It was when the bus reached Palampur bus station I initiated the conversation with this guy from Israel. “My name is Dudu Elbaz, Dudu as the milk” he introduced himself, there was a moment of pause, and the very next moment we were laughing our gut out. I was meeting someone from Israel for the very first time. There are many rumors that surrounds an Israeli who visits India, like some are run away soldiers, and lead life of a wasted, some are just charsis, and yet some are involved in illegally supplying the ‘green diamond’ internationally. It is also rumored that Israelis are actively involved in the cultivation of hashish with the support from the locals. It sounds both intriguing and thrilling to me. Truth might have different layers of shades to it but I couldn’t care more. With some broken english he said, “ I go mmmm..Dharamshala first time, then I go to McLeod Ganj and go Dharamkot” Trying to match his broken English, I replied, “I go there too the very first time, don’t know where to stay”. “May be we can stay together for tonight, if you are ok with that”, he replied, “Ookay”. It was seven in the evening when we reached Dharamshala bus station. We two were the last one to get down from the bus, there were countable people in the station, nonchalant buses stranded there in the dark and resting after a long day on the road. We sat on the concrete pavement near the tikki wala. Dudu took out his hand bag, mixed some charas with the bhang and rolled a perfect joint. While he smoked his joint he said, “Don’t worry we look a room and stay”. He offered me a puff which I denied for later. He finished his joint, ate another snickers gleefully that I offered him. McLeod is around 4 km north of Dharamshala and I could not see any vehicle nearby in the station which was going towards McLeod. Always take help of the locals! We did the same, and after walking for few meters in the dark we reached the taxi stand. Whatever fare the taxi driver quoted we agreed, soon we were passing through narrow steep lanes. It was a drive of under 20 minutes and he charged us 200 bucks, basically 100 bucks each as we shared the fare. Everything in the valley costs double.
McLeod town is just like any other commercially abused hill station in India.Full of tourists, small shops that are fighting to breath, and various cafes. But still it had some magical charm with its monasteries, and the lanes full of monks, yoga parlors and Tibetan refugees.
The moment we got down from the taxi, few guys approached us, “Hotel?” We said, “Yes”. We two followed the guy who was showing us the room, the first one was located just beside the busy street, we wanted to make sure that the room is situated in a distance away from any noise, and with the clear view of the valley. Dudu was in fact very specific about these two concerns more than me.After rejecting couple of lodges we were guided for the third lodge which was located down the never ending concrete stairs. After descending through the stairs, passing by couple of yoga parlors we reached Victoria guest house. The guest house was mainly occupied by few Europeans, and other foreign nationals. Ramu, the guy who guided us to the guest house informed that the room at the top floor has already been occupied the moments before we reached, he can give us the room the very next day they check-out. Elbaz was very specific with what he wanted, a quiet room with a picturesque view of the valley. Sensing our disappointment, Ramu showed us another room in the opposite building, we were not impressed either but decided to take it and stay for the night. We thought of taking a shower before we climb those steep stairs again and head for a late dinner considering hill station standards. A shower always work wonders after a tiring journey, but it rapidly speeds up your hunger too. We climbed up the stairs again to reach the intersection and search for a place to have our meal. There are ample number of cafes and restaurants to choose from. Tibetan, Indian, Israeli, English etc. You name it and you shall find it. We decided to check the Chinese restaurant that served Tibetan dishes as well. The place was quite upkeep and upbeat. As there were only westerners and non-Indians who were dining and drinking and at the restaurant the place was quiet. Dudu ordered for ‘chicken saute in black soy’ with plain rice, I went for a bowl of ‘thukpa’, and two bottles of Tuborg. That late evening I had the best joint of the valley mixed with hash (I am not encouraging substance abuse here). It had these intense but soothing after taste.When your tummy is happy you can have the best-est of conversation in the universe, and if you have a knowledgeable company nothing can beat that intellectual pleasure. Dudu is a student of psychology and is still pursuing his studies. Our only medium of communication was English and his verbiage and stock of words were not many, he was carrying a pocket-sized book which was helping him to translate the words and sentences of daily usages from Hebrew to English. But he had picked up the language fast as it was only a month back that he started learning English. I would use sign language and through body movements made him understand anything if he couldn’t any. He would ask me the reason of so off tuned music being played in Indian channels, he was talking about the numerous ‘devotional channels’ where various ‘gurus’ were playing their own music which didn’t strike any chords of the heart. At times he got annoyed with himself when he could not think about the right words to express himself, we would simply laugh out and leave the expression as it is.
