The streets were getting lonelier, and few of the shop’s were already shut.Some travellers had just arrived here like me, but they seemed to know where they were going as their stay for the night I thought was sorted. But I was yet to search a shelter for the night, and my tummy was screaming to be fed. I was too exhausted and thought before searching for a room I ought to have something else I would die of starvation. There were several cafes, restaurants and German bakeries in the area, but you call it intuition or gut feeling I thought of climbing few stairs and check in to Richik’s cafe. Richie is the owner of the cafe and hence the name.
The cafe is divided into two parts, the first one is the typical sitting area where you can grab your meal and chill there, although I like the other half of the cafe. There are mattresses and cushions with comfortable blankets in case you doze off. He greeted me with enthusiasm, and after exchanging greetings he made me comfortable in the other corner of the cafe. I just realized then it was really freezing outside and I was in my floaters and wearing a sweat shirt accompanied by a trek pant. As my concentration was on searching for a place and fill my tummy I didn’t realize it till then. I asked for mushroom soup and a penne pasta in white sauce. I was a hungry animal ready to devour anything that was thrown at me but I clung to remain human and rather order something which can be quickly prepared and served to the table. I asked Richie if he could help in arranging a room for a day or two. He said, “No Problem Sir, there are several lodges and motels available, I will send Kamal to ask on your behalf. Kamal is a young man, may be around 20 years of age and is an employee of the cafe. “I don’t want to spend much, 500 for a day at max.” “Don’t worry” he said. I quickly put my focus back on the meal which was served steaming hot, the pleasure of food can only be felt when you are starving. By the time I finished my respective dishes Kamal came back with an arrangement of a room in the nearby lodge named Yik and Yak, he said, “Sir, the room has been arranged at 500 bucks a day plus it has a television, a balcony and a geyser too”. I thanked Richie, tipped Kamal, paid the bill and left for the lodge. Kamal helped me to locate the place, the room was big enough for two individuals, it had no doubt a big television and other facilities stated. Apart from all the amenities mentioned the television didn’t run, not that I plan to watch it but some times when you are all alone by yourself this idiot box can act as a cushion, that can be true for someone who is an urban dweller. Other than that the carpet laid on the floor was unkempt and and covered with dust. I am not sure but I think I have an OCD to take shower if I am sweaty and sticky but did not had to chance to take one. It doesn’t matter the temperature outside is in minus and your geyser is not working or functioning at below par when all you want is the million droplets of water to calm you down. I had a tiring journey after all.
When I woke up the next morning it was raining. The rain had made the temperature drop by another one degree Celsius. Due to rain the snow-covered mountains in the distance was lost amidst fog. It was freezing, with nowhere to go for the moment I thought of spending couple of hours at Richik’s cafe. He welcomed me with enthusiasm again, I learned the cafe was only seven days old but looked quite promising. He played tracks from yesteryear consisting of Uriah Heep, John Bon Jovi, White Snake etc. I recalled my days with Pink Cherry Bubble, I sighed. After stuffing myself with potatoes tossed in red sauce with shredded chicken, egg poach, club sandwich and two cups of coffee I retired to the other corner of the cafe and utilized my time in writing journals. It was freezing, and Richie was kind enough to lend me his gloves and also sent Kamal to buy woolen socks for me. He even gave me a piece of paper where he jotted all the nearby places where I can either trek or take a cab. I even thought of renting a bullet but it was coming too expensive. Sensing disappointment in me Kamal offered his new Pulsar and insisted that I can keep it as long as I was in Manali. Soon the rain came to a halt, I thought of taking an auto-rickshaw to a nearby hill called Vasisth. Vasisth is a temple dedicated to Hindu God Rama, and named after sage Vasisht, this place is famous for hot spring waters. People visit this holy shrine to take bath in the ‘holy’ spring waters which is believed to cure various physical ailments. The autowala said, “It would be 150 rupees to Vasisth”, “I want you to take me back here too”. “It would be 300 rupees then”, he said. We agreed and the auto took me to Vasisth. Too many people, crowded, and flocks of regular tourists in every corner. The driver suggested me to take bath in the shrine too but I already made up my mind not to.Temples as tourist destinations has never been my suo moto and too many people discourage me from visiting them. I guess in a country like India when a family witness a guy alone and all by himself they consider him a prey to click pictures for them. “One with the temple door please” the husband with a heavy south Indian accent instructed me. While I was taking few snaps of the intricate designs of the temple entrance the newly married couple caught hold of me and ‘requested’ me to take pictures for them. I clicked half a dozen pictures for them until they were satisfied. Vasisth temple is believed to be more than 4000 years old, sounds older than ancient.
