Sunday, July 16, 2006

From the mountains to the mayhem

Ahhh.. five days of bliss by the Beas later, self is back at humid, hot home.
This time up was eventful to say the least.
Chottu, Jas, Bony and self along with Driverman packed into an Indica after the Azzurri took home top honours. The first few hours were bedraggled and bum numbing as we fidgeted to find space in the cramped car. Chottu took the front passenger because he can't fit in a back seat with self squeezed between the "healthy bodies" of Jas and Bony (who is anything but).

Burst a tyre somewhere before Chandigarh, luckily right in front of a puncture repair dude. I run across the road to the fields beyond for an early morning dump, while Chottu organises tea. We then study the map and decide to take the "short cut" through Pinjore since it cut 10 kilometres off the Chandigarh-Ropar-Kiratpur Saheb-Swarghat-Bilaspur route.
Turned out to be three hours longer because the paved double lane road disintegrates into a narrow, undulating pothole between Pinjore and Swarghat.
Spectacular scenery though.
With Driverman starting to nod off, Chottu takes the wheel and promptly busts a gasket in the middle of nowhere while trying to take pictures of purple hills rolling into green meadows.
We limp into Swarghat where the mechanic says we are hallucinating and we carry on. Stopped for breakfast of alu-puri by the curb with the spectacular Govind Sagar lake for company.

Usually cops will stop and check you on your way back from Manali. This was the first time we were stopped three times on our way to the hills.
The first was obviously a narc checkpost but once they got a gander at the press cards, asked us whether we were going to do a story and if we were carrying any guns on us.
Everybody had a good laugh at that one. Even the cops.

The second was a free-for-all. A battery of khaki men was hauling down everybody on the road to check for license and registration. One senior looking chap says they do this on the 10th and 25th of each month.
Again, innocent display of the press cards and we're back on the road.
I don't like to flash the card too much, but here in what is mostly rural India, it saves you heaps of irritation.
The third checkpoint was really a toll booth where all cars that don't have Himachal registration have to cough up cash to get into Manali. Tourism chappies doing something right.

Finally crawl into Old Manali and The Dragon at half past five, dog tired but the view is fantastic ar as usual and hot showers later, we hit Moondance Cafe for dinner and eye candy.
Since self was clean out of maal, the first priority was to secure some.
Bumped into Mr Miyagi outside the German bakery and he says hello with hash in his hand. Not much, about 4 spliffs worth for 50 bucks
Picked up more from Biloo the next evening. Bumped into some of Delhi's raver crowd too. They'd come from Kasol for the party up abover Old Manali and like typical "im a hippie, im cool" behaviour, were booming chillums and rolling spliffs, sitting by the road.
These misguided folks don't know the C of chilling.

The party was delayed by a few days due to rain but it happened on Thursday night. Didn't sound very exciting, though clueless trippers seemed to enjoy it.
We have a very simple rule of thumb, you go to Goa to party, you go to Manali to chill..

It's nice to know somethings will never change here.
You can still roll out of your room, down the stairs and across the tiny lane for a ten-rupee coconut covered chocolate ball at 3 in the morning.
The lasagne at Il Forno and the Manali chicken curry thali at Johnson’s Café can still floor you. The view from the rooftop of the World Peace Café in Vashisht is still the unobstructed panoramic Kullu to Solang spread.
The forest between Old and New Manali is still an ethereal place to be as skyscraping pines and mossy foliage filter out the commotion so you can imagine you’re in Lord of the Rings or Van Helsing country.

You also, always always meet some really interesting people from all over the world here. Not just obnoxious Israeli backpackers.
Bita, Rachel and Jacob were sharing the room down the corridor from us and we got talking over Monk and coke. The three were Aussie film makers from Melbourne, travelling south east Asia making a documentary on female infanticide.
In conversation, we found out that Jacob was David Boone's (the Aussie cricketer with the handlebar moustache) nephew, Bita lives in six different cities and has no fixed address and Rachel, like Bita, is a Bahai and prefers Zambia to India.
Also met Martha and Frida from Finland. They'd been doing the adrenalin trip - rafting, cross country skiing, mountain climbing and more in Ladakh and were passing through Manali on the way to Rishikesh for 2 weeks of yoga and meditation.
At this, Chottu looks at them, looks at his paunch and sighs.

The only activity we got around to doing was the hike through the forest, down to the Manalsu to collect river rocks, take pictures and get stuck in the chicken wire fence.


The eyesores have increased here with increasing construction. Where you expect to see lush green forest waving down at you on the way up, you have Shah Rukh Khan telling you Airtel is with you here too while huge chunks of mountain have been eaten out by wayside motels and dhabas.

Some years ago, when we first did the climb in daylight on bikes, we spotted a bit of leftover paradise on the way up between Bilaspur and Mandi. It had been drizzling the whole day, but the sun had come out in the valley to the left and when we crossed this particular spot on the right, I think we all saw it at the same time and stopped with an “Ohhh!”
One giant orange flame of the forest tree dominated, surrounded by purple lavender trees and yellow-flowered trees (who’s name I don’t know) with a carpet of multicoloured wildflowers and a spirited waterfall gurgling through the scene.
A rent in the clouds saw the whole place lit with sunshine after the rains like a cosmic artist saying, “Eat your heart out Van Gogh”
We all got off, crossed the road and ran up the hill to take a closer look. No one brought out the cameras as we had packed them from the rain but it’s a sight I will be loath to forget.
This time around, the spot where I remember it to be has been hacked out of the hillside.
There’s a trucker’s garage there now.
They also sell spares.

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