The bus was small, and since it was morning it didn’t had many passengers either. But the vehicle was going at a speed which I thought was not appropriate, it was going too fast, speeding at the sharp turns where it should have slowed down a bit. I hold on to my guts and had to put my faith on the driver. We reached Ghatasni by 8:00 am in the morning, quite a speed. The bus stops at a market place after half an hour, and the people in the bus rush towards the bus stalled in front. Confused, I asked the driver, “was it not a direct bus?” “Yes, go to that bus” he said. I did what he told me to. I see the bus and the driver have changed, the conductor remains the same. I don’t know but it is for some reason funny for me. The plan was to reach Mandi by 9:30 am where Megha and six of her friends would be joining from Delhi, and another four from Dehradun. At first, I was unsure about joining them as crowd always suffocates me, then I thought, why not? Its alright to be with friends, anyway at times its good to know people during a trip.
It was 9:45 when I reached Mandi, Megha and friends were yet to reach but they forwarded me the number of Mr Biswajit. Mr Biswajit, his wife Monalisha, and their friends Bhaskar and Suru came from Dehradun to join us, they were already waiting there for the group in Mandi. The duo call themselves ‘Monajeet’, I am talking about Mr and Mrs Biswajit, they seem to have traveled across Himachal and trekked through various hills and mountains. We instantly stroke some common chords. Soon, Megha and her friends joined us. They all looked sleepy and hungry after the overnight journey from Delhi. Everyone agreed on heading straight to Prashar lake. Prashar lake is located 50 kms north of Mandi, and the drive from Mandi would take almost two and half hours to reach there. I already saw some majestic pictures of the lake when it snows here. There’s no snow at this time of the year (during April), but no doubt the place and the view itself will enchant me. Situated at a height of 8960 ft above sea level, the three storied Pagoda like temple is dedicated to the sage Prashar (Wikipedia). The drive till Prashar itself is mesmerizing, the valleys and hills again greet me. Pragyan and others were following us in the other car. Pragyan is one of the many special friends Megha is blessed with, when I last saw this guy in a busy street of Fancy bazaar in Guwahati he was picking something for his sister. That was some six years back, now he is all grown up into a man. He keeps things to himself and doesn’t talk much but I like his company, after all an introvert can open up before his own kind. We stopped somewhere in the middle to fill ourselves with something, and what else better than a bowl of Maggi noodles with half-fried egg (poach). We all had more than a bowl of Maggi and I’ve lost the count of egg poach we had. Basically we filled ourselves like greedy hogs and soon ready to charge the lake. From here it was another 20 minutes of drive to Prashar lake. It was late afternoon when we reached Prashar, everyone looked a bit tired and took their own time to freshen up and get ready. Well getting ready to nothing, we were still confused whether to stay in our tents, or book couple of rooms in the nearby guesthouse but we were running short of a tent to provide shelter for 13 people.
The lake is surrounded by hillocks and the moment we reached near the lake I leave all my belongings to climb one with Pragyan and Bipin (friend from Himachal). The climb to the hillock looked easy, but when I reached the midway of it I could feel my chest was pumping out blood to every inch of my body, I could no longer breath and felt as if my heart is going to pop out from my mouth. Took some breather, caught my breath again, and finally reached the top of the hillock. I could hear the wind, see the whole Dholadhar mountain range and the lake, the three storied Pagoda looked so ancient, the place itself must be thousand years old. Someone told us that once a researcher from U.S. came here to study the lake and measure its depth. She came prepared with all her equipment’s and gadgets but eventually had to leave without any success. One can feel the intense energy surrounding the lake provided you have the ears to listen to it. The priest of the temple shared a story with Pragyan where his great grandfather once dived into the lake and discovered a cave beneath the lake, he went on to meditate there for a week, I would like to believe in that fairy tale.
