No man ever steps in the same river twice, for he is not the same man and it is not the same river. Of late, I have come to believe in the verity of this statement. Experiences make us what we are, as what we are not. So it is that I have decided to talk about my newest experience in this post. My travel to the mountains. And beyond. This post is a conglomeration of things that have happened over two weekends, and therefore might seem a bit disorganized here and there, but I will try to end up by joining all the strings together so that you can fall in love with my journey as much as I did.
Let me first tell you about my trip. I undertook two trips on consecutive weekends, the last weekend of September and the first weekend of October. The two trips were as different as they could be from one another, and the kind of experiences that I have gained during this period is one that I am going to carry in my memories for a lifetime. The first weekend was not any different from a normal family trip. We went out to a hill station nearby called Mussoorie, drove across mountains, went to monasteries and waterfalls and stayed at a hotel relaxing for most of the time. It was a classical family trip, the main motive of which was not really to visit a place but to sneak out of our home and snug ourselves at a cozy place. This hill station, situated in the foothills of the Garhwal Himalayan ranges, is also known as the Queen of the Hills. Being at an average altitude of 1880 meters (6170 ft), Mussoorie, with its green hills and varied flora and fauna, is a fascinating hill resort. Commanding snow ranges to the north-east, and glittering views of the Doon Valley and Shiwalik ranges in the south, the town was once said to present a ‘fairyland’ atmosphere to tourists. The highest point is Lal Tibba with a height of over 3000 meters (9800 ft). Well yes, some of the information here is from the internet, but that is just so you know a bit more than the fact that I really enjoyed my trip out there though we hardly did anything out of the blue.
There are a lot of places in Mussoorie and the area around that are worth visiting. For one, it houses the oldest church in the Himalayas, St Mary’s. A majority of the population at the outskirts of the city are Tibetan, and one can find a blend of Tibetan culture in the growing tourism industry out there, with Tibetan temples cited as top tourist spots. Special schools exist solely for teaching Tibetan children. 13 kilometers from Mussoorie is also the famous Kempty falls which is nearly 1364 meters above sea level. Our road-trip to Kempty Falls was quiet and serene. Seldom we found a car that came from the opposite direction, and the hills and trees around gave a sense of closure, such that it seemed we were hidden from the world.
On our way back, we stopped at the Robber’s Cave. Robber’s Cave (locally known as Guchhupani) is a river cave formation located approximately 8 km from the centre of Dehradun City. The cave is about 600 metres long, divided into two main parts. The cave has a highest fall of about 10 meters. In the central part there is a fort wall structure which is now broken. It consists of an extremely narrow gorge formed in a conglomerate limestone area on Doon Valley’s Dehra plateau. It is a natural cave formation where rivers flows inside the cave. We waddled ourselves through the water, reaching to the innermost point of the cave. People were taking showers in the waterfalls. Outside the cave, there was a river café, where the tables and all were placed on the stones in the river. It was an exciting visit, one that will stay in my memories for long.
Though the main bulk of the trip extended for only little more than two days, it was a really fun trip. We got back home safely, but this was only the beginning for me. I started preparing eagerly for next weekend, which would, as I later realized, be the best trip of my life.
Fast forward one week. If the excitement I reached last week was at level 1, I would notch it up to level 20 for this week. This trip has by far been one of the best trips in my life. We went on a road-trip to the yet unurbanized areas of Himachal Pradesh. We travelled overnight from Delhi to Shimla on a Wednesday, and reached Shimla early morning next day. We then hired a car and drove from Shimla, the capital of the state, to Narkanda. We didn’t halt there, because we had better and bigger plans and needed to execute them. Moving ahead through hilly roads, with mountains on both sides, and the cold air lapping through our hair, the six of us might have had different perspectives and different memories, different attachments with what happened around us, yet there was a common string between all of us – peacefulness. We moved ahead to Rampur, a small city on the highway. Once upon a time, it was one of the largest hill states during the British rule, now a small part of Himachal. We stood at the porch of a hotel, at a height of 4429 feet, the Sutlej running below, the sun now glimmering across and the green hills serving as bodyguards to the white mountains far behind. Getting back into the car, we sped for our next destination.
