For me, the Writers Retreat at Faraway Renz was like the much-awaited rains after a parched summer and if it wasn’t for the Workshop, I would rather blot out this summer from my memory. I had a spring in my step and my soul was dancing in abandon, literally.Indira, a childhood friend had posted an ad about the workshop on Facebook; thank you for sharing.
I read the ad and I jumped at the thought of being a part of such erudite company. But when I saw that the location was thousands of miles away I gave up the idea. However, it would not leave my thoughts and lingered in them and created a storm until I actually emailed Dipankar (organizer and publisher at Readomania).
Why was it tough to decide? For the simple reason that I have never thought of doing things for myself or for my happiness before! And am I pleased as punch that I actually made it? Tickets were booked and I could barely conceal my enthusiasm. I read about the location and I felt really thrilled to be traveling to the mighty Himalayas.
The D-Day arrived and I was pepped up to board the flight. Flights have always given me a feeling of exhilaration. I always book the window seat and my nose is pressed against the glass to watch the clouds changing into unusual colors and shapes. Delhi was my first stop and I was looking forward to meeting my sister and her cherubic grandson. Babies warm the cockles of my heart and the little bundle of joy was squealing and flashing toothless smiles.
The next day a cab was to pick me up and the three others who were going to ride with me to the Renz. The cab driver’s name was Honey Singh and he looked like a lanky teenager. I couldn’t hold myself and I asked, “I can’t tell how old you are. Are you old enough to have a license?” Honey laughed and replied that he was 23 and got his license 5 years ago. I crossed my fingers and my toes wishing that he would land us all in one piece. I knew Indira but the other two were total strangers. I hit it off very well with people so I knew that I would get along with whoever was going to join me in the cab or at the workshop. It was going to be quite an arduous journey up into the Hills and we started off at 6.45am. Delhi is a traffic nightmare at any hour and it took us more than an hour to pick up Harshali. Introductions done, we were like two strangers who knew each other very well and we started chatting instantly. We headed out to pick up the two Professors-Indira and Mouli and by the time we hit the highway it was after 9am.
The breakfast hour came and went but there were no highway inns in sight. It was noon by the time we sighted the Bikanerwala hoarding and we tumbled out hungrily. Living in the south, I crave for some authentic north Indian goodies and Kulche-chole is one of them. Harshali too had the same and we washed it down with Lassi and a coke. Indira and Mouli only had Badam milk. Now that our tummies were full and contented we set out on our journey again.
The highway was quite wide until we reached the hills and then it was a slow ascent on the narrow hairpin bends with the heart going thump thump whenever there was another vehicle coming from the opposite end and the car was perched on the edge with a good four thousand feet cavernous valley below. The verdant green hills rolled all around while the crevices were deep and unfathomable. The others were taking short naps while my camera kept capturing the stunning vistas of emerald green and the copper and gold specks in between.
It was just a few minutes past four when we reached the Faraway Renz which actually was far away; to me, it seemed like Shangri-La. The quaint Renz was perched, yes, literally perched on the sides of one of the mountains in the lower Himalayas. It seemed like virgin territory and a road less traveled. My eyes were open wide taking in the picturesque view. The freedom of the mountain air and the sapphire sky covered with cottony clouds covering the peaks were mesmerizing, to say the least. We were welcomed with a glass of a deep fuchsia pink colored drink. It had a distinctive tang and I came to know that it was a local drink named Buransh made with the Rhododendron flower. Rare drink….notched 10 points on my cuisine scale.
Dipankar, our genial host made us feel at home and plied us with nutritious homemade cooking at every meal. If his last name wasn’t Mukherjee, I would have sworn that he was a full-blooded Punjabi from the way he catered to our taste buds and tickled our brains with the program. He deserves all the accolades and appreciation for coming up with the idea of holding workshops for writers at Faraway Renz, which he has set up mainly for this purpose.
We were served a sumptuous lunch even though it was way past luncheon. After that, all of us were asked to gather at the main bungalow for the introductions. In the setting sun, the resort had a golden glow which bounced off its sturdy stone walls, rustic cottages and the verdant courtyard blossoming into a riot of color. The cobbled and sloping pathways meandered from the main house to the cottages and were filled with the fragrance of the fruit trees on either side. The dewy fresh blossoms were vibrant and seemed to whisper gently.
