It is 7 PM of a hazy Chandigarh evening. We have missed the last bus to Reckong Peo. Earlier, when we set out from Mumbai, the bus to Peo was the only part of our itinerary that we were sure of. Now, it felt like a round one knockout punch. The bus terminal meanwhile is frenetic, conductors are calling out loudly, empty buses roll in and leave the stand - overflowing with humans and all kinds of luggage. The confused noises and metallic smells are unmistakable.
Meanwhile, I ask at the counter " Peo ke liye aur koi bus milegi? "
" Nahi ji, subeh 4 baje ki sawari hai. Lekin 8 baje Rampur ke liye ek bus nikalti hai. Ya fir aap Shimla chale jao, 7:30 ki bus se "
We stand besides the counter and implore - should we stay back in Chandigarh and wait till dawn? Or do we get started with our adventure and let the road take over our fates? On a trip, I always preferred getting on with it, not break the momentum, as if the greed of exploring took over, instinctively provoking me to wander off in search of new lands. And so I ask Swanand, my younger cousin and partner on this trip, to book two tickets to Shimla. It may happen that we will end up in Shimla, in dead of the night, looking out for a lodge to crash - but we shall manage. I feel bad for Swanand though, and a little concerned too for subjecting him to this ill planned itinerary in our first trip together.
The evening sky glows in a shade of magenta. The pink light bounces off the concrete structure - making everything appear very beautiful. The dim yellows inside the bus provide a soothing contrast to the colours outside. The bus has now begun cruising along the streets of Chandigarh, passing through the towns of Panchkula, Pinjore and Kalka. It is all uphill now. We start to leave the plains behind heading towards the lights that we can see at the top, higher up in the hills. I can feel my excitement - the trip has finally begun, slowly entering into the realm of the Himalayan kingdom. But with this excitement is also a tinge of nervousness, because, unlike any other trips I have done before, there's no one waiting for us at the end of the road.
We arrive in Shimla by 12:30 in the night, much like two stranded souls waiting to be pounced upon by the predator guides of the night, looking to make a quick buck. They offer us free rides to hotels nearby, in an Alto which clearly has seen better days. We go up, then come down swirling crazily, the driver knows the lanes and gullies at the back of his hand. Even the basic rooms shown were far too expensive. Perhaps, it was the commission of all the touts in between that drove the prices through the roof. At the end though, we give in, no point in finding a room that was cheaper, if we do not get a chance to sleep at all.