Chandigarh to Shimla to Kafnu and a whole lotta characters – Part II

When you race against time to finish what you started, your mind keeps spiralling especially when there have been so many memorable moments attached to it. So here goes!

After a lot of planning, I made my way to Chandigarh, the only other gal besides me was Prerana from Bangalore. We planned it in such a way that we would be in Chandigarh a day before we could take a cab ride together to Shimla. But the poor gal had one misadventure after the other . First was the hotel she booked in Chandigarh, it was a dilapidated mess and luckily the cab driver was kind enough to direct her to a decent one. Second, the same mishap happened in Shimla when the hotel she chose was at least 12 kms away from the pickup location. To our good luck, the owner of my homestay sensing my frantic face booked a room for her at a friends hotel, very close to the pick up location. I kept joking with Prerana about it, she seemed to have one surprise after the other thrown at her 😁 Little did I know how resilient and strong she would be in the trek. This pint sized girl, who was an athlete, a hurdler was more than just mere physical strength, she had the tenacity to go through it all.

My time in Shimla was all quietness and silence, all I did was meditate, practice yoga and lie flat on bed switching off any noise outside and inside me. While Prerana met up with Ronak and Bhuvan, two other Bangalorean trekkers, I was content with being on my own in the room. I needed silence, badly. Getting stuck in a routine in daily lives meant a certain cacophony and truth be told, no matter how much we loved our dear ones back home, we all need that space, to be with the self and that’s what I did. Did I think about how the other trekkers would be? Yes absolutely! But there is also this worm inside me, I reluctantly join WhatsApp groups for trekkers and there have been a few occasions where I have cancelled out on treks last minute reading the messages, ‘major eye rolling’ and I did that. But this time I didn’t want to, no matter what. How can anyone sense the vibe of the people just with messages? So I muted it, and to my surprise the few times I checked, the group seemed pretty chilled. No show offs, no snapshots, and it seemed to me that most of them had at least 2-3 good trek experiences tucked under their belt and that was heartening. Because even trekking nowadays has become a part of the bucket list along with other hobbies like photography, foodie, travel. Nothing wrong with that either, yet this ‘selfie’ disease caught on there too and I didn’t want to be in the midst of eager beavers, going click crazy when one is having a moment of solitude or silence.

I woke up the next morning to rains. It was pouring! I had already booked a cab so I could pick up Prerana on the way and be at the pick up location on time. The gal was so formal initially telling me not to worry as she could walk all the way there, so at one point I told her to shut up and let me pick her up 😊

In pouring rain we reached our pick up location and a few seats were already filled up. There was a gentleman, senior most, whom I shall call Rajeev Senior, then came in his namesake Rajeevji, the moment I saw him, I only saw one thing, kindness in his eyes, I don’t know why but that’s how I felt it that instant. Behind was another guy Siddhant, a bespectacled guy, then came in a lean guy with a beard, that was Deepanshu. Hell he was wearing the same long sleeve shirt I wore! Damn you Decathlon! That’s how I felt 😊

Hurrying inside were two guys. A young guy called Aritra as he introduced himself, ha the Bengali! In all the treks I have done the few Bengalis I met were ardent mountaineers, was he one too? With him was Mayur who instantly asked who is Swapnaji here? And he did a humble Namaste.

I smiled because we were all trying to arrange a cab together from Chandigarh to Shimla before the trip and I was very firm to him that I am not taking a cab from some random person he knew, even though he assured that it was safe. I was telling Prerana, hell I don’t know Mayur, how do I know his friend??! She was like you are so direct, I can’t be like that! I told her I didn’t want to be diplomatic, been there, done that, if I was not comfortable I would express it. Later I came to know from Mayur what was his reaction to my firm responses!

As we were waiting for the rest we came to know that another trekker Radhey, his bus broke down closer towards Shimla and it would delay his arrival. I was like who is this chap who actually arrives to Shimla the day we have to leave? Knowing the weather and the conditions there? I mean koi planning nahin hai kya?! ( No planning at all! ) Well you will know more about him later!

Amidst the rains we set out towards Kafnu, the base camp. Ronak and Bhuvan who were still walking their way towards the pick up location would come with Radhey in another vehicle. We made our way out of Shimla and we were all lost in our thoughts. I could hear Rajeevji who was from Himachal in his gentle voice conversing with others. Rajeev senior who was sitting behind seemed very restless, pushing the window in front of me back and forth every 20 seconds, I wanted to ask him if he was ok, or was he feeling nausea? But his stern face stopped me from saying anything. I also remember him telling the driver to stop the songs he was playing.

One thing I understood is that these guys drive such long distances, killing long distances with no rest and it’s only their music that keeps them up and about. The driver politely and firmly said, “Nahin Sir, music to band nahin hoga”, ( No Sir, the music won’t stop). Rajeevji calmed the situation by engaging in a small chat with the driver. He was being the calming presence assuring Rajeev senior ki these guys function like this, while gently telling the driver to reduce the volume a bit. I must tell you this, Rajeevji’s presence throughout the trek was the most positive influence on me. And I am saying this with no qualms. To look at life with hope and optimism, seeing the positive in situations and in people requires a lot of spirit and compassion of which he has aplenty.

