Sunday, July 29, 2012

Diary of a Traveller: My Experiences : Himachal Pradesh: Day 3: On the way to Manali!!

We got up early this morning and got ready also in no time. We knew it takes long time to travel in the hills and distance between Shimla and Manali is 270 odd kms. But that didn’t deter us from ordering tea at our suite. We got our luggage packed and asked the room service to do a favour to transfer it to our vehicle. Anita had just moved ahead and came across Shib Kumar who told her that there has been a problem on the way to Manali ahead of Kullu. She was panic stricken as I saw her while descending from the staircases. She came running to me and gave me this update. Bravo! What a start for the day! I tried to confirm that with few locals who had told this to Shib Kumar. I suspected some confusion with the Ladakh cloudburst.
Anita suggested if we could extend our stay in Shimla and I told her we are not entitled to do that. I decided to continue with the earlier plan with no changes to it. For the sake of confirmation, I dialed Shammi’s cell in Delhi (I don’t know if he may be cursing me like anything as it was a Sunday morning). Shammi told me that he is not aware about such development and we can proceed to Manali.
I heaved a sigh of relief and marched towards Palace Wing to have breakfast. We again had a sumptuous breakfast as we were unaware about the food we may came across on the way. In the restaurant, I spotted a lady who had a stark resemblance with Manish Gupta who was CNBC TV 18’s commodity expert. I told this to Anita but she disagreed. However, I was confident that she was the same person and I decided to ask her as soon as we finished our breakfast.
After we were done, I approached the family who were having their breakfast and asked the lady, “Hi. Sorry to disturb you. But are you Manisha Gupta from CNBC TV18?” By the time I had asked this question, I had realized that she was not Manish Gupta. She looked startled but politely said no. I apologized for barging into and made a beeline to the receptionist. Anita was giggling and saying that she was right. I cleared my bills and was surprised to find that the tea was not included. I was told that it was complimentary. Got another reason to come back to Shimla! J
Finally, we boarded our car and descended towards city. There was no drizzling but the fog was still suspended on the roads and the trees. We made a quick exit fro Shimla. I could recall few of the places shown in the movie ‘Jab We Met’ when Shahid Kapoor comes to find Kareena in Shimla. Being nestled in hills, this city disappears in a flash and our veteran driver suggested us to have a final look at Shimla before it disappears.
We moved out of Shimla. Our first destination of this dream journey was behind us. We were on our way to explore another beautiful destination known as Manali.
Shib Kumar told us that Manali is the most beautiful destination of our itinerary. Welll…I was also told before I started journey that Dharamsala should never be missed. Shimla was written off by many people as I mentioned in my earlier writing. And nobody seemed to know about Dalhousie. Mystery is beautiful always, isn’t it? But I was also least interested in comparing all the places with the same benchmark.
I am a person who enjoy every centimeter of my journey as everything is new for me. The flowers, the trees, the bushes, the animals, the people…everything is new as you keep on moving. Everything keeps on changing and you can’t take you eyes off. Beauty of the Himalayas is such that it takes you in to the world of trance. I really have no issues with people who prefer reading (when they are actually exploring new places…do they??) or the people who love take nap..! But I am not comfortable with both. Some people may argue that I was in Himalayas and that’s why I could see beautiful places throughout the journey. Well, deserts are also amazing with their changing patterns. Everything new is very exciting.
I recall a chapter from Alvin Toffler’s amazing study about the future called ‘Future Shock’. It says that human body is meant to live life monotonously without facing much changes. It doesn’t differentiate changes between good and bad. So changes make human body vulnerable and shrinks expectancy of life. I don’t know how it coincides with logic of taking a break from a monotonous life and make it happy. Another fine contrast with this argument is that the mankind in the last 60 years has experienced changes which are in multiples of the changes since Homo Sapien evolved and experienced till 1950 and the life expectancy in last 2000 years has increased from 21 years to 68 years. Wow!
  We knew where are we headed as soon as we came out of Shimla’s boundaries and we knew how beautiful the journey was! Anita was constantly enquiring about the height of the roads which we were supposed to cross on our way to Manali. Shib Kumar was helpless as he could say, “Mam, we will see the plains only when we will be ending our journey.” How promising! In contrast ways, for me and Anita! I suggested that I should sit next to Shib Kumar in front while Anita could occupy the back sit just for the sake of sleeping! I was fully geared to enjoy the breathtaking beauty of Himachal on bright shiny day.
