Chapter One: Resefeber
Resfeber, a Swedish word, apropos of the human feeling of anxiety mingled with anticipation that a traveller experiences before a journey.
Dusk was coming. The rickety-old bus enroute Bhuntar grumbled it's way out of the Grand Trunk road. I sat, cramped, in the right corner of the last row of seats. The bowels of the bus was drowned in a diabolical medley. A babel of voices of the cram-full interior, the blaring country music playing to keep the driver awake, and the omnipresent honking of motor cars on Indian roads.
All the while, I was consumed by my thoughts of what lay ahead for I had no plans, no itinerary for my month-long adventure away from my mundane routine-life. I put on my earphones to disengage from the chaos, within and without. Heavy-eyed, I gazed out of the window. The urban jungle running in the opposite direction. AC/DC playing in my ears.
‘..goin' down, party time,
My friends are gonna be there too,
I'm on the highway to hell..'
Except my friends are not going to be there, after countless days of toiling with the fiendishly busy life in Mumbai, I had escaped, unchaperoned.
My destination: Hills in the North; My expedition: To discover Shangri-La.
Chapter Two: Vacilando
Vacilando, according to the Spanish, is to travel with the knowledge that journey is more important than the destination.
Light burst into the cabin as I dragged the twin-doors open to the clearing that lay before the cottage overlooking a magnificent canopy of green, blanketing the alpine surroundings. I stood there basking in the sun and taking in the crisp air of the Himalayas. Grinning, distrait, and absolutely absorbed in the moment.
It had been four weeks since I had set foot in the Parvati Valley. It took a gruelling 15-hour ride in the back of the bus, soaking up the G-forces of swerving hilly roads and viaducts, and an additional 2-hour hitchhike in the back of a pickup truck, I stood in Kasol.
To add to my chagrin, the beautiful town on the banks of Parvati river in the lush green valley, held a different picture as the one I remembered from 5 years ago on a hiking trip with my college cronies. The charming town was horded by legions of meandering tourists with no room for a lonesome wanderer.
Bemused by the fact that time changes everything and in an act of spurning to stay true to my backpacking escapade, I started for Tosh,a village settled higher up in the valley, on foot. The road snaked through the valley, over the river which made for a leisurely walk. A long lines of vehicles stood at a stand-still because of a bottleneck, and the air smelled rank of the fuel smoke. I was faster on foot and the wind was on my back.
Midway through I arrived at Manikaran, a pilgrimage for Sikhs and Hindus. I climbed down the valley to soak my jaded feet in the hot water springs. And although I am agnostic, I uttered a silent prayer for God to deliver me to the Shangri-la. So I picked myself up with renewed gusto, energised by the by the mystic waters, resumed my search. Truly happy to be on the road.
Chapter Three: Yugen
The word coined by the Japanese to explain the profound awareness of universe that triggers a deep emotional response.
To my bemusement, Tosh was no different than Kasol. Except for cooler environs and a village landscape it seemed like I was crashing a jamboree, behindhand, and unbidden while at it.
It was at the onset of night when I began to look for an abode for the night, mumbling to myself, frowning at the exponential growth of population. Swallowing my contempt for my own kind, I humbly enquired about low-priced accommodations in the village to a tipsy looking girl. After what it seemed like a look of scrutiny to deem whether I was worthy of the information she gestured me to the far end of the village.
I found a cosy chamber in a stony house of an elderly village couple who were letting out rooms to tourists as every guest-house and lodge in the village was full to bursting.
Later in the night, after a hearty home cooked meal of hot rice and lentils, I sat in a huddle with other guests at the inn around a bonfire, my eyes fixed upon the the dancing flames taking myriad shapes.
Soon all were engaged in a conversation over steaming spiced tea. It was an eclectic mix of folk. An Israeli journalist talking about warring countries, a British student discussing movies, a French tattoo-artist explaining art, her Spanish boyfriend speaking of music and how it calls to and connects all souls. And I listened, questioned, and laughed with them. Furthermore, I shared my quest with them which they found intriguing.
The Spaniard started playing a guitar, and the captivating melody took over us as we sat around the mound of crimson coals.
Before retiring to our beds, we had made a pact to hike up higher and deeper into the mountain forest to an even small village named Kutla. I looked up at the sky and let out a sigh, gesturing to the band of wanderers at the countless mass of stars watching over us. And we sat engrossed fixated by the artwork of the heavens above.
Chapter Four: Erlebnisse
A German term for experiences, positive or negative, through which we feel most deeply; through which we live.