He literally took care of all of us quietly. Midway en route his brother in law got snacks like juice, chocolates, biscuits for all of us. I mean who were we? Rajeevji didn’t even know us and he did that. Then he stopped the vehicle and bought two full boxes of cherries. which by the way we finished it by the time we reached base camp. I began to think of him as our own ‘Santa Claus’.

As we kept driving up and above, the city was long far gone, one could see the beauty of Himachal through and through. The population became scarce, the dense forests opened up, the clouds opened up giving us clear skies, it was mesmerising.

Isn’t it ironic that we have to go so far away from so called ‘civilisation’ to connect to nature that is so intrinsic in us? We slowly made our way towards the wilderness. Having a good breakfast at a dhaba where Prerana rolled her eyes seeing me dab the extra oil with a tissue from the paratha we resumed our journey. Mayur had a cool ‘stick with a camera’ something Insta it was called. He had just got it delivered before his travel and he was trying to figure out the settings. At one point, he elongated the stick so far out of the vehicle, Rajeevji laughed saying hope it didn’t touch the mountains we were passing by! 😁

As we stopped for lunch where I had the best Himachali Rajma ever, we came to know that the other group in the vehicle had an accident! No one was hurt but the other car and this vehicle door got damaged a bit and there were cops, the whole situation was getting sorted out. Oh boy! These guys were already having an adventure.

Finally we reached Kafnu, and there he was, a bearded bespectacled tiny guy introducing himself as Akshay – the trek lead. Him? Him? Ahem, the previous trek leads I had were at least tall though skinny, he was so tiny! Well that was my impression folks. Nope I didn’t undermine him, for with my little experience I knew how tough trek leaders could be. But he seemed like a guy who walked from a corporate office to this place! Wearing a crinkly striped shirt with no marks of looking like a trek lead, he seemed like a chilled out guy who would offer us a joint and chill with us!

We were shown our rooms and we were told that Chai and snacks would be ready once the rest would come to Kafnu. So Prerana and I joined Siddhant and took a walk around the place, towards the river. It was beautiful. I called my buddy Bhim and gave him a glimpse of the river and the mountains for a few minutes. Our love for the Himalayas is what made our friendship deeper. Of course we both had the same craziness and eccentricity, to do stuff and jump in without thinking of the consequences, god knows we had so many adventures and there was more to go.

We made our way back for Chai, with all our mandatory papers to show to Akshay. And then I saw a man with an impressive moustache! He was Shantanu, he was already exploring Spiti for a week before the trek. And then I saw Ravi, a lean guy, quiet. I don’t remember if he was in the bus with us, he must have been. But let me tell you as days went by how impressed I was by him. In fact I owe my pace of trekking largely to him, totally. He had a quiet presence and later we would know the talent of a stand up comic!

As we assembled for the briefing, I gave a look over, so here we were, a motley crew of 13, spearheaded by Akshay with a technical team of Santoshbhai who was from Uttarakhand, Pawanbhai and Vipinji from Himachal with the entire kitchen team from Uttarakhand headed by Kadak Singhbhai. This was going to be fun!

I will also tell you how observant and caring Akshay was, I asked Kadakbhai if the chai had sugar and when he said Yes, I quietly moved away. Akshay asked me, you don’t take sugar? When I nodded, he immediately told Kadakbhai to make a note of it, and from that time onwards during the whole trek, tea was served without sugar and a bowl was kept aside for the others. I mean really? The whole team went out of their way. For me this goes beyond doing their duty you know? Who was I really, these kind of things humbles you..

As Akshay started briefing I could see Aritra the Bengali guy chipping in with lots of information, it showed his experience plus his eagerness. I remember Radhey and I exchanging glances and laughing while Aritra and Akshay entered into a banter on some medical info. The doctor in Aritra took over and went technical while the sarcasm in Akshay was rising up! And his sarcasm my god! I have never met a guy like Akshay who hits you with sarcasm like bullets with a straight face. Believe me, it took us a couple of days to figure out how funny he is. And the group used to say, his Delhi humour is spot on. Now I don’t know what that means, I only know if there were more people like him in Delhi, I would actually begin to like that hell hole of a city!

Siddhant, the Benarasi Babu as he shall be henceforth called with his spectacles seemed every inch a nerd to me! But yeah as Mayur pointed out later, he is a Benarasi and a Punjabi and that’s a lethal combination! He was the most chilled out dude in the trek.

So here we were, all set to start our trek tomorrow. Excitement, nervousness, as we all spoke as to why we chose this particular trek. Akshay asked us this question and gave us 2 minutes to ponder. And this guy with his wisdom made us ponder and reflect every time on the trek and I am so thankful for it. ♥️♥️

To be continued tomorrow.. Keep smiling 😊

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