When I was in the 8th standard, I used to go to school by foot. It was about five kilometers away from my home. A 25-minute walk or 15-minute run could get me there before the bell for the morning-prayer rang. Paying no heed to my mother’s cautions, I always used to take the route which went through the railway tracks near my home. Every day I passed the small train station of our humble town Solan, where a steam train came once or twice in the day only to leave after five minutes. It either went in a slow pace uphill towards Shimla or down to the station of Kalka where the plains started.
My brother also took the same route but he was used to coming in late, and hence I didn’t generally wait for him. Walking alone most of the time I used to come across various picturesque places on the way, which for others might seem ordinary and uneventful but for me were anything but. With only my incessant brain as a companion, I concocted stories about the places that I passed in my hasty retreat to school.
There was a temple of Goddess Kali which I passed first. Out of respect and maybe habit, I bowed down on the gate of the temple. Touching a small ceremonial stone on the steps of the temple, I thought I was touching the feet of the goddess herself and taking her blessings. Less than ten paces from the temple was a tunnel which I had to cross carefully, lest a train might run me by.
Small cobblestones, brick-roads snaking up and down the hill, and old houses on the verge of falling down, standing on nothing but the will of the people living in them. I used to see and engulf any and every kind of place, you can imagine would exist in a hilly town.
My favorite of these spots though was a mountain that came into view as soon as I passed the tunnel and came across the railway station. Directly in front of the rail tracks and the station, it looked closer than it actually was. It is the largest mountain in the city of Solan and hence looks quite grand. Especially when you see it standing resolute, bathed in golden sunlight. It felt as if it was bearing witness to all the students who were trudging to school in the morning; advising them to remain determined in reaching their destination and never to change tack.
Why I called it Pharaoh’s Throne is a different reason though. See, along with being a large piece of rock it also had a kind of dent or depression running across its middle. It gave an appearance that there was a time when there ran a waterfall through the heart of the mountain, with only the path of the waterfall remaining now. It’s quite common in Himachal actually. Top of the hills are adorned with snow in the winters, and come summers, the same snow melts and trickles down the face of the hill becoming a waterfall. These small bodies of waters then combine with each other and join the rivers.
That dent wasn’t intentional surely but imaginative that I am, I conjured up a reason. The space in the middle and the bulges on the side gave me a feeling that the mountain was actually a large seat on which someone could sit. Not anyone though. Judging by the size, even a giant would look like a scrawny kid in front of it. Of course in my mind, the person worthy of sitting on such a colossal seat could only be a pharaoh. We were being taught about the Egyptian kings in our Social Science class at that time. The pyramids of the old and the pharaohs who had built them, had seemed to be the only ones capable and worthy of sitting on such a royal seat. So I named it the Pharaoh’s Throne.
I had even imagined a mighty Pharaoh adorned with jewels with his big headdress and a scepter, sitting on that throne and gazing down on the craggy ranges of mountains around him. Beholding the sight of his vast unending kingdom and his subjects staring up at him, he sure had looked regal.
I later came to know that the mountain is actually called ‘Karol ka Tibba’, in our local dialect. In the Pahari language, Karol means mud which has fallen from the hand, and Tibba means a small mountain or a hillock. There is a local legend that says when Lord Hanuman came to take the Sanjivani Booti or the Divine Herb of Immortality to the Himalayas, some part of the mountain which contained the herb fell from his hand. In his honor and the mountain which he was carrying on his hand all the way to Sri Lanka, the small part of that mythic mountain which fell down from the heavens thousands of years ago was named Karol ka Tibba.
There is even a temple dedicated to Lord Hanuman on the top. I have never seen that temple though because I have never climbed the mountain. I have gotten quite a few chances, but I always find an excuse to not go. Not because I don’t want to see the old temple or the majestic scenery from the summit. It’s because in my mind it will always be the Pharaoh’s throne. The seat of the divine king sent to rule the humans to a better future. In my mind, nobody including me is worthy enough of climbing the abode of the God-king. Someday perhaps I would become worthy of climbing up that steep hill that always makes me think of my childhood and some stories of the old. Most importantly, it reminds me of the valley that lies between the two mountains, which we call home.