Fernweh

There is a word in German which expresses my feelings today, after I woke up early in the morning to the intense humidity and heat of late October in Mumbai. The word is fernweh, and Duden describes it as (in translation) a longing for far away, for distant countries. I long to be in the Himalayas. This is the time of the year when we used to do this in other years. New birds are arriving there now, you see a Siberian rubythroat (Luscinia calliope) in the featured photo.

But its not just the wildlife I miss. I also long for a drive along new highways, stopping at a roadside dhaba, admiring the local artwork on doors and sides of passing trucks, watching overloaded tractors treating a highway as just another country road, children in buses waving at us as we pull past them. I miss being away from home, having forgotten the discomforts of traveling in the months that our horizons have shrunk to, um, the horizon.

I miss looking out of the window of a plane at unexpected sights, at peaks that I will never climb. It’s been three years since I caught sight of Chomolungma. I pine to take a flight to the Himalayas, perhaps drive up to the Kanchenjunga massif, or just spend a couple of hours walking through a high pass, a chilling breeze insinuating itself through my jacket and gloves. I miss the feeling of cold hands welcoming a warm glass of tea in a windy shack up in the mountains.

Strangely enough, I also miss the unfriendly look that old men and women in small villages reserve for plainsmen who dress and behave differently. That is balanced by the welcome given by monks, and the casual indifference of the young, busy, as everywhere, with their own lives.

But today what I miss most of all is biting cold, the gusts of wind freezing your face, making you hunch your shoulders, puff yourself up like these snow pigeons (Columba leuconota). My ears can remember that cold wind blowing up a narrow valley as I stood next to a little shrine called Tiger’s Nest (there are several which bear this name) high up in the Arunachal mountains, and saw a tree full of these birds. I remember my fingers freezing as I took off my gloves to work my camera. Mumbai is wonderful, but it is even better when you come back to it, and rediscover the pleasure of a shower that does not freeze you.