It was 10:47 PM. Our bus had left the ISBT about fifteen minutes ago. It was zooming past city streets, then slowing down, making turns and then speeding up again. Except for the orange tint of the street lights scattered in arrays, there wasn’t much light which shone upon the objects inside the comfortable domain of the vehicle. Like a filter, the windows separated the cozy, air-conditioned interiors of the bus with the outside world, the scorching city heat, the dust scraping off the skin and the air not-so-breathable from the day’s happenings, only allowing parts of the sound and light to affect the people inside the vehicle. The bus was headed towards Bhuntar, making its way through the night.
Except we weren’t inside the bus.
Our bus had left the ISBT about fifteen minutes ago and we were still at home, Googling ‘natural tourist destinations around Delhi’ which are doable in a short time. We were late, our bus had left us behind and after almost a week’s thorough planning of visiting Kasol, we were finally settling down on Kasauli or Ranikhet or Lansdowne or something like that. The reality wasn’t very satisfying, because once you’ve made your mind about something, you can only compromise with something else.
We all have our own reasons to escape from our daily lives and every once in awhile, we end up doing so. Only the places differ. Some find their safe haven in music, some find it in literature, some find it in nature. For me, it’s subjective. I have lived far too long with my own contradictions to be unable to accept them, now. I might not appear to you as a sorted-out person, because sometimes, I have varying views for the same thing or event hanging between the relative and the absolute, even if the basic intent remains the same. So I wanted a trip to Kasol. My brother-in-law (and apparently a great friend, that I only recently found in him) wanted it, too, to escape from the hectic work load at his office.
We had decided on the trip to start from 1st October, 2016 and end on 5th October, 2016. Because the first week started with a weekend and he could obtain a few days’ leave from his office, so we decided we will do it. I borrowed a Nikon D5100 (and an 18-115 mm lens) from a friend and we were packed and all set to leave at 10:30 PM on 1st October.
But we didn’t.
So with heavy hearts, we settled on Kasauli.
We took a cab early morning the next day and reached Kashmiri Gate ISBT. After inquiring a bit, we boarded a Himsuta Volvo of HPRTC, headed towards Chandigarh. 2×2 air-conditioned, semi-sleeper. Nice bus, I must say, all shiny green. Our bus left for Chandigarh at 7 AM. After an hour, we were whizzing past eucalyptus trees and paddy fields on the Delhi-Karnal by-pass. That indescribable view of the northern rural plains that most of us are familiar with, was in sight. Evenly green till the horizon, spotted by a few small buildings every now and then. I observed a lot of things in the 3 hours that it took to reach that dhaba and I can go on describing it in microscopic details, but that wasn’t the whole trip. It had only just begun.
The bus stopped at a dhaba named ‘Haveli’ outside Karnal, sometime before 11. The dhaba was beautifully built, very scenic, but the food was overpriced. We took two veg sandwiches and two cups of tea and it costed around three hundred rupees. We got back on the bus and it started back again. I was carrying with me a notepad, few pens, few Social Science books and Khaled Hosseini’s “A Thousand Splendid Suns”. I took it out and its flow took me with it. Next thing I remember, we were closing in on Chandigarh bus stand.
While in the bus, I had noticed three guys sitting nearby. One of them was looking for buses to Bhuntar from Chandigarh on his phone. Here, I would like to mention a few things for people who haven’t been to Kasol, or those who don’t have much idea about it. There is no direct bus from Delhi to Kasol. The best way to reach there is to take a bus to either Bhuntar or Kullu and then take a different bus or taxi to Kasol. Railways and airways are scarce.
So the guy, who was checking buses to Bhuntar on his phone, was sitting right in front of me and I got to sneak at his phone screen and what I saw startled me. These guys were also headed towards Kasol. Funnily enough, I told it to my brother-in-law (I will mention him as ‘Jimmy’ from now, on) and suddenly we were there discussing it all over again, reconsidering our decision of visiting Kasauli instead of Kasol. This led to the first great and good decision of our trip.