Barely an hour had passed since we had been at the outskirts of Shimla and we took our first pit stop. Actually we had our breakfast at Woodville and were not eager to put some more fuel but the sight of pakoras (fritters in english) being fried in Mustard Oil made an extra place in my belly. I and Shib Kumar binged on those pakoras and Anita did a good work of a photographer clicking interesting photographs of the sheer representation of hunger. J Shib Kumar knew every nuke and corner of the route. We were enjoying our journey.
Our Cox and Kings report told us that we should be enjoying our journey along the banks of the Beas River. I was also eagerly looking for it. The traffic was a bit dampner on our way to Bilaspur. Shib Kumar enhanced my general knowledge by telling me about cement factories in Bilaspur in Himachal Pradesh and many trucks carrying the freight to Chandigarh. I could see Beas by our side. The water was murky as it was monsoon time and the flow of the water was pretty daunting. We reached a point from where a left turn would lead us to Dhramsala, our next destination after Manali in our trip and straight road would take us to Manali. We headed straight but we knew that we had to come back to the same point to make it to Dharamsala as there was no alternative. Tricky is the road planning in the hills!
The clock was showing 1.45 pm and we were hungry! (What? Even after having those pakoras some couple of hours back? That’s the answer…Couple of Hours Back!) We decided to stop at a small restaurant exactly situated on the banks of Beas called ‘Dawat’. This place provided a breathtaking view of Beas river flowing through the hills and mind you, Bilaspur is not a Hill Station!
I recalled an episode of Highway on My Plate where Rocky and Mayur were enjoying a hot breakfast in a small hut somewhere in Arunachal Pradesh. Though the food was not so great, the ambience got 10/10. I was also facing a similar situation. The food was pathetic but the ambience…wow!
Anita was rather very disappointed with food hence we enjoyed our time clicking photograph from the balcony of the restaurant.
After paying the bills (for the ill food), we drove towards Manali. But Bilaspur still had some places which made us stop and have a look at them. One of them was the Bilaspur Dam on Beas River. Only one gate was open at that time and water was gushing out with enormous strength from there. It somehow didn’t make any sense to click the photographs and I decided to do a video shooting of that sight. Interested people may contact me if you want to see that. For security reason, vehicles were not allowed to stop on the dam and mind you, no video shooting was allowed there.
We steered clear of the dam and lo behold…Shib Kumar unveiled another beautiful sight.
I still don’t know what was so magical that every scene in Himachal was taking our breath away and we were feeling like every ounce of life is being rejuvenated here. My jealousy for Himachali people was increasing with every meter of my journey. This was not the case with Anita though appreciated the beauty in honest manner. I am not as lucky as Anita. She has spent her childhood in Kashmir, while during her teenage, she had stayed in Kumaon, Uttarakhand
As we were being carried away appreciating the natural beauty over there, Shib kumar reminded us about the distance we had to cover before we reach Manali. Shib Kumar seems to be a big fan of Manali. He told us that Manali is the best place to visit in the whole itinerary of Himachal and that’s why 3 days have been dedicated for stay in Manali, the maximum.
After an hour of journey, we crossed another famous place called Mandi. Mandi is famous for its mines of rock salt. We didn’t enter the city hence I have nothing much to write about it. The rock salt part was just to flaunt my general knowledge. J This was the route which kept my mobile phone busy with video recording. There were so many landscapes that I just didn’t want to miss and it was getting difficult everytime with my Sony Cybershot T-90 to capture it. Soon after we crossed Mandi, we reached a toll plaza beaconing our entry in the Kullu District. We had to pay green tax here as we are suspected to litter ‘possibly’ during our stay in Kullu district. No my dear friends, I hate to litter but I am still happy paying the green tax. Use of polythene bag is strictly prohibited here and is a grave offense to break this code.
Soon after we crossed a big tunnel, we were greeted by a temple of Goddess Amba. Shib Kumar religiously stopped the vehicle to seek her blessings to make our journey safe. We also did the same.
