Next post: At the Rohtang Pass, Himachal Pradesh, India
Pavan Nithin arrived at my apartment in the morning. Were I ‘up for this trip to Manali’ in the evening? He wanted to know. He had asked me the same question a few days before during a G chat session. He was in Kharagpur, near Kolkata, spending his last days in college (IIT). I wasn’t sure then, I wasn’t sure now. His friend in Delhi who was supposed to accompany him had pulled out from the trip that afternoon making Pavan possibly a lone traveler. Nothing tempts me more than an invite to travel. The city of Delhi was boiling in the heat of May. What did I need more? “Let’s go,” I said. I called Gokul Dahal to cancel our get together scheduled in the evening at my place. “Plan changed,” I told him. “I am going to Manali with Pavan. You are welcome to join us.”Gokul called back in 15 minutes. The news was that he and his roommate Rajesh were joining us. By 5 pm, we all were bargaining with the buswallahs at Kashmiri Gate bus stand for the lowest possible fare to the hills. The bus left for Manali at 6:46 pm after an initial glitch (had to quarrel with conductor for better seating arrangements).
Old Manali is about three kilometers away from the Manali bus stand. A friend of Pavan had told him that OM is the place to be. Pavan considered that suggestion as a line directly extracted from holy Gita. An exotic ex-hippie land where one could find lots of things including, most importantly, the best quality ganja. By the time we reached OM it was almost 10 in the morning. Not very late to start a day.
The target unmistakably was the Pass. Rohtang Pass. Acclimatization was a must. It was not an expedition but certainly nothing less. Before we all headed upward the town and surrounding hills had to be explored. Bikes seemed to be the only means to do so. Hunting for the two wheelers began in earnest. No Enfields were available. None of us possessed a driving license either. Walking seemed the only option available. We moved towards a nearby temple. Mahabharat happened not so long ago. The romance of Hidimbi and Bhim, the second Pandav, produced Ghatotkacha. The mother-son duo has been living in the jungle ever since. Mother inside a temple, son on a tree nearby. Not a peepal tree. For the first time in my life, I believe, I saw a standalone tree that has been considered a temple by devotees. Beautiful jungle. Tall and giant trees. More people than birds at the moment because of a ceremony at the temple. Time to please goddess Hidimbi. [If you are confused about Hidimbi and Hidimba like I was while writing this follow this Wikipedia page. They are sister-bother pair, possibly twins.]
Nearby museum told us about the Himanchali tradition and lifestyle. Some of them looked similar to Nepali culture and tradition. No wonder this part of the world once belonged to the Nepali empire!
A brief pedal excursion of Manali town included stopover at a barber’s. Doing away with beards seemed an urgent task.
Back in Old Manali. With so many nirvana-seeker and pot-smoking Westerners around the Lake Sidesque feeling is not entirely unexpected. Actually it was more like a Ghorepanisque feeling because of the altitude and all. I feel rejuvenated whenever I reach at such height. My inner hilliness come out and pushes me further upward. Irony is the sun looks very far away, feeble and winnable should there be an impromptu fight. The view becomes clearer. The feeling of being at the top means I can have broader view and see more things. It feels like there’s nothing between eyes and the destination.
Except that there was a three-hour picturesque drive between Manali and the Rohtang Pass. Oh, what a delightful trip that was! [ At the Rohtang Pass, Himachal Pradesh, India]