Sarahan. We had driven a 170 kilometers since we started in the morning. We needed to rest. The sun was now high up in the sky, glaring down with its heat. But at a height of 2313 meters (7589 feet), the heat was hardly the problem. It was cool, a breeze blowing at a moderate speed. The cold climate is suitable for apple crops, and we found loads of apple gardens all through our way. Now at the top of Sarahan, we had come to see the very famous Bhimakali temple, dedicated to the mother goddess Bhimakali. Down below at a distance of seven kilometers, the Sutlej made its way silently to the south. According to a legend, the manifestation of the goddess is reported to the Daksha-Yajna incident when the ear of the Sati fell at this place and became a place of worship as a Pitha – Sthan. Presently in the form of a virgin the icon of this eternal goddess is consecrated at the top storey of the new building. Below that storey the goddess as Parvati, the daughter of Himalaya is enshrined as a divine consort of Lord Shiva. The temple complex is huge and an eerie silence encumbered it. It was almost as if we had been transported to another century sometime far behind, where the world was still lush green and where the birds still ruled the skies. Now we felt insatiably hungry, having had only morsels of biscuits in the morning. We stopped by, and ate until our bellies could store no more. And then we moved ahead.
Tuning out the voices of people around, I turned up the volume of my walk-man. Songs. The terrific thing about songs is that it can take you down memory lane in the strangest ways possible. The song that was playing now was ‘Khamaj’, taking me six years back when a friend of mine had first suggested that song to me. And then it all came back in a rush, all the memories, all the people, everyone, friends, classmates, phones, texting, coaching classes, love, stupidity, embarrassment, the night I had asked her out, the drama, the silence, fast forward, the night she asked me out, rewind, the stuff that happened in between, everything in a gush and then all blacked out. The song changed. Now my thoughts transported back to college. I realized that I have made so many friends, and have unmade so many of them, that I really do not know what I have been doing all this while. Do I really care about the people that I have right now? Will they also fade away, like the pages of a novel, never read again once the novel is done with? I had once thought about writing a novel, and had also sketched out a plan, but then what happened? I don’t remember, but I couldn’t ever get down to really writing it. Such is my life. Plans and plans and yet nothing comes out on execution. Wasteful it is, and I needed to fix it, as soon as possible. I made a mental note to start with the novel once I got back home. But that was far, and now ahead lay many miles to cover. In my mind, ‘Five Hundred Miles’ hummed on its own, and I didn’t try to block it out. Someone was saying something, but it was so much soothing to not listen to anyone, to not pretend I was listening, to just close your eyes and take a walk down memory lane, that I did not even try to open my eyes.
It was afternoon when we left. We were moving higher now, into the Kinnaur district. We were to next halt at Rekong Peo, the headquarter of the Kinnaur district. But we had time still, and it was far up, another 90 kilometers. I decided to take a nap, for my eyelids were heavy and in dire need for sleep. I did not realize when I fell asleep, but when I woke up, we had covered a good distance. Our driver was an experienced one, and he had made good time, even for the road which was on such rough a terrain. But it was still smooth, compared to what was to come later in our journey. But let me not move ahead of time, and we will cross the river when we come to it, but for now, I realized we had already crossed Peo, and were on our way to Kalpa. Kalpa is a small town in the Sutlej river valley, above Recong Peo, among apple orchards, pine-nut forests and the stately cedars. It is located at the base of the Kinnaur Kailash snow-capped ranges. The Shivling peaks rise up to 20,000 feet (6,000 m). I later came face to face with the peak as our guest house had a perfect location, situated right across the Kinnaur, with a direct view of the mountain. We saw its hue change from white to red and then to black with silvered ice tipping its peak, as we dozed off to sleep, and witnessed it growing back from silver to red in the morning as we woke before the morning sun could rise in the east behind us. Once we crashed on our beds that night, it was as if the air around had been sprinkled with a scent that could induce anyone to sleep. It was a comfortable night, and we huddled in small beds, sleeping under quilts. Hardly did we know that this would be one of the last such nights that would be this comfortable. But for now, our minds were clear, we had had a sumptuous feast for dinner, starters followed by a main course, and music blaring in our rooms, and for a while we tried to keep ourselves awake, but to no avail. Sleep came in like a monster at night. And that was how our first day had come to an end.
Read the next part in Part 2.