"Unplanned trips are the most memorable". Sounds familiar, right?
To all those travel fanatics and foodies out there, this may not only sound familiar but they would also second my experiences on a trip that was as random and instantaneous as a lightning bolt.
I had read about this place in quite a few blogs and travel journals: backpackers' haven, stoners' paradise, mini Switzerland, were all the adjectives and expletives that were common in all those articles.
The only adjective I used when I first set foot in this tucked away tiny hill station was simple yet sufficed to describe what it really was: simply wow!
From the roads to the snow clad mountain tops in the distance, from the long slender tress to those measuring about a meter in diameter, from the cold intoxicated breeze of the night to the loud gushing of the river nearby, from the simplicity and raw beauty of the people and the place to the rising steam from the natural hot water springs, it was just the perfect place to loose yourself completely.
It is often said that the journey matters more than the destination itself but let me assure you, this place makes the journey worthwhile.
The tiredness from the journey and the thought of a soft bed and duvet just flew out of the window the moment I felt a gust of cold wind on my face. The freshness and purity of the air was easy to differentiate from the city air that I was so accustomed to breathe in.
I spent the evening walking through the small town looking for a room to crash in for the night and soaking in the simplistic sights the place had to offer.
I had covered the entire town on foot in a matter of a couple of hours. I browsed through a couple of good places to spend the night and finally zeroed in on a river facing room with a view to the night sky.
After gazing at the clear sky dotted with stars, which is a rarity in my city with its skyscrapers and polluted air, for almost an hour or so, I went out again to stuff myself with food.
I went to a cafe famous for its falafel (claimed so by the owner) and i was ushered in a dimly lit room with mattresses on the floor to sit on. A certain DJ was playing good music but i doubt if anybody was listening. The air was thick with smoke and fumes of chilams and charas(dried cannabis). I had to share my mattress with a group of backpackers from Israel and we swiftly eased into a conversation by way of which I came to know that they had been there for a little over a month now. After the initial few awkward apprehensive moments, words flowed freely and were later replaced by silly laughs and giggles of intoxication. I bid them adieu at 1am and left there to finally get some shut eye.
The next morning I was up early and I felt good and ready to go. I gathered my stuff, my courage and the much needed motivation for the journey ahead. Me and my driver started off on the last motorable road to the village that was the start of a 12 km hike to the almost rewarding hot water springs of Kheerganga.
After a couple of kilometers on the serpentine high altitude road, my driver got cold feet and refused to take me further. After almost 15 minutes in vain, of coaxing, pleading, threatening him, I spotted a bus headed to that village.
I could go on about the bus journey for pages but I choose to skip it because we are nearing closer to my destination.
After the adrenaline inducing journey on the serpentine hill road with a view of the valley and the snow capped mountains that could rival anything that is beautiful, I reached a massive under construction hydro power project. This was the start of my scenic and adventurous trek; and what a start it was!
From steep ascent that left me gaping for breath after about every few steps to the sound and color of the river accompanying me, from the chirping of the birds and rustling of leaves and crushing of gravels below my feet to the silence of the hills, from the depths of the valley as dark as coal to the play of light on the rocks that almost blinded the path on a narrow dirt road ahead, from the smiling faces of the villagers in this seemingly inhabitable environs to the steaming cup of hot chocolate, the trek was everything I could have asked for and more.
It was a true test of my physical and mental faculties but it also kept me going with the promise of more wonders that nature had in store and yet to unfold before me. The trek went through a dense forest and sunlight that came through the tall canopy felt like coming through a series of filters. I sat there on a large inclined rock face jutting out of the hillock with the river gushing down in all its glory just a few feet under me. The silence and the sense of freedom was surreal. I soaked it all in as much as I could and started out yet again with renewed energy. But this was just half of the trek!!
For the rest of the trek too, the river, the birds and the trees kept me company and none of us disturbed the silence of the other. I felt like i was accepted without reservations, like all my shortcomings and flaws did not matter, neither did my achievements in the corporate world or my accumulations. I felt insignificant in the vastness of the nature but I was truly happy.
With these realisations and learnings that each travel expedition offers you I kept on moving forward, stopping only to catch my breath or to soak in a mesmerising view.
After 5 hours of panting and huffing but trodding on cautiously and enthusiastically, I had reached the natural hot water springs of Kheerganga. I did what a traveller does. After minutes of taking a dip in the steaming waters all my weariness was gone.
I headed down to where I started from. It took me 3 hours on my way back.
By the time I reached to my hotel it was dark. I had some snacks and we headed out of the town into the hustle bustle of the city life that awaited me.
I found myself and my inner peace on this trek. With all the views and calmness that I borrowed from the place, I hope it would keep me going for quite some time in the race that our lives have become!