My Himalayan Odyssey – 2

Got this week’s bread-n-butter writing done. Phew! I hate deadlines. Anyways back to the Himalayas…

Like I said paying homage to the Himalayas was on the bucket list. So was visiting the Golden Temple (but more about that later).

We started our journey from Chandigarh and decided that it would be a good idea to pay our respects to some divine body given that we were heading into the mountains near Uttarakhand at a time when no person in their right senses was even willing to consider the idea. I have lost count of the number of people who have reacted with (and I am writing this in the right order) –

“Wow, a road trip. How adventurous of you guys!”

“To the Himalayas… oh wow!”

“Wait a minute… to the Himalayas… as in Himachal Pradesh… the state next to Uttarakhand… are you bloody nuts!?”

Okie then… couldn’t really blame them as the TVs were still awash with images of death and destruction from Uttarakhand. We convinced my parents that we would turn back (this was before I had any idea about how narrow the roads there were) if we came across something that looked insurmountable. We told my mom-in-law that we were driving around in the plains. And we promised Reva’s parents (who were based in Chandigarh) and mine and my sis-in-law Uma, that we’d call or text every day.

Cutting a long story short we planned to step out as early as possible on Day 1. The goal was if my memory serves me correct, 7.30am. So we were quite proud when we managed to get out of the driveway by 9.30. We had decided to kick start the trip by paying a visit to Nada Sahib – a lovely gurudwara tucked amongst the Sivalik foothills and with the lovely Ghaggar river running alongside it. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nada_Sahib) En route we saw many kanvarians (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanwar_Yatra). In Punjab they are also called Kavadiyan – but this is not to be confused with the Kavadis of Tamil Nadu. Kavadiyans are devotees who head to Gangotri to collect the water of the Holy Ganges and bring it back to the plains. That is a looooong walk in case you are wondering. Through the mountains. In the sun and rain. Bare foot. Crazy! Respect.

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Image Courtesy. http://www.hindu.com

The Ghaggar itself was not in full spate and this is odd given that a peek at the weather reports would make you think that every river north of the Vindhayas was overflowing its banks.  Worse still some fool at whatever government department it is that gives permission for new constructions had allowed a mini-high rise (about 15 to 20 floors I guess) to come up between the river and the Nada Sahib. Now that is smart, cause ‘hello! We all want to see an ugly steel and glass monstrosity break our view of the beautiful gurudwara.’

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Image Courtesy. http://www.wikimapia.org

The gurudwara however still manages to retain its charms and we paid our respects (matha tekna) and prayed for a safe journey ahead. Locals say that whatever one wishes for at Nada Sahib comes true. So asking for a safe trip was a no-brainer. I also threw in a few personal requests for good measure. During the next few days I thought back a couple of times to my prayer at Nada Sahib for a safe trip… especially during those moments when the road ahead, its edges and the ravine and the mountains surrounding us were all sheathed in white.

We concluded our visit to Nada Sahib after ensuring that we got loads of prashad (Parisa and I love that atte ka halwa) and Sakshi and Parisa even got a kada each. In fact Sakshi picked up a kada with metal beads which is used like a regular prayer bead and trust me she used it a bit during the trip.

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The Kadas in question

By now the sun was out in full force and we decided that there was no sense in delaying anymore. So we headed out on to the road aptly called the Himalayan Expressway.

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Waiting at the Himalayan Expressway Toll Gate

My Himalayan Odyssey – 1

This has been long overdue – well… three to four weeks overdue, which is not too bad by my standards!

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A wall of fog

The narrow road ahead is barely visible. Thick fog blankets the Mahindra XYLO from all sides. On the right side a sheer wall of rock looms up. Up ahead, coming from the other side is a Himachali bus lumbering on towards us, looking for all intents hell bent on brushing us aside while it descends to wherever it is headed. On the left, where I am seated, there is a wall of fog. But I know the wall is an illusion. It hides a bottom less ravine that has a few million deodar, pine and fir trees sticking out like javelins waiting to impale me. Surya (our designated driver – actually the only one with the skills and balls to drive there) was reversing the XYLO so that the damn bus could pass us without knocking us over. The tires crunch over the stones and rocks that form the edge of the road, and the world as far as I was concerned. My heart and stomach are not in their designated spots. They are in my mouth and that may be the only reason why I was not puking in sheer terror. As usual I found myself leaning to my right towards my friend Reva and her year-and-a-half old son Yugi – as though by leaning my shoulder in to the baby seat I could prevent our car from tumbling over. And I asked myself for the 100th time, “How did I get here!?”

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Hair pin turns and bends

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Close-up of hair pin turn – that was the edge of the world as far as I was concerned

I turned 40 this year. Gravity is suddenly having a greater impact on my body (and no I am not going into the details) and my emotions have swung between being a defiant-25-something and a why-bother-we-are-all-going-to-die fatalist 90-year-old. It is no fun. Just when the ‘young me’ whips myself up into a flurry of excitement about something (dinner, movie, whatever…) my 90-year-old-self crashes the party and down the drain I go. No fun this. Why am I telling you all this? So that you understand why the above mentioned trip was so important to me!

I have always looked upon the Himalayas with a combination of awe, smug pride (that I guess almost every other Indian feels) and love. I come from a place in Kerala called Malappuram – land of mountains… ok fine… land of hills. So I guess my affinity for the Himalayas is rather understandable. I have driven through Munnar and most of the Western Ghats in Kerala, been to Ooty and Kodai. Seasoned mountain person – that is what I considered myself to be.

And* then the Himalayan bug bit me. I wanted to visit the Himalayan foothills. Not being too ambitious here! I thought I will start small… the foothills and then one day I will try for Mansarovar and Kailash… as for Mount Everest… NEVER – I am a very sorted person. I know my limitations. I hounded my husband to agree to this idea and then conned and brow beat our good friends to accompany us because ‘uh they know the way’. Said friends had done the Himalayan foothill jaunts a couple of times and are seasoned adventurers. Anyway I managed to convince my friends that it was all their idea so that not only do we use one of their parent’s home in Chandigarh as our base but so that Surya (my friend’s hubby) does the driving. Oh I forgot to mention that! Me bad! The trip was all set to be a road trip – a week through the Himalayas in Himachal Pradesh and then a few more days in Punjab.

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Scenic roads from Jalori to Manali but no fun when you have to make way for oncoming traffic

Anyway something in me (hubby thinks it could have been a poorly digested dinner) told me that I am 40 and this is the first day of the rest of my fast dwindling life and I need to get down to doing the things that I have always wanted to do – paying homage to the Himalayas was one.

Sorry I am going to stop now. Will update in a day or two! 🙂

* I like to start sentences with ‘but’, ‘and’, and ‘because’… sue me!