We got down at Chandigarh and instead of Kasauli, diverted our trip back to Kasol. Earlier that morning, when we were in the cab headed towards the ISBT, it had occurred to me that this trip is going in vain. Neither of us was happy because we both knew that we had made our minds for Kasol, so even if any other place has a great many things to offer, we won’t be able to cherish or enjoy them. So the first decision in a series of good decisions on this trip was, to visit Kasol instead of any other place.
The bus from Chandigarh to Bhuntar wasn’t as shiny and nice as the previous one. A variety of people got onboard, old couples, beautiful women, young solo travelers, few with trekking equipment and cameras clearly suggesting they were headed for the mountains. It started around 12 o’clock and the journey was going to be long. The bus began grunting and hissing when the driver changed gears, zooming past buildings scattered evenly around the city. All this time while we were in this city, I couldn’t help but ponder over its beauty, the enormity of its planning and the order and organization of the people. For once, I even ended up comparing it to Greater Noida. There was not even a bit of trash that I saw either on or around the main roads. Not even the bus depot, one of the most common public places generally considered the filthiest throughout the country. There was a strange unnoticeable thing about the people there. They were all ordinary people like us, getting ready for their daily drills, catching buses to work, opening shops and buying groceries. But unlike Delhi, no one seemed to be in any sort of hurry. It appeared to me that this was a secluded town, hidden from the rest of the world, unaffected by the malicious stings of urbanization and thriving along its own set of rules which helped its inhabitants to get rid of the ordinary evolutionary human dysfunctions.
In simple words, these people still cared about their city. They strive to keep it clean, all of them operating together as a community, working to let the city grow, so they could grow along with it. It was like, they had these little virtues deeply instilled inside them, those primitive values that most of us humans have forgotten a long time ago. The straight roads, the squares, the pavements and dividers, the offices and schools, the greenery and the air – everything about Chandigarh was mesmerizing.
The bus kept moving as the thoughts kept playing soccer with my mind, kicking it from time to-time from one thought to another. The bus stopped around 1:30 at another beautifully built ‘Haveli’ restaurant by the highway outside Ambala, and it was only then that I realized this ‘Haveli’ is actually a chain of dhabas across north India, mostly in Punjab & Haryana. We had eaten sufficient in the morning, so we only got bread cutlets packed for the way.
The bus began again. Now we had around eight more hours to travel, so I would sometimes either pick up my book and read, or I would take out the camera and click the scenes outside the window for practice. But mostly I was thinking, planning about the things I would do when we reach Kasol.
There were a lot of beautiful bachelor women around my seat travelling alone who, I know, were noticing me and every now and then, I would occasionally catch a glimpse of them stealing a glance at me. You see, this thing about youth is as innocent as childhood. We are automatically attracted towards a person we find a potential partner in (or the vice-versa of this statement would be more precise). It’s like, we approve of each other’s presence and we agree of each other’s awareness, but we are held back by a strange force which asks us not to approach the person, because if the ciphers were all wrong, you might end up in trouble. This strange force is our culture.
Picture this – a girl approaches a guy in an almost empty compartment of a public transport. They both chat for a while, get to know about each other, have amazing conversations about atoms and space, about philosophy and life, about love and desire, about books and road trips and then, by choice and consent, they exchange contact details so they could enjoy these conversations longer. Because, you see, it’s that urge in all of us, the desire to communicate our feelings and thoughts to others. And if we have a romantic attraction towards the other person, the conversations automatically come alive because then, we’re enjoying the tiniest of sounds, the chuckle, the clap, the gestures and expressions the other person is making. Interesting, isn’t it?
Now picture the same scene in our ‘cultured’ society (which apparently hates western values). In 7 out of 10 cases, the attempts will be discarded at the very first step. Because even though both might accept it subconsciously that they are attracted towards each other, the mere fact that the other person was daring enough to approach them is too rapid a change in their survival conditions. We might die if that person stays near us for a little longer, now. They feel infected and the infection spreads until OH MY GOD, QUARANTIIIIINEE!
