadalutsi’ of the Cherokees. They hunted and fished here just as they did in Cades Cove. The fertile land around the creeks here attracted the attention of European settlers who trickled in during the mid-1800s and bought the land from the tribes. They started calling it Cataloochee, possibly their stuttering take on the Cherokee name which referred to the straight-backed conifers lining the ridges. It is said to have been an amicable arrangement. The settlers mastered the Cherokee tongue and they co-existed peacefully with the tribes. Some even helped out those Cherokees who did not set out on the infamous Trail of Tears (in 1838 the tribes were forced to move across 1,200 miles on foot to present-day Oklahoma).

It seems fitting then that the descendants of those Cherokees, who clung to their land, should live on a reservation nearby today. At the Oconaluftee Indian Village they showcase their old ways of living to gaping tourists. We caught a whiff of it when we saw a wizened man there jump around in a towering headdress upon his head, a war bonnet. I have no doubt that his audience watched him with rapt attention.

But let me not veer from the Cataloochee which in the late 1800s to early 1900s had a community of just above a thousand people. It was the most lived-in place in the Smoky Mountains. Those pioneers grew corn for a living, set up grist mills, reared cattle for beef, sent their children to two-room schools, crafted shoes out of felt hats, sang of faith and participated in revivals with the arrival of autumn, brewed some ‘wicked’ moonshine, and generally, they lived the rustic life. When tourists discovered the beauty of these mountains and came knocking on their doors, these families boarded and charged them to fish trout in the creeks adjoining their land.

We found abandoned log houses in the valley, their rooms forlorn and empty of everything except for the fireplaces of bricks, bits and pieces of newspapers still sticking scrappily to the walls and reminding us that this was the humble life where people used paper for insulation. You could easily set up home within because you could see that the wood was sturdy.

Yet these people had abandoned their perfect little homes.

It turns out that they were asked to vacate their lands by the authorities when the Great Depression set in in the ’30s. For years, lumber companies had indiscriminately destroyed batches of old forestation with their dastardly business of logging. The mountains were in a bad way. Naturalists like Horace Kephart campaigned for the preservation of this beautiful part of the world, paving the way for the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which also translated into jobs for young men. It was by 1934 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt granted it national park status that a whole mountain community had also lost their homes.

That is how we left it behind, the land which seems to exist on another dimension, as if no one had ever set foot within it except for the legacy of those early settlers which tell a different story. The voice in the video with its Transatlantic accent states succinctly: “National Parks are not built. God made them in the beginning.” But the preservation of this national park would not have got anywhere, it seems to me, without the sacrifice of these Cataloochee folks who could not have found it easy to let go of their beloved mountains.

P.S.: As usual there was no elk sighting in store for us. Not even a bear, and bears love showing up in the valley, they say. Just a fresh pile of bear doo-doo for us.

Waterville Power Station in Cataloochee

Waynesville in North Carolina

Country store, Waynesville

Pigeon River

Gravel roads in the Cataloochee Valley

Driving through Cataloochee


Fresh bear scat

Bridges and brooks

Cataloochee Overlook where the ferns grow waist high and the mountains flow into one another in smoky blue waves

Homes of the early settlers

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What would it be like to live here? Just give me a library and coffee shop nearby and I would be a happy bee.

Bunkhouse where the Palmers put up tourists who came fishing in their creek

The Palmers’ barn

Peeking inside the barn

You have an an iconic American architectural style right here in the Palmers’ house. The dogtrot style where a passage divided the home into two sections: with kitchen and dining area in one and living quarters in the other half. In those early times of no electricity, it allowed the passage of breeze through the house.