Finally I could settle down after reaching home and ready with my travel story. I have browsed through the pictures several times which I took during the journey. And I thought writing this piece of travelogue would be easy but now I am in lost of words and even thoughts as to how to begin. I would like the readers to visit and relive each place and moment through the expression here, and I would keep it simple.
Of late I couldn’t like my job anymore, and I don’t like to cling with that feeling for too long. I would like to do things that I love and would love to earn a living with the things that I love to do. No matter how much unstable I am being tagged but I need to search for what I love. With the ongoing conflict I decided to put down my papers on 14th March. When you wipe your slate clean you can always come up with different shades to fill in, and the control is in your hands even if its temporary. So I thought of why not create some more interesting chapters in my story. This was going to be a solo journey and I knew if I could figure out the initial destination the rest of the stoppages would be laid by itself. That’s the beauty of travelling alone, you are free to do anything, experience and meet so many people for the first time, for the things unknown have a mysterious charm to themselves.
As Megha already knew few places in Himachal I took some suggestions from her as to which destination should I start with. I browsed through few sites and suggestions were pouring in from there as well. I wanted to visit a place which was quiet and an off track tourist destination with not many people around. I finally decide to start with Barot valley and let the moment decide the others. Barot valley is a small, in fact quite a small countryside situated beside the river Uhl. This place is better known for its Shanan hydel project. Somewhere I read the valley also provides the option of angling, camping and trekking, but then, I just wanted to be alone for couple of days doing nothing but to read a novel by Murakami and write in my diary. Barot seemed like the perfect escape.
I took an overnight bus from ISBT Kashmiri Gate at 9:30 pm after missing the bus at 8 pm. The 46 seater semi-sleeper volvo is not upright a luxury bus but it is no doubt comfortable. After all when you pay 1200 bucks for a seat it better be a good one, I paid Rs 250 extra for the broker which I couldn’t help. It took some 9 hours to reach Mandi from where I was supposed to take another bus to Barot. When you are traveling somewhere for the very first time you are always unsure of everything and anything. You don’t know at what time you shall reach, you are not sure where to get down, you don’t know whether you have crossed it already. With some vague ideas and doubts I hold on, the bus driver finally tells me to get down as we reach Mandi at around 7:30 in the morning. I can feel the chill in the air as I got down the bus.
The bus station was just beside the point where I got down. Mandi bus station transports commuters to different destinations, you just need to know the right bus, and of course your destination. Now, next thing to do was to search for the bus to Barot. There I met a person named Deepak who helped me to identify a bus which would drop me till Ghatasni, from Ghatasni it was another 25 km uphill drive to Barot. He identified himself as an entrepreneur and was travelling across Himachal to identify tourist spots for his tourism related business. We boarded the same bus, and it was soon crowded by travellers of different kind, some men, some women, few children, some old, and some young. It was also accompanied by sheeps and goats which was giving away a stench, strangely, it didn’t bother me and felt I could absorb the moment with ease. Soon the bus was passing through valleys and adjacent hills. Deepak got down somewhere in the middle, we exchanged numbers and waved our goodbyes. The bus dropped me at Ghatasni and after waiting for half an hour the bus arrived which was to take me till Barot valley. The bus was crowded and again occupied by both human and domesticated animals. While I was trying to adjust in that packed bus someone asked, “You don’t seem to be from here”, I said, “I am not, I am from Assam”. He offered his sit to me, and was curious about me and my place. We chated for some time. He was concerned that the sheeps beside me don’t spoil my trousers. “The bus shall reach Barot in another of 2 hours”, he said. By the time I reached Barot it was around 2:15 in the afternoon. Mr Amichand Thakur, the owner and caretaker of ‘Riverview Guest House’ already called and instructed the bus conductor where to drop me. As soon as I got down, I recognized him as he greeted me with a smile. With the kind of temperature in the afternoon I was sure it would be freezing at night. Barot was on the other side of the river Uhl, we crossed the makeshift bridge to reach the guest house. For 500 bucks a day, the rooms were quite spacious and the washroom was almost as big as the living room, and with two pairs of blankets for a comfy warm bed. After taking a quick shower I rushed downstairs to have my food, I was starving. Mrs Thakur, wife of Mr Amichand served me rice with three different variesties of gravy to accompany- yellow dal, curry, and ma-ki-dal. I hogged quitely, and finished my meal within minutes. Mrs Thakur is a kind-hearted and an outspoken lady, I ask her about Barot, her family and children, and few places where I can go and relax. When I insist to pay the advance money, she tells me that there’s no need to pay now and I can pay on the day I leave.
