Early morning we made our way into the tempo after some hot chai. It was going to be a long drive to Manali, the route was easily considered to be one of the most dangerous in the country but the drivers are so calm and collected I tell you, I did the same journey two years ago with a jeep filled with others on a sharing basis and it was amazing. Now I had my mates, we were going together as a team for the last time…
Ravi, Ronak and Bhuvan were going to Kaza and spending a few days exploring the villages. With lots of hugs and emotions we wished them well and made our way off. Akshay joined in along with Santoshbhai and Kadakbhai, they would be with us till Manali and then go to Indiahikes office. Shantanu wanted to get back home as soon as possible. He was moving base from Pune to Bangalore plus he was missing his family. He would take the bus tonight itself. While the rest of us, Mayur, Siddhant, Radhey, Deepanshu, Aritra, Prerana, myself decided to stay in one place maybe an air b & b that was spacious enough for the night. No way were we ready to end the night just like that!
I had decided to leave a day earlier and I was able to rebook my flight so Deepanshu and I decided to go to Chandigarh together the next day. Rajeevji’s family was already in Manali and we were keen that he spend some time with all of us tonight. It was all set.
We made our way through endless landscapes of barren Spiti with all it’s colours in the bluest blue skies, you could think this was a dream. Many river crossings and boulders with vehicles driving on the edge, stopping then again moving. Initially we all were set to visit Chandratal, the beautiful high altitude lake. We had a long day ahead and we thought why not detour a bit to Chandratal? At the most we would reach Manali by 7 pm.
We stopped for breakfast and had a hearty meal with chai. This was the point every transport stopped for a food break enroute to Manali. We had stopped at Kaza previously but it was too early in the morning to get anything beyond momos. I remembered being here for the first time in 2019, there was no space to sit, it was that packed with travellers. How times had changed with COVID.. There were barely 2-3 vehicles. Even on the routes I remembered how many vehicles whizzed past us previously and now it was different.
Our plans for Chandratal went for a toss when the local police said that to go there you need an E pass and there would be an entry point there and they wouldn’t allow you without it. The internet was patchy, the only network running there was Jio and even that was not working. We heaved a sigh and drove towards Kunzum pass. After that we could decide.
We stopped briefly at Kunzum pass and decided let’s go to Manali directly and certainly not worth taking a detour without an E pass, it was not meant to be. Through the route, Akshay like a DJ played all kinds of songs with lots of requests to boot and we made our way through the rough landscapes. Sometimes dozing off, sometimes chatting and laughing, there was also another person from Mudh who joined us in the tempo.
I am sure each one of them were lost in thoughts, right from planning their schedule to go back home to, to facing whatever they had to face. Which one was the real life? This or that? Was this our escape into a dreamworld? The Utopia we hope for where everything is nice… But yes the Himalayas showed us this too can happen, change can happen but only in ourselves. We might not even know it, but change in us impacts the people we are close to, whom we interact with and it does set a chain reaction. The only thing is we will never know it, ever.
After almost 10 hours of journey, we were approaching Manali, the landscape dramatically changed from barren to lush green. Full connectivity and everyone’s phones started blinking. Sigh.. Thanks to the Atal Tunnel that got inaugurated last month, we didn’t have to go through the crowded Rohtang pass that was a ‘mela’ really and that cut us some slack. Mayur spearheaded booking the air b & b, checked with us and found a beautiful villa a little away from the noise of Manali. We needed that badly. After being in that serene atmosphere, the noise was getting to us.
Meanwhile we said our byes to Akshay and the others, Rajeevji’s family came to pick him up and he would meet us tonight. Siddhant being the enterprising guy he is made a deal for a good ‘maal’ while the others got a carton of beer and liquor and Deepanshu got loads of ‘Chakna’ – snacks. It was going to be a party tonight 😁
As we reached the villa, we felt so good. Nestled a little higher up, away from the noise it was beautiful. There were rooms we could share and a lovely garden with apple trees and a portico where you could just sit and do nothing. The guys were eager to start the party. Everyone showered as fast as they could. The staff had one guy called Akshay or Ashish I think, a good looking bloke, he was super cool as he was helping Sid roll and crush ‘ahem’ the greens 😊
We didn’t want to get out of the villa and eat outside and there was a full fledged kitchen so Sid took over and told the staff what all to make with Mayur and I pitching in saying we wanted Egg Masala! I was badly missing protein and some spice! As we got ready to start off, Deepanshu got a call that Rajeevji was nearby and from the gate I saw a silhouette! Omg! Rajeevji got his wife! Like a kid about to be caught red handed, I remember rushing Sid in with the joints and drinks, and he ran taking all the stuff inside 😁
Radhey smartly suggested why don’t we sit in the lawn?? So all that jazz in the portico couldn’t be seen 😊 Rajeevji came with his wife and son and they were lovely. One could see she was really attached to him, she couldn’t stay away from him and she was worried whenever he trekked. It was understandable. In today’s times, when someone is out of connectivity for a week and that too in the mountains, all kinds of fears come up.
