…Or, How I woke up much too early but didn’t mind a bit.
At 4.37am the first bird calls, a sweet, melodious tweeting that I find hard to resent just because it’s an ungodly hour. About a minute and a half later another call starts up, and then very quickly the valley is echoing with birdcalls, each with its own pace and rhythm and tune, the whole glorious symphony loud enough to wake the dead.
I should want to wring each one of their little tweeting necks, because I’ve only slept four and a half hours. At home in Delhi, a similar but less melodious solo followed by an ear-splitting chorus often wakes me, and even though it’s typically later, I lie in bed thinking purely murderous thoughts about our little feathered friends. Here, instead, I jump out of bed with a smile on my face and turn on the electric kettle to make a cup of tea.
At 4.45am I’m outside, appalled by how much dawn I’ve already missed. There’s a violet flush over the hillsides. The summer solstice is just passed; these days are long and hot even at seven thousand feet, but at the moment it’s cool enough for a shawl. The world looks newly made, and not just because you’ve processed most of last night’s wine. It’s mysterious and cool and a little damp, shrouded in pre-sunrise pearl. The forest is curled up and asleep, folds and ridges and spurs looking for all the world like enormous mounds of broccoli.
Except for the birds, and the rustling leaves, it’s perfectly quiet. What I keep mistaking for a car coming down the road is the sound of the wind in the deodars—a strong, rushing river-like sound. I love being wrong.
At 5.15 the mist nestled in the valleys begins to rise, and resolves itself into a single white streak at the bottom of the blue silhouettes of the Kumaon ranges. Sometime around 5.30 a tiny pomegranate bump appears, but in the wrong spot: it’s coming out of the clouds above the ranges, starting much too high. It rises and swells into a cool pink ball and rapidly becomes a hot pink ball becomes a fierce orange ball becomes the sun. It takes me a moment to remember that although it’s too cloudy to see them, the blue ranges are backed by huge Himalayan snowcaps, invisible except for the fact that the sun has to clear them.
Foliage crackles lightly on the hillside beneath the stone terrace, and I find myself looking around for the yellow spotted line of a leopard’s back until I realise that it’s just leaves crackling under the weight of bees, twigs crackling under the weight of birds. I watch one sharp-beaked, crested bird catch an insect and demolish it nervously while the poor thing kicks and flutters and, I imagine, emits little insect death rattles. Not another soul is up. It’s just me, the mountains, and the ruthless business of nature trying to find breakfast. Who needs toast when you can peck live worms to death?
A pink flush in the sky, aka rosy-fingered dawn, starts to run through a brief, enchanted palette, like an aria in the sky. I don’t blink, so that I don’t miss any of this rapid-fire action that ends much too soon. The sun breaches cloud and mist and quickly turns to white-hot and suddenly the whole thing begins to look much more like your regular sun, heat and all, and the shawl is suddenly redundant, and I’m suddenly hit by the weight of all the hours I haven’t slept.
The magical part is over; I’ve the seen the world safely on its way to today. Time to go back to sleep.