The next morning as I was getting ready Vishal called me. He was already at the Chowk by 8 am, he got a ride.
He was asking me if I wanted to walk up till Naddi view point or take a bus and then walk from there. He also mentioned that the trek to the temple was long and hard, almost 6 kms, so it made sense to take mini bus till Naddi and then walk, I was game for anything.
He asked me if I ate, I kind of assumed and forgot he was fasting so I said You go ahead and have breakfast as I am really not hungry, then softly he said I got breakfast for you from home. I apologized and said I will eat it later on the way.
I walked fast to the Chowk and saw Vishal smiling and waving back at me and he had a big day pack with him. We had to walk down and away from the Chowk as mini buses would stop at the bus stand way ahead. We waited for 10 minutes and just when we thought we should start walking, in came a mini bus.We got in and Vishal paid for us both refusing to take money.
It is such a pleasure riding in local buses, you get to interact with people, smiling friendly faces and you get a few glimpses of their life..
Vishal I noticed had this dollop of kindness ingrained in him and I would see that through the day. Getting up to give his place to young school kids, holding someone else’s bag while they were struggling to stand upright in an overcrowded bus, it was just there in him.
We got down at Naddi View point and from there we had to take a detour to a trail that would lead to the temple. But first I had to eat so Vishal promptly got out all the goodies from his pack and guess what he packed up for the whole day!
Apples, Coconut Biscuits, Breakfast for me and a nice Sabudana (sago) Kheer made with Ghee. And here was I, again, not carrying anything with me! He was fasting so the Sabudana and apples would be the only thing he would eat after the Darshan at the temple.
He was insisting so sweetly Aap ne kuch nahi khaaya kuch to khaalo ( You didn’t eat anything, please eat something!) I took a Coconut Biscuit, it was made locally and it was so Yum and filling! I thanked him so much for taking care.
We set out cutting through small hamlets and villages. There were two things about the trail to Guna Devi Temple. Till a certain point there was a better path up till 3 kms for tourists but Vishal took me through trails that locals used, the ones he took when he was a kid.
We started climbing up and yes again ascents 🙂 It was only spiraling up and up and on either side there were hamlets, small temples. The views were astounding!
We reached a very raw muddy stretch that ran for half a kilometre, the officials were making a proper road and I was thinking Oh man, there goes the privacy in my own selfish way..Once a road is made it was only a matter of time before other things would follow.
At one point we waded through slushy mud and had to stop briefly as the earth mover was filling up mud to fill the gaps, looking down we could see the valley below, it was so beautiful. Walking this time was different as I would greet other locals just like he did, I almost felt like a local myself 🙂
We were walking through green mountains on either side, a brook running by and ascending upwards until we had to descend to a bridge, walk by it with waters running around it. The scene around us was picture perfect. Mountains surrounding us, waters, hamlets nearby, this small bridge, it was like being in a painting.
We reached this small rock shack called Adventure Cafe, this was started by a mountaineer himself who explored this region and decided to open one. I could see a few homes that had Home Stay available written on them. It would have been perfect to stay here for the night. The cafe wasn’t open yet so we crossed it and made our way up.
Vishal spoke about his family. His father who worked as a cook in the army and retired, his mother, his older sister who was married with a kid and lived near Palampur and the cousins he lived with. Even his boss and his family lived with them.
He said I never was interested in studying, I failed quite a few times and I really tried hard but by the time I was 16 years I had enough so I stopped school and started working at the shop and it’s been ten years now. My friends from school made it big, one is a doctor, one works for a company all in big cities and I know I am not intelligent but am fine with it. I am content here.
I told him studies and intelligence had nothing to do with each other. Being a good human being was what mattered and even though in today’s world that based intelligence and success on the money earned, in the end nothing changed, one had to be a good human being and Vishal was one of the most genuine people I have met. He was fluent in English and knew several languages with his experience of meeting people from different countries. How can one beat that?
Walking along, chatting , he told me stories from his village, the festivals, how would they celebrate, how he enjoys himself by drinking once a month, his friends, he was an awesome company to be with.
At one point, we reached what looked like a Gateway to the temple, it was still quite far away but from here it would be rocky, steep climbs with lush trees surrounding it. We rung the bell at the gateway and started walking up, we were crossing detours that lead to small hamlets.
