Marvelous Manali: Our first overnight halt since leaving Pune
I hardly got any sleep in the bus. After being involved in a minor bus accident in my childhood, I find it difficult to entrust my life in the hands of another, and sleep blissfully. In the wee hours of the morning, while I just caught a nap, the bus stopped for chai (tea) and I was up again. We had stopped at a small ‘dhaba’ style outlet, where the weather outside in the early morning at 6:00 AM was very cold.
I had ‘chai’ and tried to warm myself up. I noticed that the tap water at the made-up-sink was running, and nobody cared to close it. We could hear the water of the Beas River, but could not see it. Madhukar later narrated a tale where he was in a group of 2/3 trekkers who had meticulously shut down a running water tap in a remote high village in Himachal. The next day, the village ran without water, and everybody was frantically searching for the miscreant who had played foul.
The night freezes the water in the pipes, so they leave it running. In Maharashtra, we are used to cursing anyone who wastes water!
The road was a winding road through mountains, with beautiful views of the valley and river down below. For the most part of the rest of the journey, I was in the driver’s cabin. In the midst of the action, where I can see everything, I feel safe, rather than sitting behind! The only other passenger there was a Caucasian female, who was smoking repeatedly and to my utter surprise was communicating with the driver and his assistant in a mixed language comprising of gestures, expressions, and sparse English.
We reached Manali at 10:30 AM. The commercialization of Manali hit us immediately, as a crowd of auto-rickshaw-wallahs gheraoed us. We had no choice but to accede to them to drive us the 5-minute distance. It was good — we did not have to carry our luggage.
The hotel was good. Most importantly, it had a hot water geyser, and I could have a hot water shower any time I wished! We unpacked, showered, and set out for our errands. We had traveler’s cheques to encash, which we were able to do in a State Bank branch in Manali. We had breakfast-lunch combined at Chopsticks, a very good restaurant on the main Manali Street. The menu comprised of Chinese, Tibetan and Japanese delicacies. Everyone was hungry and we had a feast.
After having spent a sleepless night in the bus, I just wanted to enjoy an afternoon siesta, but everyone was in the mood to go to the Hidimba temple, so I relented.
Hidimba temple is a few centuries old, built mostly out of wood, with intricate carvings on the main door, and various horns of ibex and deer adorning the outside walls. After our 30-minute walk up, we could see the snow-capped Friendship peak in the distance that Madhukar and his group had once climbed.
The kids rode a yak at Hidimba temple. The owner said it was about 7 years old. The yak’s fur was white and brown, and the owner said he washed it everyday with shampoo. On seeing our disbelieving glances, he said he was not kidding. To prove it, he separated the white fur with his hands and showed us that it had the bluish tinge of the shampoo towards the skin, where it was difficult to wash. I was amazed.
On our way back, the others did some shopping (shawls, caps, etc.). We did not, since we did not want to increase the weight of our luggage. We spent the evening walking around Manali and then returning to our Hotel.
Madhukar also checked up on the jeeps that we had booked. It turned out that because there was a possibility of snow/water on the road, the Tata Sumos that we had booked would not be up to the task, and the only recourse was Maruti Gypsies. The Gypsy has a four-wheel drive, which is of utmost significance on these bad roads.
We visited a local bar where we had long interesting talks about mountaineering in general. After dinner, we returned to the hotel to pack and prepare for the early morning departure.
Vidisha was the only one who took a shower the next morning, and we all scrambled with our backpacks and luggage to leave in time. The 7:00 AM eventually became 8:00 AM by the time we left. The drivers were two young fellows, who safely tied our heavy luggage on the top carrier along with cans of petrol for the long journey. I was told that there were no petrol pumps along the way, and I had a fair idea that we were in for an exciting experience.