Next day we woke up late, and we didn’t had to rush anywhere, neither I had any work to get ready for, nor he had any classes to join. Morning in the hills and valleys are generally always pleasant, what makes it more appealing is the aroma of loafs and pies being baked, and a subtle rhythm of guitar being strum in some distance. The mountains that are thickly covered with snow appear to be so close, but no one seems to know how far-fetched they are. The never ending sky at times turning blue and as clear as fresh set of paint being done on it, and within moments it will be covered in thick clouds ready to pour down on all the things that are living and the dead, and the next moment it will come to a halt, be drop dead, and quite. These metaphors are simple enough to explain why men and women fall in love in the mounds easily, because they fall in love with the ‘self’.
It was time to explore McLeod. For breakfast we stuffed ourselves with sandwiches and a slice of a carrot cake with cappuccinos. We took a stroll through the narrow lane full of cafes, hand-loom and handicraft shops, the place is packed with tourists, and backpackers. We would just pass an occasional gesture of greetings to the fellow strollers whenever our eyes would meet, unlike Indians who are generally not used to this habit of greetings, in fact when two strangers pass by and their eyes happen to meet they generally end up frowning. I remember back home when I tried to pass by a stranger with a smile, he stared back at me with some silly suspicion. But I believe these unconditional gestures can change the world. Smile is the panacea to a broken heart and contagious enough to heal the world. Unlike for a typical hill station, temperature was quite sunny and humid. We headed towards Bhagsu waterfall which is again a steep trek, on the way we crossed through Bhagsu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. I saw people changing clothes and jumping into the water reservoir which looked more like a swimming pool, I am not sure whether they have some sin cleansing effect on humans or not. On the other hand foreigners from the west were busy being curious to know the temple architecture and history, some were equipped with sophisticated camera and other gadgets, likely some travel crew. And yet some were busy bathing, and may be cleansing their soul, seems to be a tough job anyway. After witnessing some mundane melodrama we trekked to Bhagsu waterfall. Nothing extraordinary, the trek itself was more tiring but that’s the thing about nature, it is very ordinary and nothing can match or can come close to that ‘ordinary-ness’. On the way a hawker offered us saffron (crocus) at a very cheap price, and he tried his luck by offering ‘shilajit’ (an Indian herb for improving vigor and potency) by insisting us that we will be stronger and be good in our beds. Dudu replied, “I am sttrongg my frriend”. When we reached the waterfall it was a sheer disappointment as it was littered by beer cans and lousy tourists. We witnessed the While coming back we stopped to listen to ‘banjaras’ playing a tune from Bollywood movie Raja Hindustani on their four-string. We sat, smoked a joint and decided to trek towards Triund, 2800 which was a 9km gradual trek. It was a moment spent in leisure without any intention of the worldly affairs, sharing thoughts and expressions, exchanging and learning words of each others language, that’s what we did while passing the curvy and narrow road across the hills. We would give a nod of satisfaction and a high-five to each other when we could pronounce the newly-learned words correctly. On the way to Triund there’s a serene and quiet place- Dharamkot, the village situated in this beautiful valley is occupied by seasoned travellers, and backpackers. Tushita meditation center and Vipassana center is also located in Dharamkot, later we decided to come back for a guided morning meditation in Tushita the next day.