There were six stone cottages, all facing the valley below. The entrance to the main lounge was through a canopy of exotic lavender flowers and it looked like a cottage from a fairytale. The Renz was rustic but Dipankar has made sure that it had all the amenities and comforts. The Dining area was raised and there was a quaint library with books and board games. The landscape was deep green and gold. Some of the leaves in the shadow of the sun seemed like filigreed pieces of art. The setting was just right for a writer or an artist to pour out his soul.
Seven of us had gathered at Faraway Renz for a Writer’s Workshop. We were going to spend the next couple of days together; each with our own mindset, outlook, attitude, purpose and idiosyncrasies. The motley group was made up of the two learned and much published authors and professors, Indira and Mouli, the slightly aloof couple- Alok and Kalyani, teacher and aspiring writer Vasudha, a judge, teacher, trainer and writer, Harshali who has just finished writing a book and I, trying to find my mojo.
Divya started the Introductions and once they were done with we were headlong into the workshop with pointers about how to write a book. It was an enlightening experience for me and I couldn’t help patting own for making it to the workshop. Divya, our trainer was petite and dressed in ethnic kurtas and she was an editor, publisher, and trainer. We had more brainstorming sessions like these and also one to one meetings with her and Dipankar. They pointed out our strengths and weaknesses which will help us better ourselves.
We were asked if we would like to go for an early morning walk. Vasudha and I readily agreed while the others were noncommittal and when no one turned up in the morning. Like good girls, Vasudha and I sat in the portico facing the hills and finished with our homework. Every mealtime was a gastronomic delight with the table piled with food and Dipankar playing the hospitable host to the hilt. He would be in the kitchen and see that each one of us had what we wanted on the table and he would be the last one to dine. Breakfast had bread, eggs made to order, paranthas, oats, milk, juice, and tea. Lunch and dinner there was rajma, chole, dal, chicken curry, veggies, roti and rice. We were served desserts at every meal. The first meal we had some local dessert called Baal Mithai and there was kheer, custard, and gajak brought by Vasudha. We also had Bhat dal which was a local fare. At tea time on the second day we were served Bhang( leaves and flower tops of cannabis) fritters; the seeds of the bhang plant were soaked and the juice was added to the fritter batter. It was not intoxicating and Dipankar told us that the leaves were potent and if we had fritters made with them we would probably get knocked out for a couple of days! Meal times banter was lighthearted and a great way to get acquainted. Harshali, Vasudha and I had formed a small sorority and we would end up with our Punjabiyat as Vasudha coined it.
Night promised a bright view of the Milky Way and we kept waiting but the clouds played spoilsport and we had to make do viewing the full moon through Namish’s (Vasudha’s husband) powerful camera. I loved our interactive sessions which were very informative and made me realize that I needed to pull my socks up. The next night was more relaxed to drink, eat and be merry. The barbecue or tandoor was lighted up and the paneer and chicken sizzled and hissed as their juices fall on the red hot charcoal. As the evening went on everyone was slightly and pleasantly mellow. Kalyani who had barely uttered two words before suddenly found her voice. Surprise surprise; she offered to make me a special cocktail. She concocted one with the Buransh drink as the base and added a dash of Vodka, lime juice and Schweppes to it and muddled a few mint leaves. It was a sweet, flavorful and tangy drink and I enjoyed it. Namish was playing the DJ and we also got to hear him sing. We were one talented lot, weren’t we??
I dragged my feet towards my cottage as I hated going to bed. I would have loved the conversations to go on. The dawn broke late the next morning with the sun struggling to peer out of the thick blanket of clouds. I wanted to capture the awesome view from my cottage and I headed out with my camera. The others seemed to be still enveloped in their dream worlds.
The mountain air was calm and silent and it seemed as if time has stood still. Suddenly a gardener popped up like a mountain goat from behind me. He was carrying a huge watering can in his hand and he pointed out to the faraway peaks and said that we could spot the mountains of Rishikesh. To me, all the peaks seemed the same and I smiled at him for the info. After another lavish breakfast, we gathered for our last written assignment.
Divya asked us to write a whodunit with all of us as characters and with the charming Renz as the backdrop. As we couldn’t finish within an hour we read out our half-baked stories and were asked to mail the completed task. Our last lunch together was lacking the bonhomie of the previous meals as none of us wanted to leave as we wished to stay on and write.
The goodbyes were long drawn and Dipankar was clucking around all of us like a mother hen. E-mails and phone numbers were exchanged and promises of keeping in touch were made. The journey back to civilization was quieter and retrospective, but surely one of happiness. I hugged all the memories and piled them in a corner labeled Renz in my heart.