It's the month of June, 2015. I was done with the final semester exams., finally! 4 horrendous years of continuous slogging, late night group studies, pondering over why I chose this field, just got over!
One moment, I am struggling to find what is the value of "x", and few moments later, I am asked to decide about my future! People! They just introduced a new letter, "y" into the equation! You don't get to throw in such serious stuffs at me! Any which ways, I chose to do Engineering, specializing in Computer Science.
I remember my first day in class - there were writers, photographers, dancers, singers, and drama queens sitting together, waiting to graduate as an engineer. 4 years later, amidst the artists rose an engineer.
I just graduated, in dire need of a long vacation. What better way to celebrate, than to go on a solo adventure to the mountains!
Pit-stop 1: Chandigarh
Prefer train to flight - Trains have many more stories to tell than the fake expressionless face of a flight attendant followed by hollowed people. "It's a mad, mad world!"
The tickets were booked - Punjab Roadways AC Deluxe bus - it seemed like a luxury I would enjoy but boy, was I wrong! The seats were horrible, the so-called AC didn't work, and no matter how much I searched I couldn't find the deluxe seats.
I left Chandigarh around 8 am expecting to reach Kullu by evening. The roads were good - well, good enough for me to not puke everywhere.
Once we reached the foothills of the mountains, the roads had started to get narrower leading to long traffic jams. Good thing I had my earphones with me! :)
Pit-stop 2: Manali
The bus was supposed to reach Manali by evening but thanks to the traffic I reached only by 11:00 pm. The night was cold - I couldn't feel my fingers and all I had worn was - not a sweater, not a jacket - a simple T-Shirt. That was not a smart decision.
Since I hadn't booked any place, I had to go and haggle in this cold wintery night. I found one room which had no bathroom, a broken bed and few drunk people next door shouting and making absurd noises. I turned around in a jiffy and continued my search.
Finally, I managed to somehow convince a hesitant resort owner to give me a room for ₹1800 per night. The owner had told me that the place is reserved for Honeymoon Couples - I didn't pay much heed to that. It was cold and dark, I wasn't left with much of a choice.
I entered the room - wooden flooring, double bed, splendid view from the balcony, bed-sheet with roses and other stuff. This is the moment when loneliness struck me. :D Owner did warn me before that this is a honeymoon suite.
Anyway, I freshened up and went to mall road to see for myself what the hype was all about. I was a bit disappointed. I expected something out of the ordinary but it was all commercialized.
Next morning, I woke up, checked out, and decided to move to some other place. Reason: Loneliness started to kill me at the honeymoon suite.
I decided to go back to Mall Road. Everything was a bit expensive and didn't find anything worth shelling out money for - getting looted for the honeymoon suite was enough.
There's a market at the end of the mall road, which has all kinds of items (sadly, not the kind I was looking for). Also, if you are looking for an auto, this is the place to be. I met this one autowala (Auto Number 46 - all the autos have a number written on their back) Upon inquiring for an affordable place to stay for one person, he suggested that I look around Old Manali. Not many tourists visit this place, and it's filled with Hippies. Not a second later, after a bit of bargaining, I was in his auto, heading to this dreamy Hippy place.
On my way, I crossed the moss covered forest floor at Nature Park, a bridge over Beas River and a few German Bakeries and Cafés. But this was not the time for me to explore - I needed a place to stay! I finally found one guy who had a spare room for me, just above his cafe. After a bit of bargaining, we came to an agreement of 800rs per night. The room, golly! It was HUGE with a double bed, fancy bathroom, LED TV, and a balcony that had a splendid view facing the majestic mountains!
After treating myself to a hot steamy bath, I headed out to explore this enchanted valley of hippies! I managed to befriend a local coffee vendor and enquired about the must-visit places nearby. After a dose of strong coffee, I headed to the temples. The Pandits were a bit taken aback as an atheist had entered the arena.
I decided to visit Mall Road and book a taxi for Rohtang - it was time to strike few places off my bucket list! There's a taxi counter next to bus stand where you register yourself there for the Rohtang bus; you can't just hop in on any bus and be on your way. (Technically, you can) The ticket costs ₹800 and reporting time: Next day, 5:30 am (there goes my beauty sleep!)
I got to see these hippies perform at Mall Road - one guy juggled while the other one entertained the crowd with his guitar. #LifeGoals
Old Manali isn't that far off from Mall Road and an auto ride was charging ₹40 one way. Boy! That's more than enough for one Maaza! So, I decided to walk back to my room. #SaveEveryPenny
Lucky for me, an autowala from the previous morning recognized me and offered to give me a lift - I suppose that's what you get when you are nice to people! #KarmaStrikesBack
Went to bed by 9pm. But, my beauty sleep was disrputed in between, thanks to the sound of Angels, and dance of the Demons. Went down, and to my surprise, there were people singing and dancing around, with beer in one hand, and marlboro in other. I wanted to join them, but, "shy is coming".
Next morning, walked to my rendezvous point. The bus was a bit late. But I was ready to wait. The bus stopped at this shop where in you had to rent out Shoes and other stuffs that is useful against walkinSnow.
