"Love is an endless mystery, for it has nothing else to explain it" ~ Rabindranath Tagore


Far from the Madding Crowd

Shashank S. Prasad travels by bus from Delhi to Shimla and Manali, returning via Chandiagarh.

I was nervous and restless. The bus journey from New Delhi seemed too tedious and long an interval to reach Shimla. But the picturesque beauty and the invigorating cold winds of Shimla shooed off the pains of an inevitably tiring bus journey. In contrast to Delhi, the ambience was silently soothing to heart and mind. I was far off from the daily chores and brouhaha enjoying the sheer beauty of the valley.

We strolled down to the market place at Shimla. A tiny, bustling Mall, with the distinctive smell of the hills and valleys was stimulating. We moved around clicking pictures and etching the beauty of our surroundings in our mind, as we smiled in friendly camarederie at the locals. By lunchtime we were famished, aided by the cool, crisp mountain air.

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Lunch? The only place we could think of was The Baljees . We ordered the best of South Indian cuisine - dosas, vadas and idlees with spicy sambhar and mouth watering chutney. Amazing taste. Washed down, of course, with a tumbler of coffee at the Indian Coffee House. Steaming hot, brewed in a special way, it tasted like no other coffee ever can. Probably the impressive ambience differentiated that tumbler from the endless cups that I have through the day back at Delhi.


The steaming hot tumbler of brewed coffee tasted like no other coffee ever can. A change from the endless cups that I have through the day back at Delhi.

The Ridge was quite captivating, and we tried to capture all the magic moments on our small camera that we carried along. The galaxy of faces in various moods emphatically added colour. Happy couples, joyfully bustling children, thoughtful elderly people all added to the panorama. We stretched ourselves a while at the Ridge before departing to our hotel for the preparations for the next Manali bound trip.

After the really relaxing stopover at Shimla, we boarded a bus for Manali. I was again very nervous, only this time of narrow winding roads all long the terrain of high cliffs. And that exciting element of perceived danger pumped adrenaline into the bloodstream by the bucketful. The thought that a single error by the bus driver and I would cease to be, kept my eyes glued to the road with a kind of insane alertness. The only consolation was the sight of the mountains with snow on the full moon night. I finally slept only to be woken by the cold breeze through the window of the bus. We had finally reached Manali safely.

It was 5.00 am in the morning. We were not looking well-heeled. Guided by the innocuous local inhabitants, we shacked at a simple hotel at Rs. 150 per day. The charming beauty of Manali was still hidden behind the dark of the night. I went off for an another short nap. I woke to gaze at the landscape through the window and to my amazement in front of me was surely a painting. The white snow on the mountains sparkled under the rays of the sun with white tufts of clouds sailing in the crisp, blue sky. Instinctively, I came out onto the balcony and took a deep breath...

At Manali, the bracing fresh air hit like a welcome slap on the face. Coming from a polluted city, the air was like an invigorating drug. The tirednedness of travelling had vanished.
After a heavy breakfast, we hired a taxi to visit some of the places in and around Manali. We visited Nehru Kund, Kothi, Hidimba Temple but the most exciting was the Snow Point at Gulaba and the Solang Valley. The bracing fresh air hit like a welcome slap on the face. Coming from a polluted city, the air was like an invigorating drug. The tirednedness of travelling had vanished.

The Snow Point was far from the hub of Manali. The taxi routed through the tortuous narrow roads uphill. The mountain ranges were covered by lush green trees. Snow capped mountains folded away from the verdant valleys. An invigorating breeze whistled about our ears -- the only sound that disturbed the ringing stillness. The taxi finally reached us to Snow Point from where we had to start off on foot. Flotillas of taxis and a jostling crowd were all geared up for their tryst with the snow. The hospitable locals, with their ponies for joy rides, were busy baiting tourists for business. We decided to walk every bit of the way up the snow. And so, with our hired gumboots and fur coats, started off on our adventure on the snow. It was an amazing experience to set our first foot on snow.

It wasn't very taxing walking on the snow. We all climbed quite far from the starting point. It was an exciting and novel experience. And even more exhilarating was knowing that we were just a few mountain ranges away from Tibet. Graffiti scribbled on the barren mountainside in big bold rainbow-coloured letters, echoed the independence of Tibet.. Time ran at it's own pace. But who cared about it? There were more exotic things for our refreshed minds to dwell on. The snow was fresh and soft. We gambolled with the unselfconsciousness of childhood.

Finally to celebrate the day and our rendezvous with the snow, we had a cup of tea with bread-omelet. But the time had come to bid goodbye to Gulaba. On our way back, we gorged ourselves at a roadside dhaba with what tasted like gourmet food. And then retired to our hotel back at Manali

We departed for Delhi via Chandigarh the same evening. I was utterly surprised at the way the spontaneous and unplanned trip worked as though it had been meticulously planned. Along with the images of scenic splendour and beauty, what remains are the memories of shared times in great company.

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