For The Love of Travel - Manali

Photo of For The Love of Travel - Manali 1/1 by Dimple Shah
Train ride

“Necessity is the mother of invention!” Well, interpreting this adage in a less intense way — There comes a specific moment when you actually feel like implementing what you've been thinking about doing since a long time. In my case, it has to be this itch of trying my hand at blogging. I wanted to start writing from quite some time but somehow never got around to do it.Recently, a trip taken to Himachal Pradesh (North India) with a couple of friends, has given me a good reason and content to finally start my blog. This piece of writing is not meant for someone in specific; it is for anyone willing to have a casual read. It is like I’m thinking out loud on social media.

I love exploring new places. Anything in the gamut of a new cafe in the next lane to a remote place tucked away in some corner of the world falls under my definition of “exploring a new place”. I had been yearning to visit Manali (Himachal Pradesh, India) ever since my brother raved about his trek trip taken there 6 years back. I had earnestly planned this trip several times, with different groups of people; people whom I had known for a good long time - close friends and family. It turns out that this long-awaited trip was meant to be taken with a bunch of people I got acquainted with, not very long ago. People I met at my workplace, and who went on to become a bunch of amazing friends. Little did we know that most of us had been longing for this trip much before we had even gotten to know each other…! This “pre-destined” concept, pretty fancy and intriguing stuff, I say.

The excitement was palpable in everyone’s eyes, right since the inception of the plan- about 6 months back. Since all of us work in the same company, getting a leave for 11 people was one of the humongous tasks we had! With each passing day and every win over hurdles coming in our way, our ecstasy grew manifold.

We had prepared our itinerary independent of any travel agency. Thus, few among us also relished every bit of the effort spent in getting 11 people agree on a common plan. A moderately tight budget let us enjoy the flavor of the places in all its forms — savor the delicacies offered at the tiniest of dhabas,stay at simple rooms and walk leisurely to feel like a local loitering in the lanes. I was ecstatic about our frugality; of course, I didn’t believe then that the markets of Amritsar, Kullu-Manali and Delhi were waiting to entice us! Yes, that is our innocuous belief — shopping is an investment, not an expense.

We flew from Pune to Delhi and took a train thereafter to Amritsar (Punjab). I was all agog to see the cultural, historical and gastronomic beauty of our country unfold before me. The patriotic atmosphere at Wagah border, the pristine holiness of Golden Temple and the lip-smacking food at a popular joint, Kesar Da Dhaba, at Amritsar signaled the start of a rather stimulating journey. There’s one surprising thing I learnt at this fine borderline that is guarded by the world’s largest Border Security Force. “Wagah Border” is also known as “Attari Border”. The surprise is, Attari is a village near the border on the Indian side and Wagah is its counterpart in Pakistan. However, even in India the border is more popularly known as “Wagah border”. As I became cognizant of this fact, I brooded over the mere futility of the tension between the two neighbouring countries.

From here, we proceeded to our very own Switzerland, Khajjiar(Himachal Pradesh). The panoramic view of swaying sarson da khet(mustard fields)gradually gave way to verdant plains and pine trees. Chilly winds made me feel obliged to those blessed souls who came up with the idea of thermal wear. During our two night halt here, we took a tour of Kala Top forest and reveled in the simplicities of a distant land.

Next in our plan was the place of steamed momos and glistening snow, Manali. The drive from Khajjiar to Manali is a good 12 hour affair with serpentine roads. The company of River Beas along the meandering routes and anecdotes dished out by our driver uncle during our long drive provided the perfect opportunity to simply sit back and calmly enjoy the flow of time. We paused at the hamlets of Mandi and Kullu, for a quick bite, an unplanned night stay, shopping or purely to immerse ourselves in the enchanting scenery it offered. On reaching Manali, we treated our grumbling stomachs with a hearty meal of momos, maggi and hot cuppa chai. Manali market provided the perfect vibrant yet cosy place to unwind after a long day’s travel. I indulged myself in the hunt to pick up the choicest souvenirs. The following day was my THE day; the attraction that pulled me from Pune to Manali — snow-capped peaks at Rohtang Pass, my first feel of snow! We began the morning with a delicious breakfast of aloo paratha against the backdrop of sun-kissed, snow-covered mountains. As we slowly approached the peaks, crisp air penetrated my several layers of apparel. Numbness in toes and fingers set in. With a shivering frame and overjoyed mind, I partook in the rituals of snow fights, snow man and skiing. Yes, the entire trip thus far was worth every penny.

Bidding adieu to this mesmerizing picture, we started for another one of our long drives — now headed to Shimla. Our sole attraction to this erstwhile summer capital of the British in India, was the toy train from Shimla to Kalka(Haryana), a joy ride amid forests and steep valleys. Our fellow passengers from Europe got entertained with our Bollywood songs, dum sharads and other miscellaneous expression of our happy minds.

A reluctant but pampered journey from Kalka to Delhi marked the nearing end of our excursion. A quick visit was made to salute the martyrs at India Gate and appease the shopaholics among us at the street market, Janpath. This, followed by meeting my two long-lost friends, residing in Delhi, brought me to the climax of our “Tour De Himachal”, as a friend fondly nicknamed our journey.

With listless faces but thoroughly enriched minds, we started for our return flight to Pune. Just as I was reminiscing the memories of the days passed by, and motivating myself to embrace the routine once again, there was another adventure awaiting us. En route the airport, a few unexpected obstacles delayed our schedule insofar we had to race against time, literally by the minute, to catch our flight back home. For a 6pm flight, we managed to make a grand entry at the airport at 5:50pm! A good Samaritan from the flight crew gave us the ray of hope to board our plane, but minus our bags. With his assurance of sending our bags in the next available flight, we entrusted his colleague with our 25+ bags. And THEN, the runner in us, took over. To the onlookers, it was nothing short of a scene straight out of a typical Bollywood masala movie - 10 people sprinting across the airport to force their way into a flight.

Yeah, the flight took off with us; albeit a minute or so behind schedule.

All’s well that ends well. A trip that I had thought would be straight-forward, yet enjoyable, turned out to be insanely tortuous and bountiful of priceless moments. Yes, there were few unexpected hitches, but what’s a travel without any roadblocks! As one among us aptly noted, “Each day had its own story to narrate!”

As for blogging, I did wonder - why this, of all other things, successfully got me to blog. I felt the reason over the next couple of days. My energy reservoirs were replenished and I was brimming with positivity. I had returned rejuvenated to tackle the humdrum problems. These few days not only strengthened my bond with a few peers, but also bought me time to pause and ponder upon my own course in general.

All along, our enthusiasm had been so contagious that it had made an elderly, young-at-heart neighbor of mine nostalgic of his trip to Amritsar and had got him to offer his services gratis, as a tour guide! So overwhelming that it had got everyone around us to travel vicariously in our much-spoken-about trip! So child-like that it had made our near and dear ones envy us for a multitude of reasons; of course, all in good spirit…

That’s the thing about exploring a new piece of land- it will bring out the latent energy in you as well as your loved ones. Absorb all aspects of the place — it’s people, it’s culinary delights, it’s significance. Let these ingredients and your experiences urge you to spin a yarn.

Bon voyage, fellas!

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