Then we saw an old man carrying a bag and Vishal asked him if he was going to the temple, he nodded. Then he offered him to carry the bag to and deliver it to that person.
The old man mentioned that there was his nephew who was at the Temple. Vishal carried that heavy load on his shoulders and I was insisting that I could carry his daypack and he wouldn’t listen, he said he was used to it.
Within minutes, a communication happened, just like an echo we heard the old man shout something and up there we saw a man responding back.
In half an hour we reached that spot, the man thanked Vishal and took the bag and we all started walking up. I remember a beautiful spot, a branch completely horizontal in the middle of the trail with bells hanging. We rang the bells and were on our way up.
It was beautiful weather now, because we were going higher up the altitude, we could see that Mist again, enveloping the surroundings and lending a magical touch to it.
Finally we reached the temple and it was so silent I tell you.. No one except us three and a main priest. It turns out the man who took the bag was a dhaba owner-the only one there and a priest too! He took us inside and we sat inside the small temple.
We had to crouch and sit and there she was. Guna Devi, in beautiful orange and those eyes.. She was Kali known as Guna Devi by the locals and during Navratri she became Durga.
As we sat through a small prayer, I thanked everyone in my life, everyone whom I said goodbye to before I came here. It felt so divine sitting there in silence and just hear his soft voice chanting prayers
Vishal promptly took out a 500 Rs note, made me touch it saying it’s from both of us and put it in the box. This donation box was used for giving free meals to the devotees coming there.
There were accommodations around the temple area . On the day of Dussera there would be a huge procession following which would be free meals to anyone walking into the temple on those special days.
Vishal sat with the main priest and started consulting him giving his Kundali (astrological) details, he was concerned with his father and he wanted harmony in the family, that was his only wish.
I listened in rapt attention leaving my prejudice, judgement aside on this. Who were we to judge anything or anyone? Faith was personal and always is, we are no one to toss it aside just because we don’t believe in it. I respected Vishal’s belief in prayers and rituals.
We got a beautiful view of the mountains surrounding the temple and wondered how breathtaking it must be when it’s winter. Snow capped mountains and all. Then the Pujari cum shopkeeper, Goldie as he called himself showed me a mystical trail up on the other side of the mountains. He spoke about the mystical untouched Kareri lake. A glacial lake and a fantastic trek to get there. Another must do in my trekking list!
After a good one hour,we sat down for lunch at Goldie’s shop. He came from a family of Pujaris and his grandfather was the first one to move up here. He didn’t want to study so he came off with his grandfather up here when he first moved. After that he was always here and this was his life.
He made hot Maggi noodles while Vishal took out the parathas and Sabudana Kheer and we shared it together. It was so yum, those parathas with Pickle, Maggi noodles ,the Kheer like a perfect dessert. I remember us three chatting for another hour. His kitchen was so unique, built in to a cave, it was awesome sitting there.
Goldie mentioned mostly foreigners came here, he had regulars like some German ladies who would stay for the night. He had neat small rooms above his Dhaba. He also told me there was a man from Hyderabad, an IT guy, he comes here every 6 months, stays in a room, treks and explores, he doesn’t even go down to the town.
Goldie told that the idol of Guna Devi was found way up in a natural formation cave, another two hours away from here. She was brought down many years ago but foreigners trekked till there and one had to go with a guide. Out of 100 people, there was only a ten percent success rate of reaching that cave, it was very steep and vertical, no paths but climb.
Finally it was time to go. We had such a good time with Goldie, at the temple, and absolutely no one except us. Moments like these are to be cherished. To understand how precious it is.
As we made our way back, we were filled with energy, with bounce in our descent, everything was perfect with the perfect weather. Vishal was so happy and content with the visit, he was telling me more stories, local folklores, about Dharamsala and all.
Crossing the Adventure Cafe again, we were onto the muddy slush road taking us down, there was a lot of work going on here, maybe getting it done fast before winter season sets in.
Walking and descending we reached Naddi View point and Vishal this time took me briefly through the usual main path and I was shocked to see so many hotels, so much concrete, there was even a 3 starhotel here! I was here last year and there was nothing and so much happened in so less time?