Soon the sun sets and we fix our tents, since there is very less vegetation its difficult to get firewood, so we could not start any bonfire, and therefore no merry making. I was alright with that as my eyes were fixed on the starry sky, the star seems to take over the sky when its pitch dark and there’s no moon to be seen. My elders are right when they say never to compare the beauty of the nature between the day and that of the night, what might seem to enthrall you during the sunlight might appear creepy and scarily mysterious in the absence of the light. The whole place went quite, only the occasional giggle and vague sounds coming from the trekkers who were camping in some distance. As the night progressed I could hear some noise from the temple, it happened to be the ‘bhajan’ which would continue throughout the night. I was quietly lying down in my tent and listening to this magical noise coming from the pagoda. Megha fell asleep early as the terrains were too tiring for her. I couldn’t sleep that well that night for two reasons, I didn’t want the moment to slip by in the hills in my sleep, secondly, I felt as if someone was standing near the tent, and I had to stay alert. The night was freezing, and only thing that saved us from it was the tent and the blankets which we rented from the temple sources, you can borrow it for a cheap 20 bucks for the night.
Everyone was still sleeping in their tent when I woke up. I was too sluggish to do the morning chores so I sat down on the rock nearby gazing towards the temple. As some moments pass by I see flock of people in the open pavement near the temple. Gradually I see some people with a fully grown Himalayan goat moving inside the temple entrance, they together repeat some mantra after the priest, I could only hear the echo of it. I was just waiting to witness the obvious. After some time they took the animal to one corner of a nearby hillock, with a blow its head was chopped off, I sighed. The spell broke loose when Pragyan greeted me, he brought me prasad from the temple, the prasad was suji (semolina) made with ghee and it tasted delicious, he told me that he was there witnessing the whole affair. People started to wake up from their slumber and we begin to fold our tents. Before we leave, I took a parikrama of the lake with Pragyan. I could feel the soil near the lake is pretty spongy, I could just imagine how it would be to take a dive beneath the surface of the lake and reach the lake-bed. I quickly freshen up and changed my undergarments into fresh ones. People would depart and leave for their respective destinations, some would leave for Dehradun, some for Noida and Delhi, and I just decided to leave for Manali after reaching Mandi. Mr Biswajit suggested me to stay in old Manali as it shall interest me with less crowd and various cafes. After spending there for a day or two I could decide my next destination. I nodded to myself.
After reaching Mandi I quickly departed for Manali. Ideally where it should have taken some odd three hours to reach Manali from Mandi, it took almost five and half hours to reach the place. Being the conductor of Himachal State Transport he should have been more responsible in telling that the bus is going to Kullu and not to Manali, rather he tells me that I can get another bus from Kullu and would take responsibility to get me one. I said, “OK”. It was not a bad decision though, I was anyway not in any hurry. I thought in a way I could also get a feel of Kullu.The road from Mandi to Manali can be tricky for drivers who are new to the valley, with sharp turns things can go pretty rough if you are not alert enough. We pass by Pondoh dam which looks serene and quiet for the moment. There’s also a tunnel which is around 2.8 km in length on the way. I love tunnels, last time I remember the excitement while crossing the tunnel near Maibang with a Royal Enfield. I was trying to look through the window the size and the feel of the tunnel, it was cold and huge. It took some minutes before we could see the light of the day. The bus finally reached Kullu, the conductor helped me to locate the bus which would take me to Manali. I made myself comfortable and when the conductor of this bus said, “Sir, this bus can only drop you till Manali road, you will get another bus from there which would drop you till Manali”, I could have got down then, then I thought it would be fun to see at what time I reach Manali.I finally board the bus which would finally drop me to Manali, we passed by many restaurants and food joints, I was a lot hungrier to see them. I also pass by many rafting points beside the river Bias. I would like to try rafting next time I visit Himachal again. The bus finally comes to its final halt in Manali. The place seemed to be crowded with various shops of different interests, people who appeared to be tourists from different states and people from different nationalities were flocking everywhere. I got down from the bus, it was almost 8 in the evening, I knew where I should be heading to, I ask the autowala, “Old Manali?” “90 bucks” he said. We bargained at 70. Within 10 minutes I was in old Manali. I got down near a Tattoo parlor after crossing the bridge. With no arrangements of stay for the night I started to search for a room, but first I need to kill my hunger. Then there in the distance some few meters away I saw Richiek’s cafe. Contd…