And in all other cases, either the girl is too arrogant, or the guy is an asshole. So the point is, I liked that girl sitting a row behind me on the opposite window seat of the 2×2 bus. I saw her looking at me a lot of times. Me, a 24 year-old guy with (I think) a nice beard and handlebars. My appearance wasn’t so alarming to her maybe, so I guess she decided to notice my activities as I moved from one to another spot to click pictures. She was beautiful and she was traveling alone.
When I noticed her, we were way beyond Chandigarh and clouds had already started appearing. Soon, the bus was floating above the serpents of hills, the dangerously narrow and twisting & turning roads through the beating rain and it was getting dark, partly because of the dusk coming down on us and partly because of the shade of the hills which were constantly growing in size and then, like an invisible wave it hit me. For over an year, I had waited for this and now it was there, subtle but the reason behind the smile that had just lit my face. I had put my camera on the seat beside me and I was stretching my ears and making awkward faces to clear it off-the change in air pressure which had hit me due to increase in altitude. I saw her leaning on the window, her shape a silhouette against the dark green background of the hill slopes beyond the glass. And she was looking at me for split seconds or even several seconds at a time, sometimes through the corners of her eyes, observing my actions and smiling at all the silly things I was doing. When I saw her, I dropped everything out of embarrassment. Then I started again and she smiled again, so on and on it went.
I don’t remember when did I doze off. The bus stopped at a rather dry and bright Bilaspur bus depot for about ten minutes. I told Jimmy about a cousin brother of mine who had spent 7 years in Bilaspur working for NTPC as a civil engineer at the Koldam thermal project. Then we chatted for a while and got up when got chased by a bull and the bus began again. You see, how inescapable it is for men to not get down whenever a vehicle stops? Here, I didn’t even mention that we got down from the bus, because I know everyone would understand that we did, once the bus stopped.
So the bus started from Bilaspur and I picked up the book Jimmy was reading just to have a look at it. The book was ‘A Train To Pakistan’ by Khushwant Singh. Right from the beginning, the book speaks volumes about the things we have been kept unaware of about the partition of India. The lies we’ve been told, the truth erased or kept hidden. I didn’t read it beyond a few pages, but I have asked Jimmy for it, once he’s done.
We were passing through Mandi and Sundernagar when it was almost dark. These two major cities and centers of commerce, located on a large flat ground in the hills, have streams and lakes and dams and schools and surprisingly enough, a lot of four-wheeler showrooms. Volkswagen, Nissan, Nexa, Renault, you name it and it was there. The bus stopped for a while outside Sundernagar and a lot of people got down. Jimmy and I got in the front rows because our stop, Bhuntar, was about a couple hours away.
My crush for the journey had got down at Mandi, so my little love story was only upto that place. Later in the front rows, I met Nisarg, one of the equipped solo travelers who got on the bus at Chandigarh. He was coming from Bangalore and was headed towards Spiti.
Spiti! I can’t tell you how much I love that place and I badly I want to visit it.
We chatted for about an hour and he turned out to be a nice person. He was going there for a week. He told me various things and we talked about traveling and the Himalayas, politics and modern education system and our cultural differences which influence our everyday actions. He told me about the Buddhists of Myanmar and I told him about the twin Buddhas of Bamiyan.
We reached the dark, stranded-looking town of Bhuntar around 9:30 PM. Apart from a few security guard manning properties or ATMs, and a few men probably waiting for transportation to neighboring towns, there were only stray dogs and dimly-lit alleys. We checked-in to one of the nearest decent-looking hotel ‘Amit’. We ate a nice dinner in the empty restaurant ‘Havemore’ downstairs and came back to our room on the first floor. I went to sleep watching an episode of The Kapil Sharma Show featuring Anna Hazare.