“All set everybody!?” Rufus cheered as the bus hit the road. About half an hour ago, I joined a few other people for a Trip to Kasol (Himachal Pradesh). It was my first trip of summer 2016, and I was sure as hell excited about it. As most of the other members joined, we boarded the bus in Delhi, around 6:30 pm. Although Delhi is quite (okay, extremely) hot during summers, this evening it was surprisingly pleasant. Or maybe it seemed so due to all the excitement and the jolly good atmosphere there. I had been planning and thinking and dreaming about this trip ever since I got the confirmation e-mail. Aboard the bus, there was an eery silence or rather a very light chatter among certain groups; but as the bus left the whole place came to life. It was an A.C. bus, one last comfort before we hit the mountains for the next 4 days. In about half an hour as the sun drowned in the evening’s darkness, the sick LEDs onboard the bus came up. A strip of blue LED lights lined the whole length of the bus, illuminating most of it. To accompany that, most of us had turned on the overhead reading lights, which were pretty powerful. As the time passed, slowly everyone started talking and getting to know each other. Upaasnaa, a co-traveller and an avid foodie had brought loads of food; which some of us sitting in the front end of the bus were now munching on. The talks flowed, along with some munchies. Meanwhile someone put on a movie on the onboard TV, which apparently was one of my favorites – The Dictator.
I was by myself on this trip and being a sort of an introvert, a while later I drowned myself in the on-going movie; though I listened to all the others talk. I’d like to specially mention here, about one of the organizers – Rufus (@ramu.ka.ka). Man one of the most most laid-back and life-loving person I’ve met in my life. He was so chill and mixed and made friends with everyone so easily as if he knew everyone since ages. I’d love to have that quality in me. I had an incident the day we were supposed to leave, which I’m not gonna talk about; a huge thanks to Rufus for being such a great mate throughout the trip. Then at around 9.30 or so I guess, we halted for dinner. It was a quaint, but huge food court somewhere in Karnala. I had some rice & paneer curry, for I wasn’t so hungry for a full-meal. Plus we had an all-nighter road journey lying ahead of us. The bus moved further on the road once everyone was on-board after a hearty meal. The lights then turned off, probably the driver’s way of telling us – ‘Now off to sleep you go…’ I didn’t have anything much to stay up with, and plus the AC and the quill were making me so damn comfy. I just slipped into some good sleep almost quickly.
It was about 6 in the morning now as I woke up, almost 12 hours since we left from Delhi. The bus was backing up next to a roadside dhaba. We were having a refreshments break, was what I learned from one of the co-traveller. Getting down quickly, I hunted for a washroom for I couldn’t hold it any longer. It was only after I was at peace that I noticed the sheer mountainous beauty that surrounded me. The climate was damn cold. There was (almost) lush greenery, coupled with grey-ish sand & rocks and the wide open blue sky! How good it felt to follow my eyes in any direction and not end up seeing rugged ol’ buildings! I had a hot and much needed tea at the dhaba and bought a pack of mints. I didn’t know how long would it take to get to our destination. We boarded the bus back in some 15-20 minutes and we headed further. Now as almost everyone was awake, it was announced that it’d be just about half an hour more of ride till Bhuntar. After that we’d de-board this bus and board a local one which would take us to Kasol. That would be another 45-50 minutes of a ride. ‘At last, something different!’, I thought.
As said we were at the exchange point soon enough. The next (local) bus soon came along and one by one all of us boarded it. The bus was anything you can imagine from what you see in the movies. A quaint, old rectangular metal box loaded upon four wheels. But it had something about it which felt so welcoming. In just a few minutes with all aboard, it left for Kasol. With the 40 of us now on board, the bus was already almost full. All the seats were taken and some of us had to stand in the passageway. But that’s not what the owner/operator of the bus saw, apparently. In just 10 minutes of ride, he stopped the bus at a local bus-stop. Surprising as it was for many of us, another load of local commuters boarded the bus, now it was what you’d called ‘khacha-khach bhari hui’. For a long moment I felt I was back in Mumbai, riding a local; it was that full. Somehow with us adjusting and shifting, the bus was able to accommodate everyone. Now though, it ran non-stop.
