i’ve been AWOL and still generated so many views this month, makes me wonder if being AWOL is the way to get readers. when i do write, few views, when i don’t many more views. hmmm… i’ve been away for two weeks, and then it takes me a few days to get back into routine or maybe more! i send out emails that were meant to be sent ages ago, read replies from editors and curse them because they do not understand what i meant, and yeah, get back on track with life as a freelance writer. but getting back on track takes more time than i want it to, most often. i am still getting back on track and it’s now been more than a week since i got back. i went off to roam around himachal for around 2 weeks to research the tours for audiocompass. and here is a bullet list of some of what happened…
1. walk walk and lose that flab! i walked around 10 km on an average everyday. which was awesome as i lost a kg. and i love losing weight, the only thing i like losing. i’ve been back for 10 days and refusing to check my weight, i’m sure it’s back with a vengeance.
2. night-quakes! on the first night at shimla, the people who lived above me were very noisy. through the night furniture was being moved, people walking to and fro and i could hear their feet stomping around. it got me fearing that these constructions must be flimsy. as with concrete constructions in india, you hear the people above you quite faintly, unless they choose to tap dance all night. and that realisation at 1am got me worried. what if an earthquake struck? wouldn’t this collapse like a house of cards? the earthquake has devastated nepal and i was just a few ranges away, in the same himalayas! that night i packed a bag, and every night of my trip i did so. it had my wallet, a few essentials, water, dry fruits to last in case of hunger, and since i had my periods, sanitary napkins. it was always kept by the bedside, so that in case the earth shook i could scoot out of way quickly!
3. that sinking feeling: i got very ill on day 3 in shimla (reminiscent of my trip to karnataka last year). i had walked around 5 km that morning and once i got back by 1pm i was ill. i tried to sleep it off till 5pm, but it did not get any better. and by then i was burning up with fever. when you are stuck in a hill-station far away from home, getting to a doctor can be a pain… for one, to go anywhere you mostly walk uphill or you come back walking uphill and that it just not something a person from the plains, me, is used to. secondly, where is the doctor? i figured out that there was no good hospital at shimla, and that the only one shut by 6 pm. (it had taken me that long to pick up the phone and try to find one) the hotel front desk told me there was a doctor just 4 buildings away, yes, up the slope, but i was worried that he would just douse me with antibiotics and not give my body a chance to fight.
he did exactly that, after checking my temperature that had reached 100. but he did have a valid point that while i was on the move and not at home, i might as well ensure that i got better soon. i was to catch a bus to mandi the next morning, but i didn’t think i would manage. i decided to hire a car and drive all the way to manali, via mandi. that would mean i could rest in the car and reach manali directly, i was to halt at mandi for the night. this would give me an extra day to relax and sleep off the illness. short of long, i got better soon and the trip picked up and became one stuffed with experiences.
4. stranger conversations: from kullu to manali i shared by bus seat with an 8 year old who chatted with me non-stop. this 3rd standard kid asked his mother if he could sit next to me during the bus ride and he made such intelligent conversation. he understood my profession better and quicker than anyone else has during this trip, and went to the larger picture immediately….
“so that means you must be travelling all over india?”
not as much as i wish, but a lot more that i thought i would when the journey began…
at kasauli, i spoke to three women who were labourers from jharkhand. we spoke about their work and how hard it was, how they didn’t like the cold at all, but going back was not an option. their husbands worked here too, and one of them carried her child with her as she lifted heavy construction equipment. they refused to let me take a picture unless i was in it too! and so see the picture below.
later i spoke to a woman carrying a huge pile of grass on her head for her two cows. she did it everyday, twice. she said her name is raj (ruler) and then laughed that she hardly was like a raj!
at manali, tsiring laughed at the way i said her name, and shook her head and said, you indians can never say it right. we spoke for a long time about tibet, her life here and whether she wanted to go back. and she kept on telling me that i should have a child, and why it’s important. and she gave me some tibetan aam papad… i didn’t like it.
5. turns, bends and motion sickness. i love using local modes of transport, to avoid being too touristy and also just be less burdensome on the environment. most often i will walk, even if its around 3-4 km away. the norbulinka institute is far away from mcleodganj — more than 13 km. i went down the hill in a shared jeep that crushed 13 people + the driver into a jeep that should hold 9+driver at best. i was sitting at the back and felt like throwing up too many times for my comfort. as we were squashed together there was no space to throw up but ON someone! i have this adult version of motion sickness, one that i have developed over the last few years only, irritating but true. the good bit, i didn’t throw up. the bad bit. i hated the journey and do not remember the lovely mountains but only my churning stomach.