It was 4 pm, I decided to take a stroll of the place, to get some fresh air and to listen to the stream flowing nearby. I pass by fields that are freshly prepared for the new crops to sow in . There were Deodar tress all around. I could imagine how the place would look once it snows here. I thought of walking by the narrow lanes between the fields and sit there for a while. I could here the silence, and only a momentary chirping of birds to disturb the serenity.
While I started writing few words in my diary, someone from behind asked, “What are you doing here?” “Nothing actually, I thought of sitting and relaxing here for a while and try to write few lines in my diary”, I said. “Are you a tourist?” “Yes, I am from Assam”. “I know where Assam is, I know the situation in Manipur is always tensed, I am a fauji”, he said. A slightly agitated, “How come you are sitting in a private property which is some farmer’s field, show me your I-card”. “Why are you getting angry, Manipur is a different state, and Assam is in Assam, anyway what’s the problem, I reached this place some time back, and I am a harmless little tourist just trying to relax”, I said. “No, show me your I-card”, he demanded. “Ok, I will show my I-card provided you show yours, I need to know who you are and are you really from Indian army”. He showed his ‘Aadhar card’ and became angry, “how dare you ask for my I-card”, I continued politely, and said, “Sir, if you have some objection me sitting here, I will move but you don’t have to be angry or rude”. I left the place, I could still hear him murmuring something in the back. What a day to start with. Thakur couple were very sad and angry to learn this incident. They were flabbergasted as to how can someone without any threat react to a tourist or to anyone like this, a bit outlandish for them too to understand. I thought of letting it go and also urged them not to say anything. Of course I was upset. A bittersweet experience to start with. But then its alright. Solitude at times can present itself in an unexpected way as Murakami says. I retire in my closet and find myself soon that I am lost in the book I was reading.
Next day I got up early and after a scrumptious meal I was ready for a trek to Miyut. Solitude was more important than the trek for me, I walked along the stream passing by the hills, and far-fetched mountains covered with snow which appeared to be close. I more I walked through the zig-zag shaped path there appeared more layers of hills and alluring mountains. I carried few packet of snickers and a rain-jacket with me in case it rains, you can never be sure with the weather in the hills and valleys. I felt as if it was only me in the valley as I couldn’t see anyone else on the way, as if the valley was dead or the people have left for somewhere else. Momentarily I would stop and rest for a while, gulp water from the trunk of a tree, which was placed in such a way that the water could flow through the trunk and converted into an ever flowing natural tap. I would talk to myself in the middle and ask, “What I was doing here, what exactly is my purpose”, I still don’t have the answer yet. I finally reached Miyut and saw that the road meets a dead-end and you have walk through the rocky path between the hills. I discover a small makeshift temple and decide to return from this point. It took me three hours to reach here, and took me two and half hours to return, I discovered beautiful narrow lane made of concrete which helped me to reduce the distance by half an hour.
The trek was tiring and satisfying to the soul, I saw Mrs Thakur when I reached the guest house. I headed straight to the kitchen and have my late lunch. The next day I decided to stay indoors for most of the time and write my journals. I take a walk to the nearby stopping point of the Haulage trolley, it was made way back in 1926 and it doesn’t function anymore. One can trek beside the tracks but I decide not to. I spent the evening over a nice meal of Rajma-chawal, it’s not my favorite but I gladly had it as Mrs Thakur insisted, besides the beans were from her fields.
Next day I had to wake up early to catch my bus at 6:40 in the morning to Mandi as I would be joining Megha and her friends to spend a day at Prashar lake. With a promise to myself to be back in Barot when it snows here I packed my bag and left Barot. As the bus approached I knew I would not see this place for some time until I am back. To be contd…