The bus now hugged the road as if they were best friends. The driver ruthlessly took turns on the ever winding narrow roads of the rugged Himalayan mountains. I sat in a seat much ahead and had a great view of the oncoming road. In about 20 minutes into the ride we were on a ghat-like road. The bus crushed the tarmac beneath with a huge wall of rugged mountain on one side and a deep valley falling into the Parvati river on the other. The winding road was a fun ride, nevertheless. By the time we reached Kasol, the sun had risen well and one could tell it was summer. Quickly we gathered on the side of a road, after everyone deboarded the bus. We hopped down at a crossroad of sorts which was dubbed as ‘New Kasol’. The organizers did a quick head-count and within no time we set out on a small hike on a trail which connected the older part of Kasol to this one. That’s where our camp was located. All lost in their own fun, experiencing the fun of hiking through bare nature; same as I. We were hiking through the side of the bank we had earlier seen from inside the bus, just about half an hour ago. What the seemed like a rug of lush greenery covering grayer mountains, was now a forest of pines as tall as 20 feet; some of them even taller.
Soon though, we had to cross the river again. But this time, on a loose metal bridge which was freely suspended over the freezing waters of the Parvati. Shubhi, one of my co-travellers got shit scared just looking at the bridge. Somehow, she just couldn’t trust that the bridge would hold, for it was supported only by metal ropes, tied between two arch-like pillars on both the ends. None to support the bridge from beneath. But there was no other option than crossing it. Maybe she gathered some courage once she saw that most others easily crossed over, with the bridge only making some creaking sounds. Only after she got on the bridge and actually started walking on it, did she learn that along with the creaking, the bridge swayed! That definitely gave the ones crossing it some terrifying feels, including me. Once across, the actual hike started. It was all just rugged randomly placed rocks and a muddy way. One our right was a small wall of such stones and some trees and on our left was a small, but steep slope that lead straight to the river. The hike went on for about 15 minutes, and with every step we took further, the beauty of that place kept increasing. The locals who owned small cafes here and there had found a great way to use those rocks for their advertisement. They painted these rocks with the names and directions to their cafes.
We reached our camp and settled in the center, near a small refreshments room. While we waited for the organizers to allot us rooms/tents we got some chai and pakodas, by the camp. The pakodas were great, the chai not so much. I spotted a dog lying around and went to him. I’m sort of a dog lover and I can’t help it when I spot a dog; I have to go pat it! The very first sight of the dog, he looks like a carpet. No, he wasn’t a Puli; he was something else. His body had gotten accustomed to the cold weather that prevails the Himalayan vicinity and had grown a coat-like fur. Some other animals I spotted also did the same- cows, buffaloes, etc. I went closer to pat him, but soon saw that he was lying in wet-mud, and I was in no mood to get my hands dirty on that. So i just looked at it for a moment and went back to where the group was. Soon each one of us was alloted with either a room or a tent, of course on sharing basis. Mostly the girls got the room, and boys the tents; except for some.
When I got to the place where the tents were set, I just stopped in my way. The sheer beauty of what lay in front of me, left me speechless. To put it in words, we were camped on the banks of Parvati (just 10 m away from the river). Opposing us, on the other side was a huge wall of a mountain covered under a rug of lush green pines and one could see a small winding road on it. I quickly lodged my bag in the tent and came out with my camera.. Although I tried a lot to capture as much and exactly the way my eyes were seeing, it wasn’t possible so. Well I clicked until I got close to exact. A while later everyone got settled here and there. Some sat around the cafeteria soaking in the sun, while some went to the river. I, of course, went to the river. One thing I really missed since I got here was an ND Filter! It’s a must in the mountains where the it’s mostly so sunny and you don’t want to compromise for it by using a higher shutter speed. Alas but, I had no choice. We sat beside the river for quite a while, dipping our tired legs in the freezing water. It wasn’t at 0 degrees, but it was definitely not more than 4 or 5. My legs went numb and looked red in just about 15 minutes of dipping. I got out then and went to freshen up.
It was a little over 3 pm now. We were asked to gather near the cafe area for a short briefing. Obviously it got late till the time everyone freshened up and gathered. We were offered with two options for we had only a few hours left until sun-down. Either stay in Kasol or at the camp to chill or to go to a small adjoining village called Chalaal to be a part of an ongoing local festival. Almost no one choose the former option. ‘What’s the whole point in coming all the way to Kasol to just sit and chill?’ I thought to myself; for I was yet to realize the whole point. Quickly, taking mostly a camera and a sweater, we headed for Chalaal. We soon were walking on the same trails by which we reached our camp, although heading even further on it. It was sort of a secondary way connecting all the inside places. A few minutes later the scene changed a bit. The rock wall on my right wasn’t there anymore; instead it was replaced by beautiful cafes, houses and the sweet little huts. On my left though, the river was constant. It took us about 15 minutes of hiking on the trail to get there. But when we did reach, we learned that the festival hadn’t yet started due to some problem. It was hours behind its usual time.
