As I approached narrow winding roads on the top of these beautiful steep Himalayan foothills with a few cottages beautifully nested among the pine forest with a view of Himalayan snow peaks at a distance, I knew I had reached Landor in Mussoorie.
My host for the weekend, Vicky, welcomed me with his broad smile and took me through a steep trail down the hill to Shanti Kunj — a beautiful old cottage, our home for the weekend of this creative retreat with some amazing people. (Check out for Art For Change’s next Mountain Retreat)
It was a treat for me to travel from Bangalore and spend this weekend here. My mistake in booking my flight a day earlier appeared providential so I could rest a full day before others could join. I was really looking forward to meeting new people and my dear friends who were hosting this retreat.
We were 8 amazing people from different backgrounds, professions, and ethnicities. We trekked, shared our stories and life experiences, made art and enjoyed our delicious meals together. Our late-night discussions continued for many hours, sharing our reflections on our creative activities during the day.
One morning, in the middle of the forest, we were doing land art inspired by Andy Goldsworthy’s natural sculptures. In the afternoons, we painted and sculpted some objects that tell our story while reflecting and discussing questions like, Where am I on my journey? Where do I hope it takes me? What is the mountain telling me? What does the mountaintop view reveal?
I would like to reflect on the last two questions for this post, which, to me, are compelling.
Personally, post-COVID, I am at a point where I am trying to understand how God wants me to relook at life and how I need to live it out for the next few years. So, I was looking forward to what the mountaintop view might reveal.
To me, from the externals, the mountain is telling me to come and walk its steep trails to be fit. Oh boy, I had a hard time dragging my body through those trails. One evening, after a 20-minute walk, I was happy that we had reached the end of the trail, only to realise that the actual hike would begin 500 meters ahead. This challenge continued for three days.
But internally speaking, mountains are great places to take us away from the mundane, worldly, and self-centred life to wonder. In one of our reflections, one friend mentioned the idea of feeling insignificant in the presence of these mighty mountains. I think that is a great observation.
Mountains stimulate a sense of wonder and beauty, but they can also be terrifying. This sense of sublimity will provoke us to seek transcendence. The presence of the unknown shines through them, prompting us to look beyond the material, ask questions, or seek meaning. That may be the reason we experience beauty and goodness in such places.
The presence of the unknown shines through them, prompting us to look beyond the material, ask questions, or seek meaning.
On the other hand, the feeling of insignificance can be terrible. As a self-centred man, I may reduce this experience to a utilitarian goal. What can I gain from it? Then, the sense of beauty or wonder disappears and is replaced with the intent of exploiting it.
Seeking my significance can be fleeting, but knowing that I am created as a microcosm of the marvellous creation comforts me. I don’t need to be terrified or strive for my significance in this world. I am already significant and beautiful in the sight of my creator. This understanding can help me joyfully gaze at God’s beauty through the mountains and also be transformed to reflect God’s beauty through me. This is what the mountain was telling me.
During one of our conversations, I am supposed to share one person who significantly impacted my life. I shared about those who modelled their lives before me and helped me take the trails I took in life that helped me experience the mountain a little closer.
Without my host, the small community of friends in the retreat and the beautiful cottage, I would not have had the privilege of this experience. I followed my host, Vicky, through the trails to reach Shanti Kunj; similarly, it seemed to me that it is necessary to be that host for others in their journey to experience beauty and a longing for transcendence.
The mountaintop view is certainly stunning, with the hosts and their cottages nested among the trees, welcoming others to experience the unknown. Maybe I should reach out to others likewise.