After spending some time with us they left and out came the drinks and smokes! Deepanshu showed his’Punjabiness’ by not just chugging beer but challenging and provoking Prerana and Radhey to drink more. Siddhant was something else. He seemed like the Godfather looking over the proceedings, drinking and drinking and so stable!
Aritra for his 22 years had so many drinking stories to share I was surprised! Well till date I haven’t met one Bengali who doesn’t drink or smoke, so they have yet to break that stereotype 😁 Prerana and Radhey were gone and out, high and laughing loud. It was so good to see everyone unwinding and letting themselves go. Deepanshu’s quiet demeanour transformed into a ‘Punjab da puttar’! We played Never have I ever and the stories of everyone went crazier by the minute! But I will tell you what made me choke with laughter. Radhey said, Never have I ever seen dog sex’!!! Everyone sipped their drink except me so Radhey says all drunk, ‘ Hey Andhra, tumhare balcony ke bahar Dog sex nahin dekha kya?? Andhra mein nahin hota hai kya?? Piyo!!” 😂😂😂 I swear I still laugh loud when I think of it!
Deepanshu was super high telling Siddhant should make Bacardi shots, Sid cleverly used small pegs to fill the glasses, well the gang was drunk, how much more drunk can they get? Mayur said he had enough and went in to take a call. Deepanshu turned to me wide eyed and said, can you make sure no one gets out of the gate? Can you handle it? I assured him. He went up to his bed. Mayur slept off for some time when I went to check on him. Sid was continuing his drink and smokes like a cool gangsta, he truly was the coolest dude. I quietly told Aritra to go slow, and I didn’t need to, clever guy that he is when Deepanshu would keep insisting on him drinking, he would get into another story 😊
I was tired and hungry so I sneaked in to have dinner and even Mayur was up and hungry. What food they made! The egg Masala was so good that Mayur and I kept piling on that gravy on our jeera rice! Then what happened next was magical for me.
Mayur and I had an intense conversation as he shared his idea, concept and how he wanted to share it with everyone, and that truly made me think differently. He was brilliant, nah more than brilliant subtly hiding his true self. Here was a man astute, sensitive and I think cracked the code of human consciousness. We spoke for almost a couple of hours.
When I hit the bed, my mind was so wired, it was buzzed with what Mayur spoke. Behind that simple looking guy was an abundant wealth of knowledge.
I woke up early morning and sat with some chai in the portico watching the rain. It was beautiful. Romantic is the word I use. It need not be about two people but just solitude sitting there in peace. Deepanshu woke up and so did Mayur and later Radhey. I didn’t want to wake up Prerana, she slept really late and she was blissfully asleep.
Deepanshu said Aritra would join us for the car ride, he had a train back to Kolkata at midnight from Chandigarh station, I was really happy.
After a hearty breakfast with more chais, we said our goodbyes to the remaining gang, they would go their separate ways the next day. Siddhant as usual didn’t plan, maybe he would go to Kullu, his schedule was open.
During the car ride we oscillated from chatting to sleeping and Deepanshu playing songs on his playlist to Aritra taking over and playing melodious old Hindi songs. Deepanshu and I had a very lovely conversation, isn’t it beautiful that we open up towards people that we just met? But that’s what kindred spirits are about. Here were all of us bonding over our love for mountains and we do that every time punishing our bodies physically and gaining so much in every way..
The driver I felt was erratic but Deepanshu kept assuring me this is the way they drove 😊 After a lovely super late lunch at a government guest house restaurant which we hogged, Deepanshu got off first, he convinced the driver to drop Aritra at the station. We both were concerned about him being dropped off in the middle of nowhere in the highway but the driver assured us and he did drop him off at the station. A craving Aritra and I had was for fish! 😊 But right now in Chandigarh Chicken would do! As he sent me a pic of a mouthwatering chicken curry he was eating I was dying to have dinner!
When I checked into my hotel room, I felt a huge void inside me. This is it. It was over. Finished. Yes the initial enthusiasm of texting each other will be there, but will we stay in touch? In contact? I don’t know, but I do know that there will always be those few I will check in on, to make sure they are fine, they are good.
I end this particular blog series both with a lightness and heaviness of my heart. By writing about it, I could relive it all again and like all beginnings there are endings and this one is that.
As I set upon another journey, let me tell you my biased mind is already set. The group, the people I met in this trek spoilt it for me for life. But I also believe, one should have an open mind and give people a chance, a tiny window of opportunity to reveal themselves and that’s what am gonna do in my next journey. And as I told Aritra yesterday worst come worst I will get to eat lots of snacks from the upcoming new group with a disclaimer: No Sugar! 😁😁
As I was set to embark on a new trek with a dear friend, he cancelled out yesterday at the last minute. So here I am the solo one, in a new group of mostly couples! Well lessons keep happening and who knows what experiences come up on this one.
Until I write again, have love always with you ♥️
The first two pics by Deepanshu