We spotted a cafe with a killer view behind it, dubbed ‘The Freedom Cafe’. Wasting no time we occupied a table at the cafe, facing the killer view. As there was no power at that time, we chose to sit outside on a balcony like area behind the cafe. They had a typical Asian style seating. A small coffee table laid down, fit for 4 people to dine and on both the longer ends there were mattresses laid down to seat. We hadn’t had proper lunch with all the freshening up and stuff back at the camp, so we were hungry as hell. There were four of us here and some others sat elsewhere. We ordered sandwiches, maggie, coffee four each. The order (thankfully) didn’t come all at once. The guy served us the coffee and sandwiches first and then a little while later the maggie. By the time our maggie arrived, we felt much better because the sandwiches were quite big. We slowed down now, enjoying the scenery that surrounded us. Behind the cafe, beyond its boundaries we saw two mountains, lush green covered in a little fog. Behind those mountains was another one, but this one had a snow-cap! I had never seen actual snow in my life, until now. I found it kind of fascinating. There was the river at the foot the mountain, but the trees right beneath the cafe hid it.
We sat there for over two hours, talking, eating, enjoying. I went to the place where others were seated. Dhruv was playing songs on his portable speaker and getting baked. He was joined by a few others of the group. The place where the sat seemed like someone’s house, I still don’t know what it was. But it had similar varanda like balcony where everyone found a spot to chill. It was past 5:30 and we suddenly started hearing drums beat. That was it, the festival commenced! We went round the corner and down an alley to reach the place where the sound was coming from. The place was like a small ground, with minimal decoration of colorful strips of gelatin paper. These strips ran through the whole length and breadth of the ground. In the center, two huge logs of wood were placed where the musicians took their place. With instruments such as big and small drums, maracas, and two huge trumpets, they started creating melodious sounds. A group of performers, most of them dressed traditionally stood at one end of the ground in a single file. They then moved rhythmically, circling around the musicians. It was the most simplest form of dance or music I would’ve ever seen or heard. But it was peaceful.
I just stood in a corner and see the whole thing as it started. Once I knew what was going on, I took a position in the audience and with a zoom lens on started taking some shots. No one was allowed inside the performance circle while it was going on, so mostly one had to shoot from outside. It went on for some 20 minutes and then it started getting dark. I asked one of the locals how long it would go on? To which she answered that it goes on all night long! The would later burn some wood and make a bonfire and then dance and sing around it. But of course, we couldn’t wait there all night. I sat in the audience, clicking a few portraits and enjoying the performance for another half an hour or so. Then, around 6:30 pm we headed back to our camp. The night hadn’t fallen really, but the dense trees made it seem so. The moon was out, and it looked so beautiful through the pine leaves, among the mountains. We hiked back to our camp and gathered near the cafe area. I took a place, under a tubelight and started jotting down day’s happenings in my diary. I was deep into trying to remember and write it down and that’s when I heard someone’s voice asking, ‘Hey, are you a writer?’ I replied almost on the cue, “I guess maybe…” She sat down next to me and we started talking about the trip, then writing, blogging, photography. I knew there were like-minded people on the trip, I just hadn’t met one, yet. Her name was Deepa and she was accompanied by Neeta. It didn’t take long for us to gel up quickly. Both of em were super elder to me, but it didn’t feel so. I gave them tips on starting up and maintaining a blog; how it was easy, but not really so.
Soon, someone lit a bonfire and everyone gathered around it. Even the dogs came and sat next to the fire, for it was getting colder by the minute. As the time passed, everyone mingled with each other. Rounds of drinks kept coming from those who had brought their poison. There was Whiskey, Rum, Vodka and even Beer. Not to forget the never settling smoke of ‘stuff’ through joints and hookahs. It went on for an hour or so maybe, till dinner was ready. After that some had dinner, while some were still sipping and smoking up. I felt way too tired, I dunno why. I excused myself from the group and headed for my tent, after the dinner. It was pitch dark when I got there. The only light was from the dying bonfire another group had lit, in front of my tent; but it was barely anything. I wanted to capture some star trails, because up here I thought the sky was much open and clear, I set up my equipment and started shooting, sitting just outside my tent. I shot a couple of images of 30-sec exposure, but soon learnt that the sky was way too cloudy that night! I had no option but to call it a day then. I packed my gear, changed into my track pants and wore a sweater. It was very cold, but the sweater along with a blanket kept me warm. After that, I don’t even know how quickly I dozed off to sleep…
This post was originally published on 'astral vardo'.