Waiting to board the bus for Rohtang.
Bucolic view of the hills, treacherous roads, and the serene beauty was astonishing for this homo sapien, who had never seen snow, or mountains in real life! I made friends with my fellow passengers, who were amused by learning that I came all alone here.
On my way to Rohtang
Pit-stop 3: Rohtang Pass
Bus doesn't take you all the way to the top. You need to either walk, or ride your way up on a horse. Well, being the hyperactive person I am, I would have ran up in a jiffy. But you need to account for the low atmospheric pressure at 13k feet. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT run around at such heights. Get used to the pressure for few days, and then you can go wild my boy. So, now, it was Horsey Horsey time!
On reaching the foothills of Rohtang, I started walking towards the top. I wanted some solicity and once, an old Buddhist Monk told me, upar jaao, khushi milegi. So, ham chal diye upar. Let the pictures do some talking now. Behold! The Great Himalayas!
I couldn't stop smiling. This was the first time, I was holding a snow ball! I made a mini snowman as well. It didn't make it though. Rest in peace Tony. T_T
There are various activities that one can do here. Sitting on a tube and sliding down being one. Getting inside this ball and roll around. If you are lucky, you get to sit on top of this handsome yak! Kids love it! Yak, not so much.
I tried making snow angels, but every time, I ended up with two horns, and broken wings. Hmmm. Hmmmmmmm...
Anyways, after few hours, we started to head down to our bus. We had bargained for the to and fro trip with the horse guy. Bad decision, bloody bad decision! Climbing up a hill on a horse is different. Climbing down on a horse, when it chooses not to use the road but the middle stone part, is different. You have to lean back, while holding the rope, and pray that you don't fall off and hit your head against those rocks! Others kept chanting OM Namah Shivay, etc etc. Me, on the other hand, kept murmuring, bc mc, mara mara mara, ded. Bargaining with the guy was hopeless. Offered him few incentives, so that he can take the road, but he just ignored all of our pleas, with that evil smirk over his face. Sadist bitch!
People who drive Bus/Trucks on such narrow roads have balls of Steel! No kidding! I was sitting at the back, and the bus driver was trying to take a U turn. Boy oh Boy! The moment he reversed the bus, I let out a tiny squeal. But this was just the start of the horrendous experience that was yet to come. He kept moving the vehicle, and then there was a point, when I looked down my window, and I couldn't see the road! The tire was at the edge, inches away from the fall! Everyone at the bus screamed, BHAI!! MARWAYEGA KYA! The driver looks back and just smiles. HE JUST SMILED!
I am not sure if I was the lucky one, but the traffic jams had become a real pain in the ass. There was a time, when the bus did not move for an HOUR! Be wary of the jams. Around 3kms before Manali, I decided to get down, and walk. Might have walked a lot. As soon as I reached my room, I couldn't feel my legs. Slept for few hours, woke up for Dinner, then went out for a stroll under the cold starry night. Spoke to few localites. How things were going, etc. Just the usual chit chats, that a usual extrovert would do.
After going through few calculations, I came to the conclusion that I can no longer stay in the same room. I'll have to either pitch a tent someplace, or, go to Chandigarh (or Ludhiana) to my relatives. Trust me, going to relatives saves up a lot! Free shelter, food, care, attention! ^_^
Ended up leaving Manali the next day. Decided to go on foot till the bus stand. This way, I could look around even longer, and make sure all of this sinks in. So the next time, I come back to this place, it would feel like a second home. Captured few pictures on my way back to the bus stand. I had ample enough of time, to wander about, and get few onlookers attention with my weird dressing sense and the camera. It was fun! :D
This time, ended up booking a private ac bus, and not the government bus. Journey was tiring. It usually takes 8 hours to reach Chandigarh, but this time, it took somewhat around 12-13 hours, thanks to the crazy traffic jams. Reached Chandigarh by 7ish. Not sure what made me do this, but I decided to hop on to the next bus leaving for Ludhiana, and not go back home at Chandigarh and freshen up. Surprised peeps at Ludhiana. Went to freshen up, and whilst the hot steamy water was pouring over me, I got this brilliant idea. Why not, go to Amritsar, and Wagah Border (all great ideas comes to one during their shower time).
Pit-stop 4: Amritsar
After 20 years of knowing each other, my cousin and I had never interacted more than, "Hello, Hi, Happy birthday, how's everything going on, good." So I asked my cousin if he would be interested in accompanying me on this trip, as he would know more about the places in and around Amritsar, and having someone who can speak fluent Punjabi is always helpful! We boarded the train early morning, expecting to reach the place by 11am-12 noon. Well, the fate had something else in mind for us. Our train got delayed by 4 hours. Expected time for arrival got extended to 2pm. It was the month of June, and summer was at its peak. Traveling in general compartment, with no place to sit was a bit difficult. But well, there's always some place close to the door. I sat at the steps before the train came to an halt for few hours at this abandoned station, that had no signs of life (not literally). We reached Amritsar station by 2pm and headed towards Golden Temple. Uber works like a charm here. So, no worries there. We decided to stay at a place close to Golden Temple. After half an hour of haggling with the local hotels, we stayed at this hotel that charged us around 800rs per night. If comfort is not an issue then one can stay for 600rs close to the temple.
