Golden Temple Mail was stationed at platform no 1.The front bogeys were being loaded with cargo and freight as I made my way through them with backpack on my shoulder and a rolling duffel, dodging the white boxes.
“Near S3? Alright! I’m on my way!”, I hung up.
At 9.25, the engine horn blew and the people screamed, perfectly summing up the excitement and the uncertainty of the coming 10 days! The journey started and with that the negotiations that made the night amazingly long. We finally finalized on a compartment where we dumped the bags on the upper berth and occupied the lower ones. The fans blew at full blast and the lights flickered. The wheels shrilled over the tracks as the train picked up pace. It was well past midnight when the train entered Gujarat and we felt the chilly winds blowing past our ears, so with the lowering temperatures the window panes were lowered and shawls and jackets were pulled out! The talks then slowly moved into college gossips and the few who appeared drowsy, climbed down their berths and joined the talks. Crushes, nicknames and imitations, prank calls stretched the night well into dawn. Occasional sips of brewing coffee, and other “neat” drinks helped the talks. The train entered Rajasthan and the window panes now went cold as we experienced the North Indian winters firsthand. Sleep finally got better of us at 6 in the morning.
We woke up to the loud clamor for masala chais in a perfect Dilli accent. Packed lunch, games and music over the portable speakers covered most of the day! We knew we are inching closer to Haryana, as the lush fields of yellow mustards now stretched before us! Meanwhile we were joined in our compartment by two aged Punjabi ladies, who were in search for some serious sleep but unfortunately found themselves bunked with us. They did tried the emotional angle, by terming us as their grandsons, but grandsons were in no mood to lower the noise!
Ambala Cantt Junction arrived at 2 in the morning. We then boarded the bus to Manali from there, with most of the people catching up on their sleeps and phone calls from curious parents back from Mumbai. After some delays and pit-stops, we finally checked in at De Vivendi Resorts in Manali late that night, making our way directly into the eating hall and pouncing on some great steaming food of chicken, paneer and fluffy naans! On the way to the rooms was a well maintained lawn, musical chairs and other unknown games carried on well past midnight on the dew laden moist grass and freezing temperatures. Next morning post breakfast ,we left for Solang Valley after some photo shoots,360s and boomerang sessions. The thoroughfare to the valley was a narrow one with chiseled mountains on one side and Beas river flowing on the other. The river was criss-crossed by numerous bridges, built by BRO(which we later found out stood for Border Road Organization) as we travelled over them and reached the Valley. The picturesque mountains and the towering pine and fir trees were perfectly set against the glaring sun, reflecting rays from over the lightly ice-capped tops. Some chopped veggies, spices from Himachal were mixed with the hot water and the noodles from the pack. We struggled with the fork with gloves in our hands but Maggi at sub-zero temperatures was always going to be a bon appétit! As we came down, we saw long traffic queues which restricted our car from reaching up the mountaintop. We then decided to descend the alp, passing though the partially dried river bed and various local cottages and schools with their dropping roofs and smoke coming out from their chimneys and the localites with blushing red cheeks and squinty eyes, welcoming us with broad smiles as we passed them!
Walking for over an hour, we finally came to the foothills and continued over the BRO roads and iron truss bridges. Our car somehow made way to us, but the traffic thicken out ahead and we got out again and rambled to the Mall Road. Dusk was setting in over Manali as we strolled around the shopping street with some us putting their hands over some leather jackets and the local drink, lugdi!
We walked back to the hotel on a foot-bridge adjacent to the road with the cars all lined up and some starting their 31st parties early with music from the cars and bottles on the cars!
The party hall was ready with dazzling lights, various party accessories and the DJ music system. Outside bonfire was arranged with chairs in circle around it and the lights over the sitting area were dimmed! The clock struck 12 and we hugged each other a “New Year” as the music continued to play and texts and calls started! 2017 had started and we got to witness it in the ambience and aura of Manali!
Next on our map was Shimla, the Summer Capital of the British! Our bus stopped on a hillock and we alighted with our bags, clueless about the accommodation, since there wasn’t any sign of any hotel in the sight.
“Sirjee, wo jo dikh raha hai na niche, khai mein, wo hai Manla Resorts!” , said a local man pointing towards a faraway cluster of houses down the hill. It looked breathtaking, those houses, with their green rooftops built in the heart of the hill. Travellers and Innovas took us down on the meandering path, about 3.5 km with sharp turns and uneven slopes.
