The Savoy was offering a free yoga class at 7:30 am and I was trying to pull myself out of a melatonin induced fog so I could join. Travel tip for those who suffer from jetlag and have not tried melatonin to help normalize their new sleep cycle; 3 mg per night had me sleeping like I was twenty again with no care in the world.
Holding the morning’s yoga session in an area on the hotel grounds inappropriately called the Beer Garden, I was joined by an older couple from Pune. The yoga teacher was a middle aged Mussoorie native with a mixed Scottish and Indian background. In between a lecture on “What is yoga?” (it’s about connection apparently) and a few stories about the debauchery that used to go on at The Savoy, we went through several asanas. I wasn’t expecting much, considering it was being catered to the ultra-wealthy elites on Holiday, so was happy to walk away from it feeling balanced and awake.
This was followed by a complimentary breakfast buffet served at the Main Lodge, which was definitely a step above your average hotel buffet fare.
I must admit, it was slightly unnerving to have three servers constantly hovering nearby, waiting to carry out your every wish.
“More tea sir?”
“How is everything sir?
“Are you needing a new plate sir?”
“Sir, you are god-like. Please stand on our backs so we can lift you home to heaven.”
Ok. That last one didn’t happen. It was me reading into the subtext of the dynamics playing out between the guests and staff.
With breakfast wrapping up, my time at The Savoy was nearing its end. My carriage was about to turn into a pumpkin and I began to prepare for my departure to rejoin the common people. I would be staying at the Hotel Vishnu Palace, a three-starred establishment across the street from The Savoy. It was built down the slope of the mountain, with my room at the very bottom, on the 4th floor.
After dropping my stuff off in my room, I was anxious and ready to get on my way. There had been intermittent thunderstorms rolling through Mussoorie starting at about the time our yoga teacher was telling us why The Savoy used to have a bell that rang at five every morning (so the pious could pray and the sinners could get back to their rooms before everyone else woke up). As I left the hotel, rain began again and I had to duck in to a café at Library Point to avoid the downpour. Ordering a masala chai, I nursed the tea while waiting out the storm and listened to a European woman carry out a lengthy conversation in perfect Hindi.
With the rain ending, my tea drank and the desire to continue eavesdropping diminishing, I set out on my way to find a cab to take me to Vincent Hill. After the Picture Palace incident, I did not want not rely entirely on memory. I figured a couple hundred rupees ($4) would be a worthy investment to get me to Vincent Hill in a timely fashion.
All taxis took The Long Way back to school. This was a road that wrapped around the mountain, passing an Indo Tibetan Border Patrol station (ITBP for short) that demarked the halfway point from Town to GNFC-Vincent Hill. Another way to school was The Shortcut (we were very literal with these names). This went up and over the top of the mountain, ending with a path leading down directly to the school’s gate. The third and rarely used way, so rare that it wasn’t given a name, was a road that wound up from Mussoorie proper, through an area called Waverly, past the girl’s school, Shangri-La, before arriving from the opposite direction of The Long Way to the gate of Vincent Hill.
Sitting in the backseat of the taxi, I was happy I chose this option, as the road out of town that turned into The Long Way was completely unrecognizable. That was until we reached the ITBP station. It had the exact same sign and iron gate that I remembered, with the road making a sharp elevated turn at its entrance wrapping itself around the bend of the mountain. This triggered the proverbial flood gates of my subconscious to open, with memories of The Long Way beginning to rush back.
I remembered Bird and I taking a horse back to school at night from Town. Early on the journey home, we got caught in a torrential downpour that never let up, soaking us to the bone, and with thunder and lightning so fierce that any sensible person would be afraid for their life. The thought of getting electrocuted didn’t really bother us that much. What did, was that we had convinced ourselves that we were being stalked by a tiger. I imagine we had never prayed as hard or chanted as loud as we did that night on top of that horse for Guru Ram Das (4th Sikh Guru) to save our asses from this creature we imagined in our minds.
I was also struck by the memory of a mandatory jog that the entire student body had to go on every afternoon, to the ITBP station and back. That was until a Brahmin bull went berserk, probably as a result from seeing a sea of kids running directly at it. One boy, Sri Ved, ended up getting what looked to be gored in the crotch and nearly tossed over the side of the road. Many of us watched in horror as he held on to the railing for dear life and screamed at a pitch that sounded like he had just lost his testicles. Once the bull finally let him go and moved on to chase other students, it was discovered that Sri Ved had escaped any serious injury other than to his shorts and his tough guy reputation.
Our arrival at the gate of Vincent Hill snapped me back into the present. Excitement with an undercurrent of melancholy flowed through me as I paid the driver and stepped out of the cab. Just then I noticed the guard at the gate coming out to greet me.
It was too soon for me to engage with him. I was not ready to enter. Doing my best impersonation of a guest at The Savoy, I ignored the guard and started to walk the other way.
They changed the gate! I thought. And they painted the support wall on the opposite side of the road white with red GNFC logos!
I began to walk along the road that continued in the other direction towards the girl’s school. This would give me a clear view of Vincent Hill below, while simultaneously allowing me to see the residence for the American guides, two families who had been tasked with keeping us alive.
It was about a 100 meters distance from the gate, before the school came completely into view.
They changed the fence along the road! It’s way higher than before. Is it supposed to keep people out, or the kids in? I wondered.
My memory may be dodgy on some things surrounding the school, but not the school itself. You could show me a picture of the school years from now on my death bed, taken from the spot where I now stood and I’d be like, “I leave everything to my brother. Vincent Hill.”
A storm had just passed and the sun was now shining. Standing in its warmth, I looked down at the place I called home for five years of my childhood. For years I dreamed about this moment and wondered how it would feel to look upon this school again. Surprisingly, a calmness I have come to know as love and acceptance was all that was there. Glancing briefly over at the Guide’s Residence, it looked the same, just a little worse for wear. Kind of like me.
I was ready.