The scorching sun got the best of us. We were tired, dehydrated, and longing for an ice cold bath. After freshening up, we headed for Jallianwala Bagh, as it was right across the street. Walking amidst the same place, where hundreds of people were massacred, bullet marks on the wall, the wretched well, which became the grave for around 120 people. Feeling of uneasiness crept in, all I could do was pay my condolences to the innocent souls wandering around the park.
As the day came to an end, and the magnificent Golden Temple was revealed to us in all it's glory at night, it was magical! Irrespective of how many times I've seen Golden Temple, but looking at it at night, dazzling in its magical golden charm, all of it is just hypnotic! We were lucky enough to get a chance to visit the top of Golden Temple. The excitement on my face speaks for how excited I was!
After a bit of soul searching and deep thoughts, we heard a grumble. It was my stomach. I had heard a lot of this one dhabha. It was a bit towards the inside of the market, and one has to take a rickshaw.
Tip: ATM's here close by 10pm. So if you wish to draw some cash, do it before they close them down. We learnt this the hard way.
Okay, people, this is a must visit place for all the foodies out there, "Kesar ka Dhabha" (https://www.zomato.com/amritsar/kesar-da-dhabha-town-hall). No matter how hungry you are, one thali is meant for two people, and not one. This is not a South Indian Thali. It's a Punjabi Thali! Lassi, Firni, any Thali, is a must try! Please get some for me. I will bless you and your forefather and the generation yet to come. P.s: I will love you, forever!
Next morning, weather felt a bit different. The calm before the storm. We headed for the morning darshan. Was lucky enough to be at Golden Temple when it received it's first monsoon shower! I was the only crazy one, running around with my camera, while it's pouring, trying to capture the beauty at it's best. During the whole running around the Gurudwara, and taking a dip in the lake, I forgot one important thing. I did not have any extra pair of clothes. shit....
After the whole ordeal got over, we headed to the auto stand. And soon, we were surrounded by hungry vultures, wanting to take us to Wagah and back. We finally got a nice deal out of one person, who assured us that he will get us to the city by evening. Didn't take much to convince us. You get two deals, you either get to travel in a taxi, which is around 800rs or go in a shared auto, which would cost you close to 100rs per person. Well, I wasn't born with a silver spoon.
Pit-stop 5: Wagah Border
It took us an hour to reach Wagah Border. Since it was a weekend, I wasn't surprised by the number of people who turned up. If you plan to go on a weekend, then please, see to it if you could get tickets for the front row seats. Seats that are reserved for the public aren't something that one would say, "comfortable". If you've read this blog carefully, you would know that my impulsiveness made me run around in rain, whilst enjoying the beauty of Golden Temple, without any extra pair of clothes. So yeah, stupidity strikes again. Now, I was getting pushed around, at Wagah Border, with people forgetting what orderly fashion means. There were men shouting for their kids, ladies screaming at men for pushing them, only the chosen ones got a place to sit, others had to stand at back, waiting for the whole ordeal to begin. It was a chaos, at border, something that it has gotten acclimated to.
If you are fed up of all the Anti-Nationalism comments, protests, and conferences, I urge you all to once visit Wagah Border. You are sitting at the border of India-Pakistan, place where Lahore is much more closer to you than Amritsar, place where thousands of Soldiers were martyred, place where countless families lost their home, place where trains filled with dead bodies used arrive at the stations, where families fled from the persons they thought were their allies. Living in a peaceful time, where there are no wars, and countries have signed innumerable peace treaties is something our forefather always dreamed of.
Well now, almost more than a century later, there are hundreds of people singing Vande Matram, Sare jahan se acha, and other patriotic songs, alongside the Pakistani people, just few meters away.
If you would ask me, was it worth it? I would say, TOTALLY! By the end of the day, if you aren't chanting Vande Mataram, I would eat a whole pickle!
Anyways, so yeah, got back to the city, was still wet at places, had a nice chat with the auto waale bhaiya. He asked me where I was from, couldn't confuse him with all, stays in Bangalore, but hometown is Chandigarh, so not so fluent in Punjabi etc, so I went with, "Arey, main Chandigarh se hun!". He started singing some songs of Chandigarh girls, and I just did a poor lip sync. He wasn't impressed.
We reached our Hotel, packed our bags, and walked towards Golden Temple to pay our last respect. Got an auto to the railway station, into the general coach (again), and headed back home. It got pretty late, by the time we reached our place, but then, I couldn't care less, all I wanted was to take a bath and change my undergarments. :D
Pit-stop 6: Bangalore
After few days of staying at Ludhiana, I had to come back to reality, back home, back to the place where I would start a new chapter of my life, part where I will be paying taxes, and being stranded on roads, thanks to the horrendous hour long traffic jams at Kormanagala!!
Well, that's that. Thank you for reading this blog. If anyone would like to sponsor or accompany me for a trip, then please do let me know! :D I am a cheap traveler. So, financially, I got your back!