We were a little early for checking in, so left the bags in the lobby and went out exploring and continuing games where we left from in Manali. We left for Kufri post lunch and were finally seeing some snow lightly dispersed over. The temperatures were well below the 0 mark, but that didn’t stop someone from putting snow into my jacket! We also got to see the local yaks and made our way back to bus savoring on some Maggi again!
I opened the book,I had planned on reading, on the 6th day of the trip, when night descended upon us. The heater was working and was a perfect setting for turning some pages around!
But then I heard some commotion in the adjacent room. I told my roommates to call it a night, as I joined in the late night games, in the adjacent room. After some horror stories with lights off and hide and seek in the dark, at around 3 in the night, we decided to pull a prank on the poor souls sleeping in the next room.
I entered the room, luckily having the door being unlocked and placed the speakers. The rest entered after I had put the lights off and placed myself hidden behind the curtains. “Conjuring” soundtrack was chosen and in that pitch black darkness, we started the late night show!
The next day we left for Amritsar before taking a small detour and visit Shimla’s famed Mall Road! Colorful shops selling about everything lined up on either side of the avenue that had many inroads and eatery shops! Later that night we watched Dangal in the bus as we exited from Himachal and entered Haryana, on the way to Punjab!
Girls draped in traditional apparels and boys tying the saffron cloth over their head, we entered the shimmering Golden Temple, which auspiciously was a day before the 350th birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh. The ambience was peaceful inside the shrine, whose gleaming golden edifice glittered in the morning sun. It was a perfect blend of Hindu and Islamic architectural styles with the domes encased in intricately sculpted golden panels. Soothing chants of bhajans played, as turban clad sardars with spades in their hands patrolled the holy lake, the Amrit Sarovar. We took the passageway to temple, and touched our forehead at the threshold,as we entered the meticulously decorated sanctum. The Guru Granth Sahib was placed and read inside the shrine. The gleaming sarovar was circled by marble causeway, onto which verses from the holy book were inscribed upon.
We then helped out the temple authorities to place some bundles of saffron clothing inside the temple complex and got smiles and blessings from the Sikh elders.
We witnessed the world’s largest kitchen, called the Langar, and volunteered to serve to huge hordes of people from all walks of life who come to enjoy the simple meals consisting of lentil soups, rotis and milk kheer!
Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, a dark phase in Indian Independence movement is located a few minutes away. The memorial consisting of the well, and bullet marks serve as a reminder of the horrors faced to see the light of freedom.
With the India and Pakistan gates vis-a-vis each other opening, the people on either side numbering in thousands cheered, waving the flags and shouting slogans, and we are reminded of the scenario from the Indo Pak cricket match! The khaki clad jawans with fancy headgear from the BSF then marched in synchronization with acrobatic style, with shiny swords in their hands. We were witnessing the famed beating retreat on the Wagah-Attari border, a mere 24 km from Lahore! As the sun set over the Pakistan gates, the flags were lowered and returned to their posts with the gates closing. The whole atmosphere was pumped up and sense of patriotism swept across each one of us, as we looked in awe the brave hearts who selflessly defend our country!
Amritsar station looked like the one from the movies! We grouped our bags together as we waited for the 9.25 GoldenTemple Mail to take us to Mumbai, retracing the same route we took 10 days back…
10 days back, we didn’t know what was in store for us. We were also ignorant about the various moments and times we were going to spend. Surely we had planned and decided some part of it, but a major chunk of the 10 days was unplanned, unseen and unexpected! We changed the calendar year, unconsciously shared some intimate secrets, awkward photos and explored the scenic Himachal and robust Punjab! The laughs we shared in the bus, the roads we walked under the starry nights, the attempted talks we made with our shivering hands and chattering teeth!
We alighted at Dadar and took cabs to our homes. The noose that held us together was finally loosened as we went on to our ways in Mumbai. Soon we were going to get engulfed in our own matters and the snaps were going to be stored in some folder on the computer, hardly going to be seen again… That’s what Mumbai does to you, that’s what life does to you, and you have to flow with it. That’s where escapes such as this help relieve the lost lives in the labyrinth of rush and compulsions!
The bags were surely lighter on our way back to Mumbai, but the minds and hearts were heavy, full of memories!