This is a purely personal reckoner, based on my conversations and observations in the past 5 years. I am writing about people who have chosen to leave the city, move permanently to quiet hill towns ( not just Ranikhet) and who keep open homes. Folks here are wonderful at inviting people to visit them. Family, friends, friends of children, random acquaintances, old school and college mates, people sitting in the same railway coach…..almost all of them are welcome.
Visits have this pre-requisite condition of taking a gift for the hosts. This seems to have got ingrained into our psyches. I am always delighted with this gesture from the young friends of my daughters. It makes me wonder if there is a parent reminding them about the sweets or the gift. Heartwarming feeling, but what do your hosts really, truly like?
Let me try to shed some light on this..
- Hill homes are small and cosy and your hosts would have worked at de-cluttering and clearing space in their homes and mind, before moving to a quiet cottage. It is always a good idea to ASK, directly or indirectly ( depending on your intimacy levels), if there is anything specific they would like. I love my guests who do this–Lovely rugs, wool, knitting stuff and some great books have entered my life, thanks to my specific requests.
- For me, the best gift is always, always, a good enjoyable meal in one of the delicious places around us. I enjoy the change in the tempo, the break from arranging a meal, the unhurried conversation and laughter ( instead of me fussing around the kitchen and dining table), and no dishes to clean for Hema. Arranging meals can be a logistical challenge in the hills, so a delicious break is always a good idea.
- If your hosts live in a tiny village with just one store for supplies, take a bag of fresh vegetables..the more exotic, the better! I have savoured coloured bell peppers, salad leaves, melons and some nice mushrooms, even though Ranikhet is well supplied with vegetables and fruits. Its a good feeling to get some veggies which have not been tasted for a while.
- Cold cuts and other savoury meats can be a welcome present for your friends who love their meat. I have seen people driving up to their summer hill home with a car trunk packed with frozen meat, an iffy commodity for us local residents. Your gift will make picnics and breakfast parties happen. Do not, however, bring jams and preserves–there is such a wide variety available here that you can take back some for your other friends.
The other usual guidelines continue to be there….if your host collects something specific, do add a piece..If your hosts are handling a severe winter, consider gifting warm apparel…If your hosts like quiet evenings with a good drink, your dilemma can be resolved with a bottle of wine or something more stronger.
The best gift, however, is your time and attention…
- Keep the Whatsapp and the Facebook on the side…you can share those amazing pictures and make your friends jealous when your hosts are busy elsewhere.
- Listen to their stories, share some of your own, laugh together. You may find ways to be content, to accept the cycles of Nature and to revel in a quieter pace of life.
- Take back memories of long walks, eating pakodas on the roadside, befriending dogs and school-kids, crisp clear skies and wooded slopes.
When you return to your life, your hosts will keep fond memories of guests who shared their slice of paradise, enjoyed their company and added joy and good times to their days.