After some time, we were in Kullu, barely 40 km away from Manali. We made a pit stop at the shop of Mr. Chandraprakash Thakur. Chandu Thakur is a good friend of Shib Kumar. He has also rented a place next to him for a shop called SINGH SHAWLS. Kullu’s shawls are famous everywhere. We had our tea and also had look at the shawls and other garments in the shawl shop. We actually had been speaking about buying shawl, jackets, sweaters etc etc throughout the journey. We decided to move ahead though we confirmed with Mr. Thakur that he will take us to the apple orchard he owns, situated right on the hill top and also enquired about traditional Himachali dishes like Babru and Shidu. Damn! I should have seen Rocky and Mayur visiting Manali in one of the HOMP episodes.
We moved ahead after we finished our tea and I started sensing Kullu. The traditional Himachali houses built with wood, the feisty Beas in her teens, the greenery, the lovely air, finally people dressed in traditional Himachali attire and not for the sake of getting clicked. J. Kullu is also famous for its white water rafting though monsoon is the season when it is actually avoided. But still some people were inviting to try it out but I was eager to check in our hotel. We made another stop at Trishla Shawls, probably the biggest in Kullu and very famous since almost every vehicle in the radius of 200 km flaunted sticker of Trishla shawls. Our vehicle was not an exception.
I was tired. But Anita’s enthusiasm at such places is commendable. Though I am blessed that my better half is not a shopaholic, she is finally a girl. We entered Trishla’s premises and Anita was bowled over by the patterns of the shawls and other woolen garments. We did a breezy shopping but it lasted for more than an hour. And yes Anita really got some good sweaters, number of shawls for everybody back at home and yes, I got a very smart sweater. Another big bag was added to our array o luggage. This was complimentary from Trishla for doing such a good shopping.
It was getting darker and I was getting tired. Anita sensed that and we hurried towards Manali. I didn’t have a slightest idea that all my tiredness was going to evaporate in matter of minutes.
Shib Kumar was praising Manali like anything since we started our journey. He also told us that because of this, the stay is maximum at Manali compared to other places. The stretch from Kullu to Manali is tiny 42 km. You get the hint of Manali from the apple trees which are on either side of the road. And lo & behold….that was the season for apples getting ready on trees. Never in my life I have seen such a beautiful (and juicy??..yes yes) sight. There were more apples than leaves on all apple trees. The color showing they were perfectly ready. Actually many tourists coming to Himachal and especially Manali are longing to see apples on trees. But the tourists season is such that it never happens. We were very lucky….to see apples on trees and not to see tourist crowds on the street. J
I could see Anits’s joy multiplied compared to the earlier incident where we saw apple trees at Kufri near Shimla. This was just out of the world. Anita in that swing of happiness was asking Shib Kumar to stop and let her pluck some apples. I know her childishness but Shib Kumar was terrified and he said that that would have some serious consequence. But he promised that he will take us to an apple orchard another day.
Again, the simplicity and beauty was very apparent here. Flawless smiles stretching to their eyes, simple clothes, beautiful wooden houses. No wonder every average Indian mind thinks that his best holiday is going to be in Kullu and Manali. J
Darkness was apparent now and we had entered the city. Our hotel, Quality Inn River Country Resort was located in a place called Rangri and it was on the banks of Beas River. I was pleased with the location. We took our baggage out and checked in. Relatively, the resort was empty apart from few tourists probably from Japan were there.
Although the journey was very beautiful, I must say that it had been 10 hours since we had left Shimla in the morning. Obviously, we were tired. We made a beeline towards our room. Hmm..this time we were not that lucky to get a suit like Shimla but this one was also a nice accommodation. A coffee maker was there on the table. Anita was quick to make coffee and I was quick to open the window. And wow…the gushing sound of Beas’ bubbly water was quite a music to our ears. It was flowing right in front of our window.
Switched on the TV. There was a local channel playing the Himachali songs. Overall, I was pitying at the picturisation, the lead actors, the choreography and the music. Music in the mountains is so wonderful and what that video was showing was absolute c**p. Switched to HBO..watching Kevin Spacey’s K PAX.
After having a hot water shower, it was apparent that we were hungry. River Country was the only place on our itinerary where our tour manager a.k.a. Cox & Kings had promised us to feed with the dinner during the stay. That’s promising! So River Country has got a restaurant with a funky name called ‘Curry By The River’! Actually, for this resort, everything was by the river…parking by the river, guests by the river, stay by the river etc. As I mentioned that it was not the peak tourists season and we were lucky to chose the table of our own choice. The items of the menu card were fixed for us as part of our package. We ate it, enjoyed it and went to sleep!

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