To my pleasant surprise I saw Morgan’s place which is owned by Muruggan (my former partner in PCB whom I had outsourced the kitchen when we introduced the Italian cuisine), this place makes the best Schnitzel in the town, I know. After enthusiastically walking for almost two hours Elbaz lost interest in going any further, we decided to walk back, we straightly went to Morgan’s place. We had the world’s best Schnitzel and Buschita there, my favorite is the dip though, the Hummus, in fact I don’t mind having the whole bowl of Hummus dip to myself.
We tried searching for another room from where the view of the valley was the way we wanted but couldn’t get one. Either the place was noisy or it was way out of our budget. We decided to stay at the same place until we get some other suitable alternative. That evening we did some juggling and engaged ourselves in some leisure games. It took me back to the good old days of innocence. Afterwards we went for a stroll in the town. I would say, this time it was more of a discovery of human interactions rather than exploring the valley. I had tofu with chowmein for the night, and Dudu tried his taste buds on Indian thali.
Next morning we woke up earlier than usual. We had to attend the morning session of meditation in Tushita. However, by the time we could just pull ourselves up from the bed and finally get ready it was already 9:00, and the session was about to start at 9:30. We rushed and after quickly climbing the stairs, we went for a quick bite and a cup of coffee. It was already 9:20, we took an auto and took us there in 10 minutes. We followed the signs and entered the room, it was packed, we were late by 5 minutes. Somehow, we adjusted ourselves in the little space that was left. A tall, bearded guy with a pony tail, must be in his late 20’s was leading the meditation. Perhaps he was an European as one can make out from his accent. Moreover, he was dressed just like us, so it was probably easier for the crowd to relate with him as well. We started by concentrating on our breathing, when our minds became distracted and restless his voice guided us back to our breath. Starting from the breath entering the nostrils and going to different parts of our body. The second phase of meditation guided us to being aware, and aware of being aware. Third part was concentrated on dissecting our anger, being aware of our anger, what is making us angry-is it the person, situation, or is it the reflection of our self. During the meditation he gently stroke the bell after regular intervals which created an ecstatic vibration striking deeply within. It was a productive session. Dudu had a mixed response to the session, he enjoyed the meditation, and at the same time he became a a bit agitated because he could not understand most of the things spoken. I was to leave for Delhi the next day in the evening and we wanted to utilize the whole day exploring Dharamkot. I regret staying in McLeod, after walking down the narrow lanes and the very feel of the place, I was sure I missed some great experience by not coming to Dharamkot before. It was quite, clean, bereft of loud tourists. On the contrary there were many tourists from Israel, Europe and many other countries. I saw people lost in their own world, engaged in some lively conversations, some trying to learn new scale of music in their six strings, yet some were trying to come out of their confused state of slumber. I also saw an Israeli dressed in their traditional attire and a three-storied building dedicatedly build for them. Soon, the day was over and we sat still in our chairs listening to the various echoes of the hills, gradually time was shifting and I had to go back. The next day we went to Dharamkot again.
Dudu decided to stay back for another couple of weeks, we searched for a room which we bargained it for 400 bucks a day.
It was time for me to leave. It was an overnight return journey. I booked a seat in a Volvo bus and reached the bus station on time. It was time to say our goodbyes. Dudu came to see me off and with some broken expression of ours we exchanged few words, we hugged. I knew he would miss me like I would miss him. There was a sudden flow of emptiness as he left and I boarded the bus. God knows when we would see each other next, or perhaps would loose each other in oblivion only to meet someday all of a sudden. Soon, the bus was occupied with people ready to return home or wherever they were heading to. An Israeli girl came and sat next to me. I was soon lost in my thoughts, thinking of the journey that I undertook and the journey that I will take in some time to come.
Well, I did not find my purpose in the journey, but I have grown manifolds again, grown as a person and experienced the different aspects of life, meeting new people and learned from them. Hills and mountains have always had a deep impact on me, I am always at peace within and without here.
Thank you for reading through and being a part of the journey.