For some unknown reason I was in hurry that day and I could not properly explore the place as I could have. The auto driver suggested that I can visit Jogini waterfall if I want to and he would wait for me till I come back. I found Manali to be traveler friendly and very comforting. I took his suggestion and started trekking towards the waterfall. The view from the narrow lanes of the snow-capped mountains is enchanting, it is needless to say but I can never get tired of the view, it gives me so much of peace that I can die gazing at them.
As funny it can get I never reached Jogini waterfall, I realized that later when I was checking the pictures of the place in the internet. I somehow doubted it when the auto driver asked me, “Did you even go to the waterfall, how come you returned so early?” I said, “I did not spend much time there”, looking perplexed he didn’t ask anything much. So what happened was I did reach a waterfall and another trekker probably from Britain must have thought the same as we sat near the waterfall for some time. I did not see any path ahead so I clicked few pictures and returned. Later, I picked a swarovski for Megha from a nearby crystal and precious stone shop. That was it, I returned to old Manali, had my lunch in one of the German cafe, and went straight to Richie’s cafe, by that time the sky was all clear and blue.
“Richie, would you tell me little bit about Malana, all the rumors that I’ve heard is it true?” He replied, “Yes sir, Malana village is a solitary valley, they consider themselves to be the descendants of Alexander”, “I’ve heard that they don’t follow Indian law and they have their own set of rules and procedures”, he replied, “They actually consider themselves superior to the rest of the people and fellow citizens, they don’t appreciate someone talking to them directly or touching them, or entering their household.” Malana of course is known for its hash, the premium cream it produces, its not a secret anymore. Richie also tells me that there are drug portals very much active in the valley and they supply the hash internationally. I have never smoked a joint properly in my life and my desire to taste the premium hash became stronger after such thrilling intro to the mysterious valley. Sometimes what you wish for comes alive in such a manner that you feel the old man from up above was just eaves dropping you.
I could never visit Malana though, next day in the morning in spite of so many places to visit in Manali I immediately decide to leave for Dharamshala. I heard a lot about the place but knew that its a commercial place. However, I felt I should be heading towards it anyway as I was sure I would be meeting new people and experience something new. I bid my farewell to old Manali, the same autowala took me to the bus station, I bought four snickers and got inside the bus. This time I made sure the bus was going directly to my destination. When I inquired, the bus-conductor told me that the bus will reach Dharamshala at seven in the evening. I glanced at the my watch, it was nine in the morning, I sighed. It turned out later that I was the first one to board the bus and also the last one to get down. The bus again took me through the zig-zag, across the valleys and hills, people getting up and getting down at different stands. It was 12:30 in the afternoon when the bus entered Mandi bus station, the conductor asked me, “Where would you have your lunch, in Mandi or Joginder Nagar?” As if I have a fair idea of the places, I replied promptly, “Joginder Nagar”. “Good, we will have our lunch there too, we will inform you, we can have our food together.” Later, I realized the distance between the former and the latter was 72 km, and my tummy rang several bells before I could fill it.
When the bus made its halt in Mandi for fifteen minutes, I saw a guy who was not from India but at the same time did not appear to be from typical west got inside the bus. He was traveling alone and seemed to be backpacking like me. He had a curly hair which was giving his look a Seurat’s painting kind of appearance. I count on my intuition and they were telling me, “You need to strike a conversation with his guy”. The conversation did happen and I initiated but not before we reached Palampur. Soon, i came to know he was carrying the hash from Malana. In the next three days we would not only be smoking joint together but would also sharing thoughts on philosophy, culture, teaching languages to each other and laughing out loud. Salom to David (Dudu) Elbaz. Contd…