We stopped for Chai briefly and watching the misty mountains we chatted.
Finally we reached the Dal lake – a mini lake named after the Dal in Kashmir. The fog, oh that fog, I wonder how one can remain sane seeing it’s beauty.. Almost covering the lake and the Deodar trees surrounding it, it was looking so ethereal..
We sat on a bench and shared apples and started laughing loud about something. I remember us laughing till our belly ached! I got a call right at that time from the Colonel, he was on his way back and he was an hour and half away from Mcleodganj. It was perfect timing, I told him to call me once he was at the Chowk and we could meet for Coffee in the evening.
Slowly we made our way down and as I was about to take the main road, he told me Didiji (sister)we have short cuts here, we can reach down faster. So we crossed a beautiful and I mean beautiful Tibetan school campus with kids going back home using the same shortcuts. Any Tibetan family seeking asylum, running away from China would be given shelter here and then the process of rehabilitation started.
We made our way through pipelines, forest, Langurs and mostly Monkeys who wanted to check what’s in our bags, smiling Tibetan kids, Himachali women with their children and reached the main road, we still had quite some time to reach the Chowk and I was as usual getting dazzled by the Deodar trees.
One must stand in midst of these trees and feel it wholeheartedly. I remember at one point, I stood in the middle of it, spread my arms wide and screamed Vishal! I feel Free! I am so happy!
We were approaching the beautiful Gothic Church that housed the graves of people during World War 1. As if he read my mind, he asked if we can go there. Barring a few noisy ones with selfies, the whole courtyard was calm. The fog and mist again setting in,I felt like I was transported into a bygone era.. We sat and prayed there for some time and walked around.
Then we saw a boisterous young man shouting at Vishal with a smile, he waved back and said to me, he was from his village. He was mentally undeveloped since birth, so he could do small odd jobs and people gave him money from time to time.
The caretaker of the Church would give him odd jobs at the Church. I Saw Vishal quietly place a 20 Rs note in his hand and this man was so happy he said Ab to mein Chai aur Samosa Loonga! (Now I will eat Samosa and have tea) and went off. This is India for you.. This country has a heart and soul in spite of everything..
We were getting closer to the Chowk and I was getting very emotional, I didn’t know how to express my thanks, my gratitude to Vishal. What an awesome day it was and I would miss him a lot when I leave. How could I express it?
As we were nearing the Chowk, I heard a honk and saw the Colonel right behind me in his car! Introducing him to Vishal, I told him about a cafe near the temple where we could sit and told Vishal to get in, his shop was on the way. Vishal was hesitant until Colonel told him Arre Yaar get in I will drop you!
Saying a brief goodbye to Vishal and promising to call him in the morning, we went and sat at the cafe.
Colonel as usual was good company as he told me Army stories, the current situation in Dharamsala, the Tibetan conflict, the new young generation of Tibetans who didn’t appreciate what their forefathers did.
The younger generations were born in money so this idea of Tibet as a country didn’t appeal as much, the Chinese Propaganda of showcasing Dalai Lama as a coward running away from his own country was influencing certain young Tibetans. It was a revelation.
I also came to know that the Dalai Lama used the Triund trails, through the mountains and came to Mcleodganj in 1959. What a heartbreaking painstaking journey it must have been. To be stripped off your country, your language, your culture and that feeling of unbelonging..
It was almost 8 pm and Colonel would take another hour to reach home, he stayed a little away from Dharamsala. Bidding him goodbye I started walking to my hotel. Suddenly it started drizzling and then a sudden downpour! It was raining and I loved it! This was the only thing I was missing here and it happened!
As I was walking back I heard a shout, it was Vishal taking a shared ride and going home, he was waving hard with a big smile! I waved back and made my way into the room.
I messaged Vishal that I would meet him near Dharamsala in the morning on my way to the airport. I sat in the balcony and watched the rain.. It was pouring hard.
I had an incredible day with an incredible person who became a friend. Thanks to him I got to rediscover something I lost.. One need not lose their innocence, their wide eyed wonder in the process of becoming an ‘Adult’. And being genuine and being content was a rare gift..