Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Misty Trip

A long weekend was gleaming at us from the calendar… we were itching for a break. Things started falling in place all of a sudden. My salary was credited on 11th, I booked tickets on the 12th and 13th we were off, late at night, after a complete working day. We witnessed rush due to the long weekend, but perhaps it was a bit toned down due to the panic created by swine flu epidemic.
Early morning, I woke up to see some beautiful buildings of Chandigarh and Mohali. We got dropped off at Kangra. Debating among ourselves about the next course of action, we evaluated our options. Our eyes were on the metre gauge train journey to Palampur, but we were unsure about the train timings. Again, although the railway station was only 4 km away, the auto drivers were not quite willing to go. Dharamsala was definitely closer, so we decided to have a quick lunch, explore Kangra and move on to Dharamsala. Kangra temple would be a devotee’s delight with its bells and a campus strewn with deities. Kangra Fort, built by the Katoch kings, was awesome. With very few tourists, it was a delight to go around the fort, listening to the Audio Guide [this is the latest innovation] at our leisure, clicking pictures at a freedom allowed by digicams. Back to the bus station, we just hopped in a bus to Dharamsala, about 40 km away. Note that we hadn’t bathed till then. So a shower each we took at the hotel and went out for a walk. Discovered that the vegetarian items tasted better than their non vegetarian counterparts. Next morning, we woke in a cool mist, to see clouds resting lazily on the range in front. We were informed that there was nothing to do in the small town from a tourists’ point of view, and all attractions were in Mcleodganj, 10 km away. The holy Dalai Lama hails from there. I was surprised to see a small monastery claiming to have been the home to the Nobel Laureate. Daal Lake was under renovation, and our next mission was the Bhagsunag Waterfalls. The 3 km long walk was perhaps the best decision we had taken, because the only driveable roadway was hopelessly clogged up with two-way traffic. We meandered through cars, autos, two wheelers, cycles and trekked our way over rocks and steps in the second half of the route to reach the waterfalls, and wade our feet in the water. There were people in the plunge pool, although the water was extremely cold and had force latent in it. The way down would have been adventurous enough, but enough is not a word in the dictionary of either my husband or brother in law. So down the rocks we chose to climb down, through the waterfall. It was exciting, but definitely scary. I slipped a couple of times, hurt my knee, wetted my shoes… but enjoyed it all the same. It had started to rain, but we returned victorious and walked upto a church on the way back. The rain was picking up, drenching us. We had come far from the traffic jam, and it seemed the buses had evaporated completely. Eventually, however, a bus arrived and dropped us back to Dharamsala, amidst heavy rain. We had a quick lunch, settled our hotel dues and started for Palampur. The journey was picturesque, amidst clouds. Palampur turned out to be a small hill town, a photographer’s delight, a pedestrian’s dream, and devoid of the tourist attraction as we had feared. There aren’t many hotels, and we got decent rooms, too. We walked up to the market street, munched on the way, made enquiries typical to tourists and sunk into deep slumber after a sumptuous lunch. Next morning, we woke up early and went walking downhill and downhill and downhill and downhill and downhill and downhill. The weather was cool; everything was so serene that we didn’t realize the distance we covered. We crossed a tea factory on the way. On the way back, we were met by groups of monkeys who didn’t pay us any heed at all. After breakfast, we caught a local bus to take us to Baijnath temple, about 16 km from Palampur. The temple was beautiful, more so because of the rivulet flowing far below. There were about 200 steps and our enthusiasm was such that we climbed down the entire set to reach the water. The climb up was tough, and we were panting when we re-entered the temple complex. It was built in Orissan architectural style. We returned hurriedly to the town to visit Neugelkhad, a site where the cliff is plumb vertical and a rivulet flows far below. We were horrified to find that the edges were not rock solid, and would give in under our weights if we weren’t careful. And if you slip, you would fall straight on the rocks along the edge. Nothing can obstruct your fall midway. The mountains on the otherside weren’t that steep, however and we could see lush green stretches.
Time in hand was running out fast, so we wrapped up hurriedly. We shot back to the hotel, had a heavy lunch and started on our journey back to Delhi. The bus took us downhill along the path we had walked in the morning and further. It was dark and raining, but I could not sleep. The roads were wet, and muddy, and the bus was skidding. Everytime the headlights of the bus swept over the steep edge, my heart would jump. The road was narrow and the bus did seem to go too much towards the edge to allow traffic from the opposite side. Sometimes, amidst vegetation, my eyes caught an occasional built structure. I could sleep only after we were safely off the hills. More drama came our way when our bus was stopped due to agitation at Una, a town at the foothills. We were lucky that the trouble got sorted out within two hours. Further ahead, another half an hour was lost in lending the spare tyre [stepny] to a bus stuck up due to a puncture. I woke up on the borders of Delhi. As if death needed to sign the conclusion, I witnessed recovery activities at a spot where an accident had happened between a car and a milk van, killing three people right there.