6. eat eat and eat some more! i ate at a different restaurant for every meal or every half-meal at mcleodganj. the variety of food i had was amazing. will write about all those wonderful restaurants soon! and i brought back on dessert from each cafe i liked for my husband so that he could sample my experiences too, and that it would linger a little longer for me! at manali, i ate the best chocolate chip cookies ever, and got back four to mumbai. so a little bit of the hills made its way back to mumbai.
7. the ‘why can’t cheap mean basic yet clean’ moment. every trip needs to have that one terrible hotel, given that this was a budget trip you cannot expect immaculate rooms. but the room at pathankot took the cake! in the first room the AC did not work, and it was very hot, the windows didn’t open either. so i shifted to another room. in the second room, the toilet flush did not work, and the toilet seat was so dirty that i shuddered to go anywhere near it. and it was stinking! added to that someone tried to enter the room twice at night. i think it was a mistake as when i raised my voice and shouted, they profusely apologised. given the filth in the loo i suspect that when empty this room was used as a ‘urinal’! thankfully the lock worked and i had ensured the door was firmly bolted the minute i stepped in.
8. the ‘why did this happen’ moment! and then the unthinkable happened. i was tired and itching to get home, cursing that i had a night at delhi and was not going directly back to mumbai. left the hotel at 6.15am for my train from pathankot to delhi. it is a small city so by 6.30 i had reached the station. i sat in the train, got comfortable, plugged in my charger… and then just as the train began to leave i removed my wallet to get my id ready, and realised i had left my id at the hotel! why and how? all hotels in india now need to see your identity card when you check in. they take a photocopy of it and give it back to you. at this hotel, the manager had said he would give it back to me in a bit, i guess they didn’t have a photocopying machine in their hotel, i said ok, but joked, ironically on hindsight, “don’t forget about it ok? that would not be convenient.” well, the inconvenient had happened.
i moved into panic mode, a mode i reach quite easily. and woke A from his ‘saturday-morning-no-wife-at-home-to-bug’ deep slumber and babbled into the phone, tears now streaming from my eyes (i cry very easily, and no, it doesn’t make me weak.) he was quickly wide awake, got into action mode and sent me a photo of my PAN card which was at home. i called up the hotel and tried to sound sensible, but struggled. i was not worried about the train journey as i would use the power of female tears if needed but i was worried about my flight from delhi to mumbai the next day. no airport would let me enter without an id card. courier companies were called but no one delivered on sunday, or rather no one promised that they would deliver on sunday. fortunately, the airline said that i would need to file an FIR with the police station, and carry that with me. i would be allowed to enter the airport and catch the flight. the manager at the reception sent me a scan of my id, and promised to put it on the first courier to mumbai. in the meantime i called my uncle at delhi. he told me that delhi has an online FIR system now, and when i reached his house by 7pm, there was a print out of the FIR on the table. a friend in delhi asked me why i carried only one identity card and if that is the thought coursing through your head, well the answer is simple. i empty out my wallet to the bare essentials before every trip, so that if by chance i lose my wallet, then the losses would be minimum. (i have lost my wallet once in my life, and that’s on a trip to rajasthan and on the first day!)
with my heart in my mouth i set off for the airport, armed with a photo copy of my id card and the FIR. the security personnel at the gate let me inside easily, which in a way, worried me as that meant easy access to airports! but the airline person at the counter took ages to read every millimetre of the FIR. i was handed over a boarding pass and i was on my way home, finally and thankfully.
this trip was rich with experiences. i spoke to so many strangers, chatted with people from all over the world as i sat in cafés and restaurants, and i spoke to locals, learnt about their lives and got a small window into their realities — it is what i like doing the best. i had been to each of these places twice before, and it was great to compare my memory of the place with the reality. like the scandal point at shimla was not as grand as i had made it out to be. many things went wrong, but without those challenges the stories would not have been as rich and travel wouldn’t have been as interesting.
i enjoy travelling, because it is an escape from the perils of dreaming too many daydreams, of getting caught in this vicious cycle of emotional self-blackmail as i call my wallowing sessions. when i get out, i need to be alert and look about, and i come back having taken a break from my head… i am back now in mumbai, and all my doubts about whether i will ever be the writer i want to be are back. life demands that you plod on, and i plan to do exactly that, plod, plod and then plod some more! here’s wishing you some happy plodding too — towards your dream… and of course, happy travelling!